On page 70 in The Art of War For Writers there’s a discussion about Herman Melville’s outlook when he wrote Moby Dick and Stephen King’s when he created ‘Salem’s Lot. They both apparently decided to “go for it.” The author says Melville was “pursuing a white whale of artistic vision.” Stephen King wrote ‘Salem’s Lot at a time when he was a 23-year-old writer and Carrie had yet to come out.
I say more power to them for pursuing the books of their hearts and their artistic visions and for not writing “mere” fiction. You may be wondering why more authors don’t do that because if they did, maybe there’d be more great books on the shelves.
It’s a bit of contradiction, isn’t it, that at writer’s conferences you will hear editors tell wanna-be writers to “write the book of your heart.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that line used. I’m old and jaded now, but there was a time when I was wide-eyed and innocent about the world of publishing and I actually believed those editors. Frankly, those editors probably meant what they said. They wanted writers to write the books of their hearts. What they didn’t say was how hard it would be to get those books published.
Want some more contradiction? How about this? “We want you to write a book of the heart. Just…you know…figure out how to make it commercially viable.”
You want to get published? The first rule is, don’t bother writing the book of your heart. Write something’s that’s commercially viable. If you manage to combine those two and do it well, congratulations. You might become a best-selling author in record time. Or…you might not.
Although I’ve never been under contract, never had a multi-book deal based on a partial or a pitch, I know authors who have. Do you know what they’re told after they sell the first one or two books and they do well enough to get another contract? Write more of the same. Do not deviate from the path. This is what sells. The publisher doesn’t care if you’re tired of writing romantic paranormals and you want to try your hand at urban fantasy. They’ve built you as a romantic paranormal author. And there you shall remain.
Let’s say you’ve sold twelve or fifteen books and maybe you’ve quit your day job. You’ve started to count on a certain level of income, whatever it may be, from your writing. You can get a contract on a partial. Why would you take a chance and write something entirely different? Something your editor isn’t interested in and you may never sell. Because it’s the book of your heart? Seriously, how many authors in this situation do you think are going to do that? How many of them have the time when they’re under contract? I can’t really answer that but I’m going to take a wild guess and say not very many.
In fact, based on my limited research, do you know when an author writes a “book of the heart?” When everything else dries up or they’re just so burnt out from writing whatever commercial trap they landed in. When their contracts go bye-bye and their sales drop and their agent no longer answers their calls. That’s when they decide to “go for it.”
The two examples of Melville and King basically prove my point. King was still an unknown with no sales track record. And Melville, actually, I don’t know where he was in his career, but wherever it was, he had no qualms (and possibly no family to support from his writing) about going for it.
Don’t take advice from me, because I’m not an example I’d recommend anyone follow. Virtually nothing I produce or had published is hugely commercial. Yet. But I’m not dependent on my mere pittance of a writing income either. Yet. So I’ve always had the freedom of writing what I wanted to write and the uphill battle of trying to interest an agent or an editor in it and selling it.
When you’re making your living as a writer, can you afford to take chances on a novel that may not sell because it’s too far out there?
Isn’t there something to be said for NOT making your living as a writer and NOT being dependent on your writing income to pay for groceries? Maybe those burdens are what kill creativity.
If you’re going to “go for it,” at least be realistic about what may follow.