Passion v. Precedent

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It’s a challenge we’re all up against as acquisitions editors: relying equally on passion for a project as we do on the “safety” of previous sales. Ideally, you get a chance to convince the acquisitions team with both, but sometimes all you have is one. I have been in those situations before, and find myself again in both kinds now.

I’ve got a project that’s all precedent and another that’s all passion. It’s probable that neither will really take off, but which has more potential? I have to believe it’s the one with great writing. The one that’s going to get incredible word-of-mouth from someone, somewhere who’s going to feel it like I do and have to share that feeling. The one with mere precedent just isn’t going to give anyone that feeling, no matter how well it sells. So what good is it in the real context?

Give me writing I can taste and breathe, words I can ride on out of the murk. God, keep pushing us to never rely on the past, to keep searching to find the next word before us and the word after that.

And just maybe that precedent you were hoping for will eventually take care of itself.

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8 thoughts on “Passion v. Precedent”

  1. Yeah, I hear ya…sometimes passion blazes the trail. : )
    Then everyone refers to your book in their marketing pitch, “It’ll be the next ___.”
    I’d rather be the first something good, but maybe that’s pride…

  2. My little idealist wants to say screw precedent. You never know nothing. But how long could you survive with that business model? Immature, inexperienced, or whatever, I think it’s impossible for me not to feel that push back when someone’s telling me I have to show previous sales, comparative titles, market projections, and shelf analysis. For every bestseller that was a safe publishing bet, there are 20 “sure things” that tanked.

  3. It’s like this: If you sing A Whiter Shade of Pale exactly like Procol Harum, you’ll get to play at bars and company picnics for aging hippies, because they can’t book Procol Harum. But nobody will buy your albums. Why should they, when they can get the real thing?
    Do what the Black Label Society did, and put a new bluesy, growly feel to the song, and you might sell a few albums.
    But dig deep, and come up with a new song nobody has ever heard before, and you might just hit a nerve and sell a bunch of albums, because you are the real thing.
    So I’m with you, Mick. Screw the precedent.
    I’ll read anything Donald Miller writes. But I don’t want to read something by someone who writes like Donald Miller.
    I talk a lot about wanting to write like Marilynne Robinson, but really, I just want to write like me. Only brilliant, like Marilynne Robinson. :)

  4. P.S. The trouble is, writers don’t have confidence in their passions. Maybe it’s the subtle influence of the secular worldview that says we are all accidents of nature. Somehow derivative writers fail to grasp that God makes no redundant people, that the things that make them unique have meaning.
    It’s a faith issue.

  5. “Give me writing I can taste and breathe, words I can ride on out of the murk. God, keep pushing us to never rely on the past, to keep searching to find the next word before us and the word after that.”
    Ah, Mick. It’s always hard to be a poet amongst the practical. I raise my glass to you.
    Love Katy P’s (acornstwo) comments. I’ve said it before, but “authenticity” can’t be copied. Conformity to precedent is bound to emasculate passion. It’s like handing a lump of clay to a sculptor, then letting 50 people add their “finishing touches” to the results.
    But I don’t know if this will ever change. As long as art remains the underling of business, the artist will always have the last word.

  6. Speaking of which, did C.S. Lewis really say “Every writer must beg, borrow, and steal. But they must also learn what loot is worth the trouble?” Hmmmmm…..

  7. yes.
    every time i consider “writing for publication” i can’t. i stop dead in my writerly shoes and say, if i have to do that, i’d rather not. i’d rather be unpublished. i’d rather be so many things.
    there are people whose writings, unpublished, i’ve seen. they are powerful and magnificent. the kind of stuff that leaves me quaking inside. but their published stuff, not so much. it’s safe. bankable. not on my shelves, either. but their unpublished words, snippets of God peeking through their words, those i would kill for. to get those published though seems unlikely at best.
    so i live for unpublished works it seems. where we are free to be whomever it is we want to be without having to prove anything to anyone.
    i hope your passionate project works out. i really do.
    suz.

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