The Big Blue Beastie: Writing for the Market

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

I was sitting with a delightful group of published novelists recently and the conversation turned to complaints about the market: why must everything be novel-length? What if you’ve written a novella and don’t want to do more? Why must stories be linked to get any attention? Etc. etc. If you spend any time with writers, you’ve heard some version of the conversation. It boils down to a lament that the market wants a voice in shaping MY art.

Look folks, said I. The Sistine Chapel masterpiece had to fit on the ceiling. Shakespeare’s plays had to have five acts and keep standing crowds happy enough that they wouldn’t throw tomatoes. Art has never functioned independently of the market.

And most of the time, we are the market: we are those finicky readers who want to be pulled into a story as much as we want the language to thrill us, who go for the buoyant luxury of a full-length novel, rather than the crowded diversity of a gathering of stories.

We writers want to be read but then we act as if our readers should be devoted in the manner of parents—indulgent, blindly convinced that we are brilliant. And yet, most writers I know are highly accomplished people who’ve found ONLY IN WRITING a place where they have never quite mastered it once and for all, where they can always do better, always do more. And much as we all complain, I venture to guess that it is that challenge that keeps us all here, sweating and bleeding onto the blank page.

What inspiration do you get from the market? Do you thrive on challenge?

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