This is a hard one. No one wants to disappoint one of their readers, especially readers who’ve stuck with you through all of your books. But let’s say there was a secondary character that some people want a book for or a continuation of a series that you feel is complete. Then what? As easy as it is to say, “Write what you want,” it’s really not that easy. The problem is that you want to please your fans. You want to give them what they want.
But you usually run into these roadblocks:
1. You feel the series is complete.
You know how readers get disappointed when the series stops being interesting so they go on forums and reviews to express their discontent? Usually, you’ll see this with traditionally published books because those authors signed a contract saying they would write X number of books, and the publisher wants a book in that series. So authors force the book. And I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve forced a book, it never turns out good.
2. You’ve been monitoring sales on your various books and see that the series or the kind of book they want isn’t selling.
Your sales sheet is more than a royalty statement. It is a report card. The best selling books you got are the A’s and B’s. Books in the middle are a C. Books that you can’t sell no matter how many fireworks you throw at it to make it stand out are D’s and F’s. So you had this great idea for a series, and after book 1 or 2 you realize no one but a very few are interested in it. You are making a D-F. Or let’s say you are writing in a genre that is earning you D’s or F’s when the other genres you’re writing are earning you A’s and B’s. Common sense says, “Write the A’s and B’s.” The C’s should be done only if you’re bored and have extra time on your hands.
The D’s and F’s are a total loss in your time. That’s time you could spend writing an A or B book, and that means you will see a drop in income if you invest time into a D or F book. I realize it seems cold to reduce the decision of what book to write next on a rating scale (instead of a “passion” scale), but sometimes you have to. If you want to make any money, you need to think in terms of sales. The best of both worlds is if you can write books you love and earn money doing it. I’ve made the decision this year to turn down two books I wanted to write because the books in the series were all D and F books. I’ll have to write the books I am passionate about and earn A’s and B’s.
3. You have no interest in writing the book your fans want.
Sometimes the passion isn’t there. You’ve tried to write it, but you stare at that horrible blank piece of paper for an hour while another story is begging to be written. Like number 1, I don’t see how you can force a book that doesn’t interest you. I mean, I guess you can, but can you do it so that you are excited about it and will be your best work? I think the first rule of writing is to write what you are passionate about. And piggybacking off number 2, if you’re passionate about a D or F book, is it really worth it?
I think there are some things to consider when deciding on whether to write a book you don’t want to write:
- Will it sell enough copies to make up for the loss of writing the book you wanted to write in its place?
- Can you afford a ghostwriter?
- Can the ghostwriter imitate your style?
- Is having a ghostwriter ethical? (Just to be clear, none of my stories are ghostwritten, though I have considered it on occasion.)
- Can you do your best work as you write it?
- Will you regret not writing the other book instead?
- Do you have time to write this one and the other one?
- And, most importantly, will the world stop spinning because you didn’t?
If you decide you can’t write the book, what do you do?
Well, the sad reality is that you’re not a robot. You can’t operate as if emotions don’t play a role in your decision-making, so you might feel guilty for saying no to your fans, but I think if you can’t write the book, you have to say no. And honestly, what fan would want to read a book done in the half-hearted approach? It’s painful. You feel awful. Your fans are disappointed but often understanding (which makes you feel even worse). But you know you have to do it because if you don’t, any chance you have at running a business or maintaining the business will falter.
Sometimes we have to make the hard decisions. That is the nature of business. And writing is a business. It’s all good and well to say writing is something we do for intrinsic rewards, and while we do want to write books we can fall in love with, there is a balance between logic and emotion. Logic tells you the best books you can write for maximum profit. Emotions help you decide what those best books are going to be. You can write books you are passionate about, but you can’t write ALL the books you’re passionate about.
I think most fans will understand and accept it. I’m sure a few won’t. But it’s the nature of business. You can’t please everyone all the time, but you can please some of the people some of the time.