The Domination of the Light Read

Finding the right readers has been a big challenge for my first book. It’s a coming-of-age story with equal parts political violence, historical intrigue, and romance. But I’m beginning to realize that maybe readers don’t want all of that other junk complicating a character’s relationships. Maybe they don’t want a raw, real, not-so-happy ending when it comes to love. And infusing your book with social issues and other uncomfortable subject matter? Why bother? No one cares.

Or do they?

This is what I’m trying to figure out. Lately it seems like all of the books skyrocketing up Amazon’s bestsellers list are strictly romances, most of them under the umbrella of New Adult. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I’m wondering where a book like mine will ever fit in. Where the other books I’ve been working on will fit in. One of the bloggers lined up to review my book abandoned it after the first few chapters because it was “too dark.” I totally understood. I expected that reaction from some people. But I’m starting to wonder how the rise in popularity of New Adult romances is going to effect the tastes of readers long term.

Without the influence of gatekeepers, you’d think we’d see an increase in diversity among books being read by the general public. But it feels like there’s been a huge influx of one particular genre and in fiction that closely resembles all of the other guilty obsessions most Americans indulge in on a regular basis—reality television and top 40 pop radio and summer teenage blockbusters.

And while, like I said, there’s nothing wrong with preferring pastimes that are on the lighter side, I’m wondering if people still find value in things that aren’t. In things that are real and multi-dimensional and have some depth. Do people even care about depth anymore? Is that what they really want these days? I’m not sure and that’s a little scary.

I’m curious, has anyone else struggled with finding an audience for work that might be more on the literary side? Is there anyone out there self-publishing something other than genre fiction? And readers, what do you think about New Adult romances? And do you find yourself gravitating more toward lighter reads these days?


9 thoughts on “The Domination of the Light Read

  1. I personally don’t like sweet and nice romance novels. Happy endings and beautiful relationships are in my mind a bit cliché. I would like to read your book as I enjoy reading books that have the “darker” side to them.
    I also enjoy books that have depth, those that make me think and feel something.
    I haven’t self published anything yet ( my first is still WIP ) so I can’t answer that question you asked. But I hope this has helped a bit.

    • Thanks! And that does help–it gives me some perspective. I’ve always appreciated books that are honest. That’s really important to me that the characters and the emotions feel one hundred percent genuine and I don’t always feel like that’s achieved when you try and present some idealized version of life rather than the real thing. I definitely think there are readers like us out there who enjoy books that are a bit darker than the average smutty romance…I just wish I could find them haha.

  2. I love darker literary fiction, but being a writer myself I am probably not your typical American reader. Elliot Perlman is one of my favorites, but anyone to whom I have recommended him has come back with that same criticism: too dark. Too gritty. Too real. I think it speaks to our cultural tendency of escapism. Most people when they read or watch TV aren’t necessarily looking to be reminded of the elements of tragedy and injustice in this world; they want happy endings and predictability. If they wanted realism, they’d watch the news.
    That being said, don’t lose hope. You and I still appreciate art’s ability to reflect life as it is–even the dark, gritty parts others try to ignore. Surely we can’t be alone.

    • You’re exactly right. The various reasons people read and write have changed throughout history–from archiving and reliving personal experiences to entertaining and being entertained. Real life isn’t always that great so of course people would want to find an escape every once in a while but I’ve always been a different kind of reader. LIke you said, being a writer can skew your view on the issue a bit, but I’ve always loved reading because it made me feel something. And not necessarily always something good but that wasn’t what was important to me. I like books that play with language and rhythm and that have substance. I looked up Elliot Perlman and read he was an admirer of Raymond Carver. Not sure if that’s true but if it is, Carver was actually the mentor of one of my creative writing professors in college–someone who had a big influence on me and my work–so I totally get your taste and think mines probably pretty similar. I’ll definitely keep writing about those darker, more realistic themes that feel natural to me but I just hope that I can continue to meet other people who are drawn to them as much as I am, because like you said, surely we can’t be alone.

  3. I think the whole “wanting a lighter read” thing happens because … really, a lot of things in the world suck right now. The economy is awful. People are yelling at each other in real life and all over the Internet. It seems we are inundated by nothing but bad news and reality TV shows that often seem to showcase the worst character traits the universe has to offer. I wonder if these things make people turn to books that are light or fluffy or “easy” as a way to escape the ick in their every day lives.

    For myself, I go by phases. There are times when I want a light and easy read. Of course, those “easy” books aren’t the ones that stay with me, in the end. There are other times when I want to delve into a very literary type of book that showcases different aspects of characters and real life situations.

    I’ve never felt that my own writing would find an audience or “niche”, mostly because I’ve never had luck at getting even the people closest to me to read it or be interested in any of it. Which is disheartening. I can understand how frustrated you must feel. I am certain your book will find an audience, though. I downloaded it the other day, and I am looking forward to reading it, particularly based on the writing here on your blog and some of the fiction teasers you’ve posted.

    I hope you will stay true to yourself and your voice. But, more than that, I hope you will have all the luck in finding the right audience for your work.

    • You’re right and I do agree that every book has it’s place and purpose in people’s lives. Sometimes you just need a lighter read and it’s great that there are so many options out there for people right now. I was just curious if people even still enjoy books that are a little more complicated or if with the current state of things people are shying away from things like that. Hopefully the suffering of the world will reach its threshold soon–there are so many things that have been happening lately both in the U.S. and abroad, people are definitely looking for an escape these days and rightly so. But books aside, for the sake of the global community in general I just hope things start to change for the better. And in the meantime we can just keep writing for ourselves. Just because something we write can’t touch or even reach as many people as we want it to doesn’t mean it can’t be life changing for us personally–that’s what writing has always been for me anyway.

  4. I have noticed that the books flying off the shelves seem to be strictly limited to YA. Fantasy books too, as long as they’re YA. This is tricky for me because my novels are definitely not YA. My genres are often odd… New Adult Fantasy, Magical Realism, Chick lit-Sci-fi… I just can’t write YA. Oh I can read it, and I do appreciate it, but in small doses. What I like to do is alternate between heavy and light reads, just so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. 🙂

    • I’ve noticed this trend mostly with NA–but I think that’s the key word here. It’s a trend. People are going for a lighter read these days for a reason. But as things change and as people change we might find newer, more interesting genres rising in popularity, or even better we’ll finally see a huge surge in the diversity of not only what people are writing but what people are reading and finding meaningful.

  5. You wrote: “I’m curious, has anyone else struggled with finding an audience for work that might be more on the literary side?”
    This is the conundrum. Our techno-driven, click-crazy western culture allows for so little time in deep places. Even blogs have, from their earliest years, become shorter and shorter, responding to the shortened attention spans. 975% of blogs are only scanned, anyway. . .All our efforts at offering a smorgasbord are lost on a society that its trained to drive-thru.
    Literary-literary means thicker, character driven novels, historical fiction, etc., and those authors (the serious ones) have been honing their craft for many years. Decades. The creation (like the reception) of their works demands time and enormous commitment.
    Best of luck to you!–M.

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