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Posts Tagged ‘Topical Books’

As with any industry, buzzwords emerge in publishing also every few years.

From what I’ve observed, one of the buzzwords currently making the rounds in publishing is: topical.

“Writers! Make sure you write the best story possible. A story that comes from your heart. A story that grabs you by the throat, because that’s what will grab the reader by the throat, too.

“Only, make sure your story is topical.

Got it!

But, wait…what exactly does that word mean?

Merriam Webster defines topical as:

referring to the topics of the day or place: of local or temporary interest

// topical references

// a topical novel

(Ha! Looks like the dictionary has caught on to the trend, too. ;))

Write a topical story. Okay, it’s not bad advice as advice goes.

But therein also lies the catch: the word topical in its very essence means “temporary” or “local.” (Let’s focus on the latter for now.)

Which means, what is topical to the US might not be topical to the rest of the world and vice versa.

And, even more alarming, what is desperately topical for a minority/marginalized group of people might not be topical for the majority. Does that mean their stories shouldn’t be told? NO!

No writer—all said and done—sets out to write a book that’s non-topical. When she sets pen to paper, she has a point to make. A story to tell. Why? Because it is topical for her. But does that mean that same topic will grip you, me, and every reader the same way? Most likely not!

Why?

Because we’re all humans with different (subjective) tastes, lifestyles, perspectives, and opinions. So, what is topical to me might not be topical to you. Heck, what is topical to me today might not be topical even to me tomorrow!

So, it boils down to this: “topical” is a label. Another gate. A gate that keeps many writers and stories outside.

(Similarly, whenever I hear in publishing circles the call for more “diverse” books, I cringe. Because while that call is advocating for a much-needed change of mindset, it’s still shining a light on diversity as “other.” As though it’s a trend, a buzzword that needs to be championed. But that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother set of posts.)

I understand why labeling even exists (in publishing): publishing is one of those singular industries that are equal parts business and art. Yep. Not a very harmonic partnership, but it is what it is. So, every story that gets published should be stellar in terms of its features as art, BUT it should also be a lucrative venture for the company that is (in the simplest of terms) printing copies of the book and releasing them into the market.

This places publishing in a rather precarious position. I know. Trust me, I know.

Which is also why I understand it isn’t practical to expect the gates (and the walls that hold them) to crumble overnight. But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing.

Nothing’s stopping us from resolving to take one step—even if a small one—to widen those gates.

The onus is on the publishing industry: let writers write what is topical to them; create an atmosphere where there is no fear of writers being ignored or rejected for telling stunning stories from their hearts. From their lived experiences. From their status quo. Let the readers decide whether those stories are topical without someone else making those decisions for them.

You, my dear reader, don’t get off easily either. You have a duty here, too. You need to be right there, alongside the publishers, to shove those gates wide open. For every three books you read about people who look/think/behave like you, pick up at least one book that is about people whom you’ve never met, about people who have a lifestyle that’s different from yours, and especially about people who don’t look anything like you.

Let’s—all of us—do better!

Only then we might see a positive change: the definition of what is “topical,” in terms of the books we want to read, beginning to turn on its head.

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