Friday, May 13, 2011

Days 250 to 251 - Writers v Publishers: Are you playing to win?

Imagine, if you will, a high-level amateur football game (whatever code you want, I'm not fussy) being held in front of a group of selectors. All your players are supposedly on the same team, and yet they all want something more - a bigger slice of the pie. The chance to shine, the chance to get a call from the big leagues with all its associated fame and money and fast cars. And when everyone is out to become THE greatest, where does that leave the team?

I think that in the writing business we are beginning to see a similar problem to the above. Writers, publishers, agents - we're all on the same team, and yet we come into the game with vastly different philosophies, goals and expectations.

It's only natural. Publishers want to grow their brand - they're focussed on marketing. The agents attract bigger clients by selling to the publishers, so by necessity they too need to think about whether your book is "marketable". They know what winning is, and in order to win they want their writers to be a marketable commodity and sell lots of books - to fight hard and win big.

Marcus Brotherton, guest blogging over at literary agent Rachelle Gardner's, talks about whether your writing is a competitive sport or a backyard hit-up. He says:
Winning, in the most ferocious sense of the word, frustrates us if our main goal as writers is getting the highest score possible and crushing our opponents.
More and more writers are expressing dissatisfaction with the strongly commercial nature of publishing. It's not that writers don't want money - they do! (Well, lord knows I do in any event.) But writers are by nature creative, they want to try new genres, new forms, to push boundaries and to spend their time writing. Publishing, even self-publishing, pushes us to create a brand, growing our reader base by focussing on the one genre and marketing ourselves as authors of [insert genre here] fiction.

I understand the reasoning. Would the romance community flock to buy the new Stephen King regency historical? Stephen King makes maximum profits writing horror, because there is a solid public conception that Stephen King writes excellent horror. But are the publishers underestimating the readers?

Scott Sigler, also guest blogging, at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, talks about how he managed to do better for himself by changing the goal posts. He had a publisher - one whose marketing plan didn't have room for his cross-genre experiments - so he made his own success. He podcasts his stories free of charge, and has been doing so for years. And that idea of wanting to share the story has bought him a lot of fans. Those fans pay him money for his work, even though the content is available for free online.

To quote the brilliant XKCD:
You don't become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process. 

Word Count - 1,788

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