Thursday, April 22, 2010

Finale, and a new beginning?

It’s all over but the shouting. My thesis novel is on its way to my advisor for final review. After twenty months of intense concentration, my journey as a formal student of academia is nearing an end. I continue to nourish dreams of further study in philosophy, and possibly more in literature, but the aggregate of my outstanding student loans stops me cold. It’s time to leave my studies and face the real world, to find a job or sell a book so I can claim actual income which, as we all know, is the only measure of validity in our materialistic society.

I mentioned the ivory tower dream in an email to a recruiter a few days; she hasn’t responded. I hope she understood my point. In writing, I am free to be whatever or whoever I am at any particular moment in time. It is my escape, and my salvation. But life demands more than personal fulfillment. We have rent to pay (or a mortgage?!), food to buy, the IRS to appease. So it’s time to face reality, and the dim prospect of finding employment in a depressed job market.

While my dream has long been to make a living with my writing, I am slowly learning that even stellar prose (which I hope mine will be considered, someday!) is not enough to attract an agent or publisher. Writers are now expected to be marketing experts as well. A friend and I attended the Mad Anthony Writers Conference in Hamilton, Ohio, last weekend (kudos to the conference team!), and while most of the sessions were entertaining and informative, several of them were downright depressing. A query to an agent or publisher is now expected to include a ‘platform’ and a marketing plan for how the proposed work will be sold, and to whom. Not that many years ago, it was enough to mention the expected niche market and identify potential readers en masse. Now it seems writers must provide websites, blogs, email distribution lists – the larger the better – and detailed plans for how and where their book will be sold. And I am sorry folks, but that is not my forté; I am a writer. That’s why I turn to agents, editors and publishers – the experts in those fields, or so I assumed.

But we all know where ‘assume’ gets us.

I understand the budget constraints of the industry; I really do. We’re all trying to do more with less. I have no problem whatsoever being a part of the team that sells my work. But I am at a loss when I come up against the current expectations I heard repeatedly at the conference (not to pick on Mad Anthony – I hear the same thing elsewhere these days). Consider this awkward analogy: would you hire a carpenter to build a house, bringing with her the necessary skills and tools to do the job expertly, and then also demand that she design the plans, obtain the necessary permits, provide the materials, and hold the open house? Of course not; those things are the job of a general contractor, i.e., a publisher or agent, in tandem with the craftsman.

If I were interested in self-publishing and all the marketing efforts required by such a move, that is the direction I would take. I am not. I know my skills and I know my limitations. I am not a salesman. I have no formal training in marketing and distribution. And it makes sense to me that, if a writer spends so much time developing that platform and maintaining a website and finding a market and promoting the final product, duties that one would think and agent and publisher would be doing, that said writer would have much less time to actually write the product that earns the income shared by all those participants in the long run.

I’m probably getting myself blacklisted all over the industry with this rant, but there must be a middle ground. Are there truly no agents or publishers out there who would rather see their writers at work on the next great novel instead of fumbling their way through marketing and distribution channels the agents and publishers already know – or should know? I mean seriously, isn’t that the area of expertise for them?

Let’s each concentrate on what we do best, whether it’s writing, marketing, publishing or selling. Yes, we should overlap and help each other out; that’s called teamwork. We can all accomplish more that way. But to ignore a well-written novel (or poem, or short story…) because it doesn’t come with a prepackaged marketing plan? Who does that benefit?

I don’t expect anyone to write my novel for me; in return, please don’t ask me to take on the job of the other experts on my team. Yes, I would love to remain in my ivory tower, toiling over the keyboard by candlelight (you know what I mean!). But when my book is finished, ready for exposure to the world, I will be out there with the rest of the team, following their expert advice on where to be and what to do to gain the most exposure for the product on which we all hope to earn a decent return. I am directionally challenged at best; please don’t send me out into the unfamiliar world of marketing and distribution without an experienced guide!

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