In college, there was a patch of lawn on campus surrounded by signs insisting the students keep off the grass. While walking to class one day with a friend of mine (majoring in accounting), he veered to the left, obeying the sign’s declaration of dominion. I went straight–through the grass. He stopped in a moment of uncertainty. We were late for class. The grass would cut out several minutes of walking time. And I showed not the slightest inclination of choosing his direction over mine.
With a grumbling sort of growl, he gave into peer pressure and scurried over the lawn to walk with me. “The sign says stay off the grass!” He flailed his arms around as though I’d failed to notice I was doing the exact opposite.
“I’m an artist,” I said. “I pen my own rules.” And with that, continued on my way to class.
Writers, dancers, artists, musicians–we’re kind of an arrogant lot–moody, temperamental, we expect things to go our way simply because we’re artists. We think outside the box and expect to be able to walk outside the box too. I was at a museum and found that my husband and I disagree on all sorts of things. He isn’t a huge fan of James Christensen. I am a rabid fan. I own several of his pieces and love them with my whole heart. He shrugs at my walls and tries to pretend I didn’t really put those pieces up. Different strokes (literally) for different folks.
I’ve heard some artists say when faced with someone who doesn’t like their work, “Don’t you people understand art?”
Well, maybe . . . maybe not. I know what I like. I know what kind of music I want to listen to, what kind of paintings I want to look at and hang in my house, what kind of books I like to read. If your art doesn’t fit with my tastes that doesn’t mean it isn’t art, but it doesn’t mean I have bad taste either. My husband doesn’t like half the paintings in our house. I’m not all that fond of the other half that he chose. It just means that our minds didn’t meet. Big deal, right?
It is a big deal if you’re an author looking to make a few dollars on your work–at least enough money to pay for your paper and ink.
I write for an audience. I totally get wanting to push boundaries and wanting to be unique, but as a writer for the commercial market, I always ask myself one vital question, “Who am I writing this for?” If my goal is to sell books, then I need to have an audience in mind. It sounds base and crass to consider peddling your art like that, but even the most brilliant artist needs to eat.
Commercialism really isn’t evil. What good is a really artsy book that no one wants to read?
Readers expect certain things from every genre. In romance, the guy MUST get the girl. In mystery, you MUST discover who the murderer is before he strikes that final time. Rules . . . even for the artist.
Who is your audience, and are you writing the best book you can for them? And if your audience is totally niche—that’s okay, but don’t be offended if you didn’t sell a zillion copies. Be glad you found your niche and that you have appreciation there. Do not be offended if someone outside your intended audience didn’t like it. It wasn’t written for them. My Not So Fairy Tale Life was not written for the national audience; it was written for the LDS people. Hazzardous Universe wasn’t written for adults; it was written for the middle grade audience.
I wrote a book for the national young adult audience a couple of years ago. It’s likely the best thing I’ve ever written, and though it received a ton of praise for the writing, ultimately all the publishers told my agent no thanks. It was discouraging.
Today, I realized that there may be elements to this book that would offend those of a different mind-set than my own. I ultimately took those publishers somewhere they didn’t want to go. Was it a bad place to go?
I don’t think so. It was innovative, and different from the mainstream. But it made them uncomfortable.
It gave me a new thought about signs like “stay off the grass.”
There may be a more profound message there.