International Bon Vivant and Raconteur (nick_kaufmann) wrote,
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur

Take the Risk

There are two recently published horror novels of note that I would like to bring to your attention. I haven't read either yet (though both have garnered some high praise), but that's not why I'm mentioning them. I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about risk.

The first book is Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. It's a horror thriller about werewolves in East L.A., and it's published by HarperCollins.

The second book is The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. Something of a mix between Jaws and Memento, it's a thriller about a man trying to remember who he is while running from the ghost sharks that are eating his memory, and it's published by Canongate USA, an offshoot of an Edinburgh publishing house. Oh, and it was named Rue Morgue Magazine's best novel of 2007.

Now keep in mind that both books are published by trade publishers with excellent distribution, both books can be found in just about every bookstore, and both books are getting high-profile review attention, when I tell you this:

Sharp Teeth is told entirely in verse. That's right, a horror novel about werewolves written in poetry and published by a major New York house.

The Raw Shark Texts isn't told in verse, but it does use line breaks and spacing to craft its text into pictures on the page, as well as various typographic games and codes, and a flip book to boot.

So what's my point?

The next time someone tells you your manuscript is too "artsy" or "different" to sell, especially to the horror market, tell them about these books the way you might have told them about House of Leaves ten years ago, then tell them to shut the fuck up because HarperCollins just did a werewolf novel in verse, motherfuckers!

Publishing can be an awfully risk-averse business most of the time -- lord knows there are plenty of heartbreaking stories authors can tell you, especially about the editing process -- but sometimes risk pays off, sometimes something different slips through, and sometimes, just sometimes, it's that different thing that makes the big splash and gets noticed.

So the point here is, take the risk. Always take the risk. Don't water down your writing to make it more palatable to what you imagine the audience will be, don't comb through your manuscript looking for big words to replace with smaller words because some numbnut at a convention told you it'll sell better that way. Don't worry that your chapters are too long because someone on a message board said short chapters are "in" right now.

Always take the risk. Let the marketplace, not conventional wisdom, which is frequently wrong, decide if what you're writing is too out there or not. Life is too short to compromise out of fear of rejection. I say go nuts. Write the artsiest thing you can think of. Write it fearlessly. Want to leave out quotation marks? Fuck it, leave 'em out. No punctuation or capitalization? Give it a shot, see what happens.

Don't be afraid to be different. After all, I'm sure Toby Barlow was told he was nuts to write a werewolf novel in verse -- and I hesitate to think what would have happened had he or Steven Hall visited any number of horror message boards while writing their books -- but now he has a major novel out from HarperCollins.

So yeah, it may sound pretentious, but what I'm trying to say here is, don't be afraid to turn your craft into art because you think no one will buy it. There's a good chance they will. Maybe even a better one, as literary horror begins to sell more strongly than category horror.

Because what comes out when you write fearlessly will be, without fail, your best work. Every time.
Tags: horror, writing
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