My son has the amazingly annoying habit of looking over my shoulder while I read, and since we get the newspaper on Sundays, he always reads over my shoulder. Today, he asked, “Who is Kamala Harris and what’s going on with her?”
I looked at the column on the right and there was an announcement that she’s running for President. I relayed the message and his response surprised me.
“Yes! Finally a woman and not just another man.”
What prompted his excitement about a politician, I really don’t know. Maybe it was watching Captain Marvel last weekend. Maybe it was that he sees women in most leadership roles in his life since all of his teachers and doctors have been women—even his martial arts teachers have been women. Or maybe he has deep thoughts about gender in politics that go beyond our dining room.
What struck me is that his viewpoint is so different than what I expected from him; he is nine after all. The article in the newspaper jumped out at him, whereas I glanced over it without taking notice. The whole idea that we would have different reactions to the same article struck me as interesting.
Why does this matter to writers?
Have you ever worried that spending time writing your book about the history of African-American aviators would go nowhere? Have you considered picking up a different hobby, worried that no one wants to read a book about driving Land Rovers off-road? Or what about the fantasy book series that has elements of history and science? Have you been concerned that publishers will laugh at the idea?
Guess what: New and interesting ideas sell and they have the potential to sell well.
Before J.K. Rowling was picked up for her Harry Potter series, publishers didn’t see a market for her books and thought of young adult fantasy as a money-losing genre. Before Ray Bradbury released Fahrenheit 451, the interest level in dystopian fiction had dried up. And before Stephen King published Carrie, no one could have predicted that the horror genre would be taken over by a Maine English teacher and become a best-selling sensation.
Is this true only of novels? No, not at all.
Do you remember 2010? This was the time when films made it to the box office because they were written, produced, and directed by men. And their protagonists needed to be men, especially white men. But then Frozen came along, and suddenly Disney broke its formula by offering a story about sisters saving each other and any love story was secondary. Then we got Hidden Figures, Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Wonder Woman. It seemed like out of nowhere people were excited to see films made by and about women.
About two weeks ago, a writer who had attended one of my memoir workshops reached out to me. He asked if his book idea was worth pursuing. Did it have any possibility of being picked up by a publisher? Was there any kind of market for his ideas? Would anyone want to read about his life?
The answer is yes. Definitely yes.
When you have an idea that is different, there may not be an open market in the first moment that you have the thought. You may not have the easiest time finding an agent or a publisher who is ready to take on that project and run with it. But that doesn’t mean the story won’t find its audience. Because if you have an idea that people want to read, then you have a market waiting to be tapped.
Just as my son surprised me that he wants to have a female President, new ideas can be refreshing, interesting, and liberating. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we think is true that we don’t always open ourselves up to what could become true.
Who knew ten years ago that female-centered films would take over Hollywood? I don’t know that anyone predicted the change in the industry, but when it happened, the whole field shifted.
The same can happen with your book idea. Just because your book doesn’t have a clear market or audience today doesn’t mean that it won’t have an audience when you are ready to publish.
People are on the lookout for new ideas, and when something appealing comes along, people tend to jump on it.
So, keep your pen at the paper. Keep working on your book and stick with your stories, even if the ideas seem unusual or unpopular. We can’t predict today what people will want to read tomorrow, so give your ideas the time and energy to develop.
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