For the Daydreamers:
Tell the Story You Want to Tell
I shared this story on Tumblr (sp I apologize to everyone who has already read it), but since I don't think the Venn Diagram overlap of my Tumblr audience and my newsletter audience is very large, I thought I'd share the post again here. Especially since the post really resonated with a lot of people.
Also, full disclosure, I am so effing busy trying to get Bloodwitch done to meet my unexpected end-of-June deadline that I really don't have time to write anything new for y'all.
When Truthwitch was on submissions, an editor rejected it because it “wasn’t accessible” enough. The editor suggested making it a single POV and single “evil” empire in a single location, and at the time, I was horrified. That wasn’t even remotely close to the vision I had for that book/series.
You see, I wrote Truthwitch as an adult fantasy book, and I wrote it in the vein of all the adult fantasy books I’d read growing up (before the days of a YA shelf!). Before we submitted it to adult fantasy editors, though, my agent and I sent it out to YA editors, and a fabulous woman at Tor Teen ended up buying it.
My editor and I worked our butts off to make that book as good as it could be; I worked my butt off to self-promote and run a street team and reach new readers; and I went out in to the world thinking…nay, knowing this was the best book I’d written to-date.
And then, as happens with all books, there were some people who enjoyed Truthwitch…and some people who freaking loathed it. I knew it wouldn’t be for everyone. But you know what surprised me most?
People didn’t like the world-building. They found it too complicated. They couldn’t follow along. Ugh, boring. Couldn’t read past 100 pages. DNFed.
In hindsight, this shouldn’t have surprised me. I mean, that first editor HAD warned me: Truthwitch wasn’t accessible. Still, this was the kind of world-building and complexity I had grown up reading – where you’re thrown into a new place, no explanations, and you figure it out based on context clues. It never ever occurred to me to write my own epic fantasy any differently.
And that obvious oversight on my part really effing messed with my head. I was so ANGRY (with myself) that I hadn’t made the world simpler, that I hadn’t eased people into it all more slowly, that I hadn’t realized not everyone enjoys the kind of fantasy I do.
The complexity and lack of accessibility was (and still is) the number one complaint I saw/see, and I totally get it. Those readers are right. And the fact that that editor was right – that those bad reviews are RIGHT – really killed my self-confidence.
And look: every authors wants their book to be a commercial success. To break out and be turned into a movie and reach more readers. It doesn’t mean we aren’t also happy and grateful with our current successes, but I really doubt any author out there doesn’t also want a little bit (or a lotta bit) more.
Realizing that I had screwed up in the accessibility/complexity department, and that this would prevent Truthwitch from ever truly breaking out…
Well, like I said, it messed with my head. In fact, I got so hung up on it, I tried to find ways to essentially “retcon” some simplicity into the plot and world. Like, I spun myself in circles trying to find a way to make Windwitch simple and NOT follow the complex path I’d first set up for the series…
Maybe if I cut this and never address that and then combine this and blah, blah, blah…
And then a dear friend of mine gave me some tough love. She was basically like, “STOP THIS. This isn’t your commercial success series. So what? Move on.”
Her argument? People who like simpler, more accessible books weren’t even going to read Windwitch, so why was I trying to appease them? The people who enjoyed Truthwitch were the people who liked over-complicated plots and dense world-building, and so I should continue writing this series exactly as I’d initially envisioned it.
Basically, I was wasting my time stressing out over an audience that was never going to enjoy the Witchlands. Maybe they would like my next series, but this one simply wasn’t for them. And that was okay.
Such obvious advice, right? Yet I couldn’t see it at all. Once I did, though…oh wow, it was liberating.
I love super complicated (borderline convoluted), twisty-turny, massive-cast, massive-world fantasy series. Books like GoT, the Liveship Traders series, the Inda series, the Kushiel’s Legacy series, and on and on.
And I’m not conceited enough to think my own books are anywhere near as good as those, but I am definitely trying to appeal to those same fans. To readers who like what I like.
And once I saw that my attempts to simplify were futile, once I leaned into the complexity…Well, the writing got easier. I got out of my own way. I embraced what had made me want to write Truthwitch in the first place, and I stopped caring when I saw complaints about the world-building. Obviously, they were not my target audience.
Now, Windwitch ups the complexity, and Sightwitch like triple-ups the complexity. Sorry not sorry.
This is the story I wanted to tell, and though I definitely won’t reach as many readers as I maybe could have if I’d listened to that first editor…it also wouldn’t have been true to my heart (cue: 98 Degrees & Stevie Wonder).
TL;DR: Tell the story you set out to tell. There’s no predicting what story will turn into a commercial break out success, and trying to crack that code by writing a book that isn’t true to you…
Yeah, just don’t. You’ll be happier and more mentally healthy in the long run. Now seriously, go listen to some Stevie Wonder & 98 Degrees.