For readers, it means the opportunity to discover many excellent authors who may otherwise not have entered the market. On the flip side, it also means being exposed to a tremendous amount of dross.
For authors, this democratisation means we can write whatever we want to regardless of market trends; we have no gatekeepers to satisfy. In other words, we have complete creative control. For me this means I can write horror and sci-fi novels as well as short stories and speculative fiction. My current project, Swarm, was intended to be a novel but will likely be a novella. I don’t have to worry about satisfying a publisher’s expected word count. But with freedom comes responsibility. The removal of gatekeepers to the industry means more freedom and a quicker turnaround (completed works hit the market much quicker than they used to), but going it alone means a loss of expertise. I don’t have a well-connected agent to push my works to publishing houses, who in turn have a well-connected marketing department to push my books to readers. I don’t have an in-house editor to give feedback on my writing. I don’t have an art department to design my covers. It all comes down to me- my efforts, my decisions.
This fractured market means that it is more important than ever to find your niche. One of the drawbacks of opening the floodgates is that we are drowning in me-toos. How many erotica authors do we see on Twitter and Facebook, So many of whom can only manage forty shades of gray? How many vampire/werewolf/human love triangles? How many gritty urban fantasies? How many Hungerford Maze Trials Games? Understand I don’t have anything against these genres. It’s like when Nirvana and Pearl Jam hit the mainstream. How many plaid-clad Kurt wannabes got MTV airplay? When Korn and Limp Bizkit sold millions, how any facsimiles had a moment of fame too?
How many of them do you remember?
The New Voice in British Horror.
It’s the tag line I use to promote my writing. It took me a while to come up with it. As a former copywriter, it shouldn’t have been such a monumental task. But that’s like saying an author shouldn’t struggle to write a blurb or a submission letter. It’s fewer words so it should be easier. Right?
The point is, as indies we shouldn’t be following in others’ footsteps. Yes, I’m primarily a horror author. But that doesn’t mean I want to be the next King or Herbert or Barker (although their sales would be nice). So I had to find my own niche.
The first thing was to critically appraise my writing. What makes my writing different than the other horror authors vying for my readers?
Well, I’m not a gore hound, though I don’t shy away from the viscera when it’s needed. I don’t focus on the post-apocalyptic. I don’t focus on vampires per se, nor werewolves nor other monster tropes of the genre.
So what do I focus on? What do I bring to the market that others don’t?
With a few novels and dozens of short stories published it’s safe to say I know considerably more about story construction than when I started out. And there are two things that interest me most about writing. When writing horror what I find most satisfying is the psychological side of things, which often arise from what’s not written. I’ll admit in The Tor it was fun dispatching Rene in such a gory way, but more intriguing to write (and, I hope, to read) was Rebecca. Exactly who she is and what drives her is never fully explained in the book, and rightly so. She starts off as another archetypal agent of evil, but by the end of the book we are left unsure as to how many of her actions are forced upon her by the powers beneath the Tor. In part two she enters into a relationship with James. She tries to save him from the Tor, and she has to be aware of James’ relation to Jim. All of these things deepen and complicate her as a character. Lots of her history is left unexplored, leaving us to wonder how bad she really is, and how much of a puppet she is.
The other thing that interests me is the idea of gender tropes, and not just in horror. It’s rare to see strong female leads in genre novels. As villains, you could argue the situation is even worse. The motivations of female antagonists tend to be narrow, with revenge and jealousy being the most common. Some might see this as an opportunity to level a perceived imbalance, or a chance to demonstrate that female characters can be strong outside of traditional roles in fiction. Some might see it as a complete non-issue. There are those who view the whole debate a needless PC tinkering, an affront to their writing and a threat to their masculinity; feminist attack on their right to write whatever they want. Whatever. I don’t have an agenda. I’m not here to judge. I’m here to write good fiction. And whilst on a personal level I do view such a discussion as an opportunity to discover new books and characters (on both sides of the debate. A well written, rounded, self-deterministic female character is as enjoyable to read as a well written traditional plot-driven adventure. The key is those two words, ‘well written’), on a professional level I view such tropes as opportunities to subvert readers’ expectations. See Dr. Edmondson in Reformed, or any of the characters in The Soul Bazaar.
So that’s what I offer you, my readers. Well written fiction with its share of surprises. The New Voice in British Horror.
What’s your niche?