Friday, April 07, 2006

The Importance of Being You

Your opinions are correct, and worth more than the opinions of others. True or false?

True, of course. Unless there's something DSM-IV at play, your opinions are all about what works for you. While you might not always know what's best for you, you think you know what's best for you, and there's nothing wrong with standing behind that.

It's impossible to live life without making decisions, without making choices. And hopefully, you have experience or logic to back up these choices, because it's important to examine and attempt to understand why you do the things you do.

People write for many different reasons. Some want to express themselves, to be proponents of art and culture, to share their ideas and philosophies. Some want the acceptance, the exposure, the accolades, the fame, the notoriety. Some want the money, the job, the income. Some want to entertain, enthrall, delight. Some want to provoke. Some write for a combination of reasons, or for other reasons entirely.

And each reason is valid, for the writer.

The mistake that a lot of writers make is believing their reasons are the best reasons, or the only reasons, or the right reasons.

The reasons you write are the right reasons---for you. They might not be right for other writers. And they certainly aren't universally important, nor should you expect them to be.

But some things are universal.

I write because I love it. But once I try to sell my writing, my personal reasons for writing come into conflict with the business of writing.

In publishing, compromises will be made. Always. Once money comes into play, the reason you write becomes twofold---your original reason, and your obligation to your publisher.

Your publisher is buying your work because they believe they can make money from it. This is capitalism. Your publisher will expect things from you, to help them in their efforts. Contracts, deadlines, editing, rewriting, publicity, promotion, marketing, advances, subsidiary rights---all of these suddenly come into play.

My writing philosophy is simple: Make money for your publisher.

I do this by not only doing a lot of self-promotion, but by also considering my audience even before I sit down to write a single word.

This means compromises. This means understanding the system writing exists in (the publishing business) and weighing it against the many reasons I wanted to become a writer.

Successful writers seem to understand this balance, and the trade-offs required. They realize that their books are products as well as art.

By 'successful' I mean that they are making money for their publisher. You don't have to be an NYT bestseller to do this. All you have to do is earn out your advance.

You can earn out your advance by doing a lot of self-promotion, by working closely with your publisher, by spending a lot of your advance money on marketing, and by writing good books.

The definition of 'good' is subjective, and opinions vary. My definition of good is simple: A good book is something that a complete stranger will pay money for---enough complete strangers to earn out your advance.

What makes a book 'good' has nothing to do with anything inherent in the book. If you think you've just written a masterpiece, someone somewhere will disagree with you.

Many writers scream about how terrible certain NYT bestsellers are. How their books are crap, and how they are much better writers than Danielle Steel or Clive Cussler or Dan Brown.

Many writers scream that popular culture is a cesspool, appealing only to the lowest common denominator.

Many writers talk of art, and standards, and culture.

Many writers blame their publishers for their failures.

Many writers insist that talent alone will ensure success, and the unwashed masses need to accept them for what they are.

Many writers need to get a clue.

Dismissing successful authors serves no purpose. Though your opinion of their writing might differ from the public's opinion, it might help to try and understand why certain authors become successful.

This isn't a competition. No writer is better than any other writer. And your opinion, though valid, is subjective.

If you want to believe you're better than Stephen King, you're entitled to that belief.

But publishers won't believe that, until you sell more books than King. And all of King's fans will think you're an idiot.

The higher the horse, the bigger the fall. The reasons you write, and your books, are not more important or better than anyone else's reasons for writing, or their books.

Write for whatever reason you want to write. But disregard the business, and it's successes, at your own peril.

Opinions may vary, but numbers don't lie.