In the writing business, we often get conflicting advice from our readers, other writers, and industry professionals like agents and editors. Agents advise us to write what’s in our hearts, but they can only sell what the editors want. The editors want more of what is already selling, limiting their risk in this fast-changing business. I’ve overheard readers in bookstores scoff at yet another new vampire novel. Other writers have told me that vampires are overdone; prophecies, tired. Yet this is exactly the opposite of the advice from New York. Vampires sell, so they want more vampires. Steampunk is popular, so they want more Steampunk.
They are the ones writing the checks.
This is the paradox. For what is in our hearts is not always what New York wants to buy. It’s not always what readers want to read.
And the bills keep coming.
Do we stay true to our readers? True to ourselves? Or do we sell out, as it were, to what the industry wants in some desperate and usually futile attempt to make a living?
First of all, being true to our readers isn’t part of this choice. Readers either relate to our written word or they don’t. The only choice for writers is either to write what’s in one’s heart, New York be damned, or to sell out and try to write something that New York might want to buy.
For those of us who are full time writers, as the bills pile up and the money remains scarce, we sometimes lose our way and try to force something, somehow merge the two. We scramble for a way to write what’s in our hearts, what our soul demands to be released, in a fashion that will also be attractive to editors, journals, magazines–anyone who can help us make ends meet.
But in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
And so on.
Do you write what you think will sell, or do you write from the heart?