A Fine Line

Posted by Jeff Markowitz on Wednesday, July 14, 2010
In his recent post, Blogging to Increase Your Audience, Dan wrote

"...it has always struck me how so many of the people on xanga that indicate they would like to be a professional writer of some sort, will tend to act as if they don't care if people read them.  I would think that it would be the goal of the professional writer to be read.  I would assume that professional writers need to sell books."

As a professional writer who needs to sell books and who blogs here on xanga, I think I'd like to pursue that issue just a little bit further.  Artists have something of a love-hate relationship with popularity.  I've known garage bands that swore that they wouldn't want to get signed by a major label because it would compromise their music.  And I've known more than a few aspiring writers (as well as published authors) who like nothing more than to make fun of Dan Brown.

Stephen King once wrote, "If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented."  (Everything you need to know about writing successfully - in ten minutes, in The Writers Handbook, 1988).

And, of course, the only way that happens, the only way you get to pay the light bill, let alone the mortgage, is if you have readers.  Lots of readers.  And these days, the only way you get a contract (well, maybe not the only way, but certainly the easiest) is if you bring readers to the publisher.

Writers become writers because we like to write.  Not because we like to promote.    If we liked to promote, we'd become promoters.  But we would do well to remember that "the customer is always right".  If  I'm writing a book in the hope that a publisher will buy it, and that readers will read it, it would be naive to ignore what it is readers want to read, what it is publishers believe they can sell.  But it is folly to chase the trends, to write to the market.

A friend of mine, a fellow mystery writer, a very talented mystery writer (I won't mention his name, only because he seems to have removed the post) blogged recently about the fine line between being a professional writer and being a hack.  What do you do, he asked (he wasn't really asking, so much as he was venting) when your publisher wants you to make a change in your manuscript, a change that is being recommended to increase marketability.  Where do you draw the line between telling the story you want to tell and telling the story your publisher believes will sell.

And that's why I have often said, it starts by writing the best book you're capable of writing.  It starts there, but it surely doesn't end there, because writing a good book is an art, but selling a good book is a business.

Is there a lesson here for bloggers?  Is there a moral to the story?  I will leave that for each of you to decide.

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