Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why It Matters, Even If We Don't Want It To

Last Friday, I posted about some recent market thoughts I've been having.

A huge Thank You to everyone who took the time to come over and weigh in. It was one of my all time favorite discussions.

I found myself thinking that I really, really wanted to just write whatever I wanted, from the heart and not worry about market placement or sales opportunities.

What I am learning from recent experience with my agent and some editors is that

while it would be nice, it is not always practical.

Please Don't Misunderstand: I am NOT talking about following trends. I am NOT talking about giving up your own voice in a story to conform. I am not talking about boy wizards or vampire love triangles (though those are wonderful and fun stories)

What I'm saying is this: If we want to be published through a mainstream, national publisher, we can't ignore the market.

Case in point: As said, I love writing historical fiction. Historical Americana Fiction, to be exact. I will continue to tuck those story ideas aside for the future, but I can't ignore that a more contemporary piece will sell better, faster and to a wider audience in today's market.

Three Major Points I'd like Us To Consider:

1. My agent goes to Bologna each year to market the international rights of his clients. He recently sold a client's book to Poland. Yes, Poland!! Do you see that there are possibilities for our writing that we may have never imagined?

2. Never, never forget that this is a business for agents and editors. Sure, they love what they do, love books and all things literary....but their acquisition decisions matter professionally. Most are employees. They have superiors that they may have to justify their decisions to.

3. If certain publishing houses used to put out 20 books a year, they are now putting out more like 15. These houses are paying closer attention than ever to what exactly is selling and making sure every decision has the most potential of profit.

Being aware of this is not a compromise of my creativity.

It is just seeing what we do as a comprehensive profession instead of simply artistic expression.

My first and natural thought was: I can only write what I write. But is that entirely true? Why couldn't I write a fun middle grade story set in today's time frame? Wouldn't I love that just as much? I'm thinking a great mystery with a little history thrown in here and there (like when I put zucchini in my kids chicken casserole without them knowing it...hehehehe)

FYI: With A Name Like Love is not being set aside. It is still going through submissions and my agent said he loves it and is confident it will sell. He also suggested my next WIP be a bit more contemporary. I am learning that being an author is all about working as a team with your agent/editors and all about being flexible.

Questions: Have you ever even considered the possibility of having your book be sold to another country like Poland, Spain, Italy? Do you think we, as authors, can find a way to honor our writing and still be flexible to the suggestions given us by agents/editors? Do you think there is any truth to what I am saying or am I just being blasphemous?


Lisa and Laura said...

I think that in order to be a successful author you need to learn how to adapt your style, writing and ideas into books that are marketable.

Does that mean everyone should write books about vampires?


Does that mean you should ask your agent what type of book would be most marketable based on his/her knowledge of your writing and voice?

Hell yes.

We just completed a major revision on Pemberly Brown because the editors didn't love the central mystery. It was a monumental pain in the arse, but our book is about 1,000 times better now. Seriously.

I think we can all benefit from learning how to take constructive feedback and make it our own. Laura and I are writing books with the goal of getting published. We'll never write a book that we don't love or don't believe in, but we will make changes to create a more marketable product. That's not selling out, that's good business.

Natalie said...

I agree with you completely. You can write what you love AND make it marketable. You just have to stretch your imagination.

Dominique said...

Maybe you can compromise by writing what you love and then, if it's not what's selling at the moment, laying it away until it's the thing. Maybe five years from now Historical Fiction will be the biggest thing since sliced bread.

L.T. Elliot said...

I agree with you too. No, I don't think you're being blasphemous, I think you're being pragmatic and responsible. Yes, writing is beautiful and fun and soul-filling--but it IS a business if you want to be published. You've got to be willing to work and it's always okay to open yourself up to new things.
Great, great post, Tess.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I totally think you could write middle grade or YA and toss in history in creative ways. You could even turn it into fantasy with a portal to the past. I'm sure you will find something that lights your fire and is marketable.
But I understand the thoughts swirling in your head because I get them, too. My WIP is Renaissance-era fantasy, and I wondered when I heard how hot steampunk is if I should have set it in Victorian times instead. But I decided to stay where I started, where it felt at home.

KM said...

I think it's really great how a book might not sell in America well but will be incredibly popular in another country. Some cultures are just more receptive to ideas/themes/writing styles more than others. I have a writer friend who loves the old British novels (as do I) and would love to write/publish them, but he's aware that the American market doesn't really have a place for them, so he writes more contemporary/fast-paced/sci-fi. I have to say, though, that I wish the American market was a little more open to the narrative-slow-start-but-builds-to-an-incredible-climax style.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Honestly, I hear this going on all the time. Ally Carter switched to YA and is a huge success because she followed her agent's advice. Many contemporary romance authrs are making the switch to paranormals with huge success because of the market.
I don't think there's anything wrong with taking the advice of your agent if it's something that doesn't make you uncomfortable and you can enjoy doing.

Tess said...

Lisa/Laura: Ah, by your comment I can tell I am responding to Lisa...hello :) . We are in such a similar place. Thanks for sharing part of your journey. What important lessons we are learning.

Natalie: you got it. And what's wrong with a little strech? It's good for us, right?

Dominique: thanks for your comment. It is a good idea to keep your stories flowing and not turn any away,I agree.

LT: you hit it exactly. It is both an expression of our art and a business. One does not exclude the other :)

Tricia: thanks for the vote of confidence. it's my favorite part of blogging. We must follow our heart when we write, but be open to suggestions for revision or other works.

KM: What a great point about how little patience we have with certain writing styles. What a great story you shared, thanks.

Jennifer: YES! It is going on all the time...I was just clueless. And, what did Ally Carter write before YA? How very interesting...must check that out, thanks!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i've never thought about selling in a different country! but it happens all the time (currently reading sophie kinsella's shopaholic series). anyway...i have a blog ward for you on my blog today! check it out!

Lazy Writer said...

I agree! There is somewhere in the middle. You can write something marketable and still love it.

storyqueen said...

I think the difference here is that you are getting advice from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Your agent is making suggestions about what might be a good writing avenue to stroll down for a bit. Heck yes! I'd give serious thought to a suggestion by my editor or agent.

However, those without the horse's mouth whispering in their ears....well, who is to say what is marketable/publishable or not?
Following trends (unless one is an extremely fast writer) seems to land the writer a day late and a dollar short.

So, I guess I'd still say to write what only you can write....but taking chances and stretching yourself is never a bad thing.

Great post!


Suzanne said...

Um.... I will wait and see what you do and copy it. :)

Robyn Campbell said...

I don't think you're being blasphemous. I do think we as writers have to compromise and eventually have to work with a team.

I too am confident your book will sell. Historical fiction is gobbled up where we live.

If you WANT to do more contemporary writing, and throw in the historical stuff that's GREAT! But ONLY if that's what you as a writer really WANT to do. We do this because we love, love, love it. :)

MG Higgins said...

I think your argument is sensible. Can we be flexible and still honor our artistic integrity? Of course! As you're writing, I believe your internal gut-check monitor will let you know if/when you've crossed that "commercial" line. Go for it.

Lady Glamis said...

I like how Natalie puts it that you can write what you love and make it fit the market at the same time. This is why it would be wonderful to have an agent to guide me along. I guess the hardest thing is to get our foot in the door to begin with. Until then, we rely on blogs and networking, reading current trends, etc. to see what's working at the moment.

At the same time, I think we just have to write the best story we can. I'm doing that, but also putting in elements that I know will always appeal to wider audiences. I'm so sneaky. Heh.

Tess said...

Jeannie: I had never considered it, either and it is soo exciting!

LazyWriter: yes, we are right ;)

Storyqueen: you make a very important point. I do give far more weight to these suggestions based on the fact that they are coming from someone who knows my writing, my voice -- who appreciates those things about me -- but who also knows the market.

Suzanne: ha!

Robyn: yes, and we can find both a story we love and a story that has some broader appeal. we can, we can.

MG: excellent point. trust our gut-monitors. I have no intention of writing to the trends. I'm just moving the MG mystery I love to write from 1957 (or the like) up to current times. thanks!

Glam: oh, you are a sneaky, clever girl! But, really, you are spot on in your comment. The source of advice does matter...and in the meantime, we can slip in those timeless elements ;)

B.J. Anderson said...

I think it's a very valid point. If you aren't reading what's out there right now and what's popular, you'll probably miss the mark. Although, I just saw a YA historical that I'm dying to pick up, because I love historicals. :D I just finished writing one, and now I'm totally freaked out that it's going to get rejected because of that.

Stephanie Faris said...

I have a blog I wrote on this issue, set to publish sometime in the next week. (I tend to write too many blogs so I just save up!) There's two things I've noticed...if you want to be published, you have to follow market trends.

If you want to be a STAR, you write the book of your heart.

The latter is risky. And most people take this route, unfortunately. There end up being very few Stephenie Meyers or J.K. Rowlings and a whole lot of people who remain unpublished until they finally give in to writing to market.

But if you CAN pull off writing the book of your heart and not following any rules...the payoff is much better than following what the crowd is doing. Again, though, the number of people who are able to do this is ridiculously small. Kinda like the number of people who go on to network superstardom in the TV news business, compared to the huge number of people making good money doing news at local stations...

PJ Hoover said...

I love seeing what gets sold to foreign countries. It's so levelizing. Makes me realize everyone likes a good story. Some stuff sells much more easily.

i love your thoughts on the business!

Davin Malasarn said...

Tess, I think this is a really hard topic to ever be confident about. For me personally, I have separated the two things. There is what I want to write, and there is what will sell. I honestly, honestly believe that a great writer will be able to market exactly what she or he wants to write. But, for most writers, some compromise has to be made if they want to sell. That's okay if they are in it for the love of writing. After all, they still get to write. I'm leaning the other way. I think, at least where I am now, I'm more willing to sacrifice the numbers for the art. I want it to be more personal. Maybe that has to do with the fact that I have a stable non-writing job. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I've published some short stories and find that I don't get as much satisfaction about publishing something I don't like, even if other people like it a lot. For me, the thrill is to pour my heart out on the page and have people look at that. Being a best-seller with material I'm not as happy with would still be fun, but not AS fun.

Tess said...

BJ: don't worry, friend! my historical is doing fine. it's just a little bit of a longer road, is all - a numbers game, if you will.

Stephanie: interesting thoughts, I am so glad you disagree some (I love a good discussion!).

PJ: how come I never even considered the foreign thing? so cool! I'm going to totally start paying attention to that w/ other books from now on.

Davin: You speak from your heart and you make excellent points. Thanks for commenting and thanks for not automatically agreeing - that's what makes discussion interesting. Six months ago I would have agreed whole heartedly with 100% of what you said. Now I agree 98%. ;) That's good because the best people in our lives cause us to think.

Sarah said...

Another great question, Tess!

I weighed in previously about writing what is in you to write. And I believe that.

However, I think it's great to try something new as long as it's not slavish trend-following. You might find yourself writing a story you're passionate about after all.

I know that my MS has improved by just playing with suggestions fellow Slushbusters have given me. Being open to doing something different with a subplot or character in my story has helped. Why not try something different with an entire story?

So yes, I'd consider writing a different genre. I think the key would be whether I could invest myself in that genre. If I couldn't, then it really wouldn't be worth it.

ElanaJ said...

I definitely think about the market. You have to, I think. And having someone who knows the market so well is priceless. It would be shameful not to listen.

Good luck with your subs, Tess. And with your new WiP!

Jody Hedlund said...

You are right on. This is EXACTLY what I've been told by my agent too. I'm having to rethink my strategy and go with a more saleable story for my next book. Like you, there's still hope for my first, but to build a readership I have to write something more marketable next.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I think agents and editors are educated and know what will sell. Thats why they have the careers they have. I'm always open to suggestions if it will better my story without changing the heart and soul of it.

Crystal said...

Tess, I think the key word here is: FLEXIBILITY. Yes, I think there is a way that we can still honor our writing, that is, be true to our voice, and yet still be open to suggestions from agents and editors. We can still "write what we know," that is, our experiences, our emotions, etc. and just incorporate it into something more contemporary. I was wondering, though, as to how much "contemporary" do agents/editors want a novel to be. Like, could something set in the '80s or '90s still be called contemporary?

Great post again, Tess!

Jill Kemerer said...

I agree 100% with your post. Anyone in business is smart to be flexible and to heed current market conditions. I'm not just a writer, I'm a writer who wants to get published and get paid for what I do. That means I'm a business person.

Every writer should have a business plan and should be flexible and on top of market conditions. It's just smart.

SM Blooding said...

I've got big dreams for my books. Of course, reality looks at me like I'm a dork, and laughs his fool head off, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming. I would LOVE to have my book published in other countries. That's why Man created Foreign Rights. But...*shakes head* Right now, I'd just be happy to find an agent willing to sell one of my books here at home. LOL! Still searching. Will find!

Kelly H-Y said...

Wow ... fantastic post - very thought-provoking! Could you imagine ... Poland?! Congrats on your progress too!!!

Tess said...

What a great discussion..thanks to everyone who weighed in. It's good to discuss these things and it's okay if we don't agree - that makes it interesting, I think :D

I really appreciate your input and opinions and advice...good stuff!!