When Art Meets Business

One of the most jarring things about being a writer is this: writing is an art, but publishing is a business. And somehow, the two completely different puzzle pieces have to fit together for you to get published.

The disconnect between art and business might seem like it's mainly a problem for literary fiction writers, but I don't think that's true. I write commercial YA fiction. My prose isn't exactly what you'd call highbrow. However, even people who write more plot-heavy, high-concept, fast-paced fiction consider their work to be art.

Art is hard to define, but one certainty about art is that it's deeply personal. Stories often become a prism, refracting the author's soul into something new and wonderful. I may never ride a dragon, survive an alien invasion, or invent a love potion, but the emotions my characters feel upon experiencing these things are largely my own. I pour my euphoria, spite, fear, laughter, hate, shame, uncertainty, and joy into my books. And I'm willing to bet that most every author on the planet does the same.

That's why, I think, the first rejection letter stings the most. After the glorious phase of feverishly creating a world and characters who think and feel and fear like you do, a simple "Not for me, thanks" feels like a rejection of yourself as a person. After a few of those letters, it does get easier, certainly -- but the feelings of doubt are still there. What if it's not just the story? What if it's me? What if I'M not good enough?

Welcome to what happens when art intersects with business.

While art is all about feelings and expression, business is about the bottom line. Suddenly, there's a price tag attached to your thoughts. And if the price tag isn't high enough, well ... they can't sell it. It's nothing personal. Which, given that the product you're selling is deeply personal, comes off as quite ironic.

At this point, many writers have the knee-jerk reaction of trying to find someone to blame. Bad attitudes among frustrated writers are so prevalent that I wrote a post recently about bitterness in the publishing industry and why that kind of mindset really isn't helpful. Fact is, nobody is to blame. Readers like what they like, and publishers have to make money to keep producing the books we all love. And unfortunately, that sometimes means they won't pick your book.

Friends, I know it sucks. It sucks to pour all this time and energy into creating art, only to be shot down the second you transition to the business side of the industry. It sucks that you're made to feel like your thoughts and emotions and experiences aren't valuable. It sucks to feel like you're pouring beautiful things from your heart into a void, and nobody cares because you aren't marketable or buzzy enough.

I get it. And it's okay to feel discouraged. We're artists -- feeling is what we do.

Unfortunately, the industry is what it is. It's not perfect or totally fair, but it's also not some kind of corporate demon who hates good writing and wouldn't know fine art if it slapped them in the face. It's just a bunch of folks who love books but also need to eat. Nothing personal.

There's not much you can do except keep going. Keep creating, keep dreaming; but also practice self-care and surround yourself with supportive people.

And one day, somebody might say yes to you, and the business world will embrace your art in a wonderful kind of paradox.

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