Friday, March 6, 2009

Do you write for love or money?

A post at Helen Ginger’s blog has got my brain going. Author and professional speaker Diane Wolfe seems to approach book writing in a manner that is so opposite to what I do she could be describing how to build pianos. She says marketing your book starts when you put the first word on the page.

“We must consider the marketability of our work before pouring heart and soul into a project. Why work long hours on a project that will be impossible to sell?”

Why indeed? I am a fairly practical person and try to accept the realities of various situations, but it is crushingly disappointing to spend months on a novel and have it sell enough in a year for you to buy three bags of groceries. This is why I find it difficult to put time into a novel. It seems so wasteful. I am truly not in this to make money, but I also want to make a living so that I can remain in this. I want to make a living by writing. I would love to write novels full time. I love being in the middle of a novel. I love living vicariously through my characters’ lives. I love deciding their fate. I love to see where they lead me. But I can’t do it full time and survive, at least the way I’ve been doing it.

The problem, if I take Ms Wolfe’s advice to heart, is that I’ve been approaching the whole business wrong. I’ve been writing what inspires me without any thought to the marketability. Somehow I felt that considering market first would taint my work.

According to Ms Wolfe, “Before putting pen to paper, we need to be sure our book will fill a real need…..If writing fiction, will our story’s hook be powerful enough to make our work stand out from all the other authors in the genre?.... If our work fills a real need, do we know how to reach that audience?”

Need is such a difficult thing. What need does fiction fill? But she is right. A walk into any book store shows a writer what they’re up against. Can I write a book that will get a reader to choose mine instead of Alexander McCall Smith or John Grisham? It is very practical advice. If you want to make any money in this game, you must write a marketable book- it’s as simple as that.

Ms Wolfe ends with, “The promotion process begins with the writing phase. If we fail to prepare during this time, we’ll find it difficult (if not impossible) to properly market our book.”

I don’t know what I think. I suppose the artist in me is bulking. Being guided by market forces seems evil somehow. This week I’ve done a lot of thinking about the battle between staying true and fighting the establishment to bend your way, and compromising to be successful. I find it difficult to follow rules in general, but at the same time I am a pragmatist at heart.

Is it as simple as art or money? Or is there a place in the middle? What is wrong with getting an idea for a book and then considering how it might be marketed BEFORE you begin writing? Is it so wrong?

I would love to hear your perspective on this. I’m obviously lost.

16 comments:

Tania Hershman said...

I don't think you're lost at all. I think you know exactly what you want to do, which is write what you want to write. What Diane Wolfe is suggesting may be exactly right for those for whom writing is a commercial enterprise - and there are many such writers. But how happy would you be if you were to bend yourself into writing for a particular niche, genre, style? What satisfaction would there be if you did hit the marketing jackpot yet the book that bore your name was not one you felt proud of or really expressed what you want to express through your writing?

However, there is a middle ground, and one that I am trying to set myself in as a short story writer - write what you want but don't be so quick to give away your writing for free. Finding paying markets for short stories is difficult, but they do exist. I don't have any experience of novel-writing or the marketing of a novel, but there are ways of doing it, savvy ways to get your books out there, and finding the right people to help you. It may take a long, long time. But I don't think determining the market niche before you write a word would help - given the ever-changing nature of the market, how do you know that things won't have changed by the time you've finished your book?

Art. It's art, what we do. Not building pianos. Clear??!

Lauri said...

Tania- thanks. I don't like being lost when I was positively sure I knew what I thought.

The way I've been approaching this writing business is this. My fiction is allowed to come as it comes- in an artful way- unhindered by any consideration except what I like. I write and then search for markets. I try best not to give things for free but sometimes for prestige (meaning the site/publication offers a certain exposure I'm looking for) I will write for free.

I pay for my 'arty fiction' by writing everything else- tv scripts, radio lessons, textbooks, newspaper articles, magazine articles, - anything actually. There I contort myself to make sure the sale is made. I have no niggly moral bits about doing that (not to say I don't fight to get my way- that's a given). I'm writing specifically for those markets.I know it when I sit before the blank page. I know that writing is for earning money.

I want to be a paid working writer. This is my method. Best case scenario, I would write novels all day. I would be in heaven. But then I know me, I don't do well without a bit of torture to complain about, so in the end perhaps it's best my dreams don't come completely true.

Tania- I think you're right. Let fiction come as it will, don't taint it with dollar signs. And too, what is hot now is not hot tomorrow and quite frankly- what will be hot tomorrow nobody- not editors, not publishers, not book sellers- even know. Only the person writing it today knows, and they know it because of the true ring of the words in their ears, not the sound of the coins piling up in their future.

Anonymous said...

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SueG said...

I really agree with Tania (and you). Yes, there are certain sorts of genres (perhaps) where you might want to think about marketability first (romance novels? chick lit? political thrillers?) but i do believe that if you don't write what is in your heart to write, the book won't be any good anyway. Writing fiction is not the same as journalism. And as far as I'm concerned, I would never be able to spend 2 or more years of my life writing something if it wasn't what I needed and longed to write. Now that would be the waste of time. Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I choose to believe that if you write what is in your heart and write it to the best of your ability,it will find a home. So far it's worked for me....

groovyoldlady said...

I am not contemplating writing Mrs. Wolfe into my one of my needless and potentially unmarketable YA novels.

I picture her lecturing and trying to box in a class full of young, exhuberant, creative teens. Then they rebel and succeed in spite of her well-intentioned tripe.

groovyoldlady said...

Did I just write "I am not.."? Totally weird. I need to READ what I type before I publish it. I truly meant to say "I AM contemplating..."

Lauri said...

Mr Anonymous- Glad you have entered my virtual world- since you are already the major part of my real one. (wink-wink)

Sue- I agree with what you're saying but I have to say when I read '2 years or more' writing a novel I got a fright.Do you mean the first draft? Or is that the whole process with edits, submission, proofs of galleys etc. I think my writing and publishing world here in Botswana is very different than the rest of the world. Once I have an idea, I better have a first draft done in less than 5-6 months or I have drifted off. Maybe it's attention span not locality.

Groovy- You keep working on those needless YA novels. If they include my pal Mr Dustbunny you definitely have a buyer here in Botswana.

kayt said...

this is such a ubiquitous issue - and there for sure is no right or wrong about this issue imo - but

for me, this type of an approach is a death knell for my work - for me the creative process is one of me getting out of the way of the flow that is coming through me, I often feel that I have little to do with what is happening except providing a means for the work to get out (i.e. running the pen, keyboard, paintbrush, etc.) Editing is different - there I'm called on to use all the skills I have, can find, can learn. etc., to help shape the raw creative feed into the best piece of writing, visual art - whatever, it can be -

after some hard won experiences trying to work in other ways, I've come to understand that the only way I can successfully work, is to follow the where the work leads me, not the other way around

No criticism, of the other path, there are times I'd really like to work this way - 'hmmm, looks like I might be able to sell something like this' and go about creating the this, and selling it - my bank account would like that too ;-) Some visual artists and writers work successfully using a planned approach, I'm just not one of them

I can write essay, & technical work that way, fix a book cover layout, or do general design layouts that way, but not poetry, or paintings (wet or digital), or photography, or drawings, or fiction. It just isn't how I'm wired.

also, I've been advised as per Tania's comment about market chasing - once you see the trend, it is essentially past, so what's the point? Unless of course, the magic 8 ball is in good working order :-)

Best advice I've ever heard is to write/paint/etc., what you are passionate about, and it will resonate with folks. Also, to seek to create what *only you* can create.

Great post - wonderful question.

Lauri said...

I think the consensus so far is thinking about market beforehand kills the creative process.

I think Ms Wolfe's philosophy is best applied to non-fiction books.

Helen Ginger said...

I think you can do both - write what your heart pulls you to do and think about the marketing of the book. As you said, you want to make money off of your writing. Since you write a mystery series, you probably already know what the ongoing niches are for that series. And you've already been marketing them in those areas, so as you travel the Internet, just add new places or ideas to your list. As you write, think about what makes the book you're writing different from your others. What new subject, cause, location, etc. is in it? Add that to your niche list and note any new marketing ideas you have for that. As you're looking around the Internet, note interesting blogs that have something to do with you, your book, any of the niches you've listed, etc. You may want to ask those bloggers to host you on your virtual tour.

I don't think you have to sacrifice art in order to begin to create a marketing plan or to build up your platform as you write.

Don't write your book to fit a marketing plan. Create a marketing plan to benefit your book.

Incidentally, hellllloooo Lauri!

Lauri said...

Hi Helen!- glad you stopped by for the conversation initiated by your blog.

I'm not sure why us fiction writers find this concept so scary. Maybe that's why literary fiction sells in the 100's.

Selma said...

I think that it is important as a writer to be true to yourself, to what moves you, to what inspires you. Worrying about market share seems such a cynical way to approach writing fiction in particular.

The writers I love show their heart, their passion, in their work. They do not work to a formula; rather, as Kayt mentioned, they let the writing take them where it will.

However, I have a couple of writer friends who regard it as a job rather than a passion and they have achieved moderate success. I guess it all comes down to finding the balance.

Lauri said...

I regard writing as a job but I do let my fiction take me where it will so I guess, as I suspected, I am stuck firmly in the middle.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! It's fun to read a comment from someone across the world from me.

Regarding planning your marketing before you write works okay, I suppose, for those who write for that reason. Hey, it works for them. I know a writer who does that and she's been quite successful.

I'm closer there than when I wrote my first book. I have learned some things that work that way and find myself weaving in those elements. I have a friend whose agent tells her what to write because that's what's selling. Could I do that? Maybe, if someone told me to. Might be fun to try.

Lauri said...

Sylvia, How lovely of you to stop by!
I don't have an agent but I don't think I'd like my agent telling me what to write. Okay may face me in a general direction. But from what I hear about publishing overseas the time line is so long anyway- how would you know what is marketable 2 years away?

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Absolutely--on the two years away thing. I don't have an agent either, and life works much simpler that way! Love my publishers, and they love me!!

I have worked into my stories locations in the setting--real life places, businesses, etc. I did it to create stronger setting, but it has ended up being a great way to garner interest from those businesses and they love to have book launch parties at their place. A bonus for all! Cool, huh?