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Art as a commodity
Originally published as an interview
This interview was originally posted on MindyMcGinnis.com. Mindy’s questions are in bold. My answers are in roman.
Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career?
Once you put a barcode on your art, your relationship with it changes. It's inevitable.
I used to write only for me. I wanted to share those stories, sure, but the actual process of writing was a very private one. Now I write for publication and it's changed my entire relationship with the craft. I still love what I do, but it's work. I have to show up and punch the clock, so to speak, even when inspiration doesn't strike. Writing is now my job. Some days it's magical. Other days, it's like pulling teeth, but I do it anyway, because I signed a contract and hey, those bills aren't going to pay themselves.
Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?
I think of myself as both. I definitely approach each project with a commercial eye (Is this easily accessible for the average reader? Is this hook strong and compelling?), but at the end of the day, I'm going to have to read the book thousands of times before it pubs, so my heart better be in it. If I don't love what I'm writing, what's the point? So I write what I want to write, and I figure out how to pitch it and talk about it in a way that sounds super commercial—and I figure this out early.
Historical fiction westerns, for example, aren't really a hot genre in YA. But when my agent was trying to sell Vengeance Road, we boiled it down to a revenge story (always popular) set against a gritty landscape with a dash of mystery and romance (crowd favorites). Contagion's proposal leveraged two powerful comp titles: Alien meets The Thing (both well-loved commercial hits).
In short, when I was debuting, I let the pub figure out how to talk about my book. Now I like to know my book's marketable traits before I approach publishers. I'm still writing from the heart (art!), but I've learned how to zero in on the story's commercial appeal and pitch/market with that in mind.
The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?
I've come to accept that I have very little control over the success of my books. I can't control how many copies they sell. I can't control what readers think of them or how they are received by trade reviewers. I can't control lists or awards or movie options, or being sent on tour or invited to festivals. All I can control is the writing, and—this has been perhaps the most difficult truth to accept—I simply can't move the dial the way my publisher can.
I have invested tons of time and money into certain titles—fancy swag, preorder campaigns, street teams, commissioned artwork, hosting giveaways, sending myself on tour, etc. I'm not sure it's made any real difference. It hasn't hurt me, but it also hasn't made my books break out in any real way. Substantial marketing dollars behind a book, plus a bit of luck and timing is what can make that happen. Some days, I can feel this reality trying to turn me bitter and disenchanted. It's hard to fight that. It's hard to keep writing the best book I can, bleeding so much of myself onto the page over and over, knowing that every single time, luck and timing will do their thing and the stars might never align in a big way.
But I'm also still putting books into the world, and that's a miracle in itself. Seven books in, I'm still very grateful to call this my job. Way more grateful than I was one book in. Nothing is guaranteed in this industry, and I know how many people had to say yes to get each of my books into the world. Each new book deal feels like a monumental accomplishment.
Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?
I really love meeting readers and writers. I'm an introvert, so book events and festivals always drain me, but so much of this career is already done alone. It's very solitary. And being at a book event means being with your people. I love chatting with writers who get what its like to have a career in this industry and I adore meeting readers who have connected with my stories and characters. It's truly the best.
And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how was it changed (or not changed!) your life?
It was my dream to get published, so in some regards, everything has changed in a big way. I've accomplished something huge, something I never really expected to happen. But on a day-to-day level, my life hasn't changed much at all. I still get up and go to work. I do the thing. I chase after my kids. My life as a writer is not glamorous like Hollywood might lead you to believe. Mainly, being published just means that most people think I make way more money than I do.
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