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Metamorphosis and the Modern Writer

Reinvention as a
tool for making money and publishing again and again

In honour of our blog’s current metamorphosis, I thought it would be nice to comment briefly on
change and reinvention that headlines any great artist’s success.  All month we have been talking about how to
publish and make money with your book. Our focus has mostly been on novice
writers, but what if you have been through the process once or twice before and
are looking to keep improving sales and reach a broader audience? I would like
to just muse on these ideas for a minute.

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When we think back to our posts from January, we focused on success: the attainability of success,
and how we define it in our own work. For many of us, this inevitably means (in
some shape or form) making some money. For people who have already published
and made some money with a book or two, the challenge sometimes becomes redefining
success and pushing yourself to a new height.

A stellar example
in the writing world is contemporary Canadian author Will Ferguson, who has
written a book under a variety of very distinct genres. From his first
award in 2001 for “Canadian History for Dummies,” to his countless awards and
medals for his travel writing, to the recent 2012 Giller Prize winner “419,”
Will Ferguson has proven himself a versatile author. There will always be
genres we’re better at, and story lines we prefer to follow, but challenging
yourself keeps your readers guessing. Inevitably, it also forces you to test
your innovative nature and grow as an artist. The key to being successful in a
genre crossover is to stay true to yourself and your voice as a writer.
An example in
another industry of this concept is the reality TV show at the forefront of the
fashion world, “Project Runway.” In this show (now in its 11th
season not including 2 seasons of All Star episodes), designers are selected to
compete in unorthodox and interesting challenges that are often outside of
their typical design aesthetic. The result? Some of the strongest young
designers in the fashion world today.
The simple fact is
that people who are not afraid to take risks and push themselves while staying
true to who they are as an artist, are noticeably more successful in their
industry. When people stay predictable, it is often harder to succeed (though
of course not impossible; especially if you outsource like international
bestselling authors James Patterson or Nora Roberts).

A discussion on
metamorphosis and reinvention wouldn’t be complete without talking about a more
recent failure in this regard. J.K. Rowling (the author of the ridiculously
famous Harry Potter series) recently published “Casual Vacancy.” This book was targeted
towards adults and was more in the Mystery/Thriller category. Some people
believe it was too harshly judged, but in reality J.K. Rowling made a
monumentally unintelligent (to keep it politically correct) decision to change
not only genre, but writing style, audience, and many other aspects of what
made Harry Potter so successful. As much as you can’t remain stagnant and change
nothing about yourself as a writer, attempting to change everything at once is
like pushing your readers into a polar dip against their will: it’s a shock. As
a result, her name has suffered and you can bet readers of her next book will
be skeptical at best.
There are many
other great examples of exciting metamorphosis and reinvention (Cher and
Madonna in their careers in music, for example). So if you are publishing again
and wanting to surprise and intrigue your readers (and garner new ones), you
have to allow yourself to evolve. But a word of caution: don’t lose yourself in
the process by trying to do an “extreme makeover” your writing style. There’s a
reason you have been published and sold books before. Stay true to yourself as
an artist but remain conscientious of the ever-demanding nature of the modern
reader!

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