You know in the past I’ve said that if you don’t believe in selling out you’re never going to make it.
I still stand largely by this. A novel that’s published, a novel that sells is almost a collaboration between the writer and the person who buys it/reads it.
I was explaining this to a young artist friend the other day. she’s, oh, a good twenty years younger than I, and she’s technically perfect, and she doesn’t understand why her complex, layered art, absolutely original, sells far less than the people who are doing hackneyed cute elves in cute clothes, or even things vaguely reminiscent of various anime series, or even TV series.
I had to explain that while people can and often do realize how beautiful or well done your work is, they want to buy things that speak to them, often things that speak to them because they’re already in their minds from a movie or a comic book or something.
I was the queen of making my kids incomprehensible costumes for Halloween. Mostly because… well, mostly because I think too much. But also because we were broke and I was usually flying off what fabric we had on hand. The first costume I made for Robert was as a little prince, with a golden crown made of metallic fabric and because the kid was 1 and a half, a stuffed golden fabric sword.
Every house we went to, they said how beautiful the costume was, then they asked “But what is it?”
Girls would be instantly recognizable as princesses, but even that might have caused questions if it didn’t look like a princess from a Disney movie.
When the boys hit pre-teen, I started just buying cheap costumes at the store. They made the boys much happier, and made me happier because less work. Mind you, as they got older, they started making their own costumes, too. The only one I remember being fantastically successful was when Marshall dressed as a devil, and Robert followed him in suit and briefcase. “He’s the devil and I’m his advocate.” Open briefcase. “I’m serving you a writ of trickus or Treatus.” If we’d had an empty swimming pool, the boys could have swam in candy that Halloween.
But the point is, when someone says they want something utterly new? They don’t. Particularly when they’re shopping for entertainment or something for their walls. I mean if you’re looking to be a suces d’estime, someone only critics love you can be– No, wait. Even then you can’t be as original as you want. Because you have to follow the mode of “originality” in vogue in the artistic world. That usually involves betraying whatever your vision is anyway. And to make things worse, most of the time (ah, unless you have “liberal privilege” you also won’t be making a cent of money.)
So. You’re going to have to compromise your vision somewhat anyway.
And after a while, after you’ve learned to do it, it starts becoming second nature. You can still be a good craftsperson and original, provided it’s something that falls in a category your audience recognizes.
So you can make a realistic, impressive… elf. In relatively pleasant looking clothes, which people on the street (or at least geeks on the street) will want to put on their walls.
It’s about the same thing in books, which is why I’ve explained — a number of times, though FYI my early editors didn’t get it — that I tend to mine English History more than Portuguese History. Because Portuguese history is too “exotic” and doesn’t slot easily in the reader’s minds. (Incidentally, this sort of familiarity and not racism is why most fantasy worlds tend to be some version or other of medieval England/Tolkien’s middle Earth, even when they’re not. Because for every aspect that deviates, you’ll have to work that much harder to make it to a wider audience. Because they’ll have to work that much harder to get into your more complex world.)
So, what does this have to do with the selling out? Or the place from where you dream?
Making good, commercially viable art is not selling out. But there is selling out. Particularly in traditional publishing, or for that matter the music industry.
As traditional publishing started relying on megastores to publish, they also started relying more and more on megabestsellers. And because no one really has any clue what will take off — yes, massive priming of pump is needed, but even then most things that get that treatment never take off — least of all NYC editors who have a narrow circle and a narrow vision of culture, they got into this chasing their own tail mode, where when something hit they produced a million copies.
Only, due to various marketing stupidities, those also started having a shorter and shorter lifespan.
To give you an idea, when I tried to sell the Da Vinci mysteries (which had been conceived and outlined for some time) they got rejected because they weren’t the DaVinci code. Well, duh. Plagiarism and all…
And when I tried to sell the Musketeer mysteries, those editors who recognized that it being told in D’Artagnan’s voice didn’t mean it was told by someone “like a servant” (A rare thing already) told me that maybe there would be a market for them, “if there is a big movie.” Uh uh.
I was never very good at chasing the greatest and latest. I know that shocks you, right?
But I was good enough. After a while they get inside your head and you pre-reject ideas and starts without even knowing you’re doing it. Till all the joy leaks out. It’s not just a job, “just like driving a truck.” It’s…. more boring than that.
It was at a time like that, that I found my old manuscript for Darkship Thieves, found out that it still had sparkles, but that the first chapter and a half was basically unneeded, and started revising and putting it up. But the magic was still there, in that book written in a month while basically taking dictaction form my own head.
And yeah, now I’ve also been looking at old stuff, trying to find where the magic went. And it’s starting to come back.
Because it’s there, way back, in the place from where we dream. It is as though it were a part of some great dream you belonged to before you were born.
Back, back and back, back to the life and energy of creation. Close your eyes and go there.
And the magic will come. And then even if you shape it and fit it to your needs, it will be there. Ready to call at will.
And it will never die. Because the dream doesn’t die. And you’re a part of it.
I don’t know how to explain it but there are things that have a force, an energy. You’ll feel it when you encounter it. you probably have already, in a favorite book, particularly when very young.
That sparkle, that energy, seems to be something humans — particularly creative humans — need to stay alive and interested, to remain creative and involved. It’s different for everyone but go and think of a book you loved in childhood. Revisit a favorite day dream. Take a walk through a place that was once magic.
It might be shy and hide for a while, but it will come back. It’s coming back for me.
And it is needed if life is going to be more than drudgery.
UPDATE: Despite the style of this post, written last night when I was a little hazy, I’m feeling much better. My throat might have been a case of extreme dryness. So I’ve acquired a whole-house humidifier and have it going. I feel better. (Yeah, Colorado, as my doctor put it “is not an environment fit for human beings.” [And that was before the Californian invasion.] We love it, but we pay for our love.)