Selling or Selling Out

- by LaurieAlice

From my first writing conference, long before I’d ever finished anything worth reading, everyone chanted the mantra, “Write the book of your heart.”

The premise seems to be that if you write the book of your heart, you will connect with readers’ hearts and create a story that sells. Several years and manuscripts later, I recognized the falseness of this premise.

Organizations for writers refer to the ‘publishing industry’, not ‘publishing social club’. Industry. That sounds like business. Mission statements. Profits.

No matter how heart-felt a story might be, if an editor doesn’t think it will make a profit for the publisher, she isn’t going to buy it. That’s the point at which the writer needs to make the decision to either continue writing with her heart on the page or her eye on the bottom line.

When I faced the realization that the books I wanted to write weren’t the ones my chosen market wanted to buy, I made the calculated decision to write the sort of story that played to that market. The salve to my creative soul was that writing is, first and foremost, a business. If I wanted to join the team, I had to adhere to the company policy.

Company policies, however, still insisted upon books with heart, warmth, tears, laughter… In short, they still wanted characters readers could love and a plot that held their interest.

It was the hardest novel I’d ever written. The first attempt was as bland and passionless as one might expect. The second attempt improved the process, but was still not worth reading. I decided I’d made a bad decision and would have given up if not for others encouraging me to try yet again.

And the third time was indeed the charm.

What happened on the way to selling out?

I discovered that, as a professional, to insist I could only write heart-felt work if it was on my terms was nothing short of…unprofessional, an artistic temper tantrum. If I was good at writing, if I was good enough to be published, I should be able to create story and characters with all the right elements, while fitting them into the mores expected by the market. The book of my heart showed itself to be nothing more than puppy love. The end result of my book as a grown up writer emerged as the beginning of a lasting love of writing what is needed or desired by the market because it is writing and I am a writer.

2 comments

  1. Like all truisms, the “book of the heart” thing is sometimes true, sometimes not. In my case, writing a “book of the heart” rescued me from depression because of problems with another project under contract, and the “book of the heart” later sold.

    You’re right, though, that this is a business and that the majority of successful writers are those who maintain a professional attitude. Artistic angst is something a businessperson just can’t afford.

  2. Your post is an interesting one, Laurie Alice! In truth, I believe romance and grace are SUBJECTS of my heart . . . so as long as I can weave them into the topics, scenarios, characters a pub wants then I’ve made us both happy.

    Love the visual image of an artistic temper tantrum. : ) So often we are guilty of that, much to our professional detriment.