To Market, To Market

After a month hiatus, I’m finally back and swingin’! Travels and deadlines have quieted down, so I’m eager for a month of focusing on my own writing again. And some exciting news this week: my first editing assignment was published! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy – it won’t be the same as looking at my own words in print, but still quite a creatively satisfying return on my two cents. 🙂 I’m thrilled for the author, her talent, and the trust she’d shown in my input.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist opening with the film clip above because, if you’ve ever seen The Player, you know how that pitched movie idea ends up…starring Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis, with a lot of commercial action and a happy ending. Why? Because “that’s reality” when test screenings of the original ending bombed. Which raises the question for me:

Is deliberately writing to “what sells” in the market selling out?

I’m not talking about those who genuinely enjoy reading commercial versus literary fiction and whose writing naturally takes to that course. I mean the literary fiction reader and writer who throws his or her hands up and decides, “Oh, to hell with it! I just want to get published!” Is there something to be said for catering to the broader market just to get one’s foot in the door, with the hope that down the road once one is established, one can write whatever one wants? Isn’t that what John Mayer did with his music?

I used to automatically look down on this tack, but lately I’m having a re-think. At the Festival of Writing, I’d attended a workshop called “The Market and the Muse,” which endeavored to discuss how writers can both write what inspires them while still being marketable. The UK author on the panel (C.M. Taylor, Premiership Psycho) reminded me oh-so much of screenwriter Tom at the end of The Player – the somewhat cocky way he sat back and spoke freely of tossing his failed literary attempts aside and just writing on a topic of mass interest (football AKA soccer), which, go figure, was the one that got picked up by a publisher. He spoke of the liberating feel of it, just writing, not poring over every word and working hard to build in symbolism and meaning…just writing and telling a story. It was definitely a moment of a once-literary fiction writer shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Hey, that’s what sells. And I had fun writing it.”

I was conflicted in my attitude toward him at the time, this peacock strutting so confidently now that publication had validated him as a writer, even though it didn’t reflect the writing he’d done before. And yet… As I continually revise ms #1, I find myself tweaking the phrasing to make it easier/faster to read, chopping out introspective moments to make the plot move forward faster, and I’m even contemplating how I might slap that happy ending on the damn thing after all! I’m not sure about that yet, but I do know this: the ms #2 that I’ve outlined is going to be approached in this new way, this less encumbered way of writing in which I just run with it and not struggle to make every sentence poetic or profound but keep the plot tight and always moving forward. It will still be the story I want to tell and in my own words, but let’s see if it doesn’t turn out to be something more marketable than the first baby I’ve nurtured so long now. Which then makes me wonder: is that writing commercially exactly or just better?!

Regardless, I won’t pitch ms #1 altogether, though I might not pitch it again (i.e., to agents/publishers) for a while either – not until I either find a way to make it more marketable or let it ride the coat-tails of ms #2’s undoubted success. 😉

What are your thoughts? Is there a perfect union between Market and Muse? 


About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

13 responses to “To Market, To Market

  • Melissasa

    Welcome back 🙂

    My crit partners and I were very recently discussing this. We’re all in the YA genre, and trends are a nasty looming cloud of death everywhere we go. Mermaids were cited to be the next big “thing” along with SciFi making a resurgence, sending countless writers into a tizzy about converting their Dystopians into SciFi. It was frustrating for my partner who IS a SciFi writer.

    Either way, I can see the liberation in *just* writing a story. I mean, isn’t that what we want to do, anyway? We tell stories. I take issue with people doing it just do it, but I think mostly because it harms the rest of us who are telling the stories we want to tell – and are being passed by the wayside in lieu of trendy materials.

    So – why not both? Have your cake, eat it, too. As long as you enjoy the art you create, who gives a flying flip what it is or why you wrote it. Too many people try to attach stigma’s to every aspect of the publishing industry.

    Do. Not. Dictate. MY. Art.

    I’ll write what I want. Trendy or no.

    • thefallenmonkey

      True dat, Melissa. That’s such a shame for the person who’s already writing in the next “hot” genre simply because she already loves it and wants to write it. I could have had a shot at getting my manuscript published with one indie publisher if I rewrote it as a romance, but I just can’t bring myself to jump fences in genre at the snap of a finger like that, especially not with a story that’s already written. I don’t think I’ll be writing to a specific genre next time around either, but reading more commercial fiction has at least shown me how I can take what I already want to write and make it more accessible–more straightforward and less abstract/wordy 🙂

      Overall, though, writers need to write the story they have to tell, in the style they’re best equipped to tell it; those stories can hold their own without the bells and whistles dictated by the market or, on the flipside, what’s perceived as “literary.” When a story is forced into one or the other, counter to the writer’s natural bent, it shows, I think, and I would hope that there will always be someone else out there who will want to read it as it is, for what it is.

      Stay true to your motto: “Do. Not. Dictate. MY. Art.” – love it.

  • Milo James Fowler

    I haven’t found such a union yet with my novel-length work, as no agent (so far) has been willing to represent any of my manuscripts. But I have had limited success with some of my short stories — finding an editor who “gets” my stuff and is willing to publish it. I don’t write “to market”; I write what I want and I hope somebody accepts it.

    Unfortunately, what I consider to be my best works, that I’ve slaved over the most, have not been accepted, and on my spreadsheet are in double-digit rejections. Stories that have just flowed out of me, that I haven’t agonized over — those are the ones that are often accepted. So maybe my muse is telling me, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

    Write the story you want to write. Enjoy it. And somebody out there will publish it!

    • thefallenmonkey

      Yeah, Milo, I found during ms #1 that the bits my beta-reader was most engaged with were the ones that I’d breezed through. I think letting myself just write continuously helps to relax my wording, otherwise I get clunky and over-think it. And I like your muse’s sentiments 🙂

      I’m sure those tales you’ve slaved over will find their place one day, too, once your Bradbury approach makes you famous!

  • Glen

    I don’t think there is a ‘perfect’ union, but I do think there is something boringly conceited and selfish about someone who so adamantly believes their vision is more important than the reader’s.

    First write what you want to write.

    then make it something that people want to read, unless you want to put it in a safe and read it by yourself.

    that said – you can only compromise so far.

    p.s. genuinely excited for you on the publishing deal – that writer absolutely is getting published thanks to YOUR help. You absolutely should be proud of yourself. I’m proud of you and I don’t even know you!

    • thefallenmonkey

      Oh Glen, you just nailed it: “First write what you want to write. Then make it something that people want to read.” That’s exactly it…what good is a story I’m in love with if it isn’t something that would interest someone else? At least as far as something with potential to publish; otherwise, I can just have one copy of it printed (or leave it as a file on my computer!) for me, myself, and I and cease yammering about the publication journey 🙂

      Oh, and thank you so much for your excitement on that novel getting published! Aw shucks, I’m just glad I could be a part of the process of such a clever writer.

  • In all the write places

    Good to have you back! 🙂

    Personally I am all for writing what you want, mainly because I feel unable to write anything else, when it comes to fiction. If I am not into the story and the characters they will never develop because I’ll never put the work in.

    On the other hand I am a fiercely commercial writer. For once, because I copy-write for advertising for 15 years now. I earn my money with anticipating what people want to hear and read. And I as well appreciate the contemporary, easy-to-read style, as long as there is something original in it.

    My opinion: if an author sells their fiction writing to the mass market like I sell my writing skills flogging hotel rooms and automation software and cheeses for my clients, then fair enough. They do a job, where their passion is still used, but in a different way. They earn money with it, maybe even loads. Great, I see no single reason to turn my nose on them.

    If a writer insists on sticking to what they want to write (like I mainly do) I think they just have to grow up, stop whining about the bad, unfair publishing world out there and accept the fact that not many people might be feeling the same way about their stories as they do, and maybe never will. They should keep their day time jobs (or live modestly) while having fun following their passion while staying independent (hey – we live in the lucky times of indie publishing, where that IS possible).

    Sorry for the ramble, but you know your questions usually do that to me. 😉

    • thefallenmonkey

      Ha, Eva, I love the self-deprecating assessment of the writer who insists on sticking to what they want to write 🙂 You’re so right about how lucky we are to have an abundance of resources for indie publishing – I really do think that’s the best track for my first ms to keep it what it’s meant to be. Maybe I’m just having a harder time marketing it to myself these days, and that’s why I can’t stop revising it! In actuality, I think what it really needs work on goes beyond it not being commercial – I think I have character development issues, which wouldn’t be good for any classification of story. But I digress…

      Yes, I don’t fault those who are skilled at writing what the masses want to read either – more props to them, I say! And since writing my post today, I’m even wondering if maybe that author who switched from literary to commercial has simply followed the path that does suit him best. Maybe he was trying too hard to be literary, and commercial is what’s most natural to him – it certainly seemed to make him happier to write on a topic he’s also interested in and not take it or himself too seriously. Huh. I think I need to stop thinking about it and just do 🙂

      And, hey, I love the ramble! Your insights are always most welcome here!

  • Alannah Murphy

    I cannot write for the masses. I can only write the story that I HAVE to write and it’s dark in many ways but strangely uplifting and it can not have a happy ending because that is just not how the story ends. However, my boy’s novel is a tale of redemption and love, a powerful unselfish love. If it’s commercial, great. If it’s not, I cannot change it or sell him down the river to make him and his beautiful story commercial.
    Sorry cannot write much…hand hurts 😦

    • thefallenmonkey

      Oh, I just feel terrible about your hand, Alannah! You’re so nice to risk pain for the Monkey 😦

      In my story’s case, there are aspects I’m adamant about retaining no matter what, but there are other bits that I consider more moldable and could possibly (hopefully) be tweaked in such a way that both pleases me and the reader. I kind of half-assed my ending the first go around if I’m honest, so I’m okay with reworking it (and it was already happy-ish…as in it leaves off on a positive note, just doesn’t tie up all the loose ends. What I’m wondering now is if there’s one loose end I maybe ought to develop a bit more…don’t know yet…). In your case, though, it’s clear your muse (aka, your boy) has dictated your story to you in full, so it would be a shame to try to make that anything than what it’s meant to be – don’t touch it! 🙂

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