Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Mercenary Matter

Whenever I think about the work it takes to get published, I feel puzzled.  This isn’t because I’m confused about the publishing process, but because it’s very good at absorbing all my efforts, even though I still have plenty of other things to do.

I sit down and draft a query letter; I scroll through internet lists of agents, looking for one that might fit me; I search for contests to which I might submit my very occasional short stories.  By the time I'm done, four hours have gone by and I’m no longer interested in working on my latest novel, or thinking about a new poem, or editing old work.  Such lethargy is, of course, a problem, but I’m sure it’s familiar to anyone trying to make what he or she loves a commercial success.

American IPA
Relax! Don't worry! Have a homebrew!
For example, my friend who is studying architecture also loves to brew beer.  He loves it so much that sometimes he thinks it would be more fun to be a brewer than an architect.  Of course he enjoys his profession, but there is something particularly relaxing about brewing.  I can attest to this; I’ve helped him upon occasion and it is indeed peaceful and restorative.  Besides, the results are literally intoxicating and what could be better?

However, once you devote a lot of spare time to something you enjoy, you start to think, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to be paid for all this extra work I’m doing?’

Of course it would be nice!  Everyone wants to be paid, and in an ideal world absolutely everyone would in fact be paid for doing what they love. 

Fort Worth Zoo
This is how writing makes me feel!
The world is sadly not ideal. 

When I sit down to write, I enter a state where I am happy, calm, and sane (not that I’m insane other times…I’m just more sane when writing!).  I put all my efforts into creating new things and at the same time I ‘recreate’ myself.

On the other hand, when I work at getting published, I feel uncertain, nervous and skeptical about my chances for success.  There is definitely a conflict between the two pastimes. 

From what my brewing acquaintance tells me, there is a similar conflict for the homebrewer-turned-professional. Working for yourself, you get to make what you want while simply enjoying the pursuit for its own sake.  Once you move to a bigger audience you have to stand out, and also curtail any impulse to tweak or adapt the recipes which people particularly like.  Brewers suddenly have to invest a lot of time and energy into advertisements and mass-production. 

The creativity and constant experimentation which kept the hobby fun turn out to be almost a liability.  Anheuser-Busch doesn’t indulge in creative experimentation, after all, and look at how successful Budweiser is.  On the writing side of things, you see authors settle into a comfortable rut where they write almost the exact same thing over and over, with different names and titles, because it sells

Is there any solution to this tension between marketability and individuality? 

New York City
This is how publishing makes me feel...
I think there is, or else I would probably stop trying to get published right now.  For example, one of my solutions is this blog.  For sure I think that an internet voice is something that agents look for in new authors, so there were practical considerations that inspired my Balancing Act.

On the other hand I wouldn’t have started to write it unless I thought it would be a new and interesting way to exercise my skills and ideas. 

My other solution is time management.  It’s easy, as a creative personality, to work whenever the inspiration hits, even if that’s only once a month, but more structure is needed if a person is going to maintain his or her artistic identity while looking for publishing options.  Otherwise, inspiration will fade and monetary considerations will conquer.

This summer I'm fighting against that mercenary spirit, even while dividing my time between publishing efforts and actual writing/editing.  I’ve decided to allot days of the week to the two endeavors.  Monday, Wednesday, Friday: creative work; Tuesday, Thursday: publishing work.  I think the split in favor of writing will help prevent any surrender of my personal standards concerning what constitutes good fiction.    

As for homebrewers who want to become professionals while maintaining their brewing integrity…well, I’m not qualified to offer you solutions.  Instead I wish you best of luck and promise to sample your efforts with great enjoyment.

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