Monday, June 18, 2012

Write What You Love

A recent post by the talented Ava Jae posed the classic question, "Would You Write If You Were Never Getting Published?" This question has its origins in the pre-self-publishing era, where the only way your story had a chance to reach the masses was through a publisher, and the odds of that happening were long (still are). If you are pursuing the trad-pub path and would never in a million years consider self-publishing, then the question still applies.

But with the advent of self-publishing as a viable (and increasingly respectable) way to reach readers, not only does the answer to that question change, but I think the question changes as well.

Changing the Answer
For people that consider self-publishing a viable option, the answer quickly becomes "yes," because self-publishing essentially guarantees that your work will be exposed to the world (whether it will sell is another question). Even if you consider self-publishing as a last resort, after trying the traditional path, there is no longer the prospect that you could spend months and years working on a manuscript, just to have no one (outside your critique group) read it. (Whether this is a good thing, or not, is a separate question - but it is at least an option.) So, the only reason your work will not get published is if you decide you do not want it to be published - an altogether different writing environment.


Changing the Question
In this environment, I think the question should be changed to, "Would You Write that Story If You Knew It Wouldn't Sell?" 

Maybe you're working on your first novel, which you're convinced will be a self-published bestseller. If you knew ahead of time that it would tank and sell less than 100 copies, mostly to your mom's crochet group, who uses your novel to hold their skeins of yarn, would you still write it? Perhaps, because you have to write your first novel before you can write your second and third. But you might hesitate before publishing it.

Say you're a little further down the path. Maybe you've got a few novels under your belt, maybe some of them are even published, but you're itching to write the biography of an obscure Irish boxer from 1955, which you're convinced no one, absolutely no one, will buy. I mean, the market for that has to be infinitesimally small, right? (Even if you're a famous author.)

Would you still write it, if you knew it wouldn't sell?

This question becomes more than theoretical once you're past the thrill/rush/nausea of publishing your first (or second or third) novel. When you know you can write a novel and you can have it published, would you still write something if you thought it wouldn't sell (i.e. the market is small and/or unreachable for it)? I can see this question nagging both trad-pub and self-pub authors as they march down the path of their careers.

For me, this question illuminates the choice of what to write after my Mindjack series is done (in the next six months or so - what can I say? I like to plan ahead). I have a several ideas that I think will sell: a steampunk YA fantasy, another YA science fiction series, an adult SF novel. I also have an MG Fantasy that's already drafted that I love - but indie publishing isn't really ready for MG, and the traditional route still has long odds. Not zero odds, but much smaller than the chance that some of those other books have of selling in the indie market.

What would you do?

(p.s. my answer: write it anyway, for the love alone. Query it. If it doesn't sell there, indie publish and be happy with whatever few sales it makes, just to have it out in the world.)


14 comments:

  1. Ohhh... that's exactly it! The next book I'm writing is all for me. Because I want to read it, and it's an awesome idea. And if it doesn't sell, oh well. I'm even titling it THE BOOK THAT WILL NEVER SELL, because most of the time I think the idea will only appeal to me. :-)

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    1. Awesome! And here's my secret belief: the ones that are truly close to our hearts are likely to be our best work. (It still may not sell, but I wouldn't want to not write it, just because of that.)

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  2. Thank goodness that what I'm able to do now is write - What-ever I want and whenever I want. Loving it too!

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  3. I would indie publish and be happy with the sales I make. The beauty about indie publishing is my book will have all the time in the world to find an audience. And in the meantime, I can keep writing.

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    1. So true! Someday, MG will hit, and my little book will be out there.

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  4. I also think that's an impossible question for most of the time we don't know what will or will not sell - okay sometimes it's obvious - but usually those aren't the stories I'd want to write. But if there were a story I really wanted to write and I thought it wouldn't sell well, I'd do it. I would make it a novella though or a short story and then send it off.

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    1. That's a great solution - pouring your heart into something but keeping it short! I think things like that have a purpose behind them anyway - there's something driving us to write them. And you're absolutely right - we only think we know, but we don't. :)

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  5. Sue, I want to read your MG fantasy. Is this the fairy story your boys kept bugging you to write?

    Now that the publishing landscape is changing, we have to look at the definition of "sell." In traditional publishing, first you "sell" to the agent, who "sells" to the editor, who "sells" to their publishing house. But when you self-publish, the author sells directly to the reader. There may be some books that an agent wouldn't pick up, but that enough readers would buy to make it worth it to an author to self-publish. On the other hand, I imagine there are books that could be traditionally published and do much better than if they were self-published (MG is a good example of this, Sue).

    Right now, I am still pursuing traditional publishing because I want a chance to work in partnership with a professional editor, and because I think it would give me a potentially wider audience, not because of how much more money I would make one way or another.

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    1. There are all kinds of reasons for pursuing trad-pub, other than the money, so I completely understand.

      Yes, it's The Faery Swap. My boys loved it, I love it. It's just one of those stories I had tremendous fun writing. It's only first draft, and I know there's some structural work that needs to be done, so it will take an investment of effort, also known as a labor of love. :)

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  6. I need to write for myself. If I get published, great. (Okay, really great.) But, if I never do, I'll still be writing away. I'm happier that way. And the more I do this, the more I'm driven by the words and the story and a desire to make it the best it can be than by the glimmering possibility of publication.

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    1. Sounds like you have it exactly right Leisha!

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  7. Great post, Susan! I just finished watching Neil Gaiman's commencement speech for the University of Arts 2012 graduating class, which was sent to me by my awesome writing buddy, Elizabeth D.

    Neil Gaiman said that whenever he wrote for the money, he always regretted it - and often didn't get the money. He said, no matter what, to write the story YOU believe in. Of course, he said it much better than I did, and with great English style. Here's the link for his inspiring speech:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI

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    1. I love the video! I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s The Zen in the Art of Writing, which says much the same thing – write because it wells up within you and you HAVE to write it. Truly, the only real reason to write.

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