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What it really means as far as I can tell.
Is your work commercially viable in today's market? Do you know what that statement even means?
I have been asked the first question by several publishers. I know that as a writer of fantasy novels it is much harder for me to present something that might be considered commercially viable. For instance the novel I will be slowly hubbing, see my Jungle tales hub, is a high fantasy novel. High fantasy is most assuredly not commercially viable. Why? Its too much work for a new, common reader to grasp the sometimes grand concepts and super imaginative characters of a high fantasy novel. There is a subsector that reads these sort of books religiously but they don't number enough people to make the genre commercially viable.
Upon first coming to grips with this I literally fell into a depression. Everything I had written, about five separate novels in all, would never get published because I was an unpublished author and you cannot get your foot in the door unless you do something that is decidedly, here it is again, commercially viable.
How droll. I am bored by the thought of dumbing down my ideas. I am offended that my work wont even get a shot unless I first sell out to the big corporate so and so's. How deflating.
Still, I love to write and create and it wasnt long before i took this new understanding as a challenge. Ok, I thought, they want something the everyday reader can sink their teeth into? Fine. I'll dumb down my ideas, as much as I can stand, and make up for what I see as a lack of flair and color with characterization and engrossing interaction.
After a long period of deliberation I came up with some new ideas and promptly started typing up the book I would use as the stepping stone I needed. It would be low fantasy with youthful, inexperienced main characters and based on a world that was very similar to our own with some minor differences. Again, how droll.
Really, people? While I would like to blame the corportate so and so's for this, that would be dishonest to say the least. The publishers are a business so they have to make money to stay in business. They are the ones who do all the research and they have access to all the pertinent numbers. Though my artistic side would like to throw stones at them and decry their practices, in this day and age they are forced now more than ever to consider the bottom line first and foremost.
While this is denying the market of fresh faces and outlooks there is a steady stream of novels coming out from the authors who have already made it. Those who already got their foot in the door are pumping out volume after volume of books and thus perpetuate the demand for what is commercially viable. How do they perpetuate it? Because they are now the standard. Basically anything A guy like Steven King writes is instantly considered viable because he already has a huge following. A publisher is automatically guaranteed sales even if crazy Steve writes about carnivorous dandelions on the prowl in a florida suburb. Get me?
Not fair? In a way your right. In a manner of speaking these authors I am referring to are monopolizing the market. I do not begrudge them this. Any one of us unpublished authors would be happy and content to be in their shoes. What I do begrudge is their absence. When an author finally becomes published it seems they forget where they came from. They forget there are so many others like them sitting on the outside of the market and wondering when its going to be their turn.
Of course, they may be thinking that every other author out there is competition and in a way that may be true but because of the fluidity of the market and the speed at which books are consumed by hungry readers I would think there is plenty of room for everybody. I doubt there is any real need for cutthroat tactics or sabotage when it comes to getting published. At least I hope not.
So, what is commercially viable? Well, the most in demand genre last time I checked are autobiographies. People really are nosy and those seeking inspiration love to read stories about those who have succeeded in life after some sort of trial and tribulation. Personally I have read very few of these sort of novels. Mostly because I am a doubter, not a believer. I am a half empty guy, not half full. I doubt that the methods utilized by Ralph will work at all for Frank so I would rather not bother, thank you very much.
I read for distraction and entertainment. My intent as an author is to entertain and momentarily distract the readers from their mundane lives. I find the idea to my liking and rewarding in itself. Yet unless I am writing something that is commercially viable no one will ever see my best work.
I do not consider anything I have done as a waste of time. Every book I have written has been part of my learning experience and has made me a better writer. From what I understand even the best authors have their earliest novels sitting in their top drawer waiting to be published. Even they were forced to sell out at some point.
When I asked an agent from writersNYliteraryagency what was commercially viable in today's market she suggested I look at what is on the shelves in my local bookstore. Most of what I see there is considered viable to the corporate so and so's. I did so.
What a joke. I have novels just like the ones on those shelves. Like I stated earlier if you are an established author it doesn't matter what you write. You are instantly viable because of your name. Meanwhile an unpublished author may have something very similar they are trying to get published but no publisher will dare take a chance on them. Very deceiving, this viability nonsense. Yes, I said nonsense. After all is said and done there is no clear cut model of what is truly viable.
Ever watch hockey? The referees in that game seem to call penalties according to the mood their in. At times a ref won't call an obvious penalty and at others he calls it. Its kind of a joke.
Same thing here. Each publisher can decide what is or isn't viable on a whim. They have no idea if your work will sell or not but it is up to them to take the chance and put up the initial funds mass publishing requires. Therefore they could be going on intuition and inclination, not any actual business model. This is the kind of joke no one laughs at. This sort of cronyism has no place in a capitalistic society like ours. It is both prohibitive and elitist. This is the sort of thing that in the past might cause some folks to march and make their voices heard. Only by uniting our opinions and aligning our ideals can we make a substantial change to the established status quo.
In knowing that will never actually happen what can we, the unpublished many, really do? In short, keep writing. Keep submitting that novel you are so proud of but make sure you keep on writing. As you produce more and more books your chances increase just by default. Right now I am trying to publish two novels. One is a High fantasy, decidedly not commercially viable, adventure while the other is a low fantasy, epic world spanning tale that I wrote specifically with commercial viability in mind. I will keep on submitting them even as the places to submit them to are fast disappearing.
Am I selling out? Not really. If I can get my new book published then I believe that will be my foot in the door. If my commercially viable work is successful then I will quickly send my publisher that older book I am so proud of.
To close I would like to relay these words that were said to me at a writers website.
"Its harder to get published than it is to become a paid actor or a famous musician. Now is not too late to rethink your career choice."