Sol Stein: “In commercial writing lack of precision is not the only carelessness…. The work of bringing words to the marketplace, is, alas, sloppy in its attempts to distinguish books of a certain quality from everyday product that is designed to sell.
“The writer of commercial nonfiction is often an expert craftsman in a hurry to meet a deadline who measures the effort put in against the monetary reward. He is writing not for the ages but to put bread on the table. Perfecting a piece beyond the requirements of the editor to him means more work for the same amount of money, work that could well go into another piece for another publication. Beyond a certain point, quality is not cost-effective for him.”
While this is understandable to a point, what the revolution in Christian writing is calling for is writers willing to take less money, to be less efficient, to be stupid in the terms of business, for the sake of art and the gospel.
Mary DeMuth had a great post today over at The Master’s Artist about “branding,” that necessary evil that requires creative authors to be defined as one thing: “that parenting guy,” or “that suspense writer.” The opinion of most business people is to keep those distinct. They’ll claim Michael Jordan only confused people by trying to play professional baseball and golf, never mentioning how inspiring it was to see him be the same Michael Jordan in a different context. They’ll say no one will buy your books if you confuse the audience, which is true. It keeps good actors from better roles and good writers from better sales. But this is what we’re talking about. Many would say Jackie Chan shouldn’t try to sell fried chicken, no matter how passionate he is about it. But really, what does business know about it?
There’s no business term for the happiness of changing people’s expectations. If you’re a writer trying to survive, how much are you willing to sacrifice to be cost-effective? What I’m begging for here night after night is for a commitment to the hard work of sacrificing less for efficient cost/time ratios, and more for the true work of spreading beauty, truth, and quality.
The best piece of advice I can give here is a platitude: just be yourself. If you’re writing what you observe about life, taking in the raw ingredients and distilling them into your own words, you’re writing your “brand.” Your voice, that passionate person God created you, simply doesn’t have to accept branding or commercialism. It may be harder to convince people of the strength of your book, but you will connect with your audience and they’ll follow you wherever the page may lead if you choose the literary path.
That’s fairly idealistic. But you better believe that any author who’s resisted this author type-casting is enjoying more freedom than the one who agreed to be a schlock-writer and now can’t write his heart.
The truly “cost-effective” solution is to never compromise your vision and let the difficult journey shape and mold you and your resolve into a fine writer. Of course, it’s easy for me to say with a steady paycheck, but I know productive writers who told themselves they’d just write the schlock to put food on the table and work at perfecting their craft in the meantime. They complain about being “branded” and worry they’ll never make it to the beautiful stuff they might have, had they suffered a little longer.
Be yourself, folks. It’s not just the best way. It’s the only way.