golen pens and ink on notebook

Is the Mainstream “Success”?

Karin Kallmaker Business of Books, Craft of Writing

 I find that writers write for different reasons. I know a few who write in complete abstract, with hardly a thought about the end reader, which is so foreign to me I feel as if we’re a different species. Many may pen a book without a thought as to who might publish it, while others may target their creativity to a given publisher and that publisher’s targeted readers.

That said, I find that a lot of writers do write to connect/motivate/illuminate/celebrate a given universe of readers, whatever that universe may be. For example, I believe it was Wambaugh who said he wrote The Onion Field for cops.

I wish the best of luck and great hopes for success to any writer who sets out to find a mainstream audience with characters authentic to her that are not regular features of the nebulous mainstream (for example, an authentic primary lesbian character for the consumption of a primarily heterosexual audience). More power to her! I think authentic representations of us in the mainstream is an essential part of ending homophobia.

I do want the rest of the world to be in that place Pat Parker spoke of, where others forget and never forget our identity.

What I think is sad, though, is when we fail to see that “success” comes in many forms, and waste creativity chasing someone else’s standards.

That a novel can crossover is one way to judge its success. That a novel honors and celebrates the lives of a specific set of readers is another. Sales numbers are yet another.

There are a few writers in lesbian publishing who gave up writing romances because that wasn’t “literary” enough. They eventually came back to it because it was what they wanted to write, it made them happy, they did it well, and connected with readers in ways more meaningful than their other work. To me, those are all viable, perfectly acceptable ways to measure success.

Each writer has to pick her own standards for success; I just hate it when someone else’s unrealistic expectations leads another to ignore her bliss. So for some, speaking of that creative spark, a “good book” is all they care about. For others it’s consistent, enthusiastic reader response. For most, a blend. Any day of the week I lean one way or the other.

I care deeply about the quality of my work, and try to always create first from a place of personal inspiration free of practical considerations. There are a few readers who vocally wish I wouldn’t waste my time writing something that’s not their cup of tea, but hey, the muse dances for me first.

That said, believe me a sincere compliment from a reader can move me to tears and literally make my day, week, month…there are a few notes I’ve gotten years and years ago that still give me the snifflies just to recall. In the ups and downs of lesbian publishing, response from readers has been a consistent “paycheck,” a type I very much need and can take to the mental health bank.

Copyrighted material.