How To Write Contemporary Fiction: Don’t Write for Leo Tolstoy’s Audience…

by Anne R. Allen

I recently read on an agent’s blog, “Nobody’s looking for War and Peace.” And alas, I fear it’s true. I can’t remember the last time I said, “I want to get into a big 19th century novel.”  (And there was a time when I loved them.)

Fiction is constantly evolving

Fiction writing has gone through vast changes since Tolstoy’s day.

In fact, it has changed a good deal in the last decade.

Amy Collins at The Book Designer reports the average NYT Bestseller is now half as long as it was in 2011.

And the brand new Smashwords survey shows bestselling romance novels have decreased by 20,000 words since 2012.

The fastest growing fiction form right now is the novella.

If you want to sell books in the 21st century, you need to write books for the 21st century reader.

Unfortunately, this fact makes some people very angry.

“If it was good enough for Leo Tolstoy or  ______(insert classic author here.) It’s good enough for me! %*&! your rules!”

“I learned everything I need to know about popular fiction from reading Mickey Spillane and ______ (insert bestseller from days of yore.) I don’t need no stinkin’ writing classes.”

“That’s just your opinion! Besides, I’m not writing contemporary fiction. I’m writing classics!”

We get these comments every time we write a helpful craft post…in spite of the fact we always remind people that our tips are only guidelines to help you get successfully published, and not hard and fast rules.

But a lot of people get their panties in a twist when they find out that you have to learn how to write fiction..

They read books. Classics! So they ought to be able to write them without studying anything else.

Continue reading at:

Write Contemporary Fiction

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11 thoughts on “How To Write Contemporary Fiction: Don’t Write for Leo Tolstoy’s Audience…

  1. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    Writing doesn’t have to be driven by marketing decisions. I’ll grant you that War and Peace, Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow may well be three of the greatest unread novels of the last two hundred years. Oh, and Tristram Shandy. Never forget Tristram Shandy.

    What’s missing from the marketing equation is two variables:

    1. Not every writer cares if he sells a lot of books. She may be looking for readers of intelligent, well-written prose with no formula or marketing hook. So the question he faces is: “How do I find as the readers for my book who’re out there?”

    2. Marketing trends are driven by the market. They change. All it takes is one eight-hundred page blockbuster seller to swing the pendulum back. When that happens we’ll be told the novella is dead. If all writers tailor their fiction to marketing trends, then we take a lot of good books off the market and never launch the next trend (a trend marketing experts never foresee).

    The lesson here? If your only concern is selling books, write novellas until longer books come back into fashion.

    If, however, your story demands to be told, it can only be told in a thousand pages,* and you don’t need to sell thousands of copies, write away.

    *Let me add, however, that most thousand page first drafts will be better when cut to five hundred.

    For those writers who want to sell, Anne R. Allen offers some help with marketing trends.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Writing doesn’t have to be driven by marketing decisions. I’ll grant you that War and Peace, Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow may well be three of the greatest unread novels of the last two hundred years. Oh, and Tristram Shandy. Never forget Tristram Shandy.

    What’s missing from the marketing equation is two variables:

    1. Not every writer cares if he sells a lot of books. She may be looking for readers of intelligent, well-written prose with no formula or marketing hook. So the question he faces is: “How do I find as the readers for my book who’re out there?”

    2. Marketing trends are driven by the market. They change. All it takes is one eight-hundred page blockbuster seller to swing the pendulum back. When that happens we’ll be told the novella is dead. If all writers tailor their fiction to marketing trends, then we take a lot of good books off the market and never launch the next trend (a trend marketing experts never foresee).

    The lesson here? If your only concern is selling books, write novellas until longer books come back into fashion.

    If, however, your story demands to be told, it can only be told in a thousand pages,* and you don’t need to sell thousands of copies, write away.

    *Let me add, however, that most thousand page first drafts will be better when cut to five hundred.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What about the niche market? Some people still do hunger for long works of fiction and baby boomer readers aren’t dead yet. 🙂 I’m not a baby boomer, btw. I’m the rare 21st century person who likes old books.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing. I’m a believer in the ‘Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. When I write, I avoid unnecessary words. When I read, I skip endless amounts of descriptions. I could care less what the countess was wearing, unless it ends up at a murder scene. You can give me the color and a short blurb but that’s all.

    I think today’s readers have changed. We want to get to the meat. Keep the action coming. A little breather now and then is okay, but I don’t have time to stop and smell every flower I run across.

    Liked by 1 person

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