Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Gatecrash: Liberating creativity in the age of boilerplate fiction



Last March I developed a long essay on the state of fiction these days, as I see it — particularly the fiction we associate with the indie market. It’s probably thought of mainly as genre fiction, though there’s a mixed bag of material out there, available predominantly as ebooks from Amazon.com. It struck me — still strikes me, in fact — that the tools offered by online publishing present an enormous opportunity that’s not being taken advantage of by writers, artistic freedom being the biggest elephant in the room.

I had planned on publishing the essay as a standalone ebook, but over the course of the year I realized that hawking my novels is hard enough. I’ve decided instead to post it in eleven parts here on the blog, offering it at the end as a free pdf download. Each part will run about a thousand words so it’s easily chewed. I’m hoping for a lively discussion during and after the series as a way to evaluate what’s going on in the world of indie publishing and whether it’s evolving in a positive or negative way. Odds are there are lots of different opinions on that…

Below is the first part, a brief introduction to the theme. But first I’d like to thank Marie Bailey and Susan Toy for reading the essay in advance and giving me some very helpful feedback. Marie and Susan, I’m grateful for your input.

Here is part I of “Gatecrash: Liberating creativity in the age of boilerplate fiction”:



Recently I picked up a favorite old book of mine — gobbled whole when I was young and lingering in my mind ever since — Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Maybe it seems a little dated now, but the ideas author Robert M. Pirsig works through in the book haven’t faded in the years since its first printing: quality, meaning, method, consciousness, and how to live in understanding and appreciation of them. They’re the kind of thing human beings are always, and have always been, grappling with.

In the first few pages I was struck by the metaphor of the road, appreciating how Pirsig and his son prefer the country two-laners and back highways to the interstates on their motorcycle journeys. The winding, unpredictable route, the route on which you might actually get lost, is always superior to the straight shot. And this reminded me of the year I spent in London when I was a student, when I’d purposely walk through the maze-like lanes and alleys with the intention of getting lost. It increased my chances of seeing something rare and remarkable, or at least unexpected. Something to write home about.

Why, I’m wondering nowadays, doesn’t this instinct to seek out new and unpredictable directions extend to our literature? Why are our stories always (it seems to me) variations on the same boilerplate, with minor differences that amount to not much more than splashing a little color on a black-and-white photograph?

That’s what I’d like to dig into in this little broadside.

Publishing has changed immensely over the years. The traditional approach, in which an editor at a staid old New York house found diamonds in the rough and polished them up for modest dissemination (we’re talking literary novels), was always a conservative, low-margin enterprise. Back in the ‘40s, though, at the dawn of the paperback age, the suits realized they could peddle certain kinds of books like candy or cigarettes — on racks in drug stores and bus stations — and it didn’t matter so much what was in the books but instead what was on the covers. A mass market was out there, promising sales in the seven figures rather than three or four. And while a literary author might still be discovered and groomed for the canon, the vast majority of titles became nearly as disposable as razor blades, used for as long as they held up and then tossed.

What the people wanted was now what the publishers mainly dished out. Maybe a handful of “serious,” boundary-stretching books appeared every year, as they still do, but for the most part the model morphed into one of assembly lines and replaceable parts. Books became commodities.

A culture of sameness has grown out of it.

Now, with e-publishing and an explosion in self-published titles, sheer volume renders whole categories of writing more or less generic. Emphasis on selling the maximum number of copies has created a marketplace in which quality isn’t always the draw and can’t really be distinguished anyway, since the tens of thousands of books with essentially the same story are hard to tell apart.

This doesn’t mean that all self-published books are poorly written, or that all traditionals are Pulitzer-worthy. Only that, by and large, indie writers seem to have fallen into the trap of copying rather than innovating. And this is a real shame because, among other things, self-publishing offers something that the Big Five grant only rarely: genuine artistic freedom.

There are more writers out there than ever before, but they’re writing a million versions of a few threadbare stories. Our literature has become a branch of the fast food industry.

The problem is that we’ve left the two-lane country roads in favor of the interstate. We don’t seem to seek out the interesting detour these days. We want to get there as fast as we can. As writers we rely on trusty formulas — a kind of code — and as readers we want to recognize the code and get through books in a hurry. Even a respectable venue like Goodreads encourages members to post outlandish reading goals for the year that would force the average Joe to speed-read his way through every minute of his free time. Quantity over quality.

The series has taken over. A lot of authors strive to publish multiple books a year so they can keep their core readers hooked. Worse, the installments of many series no longer honor structural conventions that would give them the feel of “complete”; instead they are divisions of a larger narrative that is merely divided up into digestible pieces so they can be spread out over a year.

And readers have come to embrace this trend. They’re addicted. Getting there fast has become the standard, gobbling up books like Chips Ahoy cookies, accepting the smallest variations on a theme as distinct works and hardly pausing between the end of one and the beginning of the next.

Even more baffling: To a large degree, readers are now writing and publishing their own books, presumably books they’d like to read. Problem is, they’re all clones of the popular stuff that clogs the plumbing throughout the marketplace. (Writer Michael Lind has noted, aptly, that “When arts die, they become hobbies.” I hope we’re not approaching that stage yet.) This new cohort of writers isn’t using the openness that’s so obviously at its disposal.

As a novelist, and one who has always tried to find different stories to tell (or at least different ways to tell a more familiar tale), I struggle these days with the fundamental idea of creativity and how it fits into our new culture — our 21st century culture of generic consumption.

Is it even necessary to be creative today? Or are creativity and innovation in fiction now viewed as flaws, shortcomings that aren’t rewarded by publishers or appreciated by readers?

More exactly: Why write, if the only thing you’re expected to do is repeat the familiar patterns over and over and over and over…?

[Read and download the entire series here.]

(Image via Gratisography.)


© 2016 by Kevin Brennan

60 comments on “Gatecrash: Liberating creativity in the age of boilerplate fiction

  1. islandeditions
    January 11, 2016


  2. islandeditions
    January 11, 2016

    Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:
    I’m reblogging the first in a series being posted by Kevin Brennan that in total will give readers a longform essay he’s written on “the state of fiction these days.” I had the great fortune and honour to read this essay in its early days, so I don’t hesitate now to reblog the first installment here and recommend to my readers that, if you are interested you should subscribe to Kevin’s blog and read the rest of this very thought-provoking essay. Thanks for writing “Gatecrash”, Kevin! I look forward to rereading the rest in this series.

  3. kingmidget
    January 11, 2016

    Right there with you on this, Kevin. I published my first novel and it was a garden variety legal thriller and I managed to sell several thousand e-copies of the thing. I published my second novel and it was “different” and de-published it after selling very few copies, whether in tangible or in e-form. Each of my unfinished works is “different” in some way. I don’t think writing in the same genre or same structure is interesting. Part of the challenge is finding different ways to tell different stories. Very hard to sell though.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      That’s the thing about rigid formulas. Readers get peeved if they don’t recognize the usual patterns, and they won’t buy books that appear to be different.

      Boggles my mind though. How many books with a naked male torso on the cover do we really need? 😴

      • kingmidget
        January 11, 2016

        Thought about this all day … that’s what happens when work intervenes and I can’t stop for a moment and respond. The interesting thing I find is that in this world of technology, driving more and more options at us, we end up looking for the easy way out.

        A couple of ways of looking at this. In the land of the internet, with all of that information at our fingertips, we were supposed to be more informed, more educated, and more rational. Instead, the propagandists (on all sides) have used the tools of the internet to turn a whole lot of us into unthinking lemmings who react emotionally without thought.

        In the land of food … when I was a kid, there were two kinds of M & Ms. Plain and peanut. The big controversy was when they got rid of the lighter shade of brown M & Ms. Then they added blue!!! Horrors. And now, there are about 15 different “flavors” of M & Ms. And you see that everywhere on the food landscape. More and more options.

        And my reaction to a lot of this is to run from the choices and seek out the old and comfortable.

        And maybe that’s happening in the arts. Cause if you think about it, it’s really hard to find a movie that doesn’t follow one of the tried and true formulas. You have to search for those films. Same too with music … although with streaming services like Spotify it is a lot easier to find a pretty incredible mix of music out there … what sells and makes money is the formulaic.

        And it’s the same with literature, fiction, novels. If you have a book that plugs into the formula, it’s far easier to sell to the masses than one that doesn’t. It’s just kind of one of those things. And as somebody who, like you, tries to come up with a way to tell different stories (that really are just about regular ol’ human beings) in different ways, it’s hard to figure out how to get into that machine.

      • Kevin Brennan
        January 11, 2016

        Yes, to everything you said. Formulas and conventions do make things easier — for the artist and the reader (or listener/viewer). The companies behind this, say, movie studios, don’t care much about “art.” They care about weekend box office totals. Formulas are a hedge against risk.

        But, wow, I remember when M&Ms came in plain or peanut, and it feels like the world was much simpler then! I happened to like the light brown ones. Never had a blue one though. I’m against ’em.

  4. sknicholls
    January 11, 2016

    Guilty as charged. My first book was not even presented in a normal novel template. I wanted it to be different. I wanted it to show my flair for creativity. It was written with passion, in the way the story unfolded in my mind. First, Part One: the nurse in first person, Hannah’s discovery and where that led her to meet interesting people who each had their stories to tell…leading to Part Two: the third person account of two people who were highly influenced by the stories told in Part One. I can’t say it flopped, it sold a couple thousand copies, but some of the criticism about the book had to do with its structure deviating from the acceptable norm. One “professional” organization went so far as to say the book should be rewritten into a trilogy or series, and that Part One was nothing more than character development and had no place in the book. It has 41 reviews and 71% are 5 stars, but the three or four critical reviews pointed to the same flaws…which, ironically, several others regarded as the book’s strengths.

    What to do next…I considered a sequel, or related book, but stalled on that one. Given some time, I threw myself into reading the corny crime novels my husband is entertained by. I fell in love with their snappy dialogue and colorful characters. He challenged me to write one, to start my own series. So I did. The style of that novel is so very different, you wouldn’t think the same person wrote it.

    It’s sort of my own personal experiment. Do I write commercial fiction? Or do I follow my heart instead of my head?

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      It’s a real dilemma for the writer, particularly when what’s different about a book is seen as a flaw. There’s no accounting for taste…

      Clearly, though, there’s strong demand for “commercial fiction.” Hence the name…

  5. Giovannoni Claudine
    January 11, 2016

    I guess the main problem is the lack of imagination… and, worst of all, more and more are just trying to please a common target: go below the belt becoming stereotype ridiculous.
    Thank you for this article, you’re very explicit, clear and effective…. with pleasure I will follow on your blog.
    Serenity :-)claudine

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      Thanks for your comment, Claudine. I agree that the lack of imagination is the fundamental problem here, because without imagination novels become simply a commodity, like soap.

      Thanks for visiting!

  6. jeanette taylor ford
    January 11, 2016

    I think that my books will probably never be looked upon as ‘commercial fiction’ because each one is different and so the only pattern that emerges is my writing style. Although I confess to falling into writing a trilogy but I hope each of those books are different and don’t fall into a formula; although they are three parts of the same story they are also complete in themselves. I write because I love writing and I write what I want to write and I don’t fall into any category. Because of that, I will probably not achieve what every writer wants to achieve – to become ‘known’ and ready to churn out the next variation on the same theme. But I love being part of the authors’ fraternity and have learned so much.

    I have signed up to follow your blog and will read the rest with interest. Thank you very much.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      Welcome, Jeanette, and thanks for following!

      It’s understandable that writers gravitate toward series, really, since they’re told all the time that readers love series and having lots of books sells more books. I just wish writers would find a way to use the series model more uniquely. How about a trilogy where it’s the same tale but told in three different points of view? Or, like the TV show “Fargo,” the three plots are in the same place but in different times? (Maybe that’s been done by someone already…)

      But you’re right. Writing is also personally fulfilling, and there’s nothing wrong with writing whatever accomplishes that for the individual writer.

  7. 1WriteWay
    January 11, 2016

    Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    Come join the discussion on Kevin Brennan’s blog regarding the current state and future of literature in the self-publishing world! Experimentation vs formula. Where do you stand as a writer? As a reader?

    I’m reblogging Kevin’s first installment of his very fine essay, but you’ll have to sign up for his blog to get notice of the rest 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      Thanks for the reblog, Marie. Already seeing lots of new faces!

      • 1WriteWay
        January 11, 2016

        Hope they’ll stick around 🙂

  8. Parlor of Horror
    January 11, 2016

    Great article Kevin, look forward to reading more. The problem is not only with books and ebooks. We live in an homogenized world. You can’t deny the fact that the music scene is rehashing the same 10 songs it always has and no one is looking for anything different. TV shows are all the same, movies are all the same too. I’ve stopped watching superhero films because the formula is so blatant and obvious to me it angers me. My answer to that is to set up the usual fare in my tales and then let my individualism seep into the story. Don’t know if it works or if I’ve gone far enough but that’s my plan.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      So true. Homogenized, generic, saymo saymo. I don’t know how bad it has to get before the audience rebels!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Viva individualism!

  9. Anne Hagan
    January 11, 2016

    Unique is good but unique, for indies, that aren’t in series, don’t sell books. If an indie wants to sell books, he or she needs to appeal to readers with an array of offerings that either all follow a theme or are in series.

    Series can be unique with each book being slightly different than those that went before. It’s up to the writer to make them so but to also include the tropes and the characters the reading audience loves to keep them happy.

    I cut my writing teeth reading the mystery fiction of writers like Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich; boilerplate, commercial fiction if there ever was any. The readers love it. So, a good writer (which I one day hope to be), using those sorts of works as an example, can step off with an idea of what will please the populace but still, with a little effort, put a unique spin on it. I write similar stories to those two leading ladies of detective fiction but mine feature middle aged lesbian protagonists with extended family, living in a small village in conservative rural America working, loving and playing among all of the loony things that can happen when you mix a liberal/alt lifestyle with farm family culture. The stories may have time honored tropes but the spin is all my own and my own readers love it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      I appreciate your comment, Anne, and you raise the sticky point that’s at the root of all of this: selling books. Later in the series I get into the profit motive and its influence (or lack thereof) on innovation. Stay tuned!

      Anyone who can do something fresh with the old tropes is OK in my book.

  10. John W. Howell
    January 11, 2016

    Nice Job Kevin. I purposely try to find books to read that are a little off the beaten path (hence my consistent choice of yours). As far as my own work is concerned I have been beaten bloody for daring to tell a story with a nontypical hero and a difficult POV. I totally agree with what you say and once my fourth book is published the three people outside my family who read it will say I stuck to the out of the box code. I will look forward to the rest of this series.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      Thank you, John. And by the way, maybe you should give up writing if readers are beating you bloody. Sounds unnecessarily violent.

      It’s just fiction, people!

  11. Adrienne Morris
    January 11, 2016

    I always think of visual artists since that’s what I studied before writing. A lot of artists didn’t make much money in their day, but followed a lifestyle of creativity and individualism. They seemed to understand that the process of creating was the most important part.

    One of the biggest hurdles I faced presenting my novel to agents was the size of it. I intentionally wrote the book I wanted to write–a family saga about an addicted soldier and his wife. I thought about the authors and books I loved and felt I wasn’t finding those qualities in modern books. Throwing away the pressure of the market (or to my mind selling out to the market) freed me to happily create something I’m proud of.

    As an indie I’m still grappling with affording editing services etc, but I’ve loved every minute of designing covers, learning to blog etc.

    Of course I love my readers so after the first book I did serialize the next story idea I had because people actually complained that it was hard to carry my first book in their pocketbooks 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 11, 2016

      I think you’re right about visual artists, Adrienne, and I wish I could see more of that attitude in writing.

      As for family sagas, aren’t they famously huge? “Saga” seems biggish to me. What am I not getting, agents? 😉

  12. L. Marie
    January 14, 2016

    Great essay!
    Many times, we give in to the notion of giving the public what we think they want. If a totalitarian government style of dystopian fiction works, well then I need to write that kind of dystopian fiction. Which breeds a culture of sameness. Pioneers and visionaries have a harder time getting something new to pass muster.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 14, 2016

      Nice to see you again! Thanks for commenting.

      It’s true. So many writers stick their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, and pretty soon there’s a plethora of Bigfoot Erotica on the market!

      It doesn’t help that traditional publishers are by and large so timid about new approaches.

  13. Dylan Hearn
    January 15, 2016

    Really great essay, Kevin. Very thought provoking. For me the first question is why writers write Is it to create art or is it to create money (or both)? Then there is the question of whether the writers create the market or the market creates writers? How much of our enjoyment of a story comes from familiarity, rather than the new?
    The interesting part for me is that, from your description, literary fiction stretching the boundaries of the art has never had a large market. This means that not only will few writers write in this fashion, they won’t have read enough literary fiction to know there are alternatives to how they write.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 15, 2016

      Is sure looks like, today, the market has created the writers. Or at least a great majority of them. As I said in one of the posts, there’s something of a fanfic air about a lot of indie novels, a sort of “I can do that too!” feel. Not that there aren’t some diamonds out there, but I get the sense that it’s mostly about a love of a certain genre.

      And you’re so right: If you haven’t done the required reading, you won’t know which direction to go in.

  14. Dylan Hearn
    January 15, 2016

    Reblogged this on Suffolk Scribblings and commented:
    This is the first of a series of posts by Kevin Brennan about indie publishing and the art of writing. I agree with a lot of what Kevin says, not all, but as a thought-provoking look at where literature is heading his series of posts are excellent (with more to come).

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 15, 2016

      Thanks for reblogging, Dylan. I hope your readers pop over and join in the discussion!

  15. Helen Treharne
    January 15, 2016

    Reblogged this on Helen Treharne.

  16. Larry Kahaner
    January 15, 2016

    Kevin: Excellent take. I have posted this on my FB page.

  17. jimmastro2
    January 15, 2016

    What an insightful and thought-provoking essay! Kevin, you’ve really put your finger on it. In the history of art, whether it is literature, painting, or music, the greatest works are often ones where the artist broke convention and struck out in an entirely new direction. By the same token, these ground-breaking works were often initially panned and shunned by the populace (and sometimes even critics) because they were just too different from what they were used to.

    Humans are just like all other animals; we gravitate to the familiar because it is safe and comfortable. (There are obviously good evolutionary reasons for this.) The best way for an artist to overcome this tendency and still be truly creative (and to experience commercial and sometimes even critical success) is to create something that is mostly familiar but different enough to be intriguing. People, like animals, are particularly drawn to familiar things that are also slightly different. That makes them safe, but interesting at the same time.

    Doing this may be much harder than either of the alternatives (i.e., creating something really different or creating the same old hash).

    I look forward to your next installment. In the meantime, I will re-blog this (www.jimmastro.com). (FYI, I first saw this because Dylan Hearn re-blogged it. Thanks, Dylan!)

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 15, 2016

      Thanks, Jim. Nice to meet you, via Dylan!

      Of course, I’m not saying that every novel has to be groundbreaking, but it just seems like we’re stuck in a rut nowadays and can’t find a way to climb out of it. Maybe from the reader’s point of view there can never be enough teen vampire dystopia novels, but to imagine an entire culture dependent on stuff like makes me want to retire and grow bonsai trees.

      Thanks for the reblog too!

      • jimmastro2
        January 15, 2016

        My reaction to yet another slate of teen vampire dystopia novels would be rather more immediate and visceral than growing bonsai! 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        January 15, 2016


  18. Pingback: Liberating Creativity – Re-Blog | Jim Mastro

  19. allenappel
    January 15, 2016

    Excellent piece. I’ll be reblogging it on my thethrillerguy.blogspot.com site. I’m a novelist but have a slightly different way of looking at this because I’m also a long-time thriller reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 15, 2016

      Thanks a lot, Allen! And I appreciate your stopping by.

      I think one important aspect of all of this is that publishing is in the midst of a huge transformation, which includes not just an explosion in the number of books coming out every year but also corporate consolidation on the traditional side of things. I worry that publishers are really selling categories and not individual books, per se.

      It’s fascinating to watch, and be part of!

  20. Audrey Driscoll
    January 15, 2016

    Reblogged this on Audrey Driscoll's Blog and commented:
    Here’s the first of a series of posts about creativity vs. formula in fiction writing. I’m looking forward to the rest. And the comments are worth reading too.

  21. Audrey Driscoll
    January 15, 2016

    The choice seems to be between sticking to the formula so as to sell one’s books or following one’s creative impulses and resigning oneself to limited sales. Not really a new phenomenon, as some have pointed out. One influence might be advice in blogs and elsewhere that implies a writer is a failure if they don’t follow the “rules,” such as limiting description, avoiding “flowery” language, planting that all-important “hook,” etc.
    I’m looking forward to the rest of your essay.

  22. The Opening Sentence
    January 16, 2016

    A well written and timely article. I’m looking forward to the rest of it too. However, I don’t think the authors of boilerplate fiction will take much notice if they’re busy writing the fourth instalment of their trilogy and scouring Twitter for the next bit of advice on keywords and adverbs.

    Several times I have invited authors who write outside the box to be a guest on my blog and promote themselves and their work. The lack of response has been infuriating. (I tend to ban romance, erotic fiction and YA dystopia.) I wonder if a lot of authors follow the formulas, not just because they think it sells, but because they want to take ownership of something they’ve previously enjoyed: love the Hunger Games? Relive it by writing your own version of it.

    I write about vampires, which is like a literary death sentence at the moment. On the one hand there is a saturated market of buffed up men and horny women, whilst at the same time we’re told no one reads vampires any more. I tell folk it’s character driven literary fiction, but that doesn’t work! The potential of genre writing can be a lucrative outlet for those who sign up to it, and a smothering curse for those who don’t. The problem is trying to tell people you’re work is different when everyone in the room is shouting ‘buy me buy me.’

  23. Helen Jones
    January 16, 2016

    Creative freedom is one of the things I love most about being an independent writer. The self-promotion, not so much – though I understand it’s much the same when you’re traditionally published these days. But yes, being able to write the story I want, to be able to explore ideas freely without being limited to genre – I’m grateful every day for platforms like Amazon.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 16, 2016

      You’re so right, Helen. And that creative control extends to the cover art too. I remember when HarperCollins was preparing the paperback of my first novel, and they suggested this ridiculous cover that literally had nothing to do with the content of the book. I thought, They’re phoning this in! Luckily we were able to persuade them to take another shot at it, but it was like pulling teeth.

      But being able to write the book you want to write is the greatest benefit of indie, by far.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      • Helen Jones
        January 16, 2016

        Yes! I had a vision of what I’d like my cover to look like, and it’s been incredibly satisfying to create it (in conjunction with a designer). I doubt I’d have had any control at all had I been picked up by a publisher. I’m glad you were able to get a better cover for your book – it must have been incredibly frustrating.

  24. Vonclair
    January 17, 2016

    I believe creativity will always be there in fiction. It is true though, self publishing has become very easy as of late and with it came a large number of people who were inspired by the popular titles of the time.
    Titles don’t become popular for nothing though, within them there is something that ensnares the reader, something that was fascinating enough to spark an explosion of thought and emotion within the reader.

    When the reader has finished the book/series they loved, many would often find themselves seeking something that can give them the same thrill (if they hadn’t gotten their fill of it).
    Often they would look within the same genre or find books with similar ideas.
    Meanwhile, other authors (or readers even) would see the potential profit and begin to write their own stories to match the popular title.

    The formulas to write these books came to be because they worked so well for the original author, everyone loved the formula and will continue to love it until the next big thing comes out, from there a new formula will arise (unless it shares many similar aspects to the older formula, in which case, the old formula had simply been updated). The next big thing will often be something that someone made out of their creativity and hard work.

    I wont deny that there are certain kinds of stories that appeal more to the masses than other stories though. Some genres are simply more popular than others, some stories are more likely to become popular with people, but that all depends on the age, the number of, and interests of the readers.
    It is not all doom and gloom for those that want to be (very) different though, some will find their way to the spotlight, but like so many things in our world, this will take a lot of skill, marketing and hard work (and a bit of luck).

    Creativity will never leave our beloved art, it has simply become harder to find (and advertise) with all these copycats, trope riders and fast food type easy reads piling up on top of it.

    This is certainly food for thought and I do enjoy these kinds of interesting posts. I’ll be anxiously waiting for the next post.

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 17, 2016

      Thanks for your well laid out argument. I guess what bothers me is that so many writers are willing to produce so much of the same thing to satisfy those readers you talk about.

      Like Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

      Thanks so much for commenting and following!

  25. M T McGuire
    January 18, 2016

    I think all arts go through periods of homogenisation. Look at music. I the late 1970s it was all cover versions and the last sputtering of disco. Most stuff was a poor rehash of what had gone before. Novelty records rode the charts. Then suddenly we had punk, ska, and two tone.

    A lot of readers do want to read the same thing again and again. As I understood it, the demand for pulp novels rose with levels of literacy among folks who were less educated, less sophisticated and less imaginative. Although In the end it was the less imaginative from all backgrounds and education levels that embraced the books. Sorry I don’t really know how to say that without sounding like a terrible snob.

    Good luck to them and those who write for them. But they are not the people I am talking to. I write the books I like in the hope that if I enjoy them other people will. The trick, as I see it has always been about finding them. I don’t consciously set out to make my books different but I believe they are. They’re light humorous sci fi and fantasy but, in my defence, I’ve never written a vampire book, or a nookie book about shape changers or a book about zombies. None of my books is set post apocalypse either. That said I am totally guilty of writing a series and it probably is one 600,000 book divided into four but try pricing up a print on demand book that long and you’ll see why! I probably am also a hobby author in that I’m a full time mum and I have little choice about being anything else. But I take my work very seriously. Phnark.

    I hope that sooner or later the literary scene will get something similar to punk which to quote the great Jonny rotten, will come a long ‘like a refreshing gust of bad breath’ and make everything new. At the same time having had to try and sell books that don’t fit easily into a single genre I am beginning to understand why publishers and the other successful of my brethren keep things simple. It makes stuff so much easier to sell.



    • Kevin Brennan
      January 19, 2016

      Thanks for your insight, MT. Another angle, I think, is that a huge chunk of the readership at large read only for entertainment. Books are another branch on the movie/TV/game tree, and they have trouble competing unless they meet expectations. Funny, because I’ve always believed that books have so much more to offer than entertainment.

      As far as genre writing is concerned, I’m all for innovation there too. If someone does something fresh with sci-fi or romance (see my Occasional Soulmates, for instance!), it helps bring readers along.

      PS — You should hook up with @JexShinigami, out of Lancaster. She’s another humor/sci-fi maven! (Or humour, if you prefer…)

      • M T McGuire
        January 19, 2016

        Ooo thanks. I’ll look out for her. I’m like you, I like stuff to be different and interesting. If I can predict the plot it’s really annoying. 🙂

  26. cinthiaritchie
    January 19, 2016

    Love the analogy to Chips Ahoy cookies, which is very telling since cheap, mass-produced cookies may very well taste good and may very well leave you feeling initially satisfied. Yet, eat too many and you’re stuck with a bellyache plus a few extra pounds around your waist. That’s what it most formula books do to me: leave me feeling heavy and dissatisfied and craving the crunch of a good fiction or literary nonfiction read. (Like craving carrots after eating too many sweets, you know?)

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 19, 2016

      I’m not sure what my food analogy to literary fiction would be… Definitely not carrots. Maybe a nice risotto con funghi.

  27. Wayne Halm
    January 26, 2016

    Aloha Kevin,

    Good post! I’m following to read the rest – so far we are in lock-step.

    I write and sell stories. I’m much better at writing than selling but I’ve got a plan for that. I’ve developed a Marketing Plan and I’m working on increasing my name recognition. (You haven’t heard of me? Well, I guess I have to work harder.)

    Kevin, I much enjoyed your post and I’m impressed at the number and quality of your replies to comments.

    A Hui Hou (until next time),

    • Kevin Brennan
      January 27, 2016

      Thanks for stopping by, Wayne. Yes, it really is something of a full-time job to maintain a so-called brand, and the problem most of us indies have is incorporating that into our writing lives.

      Good luck with your writing!

  28. Pingback: My reading challenge – Cinthia Ritchie

  29. ianmillerblog
    February 4, 2016

    Kevin, I have to confess that while I think my writing is reasonably original, in that there isn’t a lot like it (although of course if you break it down there are only a limited number of basic plots) being original does not sell all that well. Only too many readers want comfort, and they don’t want to think. As an example, I wrote my “Miranda’s Demons” effectively as an attempt at the big concepts of “War and Peace”, but set in the distant future. Everyone seems to think it is too long. I have had emails saying, “Nice concept, but I don’t like more than 80,000 words, so no thanks.” Can’t be helped, though. I think that I shall continue to try to be original, and hope that sooner or later some readers will appreciate it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 5, 2016

      It can be awfully frustrating at times, Ian. If we cater to the gatekeepers’ standards, then nothing new gets done. Yet, if we ignore them, we can’t publish.

      Interestingly, lots of fairly long books have come out in recent years, so maybe things are changing …

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This entry was posted on January 11, 2016 by in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , .
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