Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Existential angst? by Cathy Ace

Q: Publishers and agents usually ask you to compare your book to somebody else’s and want to know that you are up to date on what is popular at the moment. How much importance do you place in writing for the market?

Okay – three questions here, really – who am I “like”, and what’s popular – two very different questions, with a third, overarching query…

What other author’s works are my books “similar to”? I admit it, I’m HOPELESS at this game! Yes, yes, I know every author believes their work is utterly unique (and it is) but I also understand (because I’m a reader as well as a writer) that it’s helpful to be able to tell someone “if you enjoy ‘that’ then you’ll probably enjoy ‘this’ too”, so I try my best to be helpful (that’s the kind of gal I am!) when called upon to be so.

But…and it’s a big but…I also know as a reader that what appeals to me isn’t necessarily what a book's about, or where it’s set, or even what type of sub-genre it is (procedural, sleuth, spies, thriller etc.) but the VOICE that appeals to me. If I listed my favorite authors here – authors whose works I will read whatever sub-genre they’re writing in (and several of my most favorite authors write across different sub-genres) – you might be perplexed, because they seemingly have nothing in common with each other, except that I enjoy those voices. Indeed, I’m one of those for whom the “helpful” amazon “People who bought this also bought…” section is worse than useless: 100% of those books listed have never ended up in my little cart. Ever.

"As" Agatha Christie
Thus, I’ve relied upon others to help me in this task when I need to undertake it myself. Professional reviewers, as well as non-professional reviewers, and readers, have proposed the following: my Cait Morgan Mysteries will appeal to those who enjoy books by Agatha Christie (Poirot fans), Lyn Hamilton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ngaio Marsh, Sue Grafton, and any number of “Golden Age” British traditional mystery authors; my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries will appeal to those who enjoy books by M.C. Beaton, Alexander McCall Smith, Jeanne M. Dams, and Agatha Christie (Marple fans); my book The Wrong Boy will appeal to those who enjoy TV suspense like Broadchurch, Hinterland, and Shetland (based on the books by Ann Cleeves), or books by Gillian Flynn. I’m not going to argue – but will add that – despite the fact I write traditional puzzle-plot mysteries (Cait Morgan), cozier, character-driven tales (WISE women) and psychological suspense (DI Evan Glover) I am thrilled to say many readers enjoy them all when they try them – venturing beyond their initial “reason-for-buying” to discover a new-to-them sub-genre…YAY!

Now, onto the second part of the question – do I know what’s “popular” at the moment? Well, yes, I do, thanks, but that doesn’t mean it’s what I want to/am able to write. Besides, what’s “popular” today (ie. topping the sales charts) might not be what folks want to read by the time my book is published, so I think chasing the ghost of popularity is a fool’s errand…

All of which, I suspect, allows you to work out for yourself that my answer to the final part of this week’s overarching question – do I write for the market? – is, in all honesty, no. I write books I like to read, and hope my “voice” reaches people who enjoy it, across the board. All I can do is keep doing what I’m doing, and hope enough of the market likes what I write that I can afford to keep doing it!  

By the can help with that last bit *wink, wink* - all my books are listed on my website: CATHY ACE CRIME WRITER


Catriona McPherson said...

Ah, lovely to see Jeanne Dams name pop up! I agree with everything you said here, Cathy. (Now I just need to work out how to say it again tomorrow!)

Cathy Ace said...


Cathy Ace said...

Lol...meant that to show laughing faces!

Josh Stallings said...

Yes, well said! It is all about voice. As a reader voice supersedes setting or genre or sub-sub-sub genre.