When Marcela Landres, formerly of Simon and Schuster, shared those words with my fellow VONA attendees last summer at University of San Francisco, there was a hush in the room and a cringe among those who consider themselves "real" writers and artists. They were like: once I write it, it's up to the publisher/editor/name your person with title to handle its delivery to the world; my job is only to write.
I interpreted Marcela's point as this: it's great to develop your skills, however, you have to understand how the industry will work with your skills... that way, everyone has reasonable expectations and a successful publishing experience.
The subject brought up serious debate among my classmates. The "real" writers and artists on one side. The "commercial" writers and artists on the other side. No one willing to budge.
I happened to fall on the side of the room with the "commercial" writers and artists, though I could feel the folks on the other side. Honestly, it's not even about sides. It's about producing the best writing you can, and then, if it's your desire, making sure that people have access to it and know about it.
As Terry McMillan said in the 1988 Poets & Writers magazine article, Publicizing Your Commercially-Published Novel, on her first novel, MAMA, "I worked hard on my novel and I wanted as many people as possible to know it existed... you'll do well to do what I did. Take matters into your own hands." And she went on to be her own sales force, PR guru, and publicist for her first novel. Look at her following now.
Success is defined differently by different people. For some, the success and fulfillment come from the writing alone. And that's cool. For others, success is knowing that other people see, know about, and appreciate (do I dare say, like?) your work. For me, I like the "busy-ness" involved with writing and also with promoting and creating an audience. Love both of those areas a lot.
Here's a couple links for those of you wondering about writing, the business, and if this is your world. Not an exhaustive list... just what I could come up with on a Saturday morning before a day of meetings... with marketing people and a reporter about my upcoming novel.
- MJ Rose blog on marketing and the publishing industry, complete with other great links.
- An unnamed publishing industry exec's blog, on being a publisher and working with writers.
- A new, up & coming blog on black-focused books.
- Donnell Alexander's take on the industry.
- Jervey Tervalon's take one and take two.
- The Southern Comfort marketing blog... not the drink, but books