Monday, November 22, 2010

Commercialization Wonderland

I'm going a little crazy sitting around the house right now. I realized this yesterday when it seemed like a good idea to ask my cats what I should write about today. Given their inability to speak, I attempted to allow them to give me their response by typing on the keyboard.

Okay, so I left my laptop open, and my little girl cat stood on the keys while I had Blogger up. This is her contribution to the Archives today:


Profound, no?

I took a bit of a break from not doing other things this weekend to read one of Douglas Adams' often lesser-known books, which is actually the second and final book in a series, called THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL. If you're an Adams fan and haven't read this one, it and its predecessor, DIRK GENTLY'S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY, are AWESOME (which is not, as it turns out, the title of another Douglas Adams book. It's just capitalized for emphasis). They are Adams at his best-- better, even, I would daresay, than the HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series. (You can find the Dirk Gently books here at

In THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL, Adams goes on a bit of a rant about a fictional author who has essentially sold his soul to sell millions of copies of his books. One of the characters makes a quip that she doesn't understand why she still reads his books, when it's clear that "his editor doesn't anymore."

Hilarity (and ring of truth) aside, this struck a chord with me. The novel I'm querying right now is most easily described as commercial fiction, but the definition of commercial fiction is that, well, it's commercial. It's meant to sell, to appeal to the masses. Now, I'm not saying I'll ever have an internationally-bestselling author's problems, but I would be lying if I didn't say that it crosses my mind what people might want to read when I write.

I try not to let it get to me. But every now and then a twinge of "well this is really popular right now" does cross my mind. I don't want to be a supposed sell-out, but I do want to be relevant.

Writing isn't about any potential money for me. It's more about the afore-mentioned relevancy, if I'm honest: seeing my book on bookstore shelves, and being able to say that I am an author. So my drive to write with mass appeal comes only from upping my odds of that happening. Agents and editors are people too, after all. Commercial appeal starts with them.

I'm struggling with this as I find myself with tons of the also-afore-mentioned free time. A shiny new idea has again reared its head, and I'm writing it just to get it out of my head while I query my other novel and let a third simmer before diving into edits. The shiny new idea has the potential to be very commercial, so we'll see which road I take.

So for today's question, tell me: when you write, do you write for yourself or loved ones, or do you write for what you think might sell?


C. N. Nevets said...

I write the story I want to tell in a way that I hope engages a select few people the way it engages me and perhaps entertains millions of others who may not "get it," but like it anyway. So... I want to sell books; it's my plan to sell books. I think about it all the time. But I tell my story, as much my way as I think is palatable. And then I'm prepared to make whatever changes an editor requests, no matter what I think, if she believes it will increase the odds of the book selling.

My artistic integrity is in my final product. What comes out of the publication process I consider to be a joint effort and I'm willing to let that come from compromise.

Nate Wilson said...

I received those two exact books for my birthday a couple months back. I'd planned to read a few other things first, but now methinks I may have to crack open the Adams...

To answer your question, though... I pay attention to the best practices for commercially successful writing, but I write for me. I figure that way it should be good enough to interest the millions of readers out there who like the same stuff I do. If not, well, at least I'm entertained.

L. T. Host said...

C.N.-- couldn't have put it better myself! I think that the compromise is okay as long as it's intentional.

Nate-- how funny! I got the books for my birthday a couple months ago, too!

And yeah, that's what I try to do, too. I write to entertain myself, but sometimes that means writing something commercial, because I tend to like commercial writing.

Cinette said...

I write the story that wants to be written, following format and structure, of course. But if an agent or editor offers suggestions that can make the story a better one, why the heck not try it out? If it helps to get it on the store bookshelves, as well as improve the story, I'm game.

Unknown said...

Writing for an audience (or genre) in mind would require me to know what I'm going to write before I write it but I think I do edit for an audience --whoever I think is acually going to read it some time soon -- and so my style tends to change acording to who my imeditate readers are.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I definitely write with a certain audience in mind - different ones for different books. But they are still MY stories. Whether they will have wide or narrow appeal depends a lot on the book.

Also: Thanks for the tip about the Adams book! I was just trying to figure out what to get my 12yo Hitchhikers Guide fan for Xmas! :)

K. Marie Criddle said...

I would love to be one of those people that writes solely for pure enjoyment and personal satisfaction but alas, I write very much with the hope of seeing myself in print, to have the ability to say I'm a published author, to have books of my own on my nieces' and nephews' and daughter's shelves...and of course to make millions, should the world oblige me.

But I think it'll do all us writers well if we think that everything we write is the next great thing, rather than spend time writing what we think is the great thing of the time. Delusions of grandeur will get us everywhere, right?

L. T. Host said...

Cinette-- True, true!

Taryn-- I admittedly have a tendency to do this, too, except in a slightly different way-- I think about who I know that might actually read it, and if there's something that I would be embarrassed to have them read or similar, I don't do it, lol.

Susan-- Great point! And you're welcome-- I didn't know about them either til the hubby got them for me for my birthday.

Marie-- Absolutely, they will. Absolutely.