Writing in My Skin

I’m learning the publishing business as you may know from a few posts in the previous addresses.  Among the many things I’ve read is that there are many obstacles in a writer’s way when it comes to publishing. 

When you’re unpublished, there is a long list of things that could be or must be done to get published.  Platforms and marketing ability, good writing and better storytelling ability, a niche or an audience who’s waiting or developing around some of the things you’re saying.  It goes on and on. 

When I consider things, these are a few salient challenges for me in my road to publication:

1) Men don’t read.  At least that’s the prevailing thought in publishing.  Of course, I disagree but I understand that point.  A not-so recent article reintroduces the idea but it has sat inside industry meeting rooms for years.  In some mysterious way, this connects with me as a male writer.  I’m not writing for men (I’m writing for readers), but I am a man.  I don’t write romance in general, which is the strongest selling genre, a genre read and written mostly by women so far as publishers can tell.  So, my maleness–even though men have dominated publishing historically–is an issue as I approach a publishing career.  If I write what sells, my maleness can be a gift to romance or it can be suspicious to the largest readership.  But then my question becomes how do I write to men.  How do I write to continue to invite men and women into the pleasing world of reading?  That’s the point to me anyway.  Sure, selling is important, but cultivating love for words and reading is so much more impressive a goal.  Selling is a means.

2) I am a black man who writes.  It’s a challenge in the sense that, acknowledged or not, race and culture influence not only my writing process from start to finish but also how my stories are read by agents and editors who are my first readers, if you will.  I got a response from an agent earlier this year who said that my manuscript was strong but that they weren’t sure I could compete among my competitors.  My story was familiar, she said.  Of course I disagree.  There was no published title with the plot I was pitching, nothing has shown up on Publishing Marketplace, but that’s the feedback.  The publishing world has too many black writers writing about familiar plots with black characters.  That was hard to read and harder to think through, but it brought me to ethnic identity.  Writers like Tayari Jones and Bernice McFadden post insightful comments from time to time in this area. 

3) Finding a home is an issue.  I’m not talking about a publishing home but an audience.  I’ve thought a lot about my audience.  One of the most popular questions agents and publishers ask is “Who are you writing for?”  There is some disagreement on this.  Some but not much.  If you don’t know your answer as an unpublished writer, your work is probably not going to be accepted or contracted.  You’ve got to know your audience, write for your audience.  It’s possible to cross audiences, but one must know well the rules of those roads.  And usually a writer has to travel one path long enough until a publisher will trust that he can explore new grounds.

4) Your audience is often defined by someone else.  Audience relates to genres, and since genres are more rigid than flexible, a part of naming your audience is accepting established boundaries.  I can function in boundaries, but I already see my work as crossing lines.  It’s interesting to get some of the initial feedback from my freelance editor.  One thing I expect to talk with her about is the issue–after I digest the critique letter over the next few days.  I see the genre, understand the audience that generally comes along with that genre, but how do I write with integrity if I don’t quite fit?  Do I pay dues first?  Do I get that first or second or tenth book deal and then worry about these things?

That’s it for today, except this one last thing.

For your continued reading enjoyment, Rachel Deahl’s article in PW discusses men and publishing and Stephen King’s 2005 essay says everything you need to know about writing.

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