Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Art and Commerce of Writing

There are certain clichés that abound in Writer Land. One of these is to write from your heart, not to the market.

Literary minded Beta-readers mention it. Editors at conferences say it. ‘How-to’ books exclaim it. Only the occasional blunt agent blog will say otherwise. But they are marketers, after all.

However, every writer who has fashioned stories of real substance has gotten one of those rejections: “The manuscript is amazing. I really love it. Unfortunately it is unlikely to sell well in today’s (fill in the black) market.”

So there lies the dichotomy between internal truths and commercialism.

Or is it? I worry that editors underestimate readers. If they really loved it, so will plenty of readers.

As a writer for younger readers, I’ve also gotten the “kids won’t get this.” Again, the gate-keepers think too little of the readers. I know, because I have test-driven stories with their intended audience.

And then, everyone and their cousin complain about how flat and content-free most of the offerings are in books/movies/television.

Even gifted stock-traders are baffled by the market place, and rarely understand trail-blazers. So too for publishing. If acquisition editors really knew the market, they would be zillionaires.

{All right. I’m whining about good personal rejections. I should also say that they make my day and leave me buoyant. My writer friends can attest to how I barely contain myself as I share positive feedback, that oxymoron writers call ‘good rejections.’ Any response these days is rarer than a red diamond. But yesterday a supremely talented writing friend shared one of her rejections that were in the ‘wonderful-but-not-commercial’ vein. I found my frustration floating to the top. I know her manuscript, and it is far stronger than most I see in print.}

So I’m back to where I started this meditation. My mantra, my answer, is to write the best stories I can. From the heart


Vijaya said...

Yup, having come close a few times, I am pretty much writing what I want to write and hope that editors will also take a chance on me. For bread and butter, there is teaching and work-for-hire, both which I enjoy, and yes, the WFH is extremely market driven.

That's a neat looking potato!

Anne M Leone said...

Your heart looks like a potato. And I don't know why, but I find that picture hysterically funny. Appreciated for a post that otherwise makes me want to tear my hair out and cry. So true. In terms of movies, hubby has recently taken to telling me "we are not the market." *sigh*

Jaye Robin Brown said...

I made a comment to a friend recently that even though you hear the cry of wanting something unique, when it boils down to it, the same old trope with a new name is what sells.

Love the heart potato - our newspaper often publishes images of wacky 'taters' in the fall.

Donna Earnhardt said...

I believe I would shellac that potato and keep on my shelf as a reminder to do just what you said... WRITE FROM THE HEART. Great post!

Kelly Hashway said...

I don't write according to the market. Here's why. My first book my agent put out on submission was a middle grade fantasy. This summer everyone raved about how editors want more middle grade. They also said YA paranormal was flooded. Well, my YA paranormal sold on the first round and my MG, while in the hands of some great editors at the moment, hasn't been snatched up yet. So I say, write the stories you need to write. You never know what will sell.

Anna Staniszewski said...

This is so tricky. On the one hand agents/editor need to love a manuscript, but on the other hand, they need to feel like they can sell it. So I guess they're caught in the dichotomy as much as writers are.

It's frustrating--believe me, I know!--but I think if you keep your ideal reader in mind as you're writing, then you'll know what the audience is for your story, and it will be both awesome and sell-able. :-)

Christina Farley said...

I know what you mean. Sometimes the market drives me crazy.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather write manuscripts and read books that come from the heart, so this all seems aggravating, but I believe many of these stories do find a home despite the many rejections.

Mary Witzl said...

I've got one of those ms too. The criticisms are that it's too adult for kids and too kid for adults, and after all, the people I've sent it to ARE the experts. It's good to get any kind of positive feedback, but I sometimes wonder how I've managed to get this far without selling ANYthing. But I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who hears things like that.

Mirka Breen said...

You’re a good writer, Mary, if your blog is any indication. You will sell something to someone who is confident in their own taste. I did, twice, and intend to many more. My potato heart is a believer.

Jeremy Bates said...

Just do what you want "criticisms" forget about that!