As Jim wrote in his last post, it’s list season in publishing. So here’s one list that I was a bit surprised to see this time of year: from The Daily Beast, the top five books about losing your job.
Nothing like unemployment to get you in the holiday spirit! But I bring it up because I’ve seen a lot of submissions lately featuring main characters who’ve lost their jobs. Of course, they say write what you know, and I imagine there are as many unemployed writers out there as anyone else—probably more, since writing is a great productive outlet during the long, hard slog of job searching. Trust me, having been there myself, my first instinct was to put pen to paper.
But I do wonder if jobless characters are the best way to cure the unemployment blues, or to reach readers. None of the submissions I’ve seen have worked, generally because the negativity of the main characters makes them very hard to like, even if readers can relate to their being out-of-work. Moreover, depriving characters of a workplace to interact with other characters can often lead to navel gazing and a lack of dialogue, i.e., things that keep readers at arm’s length. And most of the time, unemployment isn’t even central to the plot—in just about every submission I’ve seen, the characters could just as easily be working as not.
I think you’ll find gainful employment helps your characters connect better with readers, even those who have lost their jobs in real life. And if unemployment truly is your main thesis—well, it’s telling that none of the books on the Daily Beast list are first novels. Perhaps to write well about joblessness, a writer needs more job experience as a writer first?