I’ve been writing horse books for the past six years, and every year I get emails from readers asking for advice on getting started in the genre.
Now, to be fair, it’s a pretty new genre. What we’ve started calling Equestrian Fiction didn’t used to exist, and if you ask a big book retailer, it still doesn’t exist. That’s why Equestrian Fiction dominates non-fiction categories like Horse Care, and Equestrian Sports on Amazon. We have the most popular books for equestrians, but no real category.
That’s a gripe for another time.
Equestrian Fiction is growing by the month, with 2016 seeing a true explosion in titles. Established writers are continuing their series, and new writers are showing up with fantastic reads. Do you want to join in the fun?I’m going to write a blog series on Writing Horse Books — the good, the bad, the downright terrible. There are a handful of highs and a truckload of lows when you write your first novel (and your second, and your third, and your fourth…) and when we’re marketing our books directly to our readers, we have no choice but to face the criticism head on. While some writers with major publishing deals can say lofty (and probably untrue, but whatever) things like, “I never read the reviews,” if you’re an independent writer sharing good reviews to try to drum up good press, you’re going to have to read the reviews.
All of them.
And some of them will make you cry.
That’s okay, your dressage (hunter/jumper/western pleasure/fill-in-the-blank here) trainer has made you cry and you still ride, right? We’re equestrians, we’re used to pain equaling gain. We’re used to falling down, dusting ourselves up, and mounting again. Maybe that’s why we’re hanging on, growing, and actually thriving in such a difficult industry.
It’s just really hard to mash down a determined equestrian.
Writing for any audience is tough, but writing for equestrians is exceptionally challenging. In 2012, I interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley for the equestrian lifestyle site, Dappled Grey. Jane Smiley stormed into the equestrian scene with her massive racing/showing novel Horse Heaven, and became as common a barn name as any big name trainer. I remembered working at the Ocala, Florida Barnes & Noble when Horse Heaven was at its height, selling copies one after another to well-known hunter/jumper riders in town for HITS. I was actually star-struck by some of the luminaries who walked in and asked for the book by name.
But Horse Heaven didn’t get a follow-up. Instead, Smiley began a children’s series, beginning with The Georges and the Jewels, which taught excellent horsemanship, but didn’t get into the complicated and very adult lives of modern riders, trainers, and owners in the racing and showing business–something I loved because it reflected the world I lived in so beautifully.
So I asked Smiley, why did she stop writing equestrian novels for adults, when Horse Heaven was such a hit with her own crowd?
Here’s what she told me:
“The horse audience will toss the book out of the window if the voice isn’t expert. The audience isn’t big, and they’re critical, although they’re enthusiastic when they’ve committed. Sometimes you can make it work and sometimes you can’t. It’s not an easy audience to write for.”
Imagine writing huge multi-generational trilogies, imagine winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and having your novels turned into movies, and then finding equestrians too picky an audience to continue writing for. That’s what you’re up against when you decide to write a horse book.
But that’s okay. There are ways around this. There are ways to find your voice. There are ways to prove yourself to your audience. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in this blog series.
I’m currently getting ready to start the edits on my eighth equestrian fiction novel, Courage. This seems like both the best and the worst time to get into the hows and whys of writing for the genre. So I decided to go with “best,” and just jump in. Watch this space for a post each week on writing horse books. Feel free to chime in, comment, and ask questions. Send me an email if you don’t want to go public with your writing aspirations; I promise confidentiality. Let’s talk about writing. Because honestly? I want to read your books. I write for this genre because six years ago, sitting at my computer, I realized that all I wanted to read was more Horse Heaven. And no one was writing it.
So I wrote the book I wanted to read.
I’ve come a long way since my first novella, The Head and Not The Heart. I’ve made it through bad reviews and good, vicious emails and heart-warming messages, and even found myself in Lexington, Kentucky accepting runner-up at one of America’s richest book prizes before flying to Pimlico for a festival-day book-signing. This fall, I’ll be speaking about the horse in fiction at Equine Affaire in Massachusetts. I love my writing life; I’m grateful for my writing life, which readers grant me every day when they choose to read my novels, and I want to encourage, nurture, inspire, and help new writers join the ranks in any way I can.
Let’s talk horse books, and writing them, together. I think this is going to be a good time.