Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] Selling the unsellable

In comments on ktempest's Livejournal here, mmegaera asked:
Can you point me in the direction of some viable advice for selling otherwise good work that doesn't happen to fit today's market?

Some serious advice, other than wait till what you're writing is popular again or write to the market, instead?

I thought I'd take it on here, and throw the question open to the gentle readers of this blog.

Most people will tell you to write what you love. There's a good reason for that. Your voice, your passion, your craft, will all be deepest and richest if you're writing what you love. There are exceptions to this, but in general I wouldn't say write to the market.

The simplest reason not to do that is that what you see in the market today was being bought two or three years ago (or possibly longer), and what's being bought today won't be out much before 2010. More to the point, writing to the market won't give you the genuine voice that attracts readers. Certainly not in an early or pre- career phase where an author's conscious control of craft is generally still developing.

Waiting til what you're writing is popular again isn't so much a solid idea either. I mean, if nurse romances are your thing, what are the odds of nurse romances coming back anytime soon? Likewise pulp Westerns. Everything comes and goes, but not in predictable cycles. Some things really aren't very sellable, no matter how good they are — in our field, non-Eurocentric fantasy is very difficult.

Ultimately, so far as I can see it, work which won't sell in the market needs to be redirected in one of two ways. Either find another vein to mine for your love of the writing, or find another market to hit. Books which aren't viable on a trade P&L out of a New York publisher may do just fine in the independent press, for example. The break-even numbers on a POD deal with royalties-only are very small indeed, so the capacity for risk taking is much higher.

Just because you work hard, or are brilliant, doesn't mean you'll automatically succeed. If you truly think what you're writing doesn't fit the market, you either need to bet on being then next market-changer (they do happen, but that's probably the longest odds you could play in trying to get published), or you need to make a change in direction.

Is that fair? No. But there isn't a right to be published. It's not a reward for doing all the correct things, or having suffered enough for your art. It's an imperfect process, run by imperfect people for an imperfect market.

Am I right? Wrong? Other takes?

End Note from the Department of Toughlove: In practice I'd tend to question the assumption that if someone's work isn't selling, it's because it doesn't happen to fit today's market rather than because of quality issues. How does an author know that? There isn't an editor or agent out there who would leave good work on the table simply because it didn't fit this year's expectations. Publishing really isn't a conspiracy of insiders and kingmakers. I don't find it difficult to make the case that the most reliable validation of work being good is whether it sells. (This assumes commercial aspirations, of course.)
Tags: process, publishing, writing

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