Deviating from the 'norm'

There's a reason why there are a variety of publishers out there. They choose a cross-section of the consumers toward which to gear their reputation and marketing. Once established, a rare few are willing to bend the parameters within which they deem a book's concepts and sub-genres 'acceptable' to their business model.

Ultimately, that's why a writer has to choose carefully a publishing house that fits the book they've written. Let it never be said that one limits the content or parameters of what is written strictly to what sells. If it can be written, with quality and depth, it can be sold. Full stop.

I spent many years frustrated by the limited content of quality stories on the market. The ones that venture into the darker shadows, that shed the skin of socio-cultural norms, and liberate the reader one eloquent word at a time. I recall thinking at one point, in frustration --

"Must I write every book I want to read?"

Thankfully, I don't. And in the past decade, the emerging market of electronic publishing has made it a less daunting task for publishing houses to delve into sub-genres that are less mainstream, and more niche. Not less of a risk. but less daunting.

The nice thing about it is being able to watch the niche markets gain weight and momentum. Granted, I doubt they'll ever spill into mainstream. But they have a strong and burgeoning slice of the customer base, and I can tell you now -- that's not going to go away.

Not with DADT being revoked. Not with the US Navy floundering over the permissibility of same-sex marriages on their bases. Welcome to the new world, mainstream writers. I expect you'll need to open that envelope of yours and step outside your box, toss away the formulas and inject some life into your stories if you want to stay competitive.

Why am I rambling this way?
I don't structure my writing strictly around the mainstream definitions of "what sells", but I have recently instigated a fresh story based on a specific submission call. And, like the social deviant that I am, the story immediately swung way out over left field and soared straight (haha) out of the park.

And as the story unfolds, I find I have my fingers crossed as I hope for a home run and not a foul ball. There are these blurry ethical lines at the edges of science fiction and fantasy. Does shifter sex constitute bestiality, if the shifter is fully sapient no matter the form? Do you apply the same rules of constraint to an alien species that is only marginally humanoid? Ethically speaking, the parameters as I have understood them have existed solely as a bounds of "one does not engage in sexual acts with a partner incapable of consent without duress." [For the purposes of this discussion, maturity is assumed.]

Granted a reader's sensitivity to the subject plays into the equation. But the Merriam-Webster definition uses "lower animal" -- can one safely draw the assumption that "lower" is a reference to intellect, awareness, and higher brain function, not physical stature?

Thus, the grey area that blurs the ethics, the reader's comfort zone, and causes many a publisher to shy away from a story. My endeavor, however, is to depict my aliens not as "lower", but as equals if not betters. That they choose to live in harmony with the ecology of their planet as opposed to destroying it with 'civilization' would echo strongly of Avatar. But I thought that movie echoed strongly of white man's invasion of North America, of stripping the land from the natives, down to the tribal diversity. The only deviation truly being the whisper of This is what would have happened, if the Indians had stood together sooner.

Of course, the short story I'm delving into has no such lofty aspirations.
And perhaps now that I've thought at least part of the way through this ethical quandary I created for myself, I can find my way back into actually getting the damned thing written.


  1. Great post m'dear. And I'll say for the who knows how many-ith time...

    Write what comes to you. Do NOT tailor it for the "acceptable" market. There's enough authors doing that already.

    Now go... make great book!


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