Every now and then I hear the comment from my friends and acquaintances that they read my book and while it wasn’t the genre they usually pick up they enjoyed it. I find this to be a rather odd compliment. I know that I have to maintain a thick skin in this business, but it occasionally sounds like they are saying something along the lines of you were great in spite of what you wrote. Because my book wasn’t in their preferred genre, if they did not know me personally, they might never have come across it, it definitely wasn’t due to its shelf placement.
I don’t know how to balance their feedback in future projects with feedback from readers who preferred genre. On one hand the genre reader is more familiar with comparable stories and so their feedback could make my work stronger in its category. On the other hand, the non-genre reader’s helps to support me as an author by expanding my market reach. So what is more important, the art or the artist?
Last week, I was lucky enough to meet with Ray Morrison, author of a short story collection, In a World of Small Truths. He made a point to state that he puts very little of himself into his stories, which is probably a good thing as his short stories tended to go a little dark. Had I never met him, I would never have guessed that he was an extremely funny and friendly man who also happens to be a vet. In short, he was completely different from what I would have expected.
He was very open about his process and gave those of us in the room some tips about how not to sound like a newbie. I knew about excessive use of adverbs, but apparently dialogue tags also give you away. For example you can’t gasp something and talk at the same time. Well I guess you could.. but not a long drawn out phrase.
I was also fascinated by the process in which he and his publisher selected the order in which the stories appeared. Hint – it’s all about variety. As a person who typically reads from one cover to cover, I was amused to learn that the majority of those in the room just pick a story to read based on its title and length rather than chronologic order rendering all that painstaking effort moot. All in all I was very happy to have been introduced to his work, but it was all I could do not to blurt out, I don’t typically read collections of short stories, but yours were great.
I guess in the long run it’s not important if you are inspired by the art or the artist. The important thing is finding a reason to expose yourself to new ideas or experiences. Oh – and don’t judge a book by its cover.