What makes a writer? it seems obvious that a writer is someone who writes. Which would then follow that a professional writer is someone who is paid to write? But, oh, what is a real writer?
Now there we get into the area some people want to draw lines. Or in other words, the battle between the independent, and the dependents. The dependents would have it that the only real writers are the ones who were chosen to be supported by an entity known as a publisher, acting as a gatekeeper. The independents are less worried about what makes a writer ‘real’ than they are about writing, publishing, and finding that market which will mean they can write the next book in good conscience.
I came across Kristine Kathryn Rusch talking about markets yesterday, and was stuck as always by the clarity of her thoughts on this. You should go read all of it, but pertinent to my point…
There is no market.
There is a marketplace.
A wide-open marketplace that lets readers browse and find whatever is to their tastes. Think of one of those bazaars you find in major cities, the kind of bazaar that goes on for blocks and blocks. Sure, there’s a lot of fresh fruit currently in season, and some lovely woven scarves and some beautiful hand-carved bowls. But there are also one-of-a-kind items, from artists who might not be able to afford to be near the entrances, but you can find them if you look.
That expanded marketplace is new in publishing. Before, the gatekeepers controlled every single stall in that marketplace. You couldn’t find the lovely one-of-a-kind item even if you walked past every stall in every aisle.
Now you can.
What makes a real writer? Sales. Real writers get paid. Real writers don’t subsist on government grants for work they might produce in the nebulous future. Real writers know that they have fans who will happily buy the next book, and the next, and… Now, this takes a while. And it takes a lot of effort. Writing is no sinecure.
I love Kris Rusch’s metaphor of the bazaar. How are you, as a writer, going to stand out to the readers in this new, bustling marketplace? because this is how you will get paid, by attracting the attention of the readers. Now, objectively speaking it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘bad’ writer in the eyes of the dependents who keep telling the independents (even those who take home six figures in a year) they aren’t ‘real’ writers. If you’re a ‘bad’ writer and people buy your stuff and beg for more, stop fretting over it and keep writing. Note that I am not talking about lack of editing, poor grammar, and plenty of typos. That’s not bad writing, that’s bad editing. That’s why you hire an editor, or at the very least if you’re at the beginning and can’t afford it yet, you find someone in the same boat and swap services with them. Both of you will learn from that process.
In order to stand out in the marketplace to the readers, you have to know the market. This is where many writers balk. They don’t need to know the market. That is what their publisher is for!
No, the writer doesn’t need to ‘write to the market’ but the writer does need to understand what the market is looking for, so the book that is produced can be marketed. I don’t know if that is clear.
Let’s say, for instance, that I wrote a sweet Western Romance, and put it out there. With no other books under that penname, and no real promotion of that title, in a marketplace that has been conditioned to expect sex and lots of it in a romance title, my book with no sex would sink like a stone (it did). On the other hand I have been watching in delight as a young writer I know has been working diligently at breaking into the market. She’s flying in the face of urban fantasy expectations (and paranormal, which her work tends more toward) by writing sweet stories that aren’t heavy on the sex and who frankly remind me of an up-to-date Nancy Drew dealing with voudon, ghosts, and oh, she’s a witch… But I expect she will do very well, because I know there are those who have given up in disgust with the Urban Fantasy that focuses on sex first, action and story second, or maybe third and fourth after character angst (I’ve just been trying to read an iconic UF series and finally gave up in disgust). She is, really, setting up a booth with her wares in the marketplace and she’s different.
Different is good. But not too different. I’m thinking about craft fairs I worked in, years back. When the shoppers walked into them, they had certain expectations. If you were going to a church bazaar, you expected funny little old ladies with hand-crocheted tissue-box covers. If it was an upscale juried show, they wanted to see fine jewelry and prices that were at least three digits. Which isn’t to say that the grannies were selling bad wares. They were selling to their audience.
And how to do that? I’ll ask you what your thoughts are, and then in the coming week, we’ll take a look at the nuts and bolts of creating a product to sell. I’ll tell you one thing: it’s not all about the writing.