Sunday, April 12, 2009

Art for Art's Sake...
Is Fine if You Don't Want to Be Paid

Adam Rex's Frankenstein books are also broadly categorizable [as a picture story book]. A little further afield is everyone's favorite genre-buster The Invention of Hugo Cabret which had already spent time on the NY Times bestseller list before it won the Caldecott.

All of which is my way of saying that it makes me a little nutty to hear all this talk of categories as if these things were as fixed as the elements on the periodic table. They're not. Terms change; requirements are absolutely inflexible... until they flex.

I understand that bookstores and libraries have to shelve populations, not individuals. But figuring out how to do that is their job, not mine.

The most interesting and creative work being done in our field right now is by people who aren't lining up with established formats: Brian Selznick, Shaun Tan, Adam Rex... even Kevin Henkes, who's a master of the 32-page picture book, has been doing all kinds of interesting things with smaller page counts.

Writing strictly to specification is a way to get ad copy, not art.
I agree. But I would like to expand just a bit on a couple points:

It gets tricky when any writer compares him/herself to bestsellers and award-winners.
For one thing, you cannot predict what will be a bestseller or an award winner.

And for another thing, you shouldn't compare yourself to anyone who is doing something brilliantly unless you understand all the things they are doing brilliantly in it. Not sure you do? Look up the reviews / commentary on the book in question and ask yourself if you noticed the things that critics call out for praise when you were reading the book. If you didn't, you're not in the same league.

That's not to say that you might not be at the top of some other league-- but it does say that you shouldn't be comparing your work to those people's.

And in terms of the statement "I understand that bookstores and libraries have to shelve populations, not individuals. But figuring out how to do that is their job, not mine." -- I agree again.

Figuring out how to do that is their job, not yours, not mine. But it is your job and mine to be at least aware of how booksellers decide to shelve books, and what that means or doesn't mean to the books we work on. Because whether we like it or not, sometimes it has a meaningful impact on books we love.

I meet a fair number of authors who find the prospect of understanding the workings of bookstores, the intricacies of the industry, and the subtle differences in age groups and reading levels of children too daunting to even think about. And I sympathize... a little.

I'm not making assumptions about this writer. But for writers in general: Some people take the attitude that they're in the business of creating art, not understanding their audience. Some people take the attitude that they're in the business of speaking to children, not understanding bookselling.

To them I say: those aren't businesses.

A very scant percentage of writers does manage to create art that speaks to children and sells without understanding their audience or the market. But they are taking shots in the dark.

Thinking you can be a good children's author or illustrator without knowing your audience and the market is like thinking you can be a good archer without knowing where the targets are, let alone hitting them.

33 comments:

Nicola Morgan said...

Brilliantly lucid and true. People always say, "But what about ...?" and then come up with an example which is only an example of the rule that every rule has an exception. There are always successful writers who work outside pigeon-holes, but they are successful for two reasons (apart from being great writers partly by following the rules of great writing even if they broke the rules of genre): a) they have a voice that you simply have to listen to/read and b) they were lucky because they hit the market at the right time and everything went right. As you say, that's the unpredictable bit.

Your last two paras are interesting too. Good examples in the UK are David Almond and Tim Bowler. Both say they don't think about age/type of audience, just tell the story: Almond's stories don't follow the rules of age-pitch, and get away with it because he's such an individual writer. Bowler's stories are perfectly pitched for his teenage audience, but he says he does it unconsciously.

Thanks for this excellent post.

Chris said...

Thinking you can be a good children's author or illustrator without knowing your audience and the market is like thinking you can be a good archer without knowing where the targets are, let alone hitting them.

Hitting the targets, or hitting the children? Because I've written a few books on spanking (child version and grownup version in a two-for-one package) I'd like to start querying...

Anonymous said...

Another reason the work of award-winners and best-sellers DOES NOT indicate that fitting in a genre doesn't matter -- something unusual and risky seems less risky to a publisher when it's done by somebody who already has a record of success. As opposed to someone like, say, me.

Wendy said...

When a difficult-to-categorize book becomes successful, it's not just because the author has simply decided to push the envelope.

It's because marketing departments, sales reps, booksellers and have made the extra effort necessary to get the market to accept something new—-to get the public to consider a book that doesn't look right for a certain age group, or has an unusually high word count, etc. Yes, it's their job to sell the books, and their jobs in part depend on knowing when to get behind something that breaks the rules and when to stay the course. They're not opposed to innovation, but they have to have faith in the innovator.

Understand that the art of what THEY do is as important as your art.

literaticat said...

Amen Wendy.

So a publisher has this weird book.

Maybe it is an absurdly oversized picture book, or a wordless graphic novel for adults, or a massively thick middle grade book with hardly any words. Maybe it is an art book made of wood and fur. Maybe it is a 35 pound scratch-and-sniff boar-brain cookbook.

It is hard for the reps to get the buyers to stock this thing. WTF say the buyers - this won't fit anywhere! This is nothing like what we have! This is bizarre!

The sales reps use low, soothing tones to convince the buyers. The marketing people have a campaign in place. BUT the real moment of truth comes when the book gets unpacked at bookstores all over the country.

WTF! the booksellers think. WHERE am I supposed to put this? WHAT am I supposed to do with this? It fits in none of our categories! It is like nothing else!

Well, I can turn around and put it on the returns shelf and send it back. Or I can hide it somewhere tucked in a corner. OR I can put it on display.

If I get behind the book and put it on display (because really it is too beautiful NOT to put on display, and there's no place ELSE to put it anyway) - then it will probably be successful despite its handicaps. But that happens to maybe two books a year - MAYBE.

What are the chances that your book is one of them?

Jo said...

Well said. Book publishing is when all is said and done, a business and most people who work within it have to operate inside certain parameters. I worked for an indie bookseller for years and all the employees had such a love and appreciation for books that we put thought into how and where we displayed them. Many titles were personally hand-sold. It was a labor of love, however as a writer I wouldn't want to count on being so lucky.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention unusual outside-the-box formats can also cost publishers more $$--to the tune of being cost prohibitive to create. [Which would be discovered in a PNL.] Publishers are not going to want to take that risk (ie potential financial loss), particularly on an author/illustrator without a track record.

Publishing is art + business. Not just art + art. Everyone is welcome to create any art they want anytime. Just don't assume others might want to take a financial hit for you to do so.

working illustrator said...

I'm going to start by outing myself as the source of the quote at the beginning of this post; it was excerpted from a comment I wrote on the previous topic. Thanks, EA, for the chance to explore this topic a little further.

First of all, I'm not saying that publishing's not a business ; I've been making my living at it for a while now and this week of all weeks – as I sort through my 1099's – I'm keenly aware of that fact.

I'm not saying that the structures of that business don't have an effect on the art I make.

But what I make is art.

I work on it and sweat over it out of all proportion to the money I get. My sense of myself is invested in it. I don't think that's flaky or hippie-dippie or impractical. The creative people I know are just wired this way and anyone who thinks of books as something more than just another category of specialty consumer product wouldn't have it any other way.

My primary relationship isn't with the editor, or the publisher... and a good thing, too, given the personal and professional instability one encounters on that front (at this point, I wouldn't get any more attached to an individual editor than I would to an individual goldfish).

My primary relationship is with the work I'm doing in the studio.

For me, publication is a means to support that art. But the art – the opportunity to make it, to explore the world through it – is what matters. If it weren't personal in that way for me, this would just be a really, really badly paid production job with a little bitty side dish of vanity sauce.

There may be people whose only goal in writing to 'get published' and enjoy the sense of external validation that comes with that. I suspect a lot of your notorious slush pile is driven by that impulse. That's not the writer I am or want to be; I can't imagine it's the writer whose work you'd want to bring to the world.

It's certainly not the work that matters to me as a reader.

That's not to say that there aren't some jobs I take just for the money (which my pride and professional self-respect compel me to do good work on). No question, either, that part of my job might be having a working knowledge of the stuff that EA and the commenters here have talked about: understanding the audience, knowing the other books out there, all the practical aspects of designing and distributing and deploying onto the sales floor the physical bodies of the books.

The vast majority of my working life, though, is me sitting alone in my studio, engaging as creatively as I can with the material I'm working on. Believe me, this is where you want me. This is where I do my good thing and I do it better if the naysaying voices - both my own and others' - aren't sowing the earth with salt before me as I go.

Your jobs in editorial, marketing, bookselling, whatever, may require you, upon reading this, to spontaneously generate objections and conditionals. And that's fine. It's part of your job.

But my job, when the music's on and the brushes are out, is to keep that stuff on the other side of the door. My job is not possible if I don't do this.

All creative professionals live, to some extent, on impractical hope: hope that the work will be good, that its goodness will be recognized, that whatever combination of luck and skill has brought us this far will not give out.

By saying that, I'm not 'comparing' myself to bestselling authors and award-winners, but I certainly don't consider them a separate species. What I do, they do; all of us are equal before a blank piece of paper and if it's true that no-one can predict in advance what will be an award-winner or best-seller, it's every bit as true that no one knows where that blank piece of paper may lead.

I may or may not succeed on the scale that my successful and award-laden colleagues do (by whatever particular road I find); but without presuming that I might, I certainly won't. They wouldn't have, in their turn, if they'd believed that level of accomplishment to be out of reach.

Or if they'd said, 'oh, never mind... it won't fit in a standard-sized shipping box.'

Anonymous said...

Wendy said (and literaricat amen'ed):Understand that the art of what THEY do is as important as your art.

Yes. The marketing plan is indeed equal to the novel.

Honest to god, people. Get some perspective.

literaticat said...

Anonymous 3:15 PM says

Yes. The marketing plan is indeed equal to the novel.

Honest to god, people. Get some perspective.


I have the perspective of someone who has been a bookseller and buyer and worked in publishing for like, just a couple of decades.

OBVIOUSLY the books are the thing, without the books it is all pointless, we all love authors and artists beyond measure.

What I was amen'ing is not Wendy's use of the word "art" - which is not the word that I would have chosen - but rather the sentiment that WE, the many people behind the scenes who may not write the book but do sell the book, make the book and help get it on the shelves and into people's hands, are also important and have concerns and expectations that will ultimately have a lot to do with the life-and-death of a book.

To dismiss the business side of things as something that you don't need to know or care anything about because you are an artist -- well, that is silly. Obviously you shouldn't let it interfere with your art, but you do have to be realistic about the fact that if you are being published, you are not doing so in a vacuum.

An actor can be an actor anywhere, sure - but isn't it nicer when they are able to do it on stage, in front of an audience, with sets, costumes, lights, programs, tickets bought and paid for? That is not something that most actors can do on their own. And without that crew of invisible helpers, welcome to opening night in your mom's garage.

Andy J Smith illustration said...

"I may or may not succeed on the scale that my successful and award-laden colleagues do... but without presuming that I might, I certainly won't."

Well said!

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that these four artists are pushing me in some common and fearless direction...as are their great predecesors.


You can't ignore genius no matter what form it takes.

Anonymous said...

huh?

Anonymous said...

Litericat here seems to want to take a fair amount of credit for a book's success. What of a (good) book's failure? I agree that booksellers (and editors and designers and publicity people) all contribute a lot to a book's success. I just get tired of the behind-the-scenes people ducking for cover when good books don't succeed. Writers and illustrators do their best, then hand off their babies to the pros, who are happy to crow when the publishing machine works beautifully. I'd love to hear an insider, anonymous or not, recognize and discuss back-end failures on books that "shoulda been contenders." This would be really informative.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I'd like to point out that comparing your 'experimental' style to Kevin Henkes is ESPECIALLY crazy---

Because, Kevin Henkes didn't start out "experimental." He made a name for himself by doing very traditional, 32-page picrure books about talking animals with pre-school-aged problems.

The reason I might take a gander at an experimental Henkes in the bookstore is because my kids think "Chrysanthamum" is one of the greatest books ever written. And it IS great. His mice are extremely expressive, his dialogue and narration is simeltaneously sweet but wry, even his minor characters are fully-formed. It really is War and Peace in pictuire book format.

And then he did it again. and again. We have Owen. We have Julius, Baby of the World. He proved he was a master of the picture book and THEN started playing around. (OK, I'm sure he's played around for years, but the reason why a publisher will take a risk with his experiments is because of Chrysanthamum, et al.)

Would Sendak have been able to do Wild things if he hadn't first made himself known by "Wheel on the School" and the Little Bear books? Could he have done Night Kitchen without Wild Things under his belt?

It seems like most authors and illustrators don't get to do 'wacky' until they've already done successful. Would anyone have published "The Painted House" if Grisham hadn't already been a commercial success?

Word verify "Mockwore"-- sure, google, save it for a comment where I'm being earnest.

Chris Eldin said...

To Literaticat,

I agree with you. We live parttime in Dubai, and last year we had two British co-authors self publish a book (via the printing press here in Dubai). Since authors rarely come here, or do school visits, they were welcomed with open arms.

The librarian at the school where my children attend is a sales dynamo. The book sales in one day at this one school were 21,000 dirhams (divide by 3.5 to get dollar amount). MOST of this was because of her energy. Honest to God, if she can do that for a self pubber, I hope one day to have a 'real' book to bring here.

Sorry for the long story...

working illustrator said...

Anonymous 8:24, I agree but good luck finding anyone to step up to give that post-mortem. Isn't there an old proverb about success having a thousand parents and failure being an orphan?

Deirdre, you seem to want to insist that the right to innovate has to be earned.

I disagree with this first as a matter of basic principle: creative work is in fact not the civil service. You don't earn your way up to the next pay grade by putting in a certain amount of time and then getting a pat on the head by the proper authorities.

You're right that Kevin Henkes did a lot of lovely 32-page picture books before branching out into other formats, including some very well-reviewed novels.

But that's only one of a lot of possible courses. David Diaz won a Caldecott for his first book, which was stylistically very unusual for a picture book at the time (his work has arguably gotten more conservative since). Shaun Tan, who I've mentioned before, hasn't even broken a mold because he was never in one to begin with. Paul Zelinsky works in a zillion different styles, all pretty successfully and his early work is in some ways more radical than a lot of what followed. The pop-up book was a backwater until Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart came along and gave it a high-end makeover.

Eric Rohmann was, by his own say-so, in kind of a rut after his early books until a change of style and medium brought him to his Caldecott winner My Friend Rabbit. Brian Selznick has said similar things about Hugo Cabret. Neither was getting a reward for past performance; it was poor performance and creative funk that made them break out.

None of these things were driven by publishers; they were driven by artists doing their job: creating, innovating, trying stuff. Failing a bunch of times to reach a success that they couldn't have reached any other way.

Publishers didn't invent the picture book as we know it. Publishers didn't invent the graphic novel or - for that matter - the traditional novel.

This isn't a criticism of publishers, or - nod to literaricat - a dismissal or diminuation of the work they do in bringing the work to market.

Because it isn't their job to invent things.

It's ours.

Sometimes this might mean a remake of an existing format, sometimes it might just be a development of our own illustration style: a new way of drawing noses or an expanded range of head shapes. Sometimes it's evolutionary, sometimes revolutionary.

The publishers get to decide what they will or won't take, which is their right. Sometimes they guess rightly - I think we've all enjoyed the samples from EA's slush - and sometimes - yes - they guess wrong. Turning down Mo Willems. Turning down Jon Scieszka. Turning down Dr. Suess.

Those decisions - and the artists' reactions to them - collectively shape the ongoing definition of what's possible: creatively, financially, commercially... or any or all of those elements in combination.

Every time something new breaks out or something old goes fallow, the landscape changes. Over time – I don't know how anyone can rationally dispute this, let alone object to it – the possible is very much a moving target.

Even the commercially possible is a moving target.

I understand the reticence of commercial publishers to deal with this. It make their job harder and more complicated. I'm sure that long dealings with unhinged loonies have a way of dampening editors' enthusiasms for people who want to think outside the box.

I understand the preference of some authors to work within (for the moment) established boundaries. I have no quibble with a story that's well-told in classic form and style.

What I don't understand is the apparent hostility to the suggestion that there might be something else as well. When I read Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia, I was delighted. It made me want to jump to my desk and draw all night. It was the feeling I get when I see somebody – I don't know – parasailing. It makes me want to get on a board and get out there.

You can argue that parasailing was only recently invented and is dangerously untested. That not everyone can swim. That I haven't been licensed to parasail by the authorized licensing authorities. You can argue that other people are good at parasailing and no matter how hard I try, I won't be as good as they are.

But ultimately, all of these are arguments for sitting on the couch and doing nothing.

And even face-planting out in the bay is more interesting than that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:24, ever hear of an editor being fired? I have. An editor IS his or her list, succeed or fail, and praise and blame are heaped out accordingly.

Editors also don't recieve books from on high like an almighty football pass. They find, cultivate, and develop them. They are in the trenches with their authors and illustrators, which most working authors and illustrators appreciate.

Anonymous said...

I've had lots of jobs, but publishing is the only industry I've worked in where a large segment are belligerent about their right to remain ignorant of the basic workings of the business. Then they expect success to fall in their laps.

I just don't get it.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Actually, yes, now that I think about it, I AM arguing that you need to earn the right to innovate.

A traditional artist doesn't. If you're trying to sell a painting, you don't need to convince the world you're commercially viable. You just have to find ONE person who thinks that particular painting is worth buying.

But a writer or an illustrator is more like an inventor seeking funding from a venture capitalist. We may have this great idea that we think is worth mass-producing, but we don't have the means to produce and market it ourselves. We're trying to get capital behind our idea.

And the person providing the capital, in this case, the publisher, has a perfect right to wonder, "How can I make sure I'm not throwing my money away?"

Someone who already has a string of successes is like a software designer who's prodiced several big hits.... she'll get a lot of leeway because she's proven she can make money for her funders.

Someone who has a product similar enough to others on the market may get the nod, because we know people will buy educational software programs aimed at first-graders (or 32 page picture books with traditional word counts)

But if yuou're completely new to the field AND completely experimental, why should they take a risk and invest in you? Unless your product is SUPER-AMAZING (look! It's software that balances your budget and pays your bills without you needing to do ANY WORK AT ALL!), why should they take a risk on something that probably won't sell? (See, it's totally original! It's a program that simulates the spoilage of food in your refridgerator! And it can't run on most machines! In fact, to run it you need to buy additional hardware! I deserve your funding because my motives are pure, darn it!)

If you think of the publisher as a venture capitalist with limited funds to invest, a lot of publishing makes more sense.

working illustrator said...

Anonymous 2:18 said: Editors also don't recieve [sic] books from on high like an almighty football pass. They find, cultivate, and develop them. They are in the trenches with their authors and illustrators, which most working authors and illustrators appreciate.Except when they're not. Like when they don't return emails for months at a time, don't deliver art notes until months past the deadline, lie about contracts and disappear without trace or warning forever.

These things happen and they happen all the time.

It's not that I don't appreciate what the good guys on the industry side do. I do appreciate it. I really, truly do.

But I'm not going to pretend that plenty of people with jobs in publishing don't behave abominably to the artists in their care and get away with it. Because they do.

Look, I'm hearing a lot of frustration here from industry people who think that writers and illustrators are both ungrateful and uninformed.

To the first charge, I can only answer for myself that I am not. I send thank-you notes. I gift original art. I don't snap at people, not even when they beat me and I don't leave messes on the rug.

Really.

As for being uninformed:

Keep in mind, industry people, that you are in your offices all day, exchanging information, taking part in conversations whose bases are known to everyone around you. The knowledge you are accustomed to taking for granted is as obscure to us as... well, as our daily information is to you (quick, what's the difference in working quality between a Windsor & Newton French Ultramarine watercolor and the equivalent product from Schminke? What you mean you don't know?).

There is no way - repeat, no way - that we can know as much as you do about 'basic workings of the business.'

I can look at a bestseller list but I don't have access to this month's sales breakdown of my own title, let alone the rest of the titles on your current list. I don't know what independent booksellers are shaking their heads to your reps because I'm neither a bookseller nor a rep nor someone a rep comes back to the office to moan to.

Yes, I can go to conferences, yes, I can go online, yes I can root like mad through my local bookseller and yes, it's fine for you to have expected this of me. Yes, we can go to yet another SCBWI talk and hear the same vague platitudes (usually, I have to say, followed up by an asuurance that all that business stuff isn't really what authors should be thinking about).

But that level of information has its limits and in an industry that is as relationship-oriented as this one, it's never going to put as fully in the know as you are.

That is to say, fully in the know enough to spare us the accusation of belligerent ignorance.

literaticat said...

Litericat here seems to want to take a fair amount of credit for a book's success. What of a (good) book's failure? I agree that booksellers (and editors and designers and publicity people) all contribute a lot to a book's success. I just get tired of the behind-the-scenes people ducking for cover when good books don't succeed.LOL. Jeex, I am not personally taking credit for anything - not failure or success. I would love to be able to! Sadly, I am but a cog.

Success comes down to having a great book, good luck, good timing, and a lot of hard work on behalf of a lot of people.

You can even be a success without one of those things. A mediocre book (or even a terrible one) with good luck, good timing and hard work may well succeed. A good book with bad timing but good luck and hard work may succeed.

Failure comes down to not having at least two of those things.

working illustrator said...

Deidre, I don't disagree with your analogy between publishing and venture capital; I think that's a reasonably accurate basic comparison.

Where I think you go wrong is in equating anything new to "a program that simulates the spoilage of food in your refridgerator!"There's no connection between novelty and uselessness.

In fact, the venture capital business model emerged in the nineties as a way to fund emerging tech firms, often created by kids who were barely old enough to drive.

A venture capitalist who required a long track record from those he supported he would have missed out on Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube and almost every other company that's taken over the planet in the last twenty years.

More to the point for everyone here who's hammering on the 'business' theme, he would have missed all the money they rode in on.

Instead, those guys valued – what? Innovation. New ideas. Exactly the out-of-the-box thinking that you're disparaging and whose adherents either died out (remember Texas Instruments?) or scrambled like mad later on to catch up (IBM).

More generally, I worry that you - and a good many other people - read the word 'art' and immediately substitute the phrase 'self-indulgent, pointless, incomprehensible, probably degenerate bellybutton-gazing.'

On some level, I see where that's coming from - I've met a few of those people and I've been to some of those gallery shows - but I'll admit I'm baffled when it starts to sound more like blanket revulsion for all creative expression whose manner isn't thick with the moss of the ages.

If it's all been said before and better, why speak?

If we - writers, editors, all of us - don't believe there are ways of beauty out there still to be discovered and that we might be part of discovering them, then what in the world are we all doing here?

Heather Dixon said...

A scratch n sniff cookbook would be totally sweet. That's one cookbook I would so buy.

melissablue13 said...

This summed up the argument for me.

But my job, when the music's on and the brushes are out, is to keep that stuff on the other side of the door. My job is not possible if I don't do this.I get this.

So in laymen's terms:

Would you want your surgeon thinking about your HMO not paying him for the procedure while the doing surgery?

Before the actual surgery? Sure. After the surgery? Sure. During? I didn't think so.

Not to put words in the working illustrators mouth, but that's the point he/she is trying to make.

Chris Eldin said...

YAY Heather! With edible pages!

working illustrator said...

Deirdre, misspelled your name at the top of my previous comment. Sorry! My apologies...

Anonymous said...

Would you want your surgeon thinking about your HMO not paying him for the procedure while the doing surgery?

Before the actual surgery? Sure. After the surgery? Sure. During? I didn't think so.

Now here is something I know about! I may not have written the best children's book but I have observed many a surgery and I am sorry to tell you that the discussion in the OR is never about what a great job we are performing on the patient or how we care so much for him or her. Even though personally I love all people. :) Many times crappy insurance coverage does come up, but in general not in the patient's specific case. And even if the patient's coverage does come up, which is extremely unlikely, do you think the doctor would somehow alter the procedure because of that train of thought or discussion. Give the surgeon a little more credit than that. What the surgeon is "doing" comes second nature to him (unless he is a resident)which is why he can multitask and chat it up with all the rest of the staff. But the truth in the end is that surgeon's don't operate unless payment IS guaranteed, unless they are working for doctors without borders or some other charitable org. Just a little FYI.

christine tripp said...

What I was amen'ing is not Wendy's use of the word "art" - which is not the word that I would have chosen - but rather the sentiment that WE, the many people behind the scenes who may not write the book but do sell the book, make the book and help get it on the shelves and into people's hands, are also important and have concerns and expectations that will ultimately have a lot to do with the life-and-death of a book.


Obviously booksellers opinion is taken seriously, other wise I would not have had to do a whole new cover for a pic book (with new colours then the first cover) on their suggestion to the publisher:)

I added a smiley only because, though you can imagine my reaction to the publishers instruction at first, I do think the cover now is a better product. (but I was NOT happy with the extra work at the time)

Anonymous said...

Programming note:


Check out Nathan Bransford's blog -- scroll down for Monday's post. He's put up fifty queries and his commentors play agent for a day, selecting which ones they'd ask for partials from. Many list reasons why.

Very helpful to queriers, even though lots of them are for adult novels. Good feedback there.

Joelle said...

I think you really have to be careful with a statement like this:
I understand that bookstores and libraries have to shelve populations, not individuals. But figuring out how to do that is their job, not mine.

My husband is a singer/songwriter. He's the real deal. He had a record deal with a real record company and three CDs. He got great reviews for his music all the way up to Rolling Stone. But guess what? Because he played/wrote what appealed to him, no one was ever quite sure where to put his CDs. Couldn't go in blues...he had some great blues songs, but hardcore blues fans would be turned off by the jazz numbers. And vice versa. There was a folky song or two too...some of his most popular songs...but again...should he go in folk music? Well...And what about on the radio? Which stations? Hmmm... He "almost" made it. He was on the cusp (national TV, radio, etc.) but then he had to take some time off for personal reasons and on reflection he realizes that consistency could've easily secured himself a place on the shelf. It was a beginners mistake and the record company also let him make it (although the CD done by the record company is more consistent). It's not that he needed to pigeonhole himself, but he definitely could've made it easier on himself. You can't count on other people in stores this way. You have to help yourself whenever possible. It doesn't mean you have to conform, and taking risks are great, but sometimes you have to look at the whole picture. The most common comparison my husband got in reviews was Lyle Lovett. If you listen to Lyle, you'll see that he crosses categories pretty easily. However, he billed himself as country from the beginning and that's where you'll find him. Smart move...I think.

M. K. Clarke said...

Amen, Wendy, amen!

As long as a read, in whichever form it takes (but tastefully done), gets the reader involved with the beauty of words, the cadence of storyflow and helps the sellers and publishers bottom line, it's win-win.

Barnum & Bailey didn't get a household name for their mainstream circus, they got it for their freakish sideshow acts ;)

Enjoy your weekend!

editrix said...

"At this point, I wouldn't get any more attached to an individual editor than I would to an individual goldfish."

Ouch. It hurts to have our professional longevity compared to a goldfish's.