Today I received the following email from a disappointed reader:
What happened to the medical suspense thrillers you wrote earlier? I understand that writers develop new ideas and do not continue to turn out the same old stories with similar plots, but these last books you have written were really disappointing. Iâ€™m sure you probably donâ€™t want to hear these comments, however I believe you should be aware of poor reviews as well as the good ones. Iâ€™ll skip you future books.
This reader dislikes my crime novels, and is unhappy that I made the switch from the medical thrillers I used to write prior to 2001. So she’s not going to buy any more of my books.
This is the kind of letter that writers always hate to receive. Yet whenever we follow our creative urges and write a different sort of book than we have before, we will almost certainly get these letters. Interestingly enough, this reader puts her finger on exactly what she wants from a writer: The same kind of book, over and over.
So why do authors change their style or their genre? When we run the chance of turning off our readers, why do we take such risks?
Sometimes, it’s because we have uncontrollable creative urges that must be fulfilled. And sometimes, we do it to survive.
Back when I was writing medical thrillers, the genre was still hot. Robin Cook was the brand name in the genre, and he was always near the top of the bestseller lists. My first bestseller, Harvest, was released in 1996, near the height of the genre’s popularity, and I first tasted literary success as a medical thriller author.
But a few years later, I sensed that the genre was fading. A number of medical thrillers by other authors had failed in the marketplace. My own sales weren’t growing. And I myself was getting bored with the same old “good-doctor-caught -in-evil-circumstances” plots. So I wrote a hybrid novel, combining medical themes with a crime thriller: The Surgeon. It introduced detective Jane Rizzoli, and launched my crime thriller series.
And my sales took off.
I’ll never regret changing direction. It’s made my foreign sales boom, because medical thrillers are so often complete flops abroad. Crime novels have allowed me to escape the claustrophobic setting of the hospital and move my plots into the outside world. Because of Jane Rizzoli, I’ve been able to write about mummies and serial killers, nuns and Dead Sea Scrolls.
And that, it seems, has left some of my readers sorely disappointed. Because they want the doctors in jeopardy back.
I wish I could please everyone. I wish that each and every book I write would hit all the right buttons for every reader.
But it’s just not possible.