I always try to help my fellow indie authors by passing on my experiences. Among the most important, in my mind, is don’t be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find your niche, and stick with it.
This might not be the greatest advice if you’re already a best-selling author published through a major publishing house. But it might. Look at a couple of the reviews of J.K. Rowling’s first “serious” book after Harry Potter.
“The Casual Vacancy fails to conjure Harry Potter’s magic.” – Los Angeles Times
“It pretty much explodes towards the end, losing shape in its fury at the dirty, unfair England that we Muggles have made for ourselves.” – The Daily Telegraph
Even some of the positive reviews damned the novel with faint praise, using language like “not bad at all” and “pretty good.” Not exactly an ideal critical reception for a book that went to #1 and sold over a million copies.
Nobody Likes A Negative Review, Right?
Of course, I understand this is the literary equivalent of a first-world problem, or even white privilege. I’m sure many among us would be indifferent to those reviews if we sold a million copies of anything and hit #1 on Amazon. But it’s important to remember these results came to a world-famous novelist with a hugely successful career.
Rowling had already steeled herself for the backlash, saying, If everyone says, “Well, that’s shockingly bad—back to wizards with you,” then obviously I won’t be throwing a party. But I’ll live. Still, few writers would welcome that kind of negative response to their work.
Now, this is no apology for anything Rowling has said or done. She’s courted controversy in recent years, and I’m dimly aware of it, but I’m also neither fan nor foe. I’ve never read her, and my limited experience with the movies doesn’t count as a pro or con. I am Rowling-agnostic. Nor do I subscribe to the school of thought that says she should have limited herself to a certain genre.
And That Says It All
If you’re already a well-known author, and you can afford to take some critical and/or financial hits, I say do whatever you want. But if you’re in the process of establishing yourself as a widely-read indie author, then consider the headline of today’s post: “Shoemaker, Stick to Thy Last!”
For a cobbler or shoemaker, the last is the main tool, a block made of wood or metal around which shoes or boots are repaired. The “stick to thy last” proverb can mean “don’t get above your area of expertise,” but a more positive spin is do what you do best. It’s not exactly the same as “do what you love and the money will follow,” but it’s not far off, either.
I may deviate myself from this on some level, because not all of my novels fit comfortably into the same genres or sub-categories, as I wrote recently. But whatever I have to do on Amazon to find new readers, my novels do fit the same criteria I’ve had on my website’s homepage since 2015:
I focus on character in my work, marrying the comedies and tragedies of modern life.
I still haven’t found a better way to put it.