The “marketability” trap

For me, the power of fiction (and a lot of non-fiction too) is that it tells a universal truth through the particular – through an individual, or collection of individuals.

Marketing, on the other hand, seems most often to be about generalizations – guessing what most people (be they a category of people, or people in general) will like. I’ve had a problem, personally, with generalizations about people for – well, for as long as I remember. They make me feel like the last kid chosen for the team; they make me feel like I don’t belong.

I’ve known this about myself for a long time. Usually I try not to worry about generalizations and instead just get on with my life. But the business of publishing has to think about marketing. And I, in my search to publish, got hoodwinked into thinking about “marketability” as part of my writing, about “what readers like.” I was told thinking about the industry would make me a better writer, and I bought it.

I was wrong. This kind of thinking killed my ability to write for a while there. It also killed my ability to read. And worst of all, it made me feel like an alien in my own life. Every time I read, a voice in my head would be asking, over and over, “Is this publishable? Why?” Every time I wrote, I felt alone in a sea of faceless generalizations. And more and more that feeling spilled into my everyday life.

So I stopped. I stopped reading industry news; I stopped worrying about being published. And it took a while, but I’m recovering. I can read, and write, again. I may never publish. That’s ok with me.

Not every piece of advice out there works for everyone.

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