“Write to market”, they said. “Your books will sell better”, they said.
Most of the time, that’s good advice. I took it to heart when writing my latest contemporary romance series, the Love Grows series. However, I did have some reservations. They were concerning, even though they were more rhetorical than factual.
Would a story written to fit a certain genre feel contrived?
Would “hitting the buttons” or the “checklist” of a genre or trend suck all the creativity out of the story?
Did I risk targeting a trend that has already passed?
Such are the burning questions which keep authors from sleeping.
Despite my initial reservations with “writing to market”, once I started writing, I found I was able to compose stories that I enjoyed while still targeting a specific audience.
The Love Grows Series
My approach was to take a popular trope- billionaire romance- and put my own twist to it. What could it hurt to try? If I hated writing it, or it fizzled upon release, the experience would provide valuable information. It would be a lesson learned. I’d write the best book I could, with a targeted cover and blurb, and niche-focused marketing.
In January 2019, I released the first book in the Love Grows series, Not So Broken. Creating the perfect title had eluded me at first. All the possibilities were either too on the nose, or too vague. My editor actually commented on a great line in the book, “perhaps I was not so broken, after all”, and I knew I had my title.
Oddly enough, that sparked the titles for the next two books, Not So Wrong, and Not So Far. Which proved to me that creativity can indeed flow within a framework, especially if you’ve some experience at writing fiction. Not So Broken was my fifth book, so I had the general plot structure and process down before I started writing a word.
To my great surprise, the book was well received. Based on the feedback, I’d “hit all the points” expected of the genre. And I’d fallen in love with the story in the process.
Not So Wrong
When I crafted the second book in the series, Not So Wrong, I took a secondary character from Not So Broken and gave her the spotlight. It so happened that Melanie Parker was a singer, which I had just thrown in when she appeared in the first book. Her profession became the central theme and conflict of the story, which I had not planned out previously.
The hero, her love interest, had also appeared briefly in the first book. Spencer Colebank was introduced as an annoying cousin, who was suspected of scheming to take over the family business. I don’t know why I chose him, of all people, to woo free-spirited Melanie. But I sensed there was much more to him than was shown on the surface, and the challenge of redeeming him intrigued me.
Boy, was I in for a surprise! He turned out to be as strong a hero as Gibson was in Not So Broken, but in a different way. He was all business on the outside, sucking up to his uncle (who is his boss) and trying to please everyone. When alone, he drank scotch and played piano. He was a musician at heart, and a chunk of painful baggage had dragged him down so far he thought he’d never get up again.
Meeting Melanie was the spark that brought him back to life, and to his first love, music. She encouraged him to pursue his passion, while she had all but given up on hers. Her family needed her, and she was plain tired of trying to find success with her band, Sparker. How they resolved these issues, confronted their pasts, and figured out a future together, was the story.
The Value of Creating
But it was so much more than a boy-meets-girl romance. As I said in the dedication, this book was a tribute to all the musicians, artists, and writers who sacrifice in large and small ways to bring beauty to the world. In an era where creativity is highly prized but at the same time, almostcompletely devalued, that’s a significant statement.
The creative arts can be a hobby, or a job, but either way, it involves giving a piece of your soul to the world. The internet has made creative works in all their forms plentiful, but that in no way lessons the value of efforts of the creators. The sense of abundant opportunity has made many creatives work even harder than they ever would before. The sad thing is, when there is more opportunity, there is also more competition vying for those opportunities. Which makes it increasingly harder to be noticed. Thus, the price of art, photos, music, literature, etc., goes down as hopefuls offer discounts and freebies in order to gain the attention of an audience, and ultimately, be able to afford to keep creating.
Not So Wrong was at heart, about the salvation of music and the sacrifices the characters were willing to make to keep creating it. Whether they were rich or not, they had the same desires, and the same struggles.
The first book, Not So Broken, also dealt with larger themes--single parenthood, career vs. family, and loss. Those are universal concepts. Not So Wrong deals with the struggle to be your true self, and the sacrifices and compromises often necessary to make your dreams come true.
These are the themes that go way beyond the meet cute and the hopping in bed. All the flirting, romantic moments, and hot passion still serve to bring the characters closer, and by doing so, they eventually fulfill those larger goals.
Recently, a very vocal critic of the romance genre (we’ll never run out of those, it seems) called romance authors “literary prostitutes”. Blanket statements like that have to be taken with a grain of, or maybe a rock of, salt. One reason why romance readers are so voracious, (fueling a billion-dollar industry) is these books make them feel good.
And quite often, there’s more than just a cute love story between the pages, even if the book is “written to market”.
Here’s a sample scene from Not So Wrong:
Suddenly he was on the floor in front of me, kneeling. He took both of my hands in his and looked into my eyes. My heart skipped a beat. What was he going to say now?
“Melanie, you keep saying we’re so different, but we’re really not. Music saved my life, too. Piano lessons were a gift from my mother, her legacy to me. Later, when my world shattered, when I thought there would never again be any joy in my life, music kept me going. To share that personal salvation with someone else is a miracle. You understand me, and I understand you. That’s priceless. That’s something my money could never buy.”
Hot tears sprang from my eyes. I blinked them back, not wanting to cry in front of him. He was right; we had a deep understanding that connected us. I’d felt it that first night at the party when we played music together. Even before we confessed our deepest secrets, we knew them.