Sell What You Write or Write What You Sell?

As I wrapped up my first manuscript back in 2011, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do afterward, besides start shopping it for publication. From a young age, I’ve always wanted to finish what I start before I move onto anything else. The people I love have even poked fun at my strategic way of eating each part of a meal one-by-one, with a swig of my drink in between.

When it came to my writing pursuits, however, I realized that kind of approach could hamper my progress. As much as I wished I’d find a publisher right away, I knew that wasn’t likely, so I may spend years twiddling my thumbs until it happened. And what if I never received an acceptance letter? Would I give up on my dream just because my first attempt never took off?

I did hook interest from the first publisher I queried, but ironically enough, that’s what made me decide not to wait to begin a new story. Why? Because they told me I wouldn’t hear back from them for a whole year! Due to my lack of experience, I chose not to send any more queries, foolishly convinced they’d present me with a book deal. Thus, while I shopped for the perfect dress to wear to sign my contract—I’m not kidding—I reckoned I’d better keep writing.

Long story short, I’m glad I did, as that incident only led to the news that my manuscript—sent via snail mail—never reached their desk. Even if it had, the company closed their doors later that year. Though the development disheartened me, at least I’d continued toward my goal. I was learning my craft and fostering my personal style, which built the foundation of the writer I’ve become.

That was just the first occasion of many when I’d have to pivot to further my efforts. In previous posts, I’ve discussed how I’ve put a project on the backburner when opportunities fell through, as well as the need to revise my work when others gave me input. In the case of my first two manuscripts, I combined them to make up Forgetting My Way Back to You, a more sellable version of both stories. So, the question is do such adjustments constitute selling yourself out in order to please a buyer?

Some people in various fields have the mentality of sticking to their mold, even if it costs them success. They want to be their authentic self and think that wavering from that is compromising their identity. I agree that everyone has their own, unique style, and nobody should try to take that away. However, if you want a seat at the table, you should hone your skills in a way that may draw an invitation.

As I shared in “No Writes or Wrongs,” I refused to write non-fiction just because an author claimed it was easier to sell. You have to have a passion for whatever you’re writing and shouldn’t simply give into whatever’s on trend. At the same time, if years go by and you can’t seem to find a match with a publisher or agent, you shouldn’t close your mind to reevaluating certain elements. Doing so doesn’t mean you’re selling yourself out; it’s part of the growing process.

While I direct most of this to traditional publishing based on my experience, the principle applies to self-publishing to a large degree. True, you forego the process of trying to catch an editor’s attention, but you still want to catch a reader’s attention. Hence, like a seasoned baker, we can bring our own twist and ingredients to our treats, and tweak the recipe here and there depending on the feedback we get. Then, we’ll delight our audience without sacrificing our individuality.

Also See

The Power of Persistence in Publishing

Who Governs Your Genre?

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