Karen Brichoux

Current and Upcoming Books

Available Now
"Draws the reader into the story and never lets go." --RT Bookclub
"Brichoux reminds the reader how powerfully the landscape of 'home' can define a person." -- High Country News
Previously Released
"An exceptional novel." --Melissa Senate, author of The Solomon Sisters Wise Up
"A coup. Warm, smart, and original." --Kirkus Reviews


Trend is Not Destiny

September 28, 2003

*Article "Trend is Not Destiny"
*What I'm Reading

Coffee and Kung Fu was a pick in the August 18 issue of People magazine, and also was featured on "Lisaís List," a reader review program by Lisa Murray that appears on National Public Radio.

Article: Trend is Not Destiny

[In this series, I want to take a look at the various aspects of writing as a business that I find interesting or have personally experienced. From the questions I've received, I assume this is something which is interesting to readers, too. Possibly readers only ask because they'd like to hear about my various addictions and eccentricities (all non-existent, of course), but for the moment, I'll take the question at face value and hope for the best!]

"Trend is not destiny."
- - Lewis Mumford

Recently, an authors' loop I participate in had a discussion about trends and labels. For readers, a trend generally means little more than a plethora of similar book covers and topics on the tables near the front of a store. But for authors, a trend can be career launching. For authors, a trend can also be defining. First, in its definition of what, exactly, the books you write will be about; and second, in its definition of how the publisher will market your book (cover, back cover blurb, endorsements, reviews, etc.).

This particular authors' loop came into existence with the "chick lit" trend. Many of the authors on the list are happy with the label "chick lit." Even proud of it. Proud enough to defend the label when I asked whether or not it was a good idea to let a hot new trend define our work.

Because trends don't last.

And the ones that do, tend to become formulaic and rigid in their definition.

("Okay," you say, "tell me what you really feel!")

Okay, I will.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not it's a good idea to be loyal to something as ephemeral as a trend, let me explain why trends and labels frighten me.

Being an author is like owning a fruit stand. If I pull up my truck garden and hang out a sign that says "Fruit," you--the buyer--will assume I have a wide variety of fruit for sale. If my sign says, "Melons," you will assume I have a variety of melons. If my sign says, "Watermelons," you will expect watermelons. And if I'm selling cantaloupes and bitter melons instead, you--the watermelon lover--will give me the evil eye and walk away from my truck garden.

Now if the FDA has suddenly said that eating a watermelon a day will cure cancer, the Black Plague, and warts, hanging out a sign that says, "Watermelons Sold Here" will probably increase my business. In the short term. But when the FDA inevitably does further research and discovers that cantaloupes are the fruit cure of the decade, my sign becomes a liability. Meanwhile, Julie Minnow down the street is still doing a booming business, because she hung out a sign that simply said, "Melons."

The label "fiction" doesn't seem to be practical in today's market-driven society. But does that mean I should accept the narrowest definition possible for my writing? Should the buyers who pick up my books expect watermelon and watermelon only? And what about those buyers who don't like watermelon so never even stop to look? How will they discover that I have more to offer?

Labels signify content. And labels determine marketing. And marketing determines where a store will display my book and who will pick up my book.

Labels matter.

The future of the label matters.

The implied content of a label matters.

What reviewers and readers and book sellers think the label means matters.

As a writer concerned about the future of my business, I have to pay attention to the future and the implied content of labels, and what readers and book sellers are saying about labels. Because if I want to sell more than Citrullus lanatus or C.vulgaris (i.e., watermelon), I need to be careful what I paint on my sign.

What I'm Reading

[Thanks to reader feedback, Iím changing the Favorite Books section.]

Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell.

The Gun, by C.S. Forester

The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary

White Pine, by Mary Oliver (this is a poetry collection)

Spirit Level, by Seamus Heaney (also poetry)

Happy writing,