Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Art of Making Art

(Rob Wells has been very very sick lately, and therefore is a day late. If you want to bring a casserole over for him to eat, he wouldn't mind at all.)

by Robison Wells

Art isn't easy,
Even when you're hot.
Advancing art is easy--
Financing it is not.
A vision's just a vision
If it's only in your head.
If no one gets to see it
It's as good as dead.

-- "Putting It Together", Sunday in the Park With George

I recently had to make some significant changes to my manuscript. And by "significant", I mean "major", and by "major" I mean "rewriting the whole freaking thing".

On the Association for Mormon Letters' listserv, Andrew Hall recently wrote a synopsis of the LDS fiction market. In it, he explained that the growth the market reached its peak in 2004, and is on a slight decline for the first time in six years. (The numbers, if you're interested, show growth from 50 total fiction titles released in 2000 to 118 titles in 2004. 2005 dropped back down to 104 -- not lousy, certainly, but it's making publishers rethink their strategies.)

One of the problems they've pinpointed with the fast growth has been the influx of a huge number of new authors -- and it's very difficult to get name recognition, and therefore repeat sales. So, publishers are once again cutting back on the number of manuscripts they'll accept, and stores are cutting back on the number of titles they'll purchase.

The consequence of all this is that I had to do a couple of things to make my manuscript a little more marketable. My publisher still accepted it, and we signed the contracts and were very happy with each other, but they wanted a certain amount of changes made.

Specifically, humor just ain't selling. (This isn't restricted to the LDS market -- humor novels don't sell very well nationally, either.) The problem is that my novel, which is humorous suspense, is the sequel to my previous book, which was also humorous suspense. And when you're writing a sequel, you can't exactly switch genres. That'd be like making Empire Strikes Back a teen slasher/horror movie, or making Die Hard II into a chick flick. It's inconsistent, and it betrays your audience.

So what we decided was that the book would remain humorous suspense, but marketed as straight suspense: no goofy title, no happy pictures on the cover. Just a lot of serious suspenseful stuff, and then when you read it, you say "Hey -- this is funny!"

Anyway, other marketability issues came up, and I ended up rewriting the whole carn-sarned book: from the original manuscript I submitted last June, only four chapters remain unchanged. The characters are all the same, and they all have the same motivations, but the plot has been altered profoundly.

And generally when I tell this to my idealistic (and generally unpublished) author friends, they tell me I've sold out to the Man, and my artistic integrity is weakened. And I reply that if I'd actually sold out, then I'd expect a whole lot more money than I got, and that my artistic integrity wasn't all that strong to begin with.

But seriously, there's a whole lot more to writing a book than just being an artist. You have to be a businessman and a salesman and a marketer. People who don't realize this usually remain unpublished.

I think it's easy, especially in the LDS market, to blame publishers; expect them to publish whatever we send because it's just so dang good. I've heard LDS authors say that LDS publishers need to be more focused on spreading good LDS fiction, for "the building up of the Kingdom". But the facts are these, folks: publishing is a business, not a philanthropic organization. And people buy the books that are marketed well, which (unfortunately) aren't always the books that are the best-written.

And would I change it? Not at all. On each of my three novels I've had to make changes, and the book has always turned out better than what I originally submitted.

And that is the state of the art.


At 4/01/2006 2:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read your first book and loved it! I'm rooting for you!

At 4/04/2006 12:01 AM, Blogger Candace E. Salima said...

Hey -- what do all your unpublished author friends know? They're just jealous cause you're published and they aren't. I can't wait to read your next book. Keep 'em comin'.


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