Writing: Art or business?
Both, of course.
If you’re a writer, most likely you didn’t have much choice in the matter. If you’re a writer, the signs were there early on, and it was simply a matter of discovering your craft, then taking off on the lifelong journey of honing it. Maybe you were smart and got a medical or business or law degree on the side to support yourself. Maybe you were lucky and have a supportive spouse. Maybe you were neither and are struggling at three other part-time jobs, squeezing your words in edgewise. But in any case, you probably didn’t have much of a choice about the “writer” part. You’re driven to do it, and you feel it’s at least one of the major reasons God put you on this earth.
But in your heart you still ask yourself: Art or business? For the love or for the money?
You’ve had dreams of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling cash. You’re inspired by J.A. Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith. So, business.
But you love Kafka, who starved in a garret. You don’t understand why Charles L. Grant, a grand stylist, master of so many genres, his prose both prolific and beautiful, died without health insurance. You feel somehow cleaner, emptied, exalted, in touch
, having written. So, art.
What it comes down to:
You’re working on your novel for art’s sake. Because you’re driven to write it.
An editor emails on Friday, says I’ve got a last-minute slot in my monster anthology for a 4,000-word story about goblins. Here is a paragraph describing the abilities of my goblins. I need this story no later than Monday morning.
So you abandon your novel, you write the story, done by midnight, Sunday.
You go back to the novel Monday morning, the novel which might never sell, but which has been nagging at you to write it for months - the idea has pitbull jaws and won’t let you go no matter how hard you try to shake it off.
Is the goblin story hackwork because you wrote it quick, for cash?
Even though the idea wasn’t there an hour earlier, even though it wasn’t an idea that had been demanding
to be written, it combines elements of your life, observations you’ve made, things that you’ve been ruminating about, and it does so with a respectable amount of success.
A writer learns to trust the muse. Trust her without fail.
You became a writer because she was ever-present, pushing the art; but she will also faithfully provide when it comes to business. You don’t need to train her; she
is the one who trains you
- trains you to trust
Art can be enough to sustain the work.
But, obviously, most of us also seek success.
And success is mostly luck.
But, with all that said, this is also true: good business makes its own luck.
The story above is true. It happened, God, almost a decade ago now.
The novel is my crime/horror novel GRAY LAKE
. I wrote it for art. It was almost published by a small press before said small press went under. Every agent I sent it to said, "So close, but no cigar. No one's buying horror anymore."
The story is “Those Who Can, Help.”
I wrote it for business. (And the story still earns me a little, most months, both as an individual $.99 ebook and as part of my collection NIGHT WRITING
The editor of the anthology was C. Dennis Moore, artist, businessman.
At the time, back in spring of 2004, I only knew Dennis through a story he’d submitted to something I’d edited. I believe I had, in fact, turned his story down. But I must have done something right in that rejection, because, out of the blue, he asked me for the goblin story for THE BOOK OF MONSTERS (which is apparently still available and selling reasonably well, even though the publishing company (Scrybe - avoid like the plague!!!) hasn’t paid Dennis or anyone else in literally years
… hmmm - seriously, if you want the story, please don't buy it from this scummy publisher
Being the absolute bastard that he is, Dennis made it a competition, no less. He also solicited a goblin story from at least two other authors. Mine apparently won out.
But here’s what I’m saying about business, about trusting the muse:
I quit the novel for a weekend, accepted the challenge, business first.
And it’s paid off in so many ways.
Yes, I wrotes me my story and I gots paid. Gotta gets paid.
But, as a result of that story, and various emails about it, Dennis has become one of my best online friends. The muse knew what she was doing by working with me on that "business" project. For almost a decade now, we’ve shared almost daily emails about, well, everything from music to the major concerns of our lives. There’s not much I wouldn’t be able to tell him.
And many years of that decade have been lean in terms of writing success.
We were there for mutual support because of that business decision I made that long ago Friday night. This support has been invaluable. I would have missed out on so much had I been in it just for art.
And, at last, Dennis has, lately, started finding some major success, especially with his latest novel, THE THIRD FLOOR
, a killer haunted house tale which has topped the Amazon horror charts. I’m chasing at his heels, with Kindle sales that are promising, but what I’d call midlist at best. (Do I begrudge Dennis his success? Hardly. Even though we’ve never met in person, we’ve carried each other through some extraordinary lows, and he deserves every sale he gets.)
So, all this past decade, Dennis and I have talked genre, we’ve talked art, we’ve talked business - we’ve talked writing. And now he and I have come full circle with a couple collaborations: one for art, one for business.
The one we’ve done for business is already available. In TERROR IS OUR TRADE
, a full book-length (70,000-word) collection of short stories and novellas, Dennis and I trade stories back and forth - we realized we each have five short story collections. In this book, we each included one story from each of our collections. It’s an Amazon exclusive for now, and at just $1.99 it's less than you'd pay for many lesser collections. I think our motivations are pretty transparent - two names on the spine of the book introduces us to each other’s readers, and if they like a story from a particular collection, maybe they’ll buy the collection. Business.
As for art, well, Dennis and I are both rabid music fans. Nearly every day for the past decade we’ve discussed everything from classical musicians to some kid one of us found who recorded this awesome mp3 in his bedroom. And we agree wholeheartedly that Jimi Hendrix was perhaps the most inspiring, unique and revolutionary musician of the twentieth century. No one was quite as completely, out-of-the-blue alien
Then, one night about a year ago we started musing on a collaboration with a music theme. Combining some of our discussions with a dream I had way back in college, I sent Dennis the opening paragraphs of a story, just asking what he thought of it. He responded with some ideas. I asked him to write them up. The collaboration which resulted in our forthcoming novella BAND OF GYPSIES
resulted. It’s a musing on the true
fate of the first master tapes of Jimi’s album Axis: Bold as Love
, which legend says he forgot in a London taxi. To date, the tapes have never been found.
Will it sell? Some, I expect, but I doubt it’s going to rival THE THIRD FLOOR.
We wrote it for fun. For art.
Art is, after all, what the business of writing’s all about, right?