WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
Writing is an art.
The artist creates a world, peoples it, and draws readers into that world through the senses so that they might experience the story.
Writers write for as many different reasons as there are types of writing. Each brings to the artist’s palette his or her universal qualities (human beings, those things most of us consider good and valuable and bad and destructive) and his or her own unique qualities (his or her unique perspective, collective experiences, insights and attitudes, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes–all the things that are specific to that one writer).
These assets are reflected in the writer’s voice. And that is the heart of that individual’s art. It can’t be replicated or duplicated or copied in whole by any other artist. Another might attempt it, might copy the artist’s style but it can’t be maintained through the novel because no two people will make the exact same choices each and every time a choice is required or made during the course of creating a book.
Remember that when a writer writes, s/he is creating something from nothing. Everything, even those wherein the writer is basing the novel on actual events, is created. What I mean by that is the author chooses what to write–the events, the people, the conflicts, the results, where events occur, who is present and why they are present. The writer chooses what details to reflect, and cues the reader on what those details mean–to the person perceiving them. To the persons present, informed of them, impacted by them.
The writer manipulates the emotions of the characters and readers’ reactions through choices. The tone of the scene, the events occurring in them, the reactions infused into the other characters. It is the writer’s depiction that makes the rest of us fall in love, fear, doubt, feel humbled and/or awed. It’s the art.
Whether you’re writing literary or commercial fiction, all of the above holds true. We write because we have something to say that we want others to hear. The format in which we do so is also a choice. And regardless of which choice we make, the very moment we choose to sell what we write, we take on a whole new set of choices. Those have to do with things like reader appeal and marketability.
Some refuse to include those considerations in the crafting of the novel. Some have learned that including those considerations and crafting the novel around specific marketing expectations greatly enhances their ability to sell the novel once it’s written.
It’s a personal choice for each writer. How much emphasis is placed on the purity of the art and on the purity of marketability of the art. A healthy balance can be found in respecting both. Love the book you write, or change it until you do, but also consider the marketability of what you write when you’re constructing and building your novel.
If you’re writing in genre, you should observe the conventions of the genre. Otherwise, you violate reader expectations. No artist wants a disappointed reader. So the balance is to write a story that you love that respects the genre dictates. Can you stretch the boundaries? Yes, you can. Can you try to expand the current genre by introducing a new element? Of course. New sub-genres are formed in these ways.
Note “sub-genres.” That means the writer followed the genre dictates but added something new. That something new didn’t toss out the old. It added to it. For example, the paranormal romance. In 1988, I wrote a book that was what today we’d call a paranormal novel, MAYBE THIS TIME. In attempting to market the book, I spent more time trying to explain what kind of book it was than I spent pitching the story. Publishers were resistant. They had to be. There was no defined marketing niche for a “Romantic Fantasy” which is how I tagged the book.
Publishers love books. They love to buy books. But they can only buy books that they can sell. It’s a significant fact worth remembering.
Anyway, with no defined market, getting someone to read that book was a challenge. It took several years to sell it. Editors read it, liked it, tried to get it approved in committee, and failed. Four years later, one managed. Two years after that, the book was released and it did well. And a few years later, my “romantic fantasy” because part of a new sub-genre, the paranormal romance.
Today that sub-genre is mentally equated to things like vampires and shapeshifters and ghosts and such. That book contains none of those things. It’s a reincarnation theme, which just wasn’t heard of at the time. So not considering the marketability, while elating from an artist’s perspective, wasn’t a brilliant career move from the marketing perspective. I knew that when I did it, and elected to do it anyway.
And that’s the point of this article. I made a deliberate choice to upset the balance between art and marketability that I knew carried bottom line consequences. I gladly paid them because, frankly, I loved the story more than compensation for it in sales.
When you’re deciding what to write and how to write it, how you resolve the balance between art and the bottom line is wholly your call. There is no wrong or right answer. The important thing is to understand that there is a balance and to deliberately choose what it will be in your work. It’s equally important to know that neither art nor marketability is mutually exclusive. One need not be forfeited for the sake of the other. They can function together in harmony.
Remember, you are artists. And artists are creative. If a way exists, use it. If not, create one…