Why I am a writer, not an entrepreneur

5 Jan

This was going to be a post on Twitter, before I realised that I could never fit it into 140 characters. It was Twitter that kicked off this chain of slightly irritated thought, because it always seems to be full of advice for writers along the lines of “write for the market” and “think like an entrepreneur”. This, it seems, is the way to make it big as a writer. And maybe it is. I don’t know, and I probably never will know, because I can’t see myself ever following such advice.

“Many writers balk at this” said a recent article, telling authors that they should think like startup entrepreneurs trying to break into a crowded marketplace. Yup, definitely baulked – in fact, I felt my head draw away from the screen in a physical expression of how unpalatable I found that advice. You see, being an entrepreneur and breaking into a crowded marketplace doesn’t interest me at all. Here are a couple of other things that don’t interest me much: crime fiction and romantic fiction. Just not my cup of tea, generally speaking, but they dominate the bestsellers list. Therefore, as a good businesswoman, I should be writing them. Except clearly I shouldn’t because:

1) I wouldn’t enjoy writing them, and if you don’t enjoy what you do for a living, that’s a serious problem.

2) They wouldn’t be very good precisely because I’m not very interested in them and don’t enjoy writing them.

3) There are really enough of them out there already (in my opinion).

4) I have other things I want to write, that I actually care about, and that I would be prevented from writing if I just wrote the “marketable” stuff.

There’s a fifth reason that actually has nothing to do with my personal preferences, but springs from my experience as a writer:

5) You can’t actually tell what’s going to be successful and saleable.

I have sold stories that I didn’t think had much of a chance of finding a market, and I am still sitting on what seem to me much more saleable stories. Maybe this shows how bad an entrepreneur I am, without a decent understanding of my market, but I don’t think so. I think in the creative arts (yes, however humble, it’s an art) you just can’t tell what’s going to fly and what’s going to crash. I’m working on a novel at the moment about twins separated by civil war in ancient Rome. Maybe it will be amazingly successful and be translated into 50 languages, or maybe it will gather electronic dust inside my computer, but I have to write it because the characters are asking to have their story written, and no one else will write it if I don’t.

I don’t mean to insult writers who can produce dozens of popular, successful genre novels. If I enjoyed it, I would love to make a living out of producing a potboiler every year. I’m also not saying that writers (or other artists) should stick entirely to what they’re comfortable with. Some of my best work is produced when working to tight requirements or unusual limitations, for example when writing for competitions with a strict theme. It sharpens your creativity when you don’t have free rein in every area. But when you discover that you don’t like a certain genre or type of writing, and you’re not very good at it, I don’t think it’s good advice at all to continue writing that kind of stuff because it’s what the market demands.

If I wanted to make myself miserable for money, I would give up writing and get a proper job.

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One Response to “Why I am a writer, not an entrepreneur”

  1. Fi January 9, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    Very strongly written and true to what you believe, well done you.

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