Friday, April 23, 2021

I’m a selfish writer, until I’m not. By Josh Stallings

 Question: Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write?

Answer: No… Yes… Wait… Maybe?

I read every night before I go to sleep. Sometimes I drift off mid page, and keep reading in my dream unaware that my brain has taken over the book and is writing new chapters. That is the closest I can describe what writing feels like to me. After all the research and muddling about, I crank up some music and set about typing while I read a book that has yet to be written. In that way I write for myself. 

If I had the skillset to write what I thought other readers would like, I’d still have two problems. 

1) Publishing moves slowly. If I started typing the moment a trend is noticeable, I’m still a year or two away from publication and by then the trend would be played out. 

2)  I’m really bad at judging who and why folks choose books. Point in case, when I started out I had a foolish idea that I wrote stories men would like more than women. I was dead wrong. My early books would have never been noticed or read if they had not been championed by three women reviewers — McDroll out of Scotland, Sabrina’s Call Me Kate, and Elizabeth A.White. In early book signings I found many more women than men had embraced my suicidal bouncer. I learned it was a bit sexist on my part to think there is such a thing as male or female fiction. Gender isn’t a genre.

My operating principle is that if I write a book I want to read, one person will dig it. If I write a book I think a bunch of people will like, maybe no one will.

Writing is a personal journey into a world that starts as a glimmer of an idea. I need to love that first thought enough to battle with it until it is molded into something worth reading. At that point, my “perfect” manuscript in hand I begin editing and thinking about marketing, and discovering all those not so perfect parts. I work with my agent and editor/publisher to define who would be the ideal readers for the book. On Tricky, Chantelle Aimée Osman, Editor at Agora Books saw that readers engaged in the neurodiversity conversation might also like Tricky and our handling of neurodiverse characters. With perfect rear-vision I can see that one of the reasons I wrote Tricky was I hadn’t seen anyone like my son in books, so I could say that parents of neurodiverse children were my ideal readers, after the fact. On an early edit my agent Amy Moore-Benson pointed out that my protagonist was using the R-word a lot. She knew this was for effect, but thought we would lose readers. I took some out. After Agora acquired Tricky, Chantelle pointed out that most readers will give a book 20 pages at the max to decide to read or dump it. The R-word would turn off the very readers who might love the book. I did a deeper culling. Once I thought about editing for a reader, who was a dad like me, it became easy to see my blunders. I had always thought of myself as a member of the special needs community, but I’m not. I’m an ally. And that’s very different.  

Circling back to the question, I guess I write for myself. But I edit for readers who share my love of this wild wonderful complicated and very diverse world.


Catriona McPherson said...

I loved this! "typing while I read a book that hasn't been written" is the perfect way to describe what first draft making feels like.

Lisa Alber said...

I agree!

Mike C. Tuggle said...

To quote Rick Nelson:

But it's all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

Susan C Shea said...

Well said: You write for yourself but edit for readers. Now that you describe it, I think that's what I do to a certain extent. Makes sense.

Josh Stallings said...

Thank you kind peeps!