“By doing his work he makes the needs felt which he can supply,
and creates the taste by which he is enjoyed.”
— Emerson, Spiritual Laws
I recently saw an ad for an Early American-style maple writing desk from the 1950s. I went to the owner’s apartment to see it and discovered another delight—original oil paintings of life on the prairie in the late 1800s covered the apartment walls. Many of my books are set on the prairie during this period, and I went from one picture to another, entranced. The painter, deceased, was the grandmother of the man selling the desk. In her 40s or 50s, she began telling her grandchildren stories about her grandparents’ and mother’s emigration from Sweden and their life on the Minnesota prairie. She wanted the children to see the stories, so she—not a painter before this time—painted them, not intending to sell them. But others loved her family story pictures, and she became a well-known artist. Today her pictures and prints hang in homes and museums across the world, including two in the Smithsonian.
I asked her son whether he inherited her talent. He modestly replied, “Yes, I make my living as an artist, but I’m only a commercial artist.” He definitely followed a different path than his grandmother; he creates flash art for tattoos. His studio is one of the premier studios in the country, and his company has grown to include the talents of artists from around the globe. He didn’t envision such success when he began; he simply brought to life the images in his head.
My thoughts have played a lot with the concept of our work creating our markets in the two weeks since I discovered these two artists.
In the traditional publishing world, we often set aside an idea that intrigues us if we or an editor or agent feel the idea won’t be popular with readers. Or we twist or reshape or smash the idea into something smaller and less than it seemed originally in order to fit a proven market. There isn’t anything “wrong” in that, but the success of indie authors—whether or not traditionally published—proves agents and editors aren’t always correct in their assumptions on what stories readers crave.
Books that break the mold are often those that steer a genre in another direction, or create a new craze.
They are stories the author loves. I believe if there is something we long to write, we are not alone in wanting to explore that topic or idea, whether as writers or readers.
About 15 years ago an editor for an inspirational romance line told me she was receiving many proposals with divorced heroes or heroines. “I don’t understand why,” she said. “The guidelines clearly state that’s not allowed in our line. We want our stories to present the idea that a Christian marriage is meant to last a lifetime.”
I understood her reasoning, but I wondered—if so many writers wanted to tell the story of a divorced hero or heroine, did that not indicate there were many readers who wanted to experience those stories?
When Robin Lee Hatcher moved from the secular market to the Christian market, her first inspirational novel dealt with divorce, and it was well received.
Indie publishing may reduce the sense of risk a writer experiences when trying something new, but there’s still that question: Will readers like it?
Writers and visual artists aren’t the only ones with that question. When singer/song writer Kenny Loggins started out he was told, “Just make your own music and you create your own genre.” Loggins’ style has certainly