Almost every single popular author op-ed begins the same way with lush, emotional, simple or funny prose, offering readers an anecdote. The anecdote is a marketing tactic used to sell books. LitHub, BookRiot, Forbes and the New York Times all frame author op-eds this way, with an added requirement: the anecdote must be relatable to as many people as possible. If it isn't, writers miss out on broad reader reach. Moreover, many authors like this write books the very same way. A relatable setup. Something almost anyone could get into, no matter how fantastical. That's what traditional publishers look for, and nothing more.
Protagonists are projectible screens. Prose is easy to parse and requires very little rereading to distill meaning. Readers in recent days wish for work that reflects them only, and so popular books must be smooth-edged, gentle mirrors. Modern books must ask for nothing real, and if they do, they're unsung literary heroes I have to scour every corner of the internet to find. Beyond the gloss and shine of popular books, I want something that can't be sold with an anecdote. I want art.
I'm not a popular author. Despite bombastic first-year results that predominantly banked on my skills as a marketer, my books don't fly off the shelves. In fact, I'd prefer they don't, as that means I'm not attracting the right audience. It means I'm not attracting the loners, rebels, artists, authors, tech savants, and outsiders of outsiders. These readers take their time. These readers don't tend to be bookworms to begin with, as they're quite focused on their own creative pursuits. These readers are also the only ones worth reaching, when you're a writer like me.
Writers like me could offer curated anecdotes that spin a relatable story, but we'd like you to sweat a bit first. Writers like me don't like making it easy, as our lives have never been easy. Writers like me ask more of their audience, namely, relating to the unrelatable: the loner, rebel, artist, author, tech savant and the outsider of outsiders. The feral protagonist with a heart of gold buried beyond all the rot. The manic pixie not-at-all dream girl who prefers to protect their loved ones over saving the world. The cast of blurry gays who rip reality apart to reshape it for revolution. The heroes that are actually heroes, for there is no such thing as easy, uncomplicated monocultural heroism.
I believe with every fiber of my being that many readers have been sold comfortable lies. They've been sold books that ignore reality, rather than embrace it. They've been sold the easy journey, versus the rewarding one. I believe this, because I read far more than I let on. I pick up the top 10 best something-somethings, leaf through, and find only exaggerated anecdotes. Things not actually lived, but approximated—including love and true heroism. Especially love and true heroism.
I believe this is a mistake. I believe it insults the intelligence of readers everywhere to give them simple steps to climb, versus ladders strapped to ivy-torn skyscrapers, crumbling beautifully in blue-gray mist, set against a neon orange sky. All writers like me believe this is the better journey. All writers like me struggle to broadly reach readers for just this reason, and one other.
We do not want you to know us from lukewarm op-eds. We want you to know us from our art. Writers like me want true intimacy with our readers. We want to offer shelter to those who need it most of all. We want to tell you a real writhing, breathing story.
The tall, precarious building looms, yet suddenly the ivy lifts you high enough to see the rising sun. Curling around you and your shaky breathlessness, the greenery grows gentle. The building below is filled with oceans of curious books. The sky is littered with watercolor birds that chirp symphonies. Everything is beautiful in the eyes of an artist, even the stark, difficult world. But only real artists will tell you the truth of it.
And I am, above all things, a real artist.