Tuesday, November 26, 2019
To Niche or Not to Niche
To Niche or Not to Niche One of the comments I hear most often when I tell friends about my books is, Your writing is too narrow. You need to broaden your appeal. And in a sense, theyre right. There cant be that many people reading about disaffected Mormons. And its not every Mormon who will pick up a book entitled Zombies for Jesus or Sex among the Saints. I started my writing career with an MFA thesis, a collection of short stories about my two years as a gay Mormon missionary in Italy. Now thats specific. I was told at the time, You need to appeal to a larger audience. But my professors werent criticizing me for writing about Mormons. This was the 1980s. They were criticizing me for writing about gays. Today there are so many gay novels being written that a writer would be easily lost amidst the crush of publications. And this is my beef with the criticism in general. My friends tell me to stop writing about Mormons and ex-Mormons and instead just write about people. I assure them that it is hard enough rising to the top among a pool of fifty writers. It would be next to impossible even to be noticed among a pool of tens of thousands. I have another beef with the criticism, too. No good author writes the sentence, The woman put on her best dress, looked in the mirror, and knew she was ready for a fun evening. What in the world does the reader know about how that character looks? We need specifics. Details are what make a story interesting. William Faulkner created an entire career writing about the folks in small-town Mississippi. Those werent just people. They were from a very specific culture and environment. Ill go one further. Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote about ultra-Orthodox Jews in the shtetls of Eastern Europe. Hows that for a niche audience? Especially since Need I remind anyone that both Faulkner and Singer won the Nobel Prize for Literature? Theres no guarantee that Ill ever sell more than four hundred copies of Mormon Underwear or Marginal Mormons, much less win any recognizable awards. But if I just write about generic people, Im even less likely to be noticed. There is simply too much competition out there. Its not a matter of being a big fish in a small pond. Its a matter of finding any water to thrive in at all. Im involved in the Mormon literary community, such as it is. I proofread for a progressive Mormon magazine (yes, there are a good three or four hundred progressive Mormons out there!). I proofread for a small Mormon publisher. I post on the Mormon blogs I follow and my own Mormon-themed blog. I help critique the work of other Mormon and ex-Mormon writers, and I financially support their work as well. And I follow that age-old maxim: write what you know. Yes, I have a niche audience, but the fact is, at least I have an audience.