Because you can never, ever have perfect knowledge of a market, and because as an author you have a limited amount of time to write, and because people with more market experience than you obviously exist, it can be tempting to look to others for help with your marketing decisions. Not surprisingly, those others have identified you as a potential market for their services, whether they have anything useful to sell or not.
The Publishing Establishment
Publishing talks a good game about cultural stewardship and the importance of literature, but what it cares about is profit. If you can make the publishing industry money as a cultural steward or literary star, that’s great. On the other hand, if you can make the publishing industry money as a cultural cancer or illiterate moron, that’s great too.
While speaking in generalizations is usually a bad idea, and there are plenty of wonderful agents, editors and publishers who would love you even if you weren’t the root source of their livelihoods, the following statement cannot be disputed. Agents, editors and publishers don’t eat if they can’t sell your book. On an individual basis they may recognize good writing when they see it, and there may be limits to what they’re personally willing to do to make a buck, but their jobs are premised on making that buck over and over and over.
As a writer you may share that objective in whole or in part. But you’re also the primary (if not sole) custodian of whatever artistic or craft standards you believe in. If you don’t protect the integrity of the book you’re writing it’s likely nobody will. That doesn’t mean you should be a diva or insist on getting your way every time, or that your instincts will always be correct, or even that artistry is antagonistic to sales. It simply means you’re going to have to assume and commit to the responsibility of mediating between everybody’s profit motives, including your own. And that’s true whether you’re an independent author or a professional writing in the belly of the beast.
The publishing industry’s default position is that it knows everything there is to know about marketing books, including how books should be written to best take advantage of any market. And it’s hard to argue against that premise. Unfortunately, all of that comprehensive data and institutional knowledge is of dubious predictive value in any particular instance, (That’s something you won’t be told.)
Even if every agent, editor and publisher who expresses an opinion about your work does so with both eyes on the market, and even if you yourself have one eye on the market, there’s still room to advocate for making the work the best it can be apart from any sales metric, and for realizing your personal authorial vision. But you have to be willing to fight for those things. [ Read more ]