Chardonnay or Beer
Now, there are some very posh and expensive wines which remind me of cats wee (at least by smell. I don’t think I have tasted that, unless that was what was in the glass). Not everyone shares my opinion, and quite a lot more people pretend not to. It’s best ‘enjoyed’ with fish, because fish often comes with a piece of lemon, and if you suck the lemon first it does wonders for the taste, if nothing for the smell. It’s considered really bad manners to plug your nose with pieces of the fish, but sometimes a lack of couth is worth it.
Some of us have beer tastes, on a beer budget, which is a good thing.
When things at home are soft, safe, comfortable, and let’s face it, a little boring – nice (safe) tours of foreign places and their problems are cool. Armchair touring – via a movie or a book – can be fun too, allowing the armchair tourist to vicariously experience things – from horrors, tragedies, deep emotions to a great or a strange sex life – that are way outside of their reality. It’s a pleasant, safe escapism, sometimes with a frisson of illicit (but safe) excitement and sometimes suitably patting the armchair participant on their beliefs and prejudices. The book or movie leaves the reader feeling satisfied with themselves and subconsciously a little grateful for that boredom and comfort.
It’s a market. There are customers looking for books for just that reason. As an author, looking to sell books, judging my customers is not my job. Pleasing them is -or pleasing enough to make a living is.
It is a group I think of as ‘the exclusive country club people’ – reasonably well-off, never gone to bed hungry – quite possibly their parents or grandparents never went to bed hungry, or wondered how to pay the rent. They worry more about the choice of color, make and model of their car, than whether it will break down today or tomorrow. Their problems are first-world, upper/upper-middle class problems. Their sufferings, if any, are largely imaginary and magnified by their context (“that nasty aircon repairman didn’t pay infinite attention to my litany of the agony I have suffered in the half hour it took him to get here. He’s a sexist pig, persecuting me. Patriarchal oppression!!”) and their ‘victimhood’ trivial on the broader scale. They probably went to a top 10%-by-cost college, took a degree quite possibly something non-lucrative (because why not ‘follow your dream’ of English Literature, or Medieval Architecture?) and live in a sought-after suburb – which probably is largely white.
They are well served by country club origin authors, who understand their world and how they think and what they want. They’re well-connected in the arts and publishing world, went to the right schools, right colleges, attended the right workshops, hobnobbed with the right people at the right conventions etc. They probably claim to be victims of sexism and/racism or homophobia etc. which they are… in the same sense as the poor oppressed woman who had put up with having no air conditioner for half an hour is. But then oppression and suffering are relative (A man with dime if all his neighbors have a dollar feels poor, a man with a dime when all his neighbors have a cent feels rich), so they may not see it that way. They really know nothing about the misery they write about, but then, neither do their readers. They share the same illusions about it and are happy believing that.
Of course, while people do turn to escapism out of ennui… there IS another reason. And that, obviously, is escapism from a real world that is not quite as soft or pleasant – maybe also boring, maybe horrible. Where the armchair escape takes the reader to place where things are not so hopeless, where they’re not battling, in debt, or sick, where dinner is not Ramen noodles again, and where Joe (or Jane) Ordinary gets the sexual partner of their dreams (often this is the only element shared by the two extremes). Often as not, the hero starts in a bad situation too – but fights their way up, successfully. This type is why books ALWAYS sold well in economic downturns. That immersive book is besides being an escape also, often as not, a beacon of hope, and a source of uplift, better even than a cross-your-heart bra.
The hothouse flower can also flourish writing for this audience – because they know what the audience aspire to, if not come from. But it is harder for them to do well, because they often fail to grasp how the strugglers feel, and what is important to them.
The division isn’t clean and clear cut of course. Readers cross the spectrum, and although few of us manage to have the exclusive country club upper middle-class to wealthy background, quite a lot of people at least have elements enough of it – life is not that hard. And there is always the element of ‘cousin Worseoff, which people enjoy too (I’m battling but I’m better off than Fred Worseoff, so I feel good), as well as entertaining characters who can appeal or amuse in any kind of book. There are crossovers too – Fifty Shades of Grey – where a dull woman gets a handsome, wealthy ‘scary’ partner for some kinky sex.
Both groups, oddly, like their stereotype and standard tropes and plots – often more than something unique. As one of my writer acquaintances said readers claim to be looking for ‘new’ but what they really want is ‘new old’.
But to the people on either extreme… well, the reader who loves the book about the sufferings of the oppressed victims of the patriarchy succumbing eventually to their evil and having the world destroyed because all men are racists and bad, is obviously going to hate one of my books – and vice versa.
Which is not to say either is a ‘good’ book. They’re good for specific readers, from specific backgrounds looking for entirely different things.
The question you as an author need to ask is: which kind can I write? And can I reach that audience? And why am I doing this? For social kudos and status among my peer group? To preach? (if so, to whom? The converted or the ‘heathen’? – because either way, they not going to read it unless it appeals.) To sell books and make a living?
Now, for me, it’s the latter. And I am reading ‘economic downturn’ in my tea-leaves (no, I don’t just drink zero hedge brand tea).
So what do you think?
Who do you write for?
What do you want to read?
Where is the biggest, hungriest market?