Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lightning in a Bottle

“That’s why they call it a Best-seller…not Best-written.”

I heard these words today from a marketing guru-not another author, but no truer words have ever been spoken. For a writer hitting the top of the NYT Best Seller List is the pinnacle, the end all, be all, the sign that you have made it. You are someone. Complete validation that you are the best at your craft…

So much rides on this that virtually every writer at some point or other has thrown everything they can think of at the goal. They research the market, chase trends, learn all the so called “rules” of the craft, go to college, go to more college, network, meet people, throw money at publicists and web masters, join groups, schmooze agents, send editors love notes and lie awake at night tossing and turning and hoping that their story-this story-is that ever elusive lightning in a bottle story that will surge them to the top.

Unfortunately, all that effort is futile. You can’t deliberately recreate what happened with “The DiVinci Code” or “The Bridges of Madison County.” To use a cliché, all the stars were aligned. Even if your publisher thinks you’ve got it- even if they produce 150,000 books, if those books are all sitting in a warehouse next to a river and a muskrat eats through a levy your story just lost its place.

Writing is art and art is culture. Culture is as predictable as the weather- bring an umbrella just in case.

“But,” you say, “all I want is a career as a writer.” All a publisher wants is a branded product that will jump off store shelves and bring in revenue. Getting there in today’s market can be as tricky as capturing lightning in a bottle, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell your story. All it really means is that stories can’t be judged based on whether or not they are a best seller. As a writer you can’t let numbers validate your craft, your story- because they will never be good enough. So, take joy in the writing and in the revising and in the small notes readers send you. Let go of the rest. Let yourself off the hook. Remember the term is “best-seller” not “best-written.”

No comments: