Marketing Fiction In A Changing World
Must You Compromise Your Art To Sell Big?
Previous parts of this series can be found here:
Here is one dismaying idea that arises among beginning writers when established professionals explain the field of fiction publishing.
"If I do what you say, I would be compromising my Art."
That idea, that your personal Art, something that defines who you are to yourself and what you were born to say to the world, must be tossed aside, ignored, tramped on, or lied about in order to sell fiction to a large, commercial (mass market) Market, arouses a "fight for life itself" response.
In fighting for your life, you may well regard the entire problem as "the end justifies the means" -- and be willing to do anything at all to survive.
We see that today in the resistance to Donald Trump -- half the country is morally convinced he is a threat to our very lives, and to all we've sacrificed so much to build for future generations.
The response to such a threat is utterly primal, and once triggered that response prevents any other nuanced message from dampening that response.
The response a writer feels to the mere whiff of the idea that they must compromise their Art in order to reach their intended audience, is that same "fight for your life" visceral response.
The heroic type person will fight to the death to protect their Art (or their politics). The wimpish type won't make waves. The majority fall between these two types.
But what if the response itself, a purely animal-flesh based response to a threat to life (or lives of our children), is inappropriate? What if the problem of a Wild Politician or a Savage Publishing Industry is not a threat to life and limb, to children and posterity?
What if it is an entirely different sort of problem?
What if Compromise is not at all anything like a solution to the real problem?
We excoriate politicians for refusing to "compromise" -- then turn around and refuse to "compromise our Art" -- maybe we have to reframe the problem of "How can I sell my novel (mine, my Art) to Mass Market Paperback publishers?"
Framing the issue changes the debate. In fact, it changes the very issue itself.
To teach yourself to write good dialogue, read up on the psychology of "framing" and public argument and debate. Some people grow up into a full, unconscious ability to use "framing" to direct the thinking of others while other people have to learn it in adulthood.
Here are some links where to start (it is a huge study).
Frameworks Institute is a Washington based Think Tank hired by governments and other enterprises to "re-frame" a message to get the public to do what the hiring firm wants the public to do (rather than what the public actually prefers to do.) They are aggressive manipulators -- proving how plastic public opinion can be. (the ethics of doing this make fabulous Theme material). They make a lot of money tricking the public.
Here is wikipedia's entry - worth contemplating.
If "they" can do this frame thing TO YOU to put you at a disadvantage -- then surely you can do it to yourself to give yourself an advantage?
Problems are as plastic as public opinion -- you can reshape your problem, thus re-populate your list of possible solutions. (and in the process of working on your own mind, you can take notes for the plot of your next novel).
When a think-tank "frames" a problem to sway public opinion, they are acting, and actions are Plot Events.
When a Character (or a person) explores their own mind looking for old, rotten, and inappropriate 'frames' left over from immature thinking, they are growing, arcing, changing -- and thus telling their own Story.
The exact same thing, FRAME, is both story and plot -- so therefore, it is a Theme.
It turns out, a scientific study supports the observation that humans do CHANGE with age and experience -- real personality change.
If your patterns of thought, emotions, and behavior so drastically alter over the decades, can you truly be considered the same person in old age as you were as a teenager? This question ties in with broader theories about the nature of the self. For example, there is growing neuroscience research that supports the ancient Buddhist belief that our notion of a stable “self” is nothing more than an illusion.
Maturity is not just getting older, but refining and reshaping the very plastic material of which your Character is made.
That does not mean being a victim of Think-Tanks that hammer you into a new "frame of mind" to march lockstep with the rest of the mob -- you can do it to yourself, and maybe get better results. You can be the artist who reshapes yourself, just by reframing the problems in your life.
The classic language shift that has been urged on those seeking success is to think of problems as opportunities.
That is a re-framing. It might help you -- might not.
Some people never learn framing, and thus can be manipulated by the unscrupulous with little effort. Characters who use "framing" in their dialogue to get other Characters to change their behavior will seem realistic, like real people, to the reader.
But with TIME - we change in very fundamental ways. And as we, ourselves, change, our very Art changes.
Is that compromising your Art - to mature and change yourself?
Your "self" is just one variable in this business of selling to Mass Market.
The Market itself is another very complex variable. As the generations rotate through a particular genre or style of story, forming a Market for that story -- and then moving on, leaving that Market to be picked up by a younger generation, the publishers, too, change.
Editors are usually fairly young people, early in their own story-arc of character maturation. And then they move on to other genres or niches in publishing.
So with Time, you change, the Market's audience members change, and the publishers and editors change.
Today, the changing market calculations have to take into account the ebook and audiobook -- and who knows what next.
Your Art changes, too.
The trick to "not compromising" your Art is very simple. Create the piece, study what you have created, then watch the ever-changing Market for it to rotate through being just the right vehicle for that piece of Art.
Meanwhile, create more Art pieces.
Art critics have all noted how a given Artist (in any medium) will have "periods" -- sets of years when all the pieces produced relate to a given theme, subject, setting. You, too, will have "periods" during which you explore specific themes.
With novelists, it is not always possible to discern when a given novel was written -- because an item may not be sell-able now, but will sell 10 years hence as the Market shifts.
So the answer to that age-old question is, no! You never have to compromise your Art. You just have to watch the Changing World change your Market into a home for that particular piece.
I know of best sellers that waited 20 years and more for the Market to cycle around.
Today, of course, we have the option of placing any piece directly into the publishing stream via self-publishing. Sometimes that is the best way to go with a given book. Figuring out which pieces you produce should go Indie, which self-publishing, and which Mass Market, is the business of writing.