Tag Archives: commercial vs literary fiction

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? 

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