by Kathy Meis
Much of my workday at Bublish is spent talking with authors about the intersection of creativity and commerce—how to be true to one’s artistic intentions while writing work that is commercially viable.
Early on in these conversations, I encourage authors to take some time to articulate both their artistic and commercial aspirations—no matter where they are in their writing career. To me, this is very important work for all writers to do as early as possible. It’s an exercise that should kick off every writing career and every new writing project.
A writer should ask themselves: Why do I write? Where do I hope this creative journey will take me? And they should be as honest and thorough as possible in answering these questions.
Often I learn that this is the first-time the writer on the other end of the phone has engaged in such self-reflection. Up to our call, they explain, the story has led. They may have a vague sense of what they hope to achieve, but they haven’t taken the time to fully explore their intentions, motivations or desires when it comes to balancing creative and commercial interests. They are simply swimming in story ideas.
Don’t get me wrong, creative immersion can be filled with growth and wonder. It’s a beautiful thing to behold and experience. But over time, it can also be exhausting. A writer can lose his or her moorings. There can be a sense of being adrift and alone.
Riding creative currents is fine for a time...but if an author feels disheartened when a colleague achieves commercial success, it’s probably because they haven’t been completely honest with themselves. They haven’t fairly considered their professional hopes and dreams and what it takes to achieve them. Now, they are drowning in story.
Great writing careers are driven by the author, not the story. By no means does this imply an author has abandoned creativity; they have simply learned to harness it. The creative is in charge, not the creation. There is a big difference. With intentional work, the author has mastered craft and commerce.
Authors who have taken the time to dig deep are often surprised to discover that creativity and commerce are not in conflict, as they might have once thought. Rather, their explorations show them that their creative intentions can be aligned with their commercial goals. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here, but there are answers. And having defined the terms of a unique, creative endeavor, an author can now confidently make decisions both inside and outside their manuscript.
Questions For Your Creative Journey
What do you really want out of your creative journey? Know your answer. It’s quite liberating.
If you’re comfortable taking the time to answer that question, I have another for you. This one is meant to help you dig a little deeper into your relationship with the commerce side of the equation, because that’s typically where the discomfort is most pronounced.
It might seem like a simple question, but your answer is pivotal to your commercial success, however you define that success. In a marketplace where more than 70,000 new titles are published each month, it’s crucial to be writing for someone. It might be ten readers in your hometown, or thousands of readers that purchase your books online or in bookstores and libraries across the globe. But are you writing for someone other than yourself?
Like you, each reader is an individual with different interests, likes and dislikes. But like all of us, they also yearn for connection through shared stories and ideas.
Do you think of them when you write?
Have you explored their commonalities?
Are you open to engaging with them, learning from them, and building community around your work?
After looking inward to define your relationship with creativity and commerce, try looking outward to learn about your readers. It’s yet another way to align your artistic intentions and professional goals, and will enrich your creative journey immensely. Much joy can be found in writing work that delights others.
Once you know your readers, it is your promise to them that will become the foundation of your author brand—a much misunderstood term that makes many authors cringe. Authors are told they need a brand to break through the noise in today’s crowded book marketplace. People talk about brands like they are something an author has to put on—like clothes. It can feel forced and lacking in authenticity. But, if done well, nothing could be further from the truth.
A powerful author brand is the nexus of an author’s choices about creativity and commerce. An authentic author brand emerges from the work we discussed at the start of this post and continues to evolve through ongoing self-exploration and continuous feedback from an author’s community of readers. That doesn’t sound terrible, does it?
As someone who frequently sees authors struggle with the commercial side of publishing, I encourage you to step away from the writing for a moment and have a frank conversation with yourself.
Ask yourself the hard questions. Define what you want. Come to terms with your creative and commercial desires. Find meaning in the entire journey of publishing and define success in your own terms.
How do you define success in writing? Do you know your audience? Do you personally write with them in mind?
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Kathy Meis is the founder of Bublish, the world's first complete publishing platform with built-in marketing. She is an entrepreneur, writer, editor and ghostwriter with more than twenty-five years of experience in the media and publishing industries. She has worked for such iconic editorial brands as CBS and Forbes and served as a founding partner of PubSmart, an author-centric publishing conference held in Charleston, South Carolina. As a frequent blogger and speaker on a wide variety of topics, Kathy has become a sought-after expert on the topic of independent publishing and disruption in the publishing industry. She has spoken at Book Expo America, Women in Media, San Francisco Writers Conference, GrubSteet, and IndieRecon, among others.