“Nice try, but she should go read Tom Clancy to see how it’s done.”
That was a review on my first novel, Aurora: Darwin. I remember being a little stumped by this at the time because I hadn’t been trying to emulate Tom Clancy at all. I’ve never actually read any of his books, and as far as I’m aware he doesn’t write science fiction…. Perhaps it was the military elements of my space opera that resulted in this comparison, but I was most definitely not trying to write a Tom Clancy novel. I was writing a “me” novel.
This, my friends, is one of the joys of being a writer. You will always be compared to other writers, even if you have completely different styles or don’t even write in the same genre as them. Add to this the fact that sometimes your book will be put in the wrong category in a bookstore, or grouped with the wrong “Also bought” books, you can imagine how this can leave readers feeling duped if they didn’t get what they were expecting. Marketing is such a delicate process, but the good news is, ultimately YOU have control over the message YOU send: through your website, through your social media, through events and panels and through whoever you talk to.
So, hi! My name is Amanda Bridgeman and I write character-driven, easy to read yet page-turning science fiction.
That’s really a long way of saying I write accessible science fiction.
That seems like such an ordinary sentence, but it’s not. It’s actually a powerful statement of me owning my writing style.
For a long time, I listened to too many people who thought it was a dirty word to be described as accessible or mainstream, but I know better now. That is exactly what I write, and I embrace it with open arms. Mainstream, after all, means you can hit the broadest possible market and that’s something to celebrate. But so too is writing for a niche. There’s nothing better than the feeling of discovering who you are and being comfortable in your own skin. I don’t write Weird SF, I don’t write Hard SF, I write My SF.
We all know that art is very subjective. Have you ever heard about a book that’s received a heap of critical acclaim and hype and then you’ve read it and felt like you missed something? That’s because one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. One of the beautiful things about science fiction is that there are so many sub-genres to choose from, there really is something for everyone. Though some people will read across the whole spectrum of SF, others won’t. Just because someone likes Hard SF, doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily like Dystopian or Apocalyptic. Nor will a fan of Military SF necessarily like Weird SF or Cyberpunk.
It is very freeing to understand who you are, what you write, and then lean into that. Because, once you’re comfortable in your style and your preferred genres, you can then focus on finding your audience. For me, there’s absolutely no point in trying to win over Hard SF fans, because they’re probably going to find my work too simple for them. And that’s okay, because there are readers who don’t enjoy Hard SF for the reason that it’s too dense, therefore they just may like mine.
I like to let my readers use their imagination to a certain extent. After all, what is reading if not using your imagination to build the worlds and characters from mere words on a page? I give my readers credit that if I give them an overview of something, they’ll fill in the nitty-gritty themselves—the way they want to. For example, in my Salvation series, neural implants are a key element to my plot, yet I don’t go into massive detail on how they work exactly. I give the necessary information that’s crucial to the plot, yes, but I don’t deep-dive on unnecessary information. I tend to write my books as though they’re movies or TV episodes in novel format. When you see a spaceship on the screen, you don’t need to understand how that spaceship works, you just take it for granted that it does, and you focus on the characters and plot. I do the same in my books. I don’t go into detail about how every car works that my characters get into, nor how every data system they use works either. My readers just want to know the basics and for me to get on with the actual story.
All of this is not to say that dense detail is a bad thing. Of course it’s not! Some people absolutely LOVE this about science fiction (and it is called science fiction after all), and they enjoy learning about the intricacies of all the different fields of science these books cover. It’s just that some people want sci-fi stories in sci-fi settings without all the hard work. They want to read for pure entertainment and not feel like they’re in a science class. As I said, there really is something for everyone—and that’s a beautiful thing.
My novel, The Subjugate, has been optioned for TV by some exciting producers and perhaps the simplicity of my style was one of the reasons for this. The subject matter, homicide detectives, lends itself well to a TV show, and the story itself is topical: our dependence on tech, the future of the justice system, organized religion, and the oppression of women. I also think that maybe it was because the producers could easily visualize the screen adaptation as they read it. They didn’t need to wade through pages of dense scientific information and figure out what to distill. It’s all character and plot, and though it’s set in the near-future, it will require few if any special effects or OTT sets. Everything they read, scene for scene, can easily be translated to the screen. When it comes to screen adaptations, simplicity is actually a good thing. Simplicity tends to mean cheaper productions.
Still, it’s each to their own. Some readers want the big cruise ship and some want the little speed boat. If you’re a writer, I implore you to take a look at what you write and embrace it whole-heartedly. You don’t need to live up to or emulate anyone else. If you like your SF as weird as it get—there is a market for you, so embrace it and go find your people! Whether you like Dystopian, Military SF, Steampunk, Post-Apocalyptic, SF Romance, Cyberpunk, Alien Contact, etc., etc., there is a market for everyone. Write what you love, the way you want to, and shout it from the rooftops, baby!
Be proud to write like you.
I have no doubt Tom Clancy’s books look great, but I’m happy to write like me.
Amanda is a Tin Duck Award winner, an Aurealis and Ditmar Awards finalist and author of several science fiction novels. Her works include the best-selling military SF/space opera Aurora series (previously published by Momentum Books/Pan Macmillan Australia), alien contact drama The Time of the Stripes, and sci-fi mystery Salvation series, consisting of The Subjugate and The Sensation (published by Angry Robot Books, UK). Her new novel Pandemic: Patient Zero will be the first novel set in the award-winning Pandemic tabletop board game universe, and will be released worldwide in 2021 through Aconyte Books (UK).