'I Don't Read Fantasy, But...'

Ben Aaronovitch is the author of four books in the Rivers of London series. They star Peter Grant, police constable, apprentice wizard and "all round nice guy," as he tries to maintain law and order amongst the more "special" members of London's population. The latest is Whispers Under Ground (Del Rey).

My first inkling that things were not going the way I expected was when a young woman told me that she couldn't read my book because she'd lent it to her mother, who was refusing to give it back.

"Did she like it?" I asked.

"Oh yes," said the young woman. "Her reading group are going to do it next month."

I thought I knew who my audience was. So did my publisher--SF and fantasy fans, in the main. It certainly wasn't the reading groups of rural market towns.

Then I went out on promotional tours and found that the majority of my audience frequented the crime side of the bookshelf aisle. But then, that's really not that unusual--lots of people like crime and SF. Myself included.

Only the most common thing they said to me was: "I don't normally like fantasy but...."

Now you're thinking to yourself, "Yeah, we get it, it's a crossover hit, we're all very happy for you--is there an actual point to this mini-essay?"

The point is this:

People will tell you to research your market, and that's useful advice, but ultimately if you're going to spend three to six months of your life slaving over a hot word processor, the only way you're going to do any decent work is if you write something you really want to read yourself.

So you can cynically target your work at 25-35 white male upper-lower-middle professional soccer dads, but the truth is you're just as likely to sell to 12-18 Midwestern agricultural workers. My best advice: write what you want to write, and hope somebody else wants to read it.

Sometimes you get lucky.

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