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View Full Version : Should I change a character's essence to increase potential "marketability"?



theWallflower
11-08-2016, 09:36 PM
So I was talking to my wife about a novel I was planning on writing. It's about a naga (i.e. snake-woman) who becomes friends with a human prince in her youth. Years later, she learns that someone's going to try and assassinate the prince, and she has to journey through the human world to warn him. It's a basic quest story, kinda like Willow or The Dark Crystal, but with snakes.

She said she liked it, but not that the main character was a snake. She said girls don't like snakes, and if there's a snake on the cover, it would probably decrease the chances of someone picking it up. I can't say I find fault in her logic. All the YA female protagonists are human. Sometimes a witch, sometimes a slayer, sometimes a mother of dragons, but always human. I was banking on my idea being unique, but I guess there's a reason no one's done it before. The story would still work if I changed the character into something else, like some kind of fae (like Maleficient) or a wolf-girl/werewolf, although nothing works quite as well for the theming as a naga.

So my question is does it sound like I should make the change for the sake of being more commercially marketable or stick to the original story?

*I had posted this on r/writers in Reddit, but I don't think anyone there was an agent or in the marketing/publishing industry, so I'm hoping someone with experience can shed some light on this.

Aggy B.
11-08-2016, 10:44 PM
I would stick with her being a Naga. Plenty of girls like snakes. (Especially the ones who are Seanan McGuire's fans.)

ETA: Yes it might be a more difficult pitch, but the thing that makes it interesting to you is the thing that will make it interesting to an agent. Your passion will show in the book. Go with your gut.

Putputt
11-08-2016, 10:54 PM
She said she liked it, but not that the main character was a snake. She said girls don't like snakes,

With all due respect, your wife does not speak for "girls". She speaks for one individual.


and if there's a snake on the cover, it would probably decrease the chances of someone picking it up. I can't say I find fault in her logic.

I can. 1. If you're planning to go down the trade pub route, the publisher would hire a professional cover artist and they'd come up with something that is hopefully eye-catching to the target market. 2. If you self-pub, my assumption is that even if you do choose to have snakes on the cover, they'd be laid out in an interesting way. There are plenty of ways that you could present snakes tastefully. 3. You really don't have to have snakes on the cover if you think it would turn off readers.



All the YA female protagonists are human. Sometimes a witch, sometimes a slayer, sometimes a mother of dragons, but always human. I was banking on my idea being unique, but I guess there's a reason no one's done it before. The story would still work if I changed the character into something else, like some kind of fae (like Maleficient) or a wolf-girl/werewolf, although nothing works quite as well for the theming as a naga.

So my question is does it sound like I should make the change for the sake of being more commercially marketable or stick to the original story?

*I had posted this on r/writers in Reddit, but I don't think anyone there was an agent or in the marketing/publishing industry, so I'm hoping someone with experience can shed some light on this.

I think you should read more YA.

Old Hack
11-08-2016, 11:35 PM
I know plenty of girls (and women too) who like snakes. I'm one of them.

I've seen plenty of YA books in which the lead character is not human.

Trade publishers are good at producing great covers for their books. If you're hoping to take this route, the cover design is not your concern; and if you're self publishing, if you want to do it properly you'll use a great designer who will make your cover sing.

I think you're worrying about nothing. Write the book how you think it should be. If you write it well it should sell. If you don't, it won't be the snake's fault if the book fails to do well.

Roxxsmom
11-08-2016, 11:42 PM
I'm female, and I've liked snakes (and other reptiles) since I was a little girl. In addition to all the cats and dogs, I possess one ancient (24 years old or so now) gopher snake. I have a couple of other female friends with pet snakes too.

I'm sure a good cover artist could find a way to make a naga woman interesting and attractive in a way that appeals to the book's target demographic. Anecdotally, I've actually encountered (over the years) roughly equal numbers of men and women who fear snakes, though men are more likely to frame their fear as hatred (keep that thing away from me, or I'll kill it).

I'm not an industry pro, mind you, just an individual woman, but I also think it's probably not a great idea to change something central to your story based on feedback from just one person (even if she is very close to you).

Myrealana
11-08-2016, 11:48 PM
I was a girl who liked snakes, and I can say as a teen, I would have jumped at the chance to read a book about a snake girl.

I'm also opposed to changing the spirit of your story or character for "marketability" reasons in just about every case.

Cobalt Jade
11-09-2016, 12:32 AM
Who says nagas aren't feminine, winsome, or appealing?

Naga by the water
http://chopstuff.deviantart.com/art/Evangeline-and-Nate-376040767

Traditional Indian naga
http://rebloggy.com/post/art-snake-naga-monster-girl-30-day-monster-girl-challenge-snake-girl/27192851903

Gladiatrix naga
http://liarath.deviantart.com/art/Rune-Quest-II-Arena-dei-mostri-207270933

Many nagas here (some NSFW)
http://fuckyeahmonstergirls.tumblr.com/tagged/lamia/page/4




(http://fuckyeahmonstergirls.tumblr.com/tagged/lamia/page/4)

Marissa D
11-09-2016, 12:47 AM
What they said. Write the book you want to write.

-signed, another "girl" who likes snakes

mayqueen
11-09-2016, 02:25 AM
I just finished a YA novel about a girl who's a snake-demon. :) Write the story you want to write. Anything can succeed if done well.

frimble3
11-09-2016, 02:52 AM
Assuming that your naga is the traditional half woman/half snake: only show the upper half. 'Twilight' did okay with a very abstract cover not showing anything relevant. Although, if you were doing/getting a wrap-around cover, girl on the front/snake on the back, with the part of the snake on the spine looking like a decorative border would be interesting. But, yeah, your publisher will figure it out, or if you self-pub, you have plenty of time to consider options after you're finished.

Roxxsmom
11-09-2016, 02:58 AM
Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a couple of YA SFF aimed at girls with snakes or snake people in them: One of Madeline L'Engle's sequels to A Wrinkle in Time (may have been A Wind in the Door; it's been years since I read it) had an actual intelligent snake. And Cindy Pon's Serpentine had a protagonist who can transform into a serpent.

Silva
11-09-2016, 03:53 AM
I handled snakes all the time when I was a kid. And collected frog bones and other weird shit.

Don't underestimate girls. :)

Marian Perera
11-09-2016, 07:42 PM
This isn't YA, but I bought Vonda N. McIntyre's Dreamsnake when I was 18. Specifically because it had a woman's face half covered with snakes on the cover, and the snakes' tongues were tridents rather than being forked.

Twick
11-09-2016, 08:58 PM
1. I'm a girl (well, woman now)
2. I like snakes

Guerrien
11-10-2016, 12:39 PM
I'm a girl, and I really don't like snakes. It's a long story, involving a traumatic incident at a petting zoo when I was a kid in which I got chased by the snake handler who was pretending to have a baby snake in his trouser pocket. ...Yeah, that sounds increasingly sketch the older I get. But I don't think I'd put a book down because of it. There are a lot of stories in which animals who get a bad rap are reimagined as the protagonist--the Big Bad Wolf becomes the brooding werewolf, the trickster coyote becomes...the really cool shapeshifter trickster coyote. The snake becomes the heroic naga, perhaps. I can read about that, I can find that cool. It's not like anyone's dumping a live python in my lap and asking me to be happy about it.

(I thought someone should represent the 'yes, no, keep them away from me ohmygod /high-pitched' demographic in saying 'no, I'd still read it' :) )

WriteMinded
11-10-2016, 06:39 PM
Snakes give me the creepies. Just thinking of them makes me curl my toes and lift my feet (yeah, even when I'm standing), and even though I am long past the squealy screamy age, I am quite capable of splitting your ears if I encounter one in the wild. Which brings me to the other side of the coin. I once saw a white cobra behind glass. I could hardly tear myself away. Aren't we often fascinated by the things that frighten us? Snake-woman? Cool. Sounds like a good read. Don't change anything.

Locke581
11-15-2016, 08:32 PM
Doesn't conventional wisdom say that changing your story to broadly appeal to a mass audience will definitely increase your marketability (and therefore publishing chances,) but at the same time will prevent you from ever writing anything great?

Old Hack
11-15-2016, 08:50 PM
Doesn't conventional wisdom say that changing your story to broadly appeal to a mass audience will definitely increase your marketability (and therefore publishing chances,) but at the same time will prevent you from ever writing anything great?

My experience has shown me that writers who change their story to appeal to a mass audience end up with a book which is out of date by the time they are ready to submit it, a book which is shallow and facile, and which won't be marketable at all. And I don't think changing one book to suit the market is going to prevent anyone from ever writing anything great: we all learn and grow.