There’s a wonderful exchange near the beginning of Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women (1939) that I’ve always enjoyed although it kind of stabs me in the heart, too. If you don’t know this film, you need to see it at once:
Edith Potter: Weren’t you going to Africa to shoot, Nancy?
Nancy Blake: As soon as my book’s out.
Sylvia Fowler: I don’t blame you. I’d rather face a tiger any day than the sort of things the critics said about your last book.
Peggy Day: Oh, I wish I could make a little money writing the way you do!
Nancy Blake: If you wrote the way I do, that’s just what you’d make.
Sylvia Fowler: You’re not a very popular author, are you, dear?
Nancy Blake: Not with you.
Feeling like a very unpopular writer, I am heading off to Authors After Dark tomorrow morning in an attempt to ameliorate that — at least for my alter ego, as Kit Marlowe will be flogging The Mangrove Legacy there. On Twitter Marc Nash just sent me a tweet saying how his flash fiction averages about 300 hits a day, while his post on the riots received over 3600 visits. Newsworthy topics help. Bloggers who make a habit of posting incendiary opinions likewise tend to get more hits.
The idiosyncratic ramblings including jokes only three people will get? Not so much.
I recently read an Anita Blake novel that was in my gift bag at Alt.Fiction. I read mostly non-fiction, so it’s helpful to remind myself what popular fiction that actually sells looks like. I realise once again that all my writing habits undermine any chance to write popular fiction. Nuance, allusions (literary or mythic), drolleries: these have no place in the lean beast that is a page-turner. Of course I want to write what I want to write — and I always will — but I also would like to write books that sell more. Not necessarily a bestseller, just a better seller. It’s an interesting problem to grapple with, although at present I really need to be doing other things. Like packing, discarding and yes, if all else fails, setting fire to things.
Metaphorically, of course. It’s not a riot.