To be a good writer, you have to take chances. Timidity of imagination is arguably the fastest way to literary oblivion. There are literally millions of books at readers’ fingertips online. A title that doesn’t stand out is never going to make a lasting impression in the world.
But it can make money.
Yes, you heard me right: derivative drivel can make money. And how you ask? Because it is derivative.
The ugly truth is that there are plenty of authors who find their audience by giving readers something familiar, tapping into pleasant memories of another book. Sexy vampire soap opera (hell, vampire anything at this point)? Yup. Another bodice-ripper a la Harlequin complete with a Fabio wannabe on the cover (and a waxed chest circa 1770)? You betcha.
I don’t think even the people who buy these kind of books would argue they’re all that good. The Twilight ripoffs and cheesy romance novels are the equivalent of literary junk food, satisfying a craving, sure, but is that really a vacuum a writer with any ambition should be trying to fill?
Unless that writer is damn confident he or she is able to bring something new to those overworked subgenres, the short answer is no. And it’s not always an easy one to give. Zombies make money. Vampires make money. Goofy, period romance novels make money. And that brand-new idea you’re itching to birth? It’s probably not going to earn you jack in comparison.
But you should write it, anyway.
Yes, you will likely be struggling to make sales and wishing things were easier. But the funny thing is that work infused with imagination and new ideas has a tendency to gain traction, little by little. So the few readers you do win over with your first book might just be fans enough to pick up your next one instead of losing your name in the ocean of hacks. Heck, they might even tell some of their friends about you. And slowly, ever so slowly, you might just find yourself with an audience.
I hope to have a fanbase of my own someday. And I promise you this: if it happens, it’ll be because I earned it.