For a really long time, I was stuck on the idea that my writing was Art with a capital A, that I was a dilettante author for the love of wordsmithing. That I was neither a real writer nor a hack for hire, but an Artist. For this reason alone, I’m convinced I was unable to find an agent for my novel after repeated efforts. I just wasn’t willing to revise the damn thing until it had sufficient plot events to merit its length. I’m still too attached to it, so it shall remain in my hard drive languishing.
However, for those who haven’t heard, my husband got fired last week. We are now a one income household and that is, alas, a teacher’s salary. Consequently, I’ve redoubled my freelancing efforts and I’ve discovered a few things that resulted in an attitude adjustment:
1. Outlines help. I’m a pantser by nature but clients like to know what to expect. For example, I ran out of plot on a novella and threw in an unexpected pregnancy just to sustain momentum with stagnant characters. The client was not thrilled by the surprise. It wasn’t the event itself but its suddenness. So I outline. It gives me a map to work from and comforts the client.
2. It’s not art, it’s a commodity. It’s work for hire. My analogy now is selling toilet paper. As in: I had a client who hired me, worshipped my dialogue and my efficiency, then bitched when I turned in a 23000 word novella instead of 25K. I thought it was perfect or nearly perfect as it was and didn’t need filler to clutter it up. I was all insulted because my capital-A Art wasn’t being respected when, in point of fact, he was right.
Like, let’s say you ordered a hundred rolls of toilet paper. Your supplier sends you only 97 rolls. You contact them and demand the other three rolls you ordered and paid for. No, your supplier says, the 97 rolls he sent you are fluffy and superior with surprisingly good tensile strength. You don’t actually NEED 100 rolls. Ninety-seven is better.You demand your 3 rolls, convinced you’re being cheated. Supplier points out that, no, in fact the package looks much nicer without being crowded in with those extra rolls. You refuse to pay until given the promised toilet paper. Supplier gets huffy but supplies toilet paper as contracted, but in a begrudging manner. Like, say, a diva.
To the client, it ain’t art. It’s toilet paper. It’s something to use or repackage and sell. It’s like printer ink or coffee filters…they order a certain amount and that’s what they expect and there is no ephemeral standard of writing till the story is told. It’s work for hire.
Or to use my old chestnut from Jerry Maguire, it’s not show friends; it’s show business.
Believe it or not, this has been good for me to learn.
Readers, what do you think? Where is the line between your own artistry and writing a “marketable” book? Leave a comment and let us know.
* This post first appeared here.
Lit Diva is an American educator and freelance ghostwriter, as well as a sometime blogger about all things reading, writing and parenting. She writes contemporary, YA and paranormal. She’s been fangirling romance novels since she was too young to admit to it…some of her favorite escapist reads are Courtney Milan, Kerry Greenwood and Rainbow Rowell.