I was having a conversation and was told, very earnestly, that one needs to be commercial to break through these days. I've been around long enough to hear this line at least twice or thrice a year, but my acquaintance was a newbie, and sometimes, they just want someone to listen--not lecture--to them.
My first question to this kind of throwaway wisdom is--what does it mean, "to be commercial?" I know that, in the case of celebrity actors/singers, being commercial has to do with looks, but writing a good book has nothing to do with a good-looking author, although if you looked like the TV character, Castle, it doesn't hurt ;-).
Is it writing what's out there? Part of the reason why some trend is so popular is because someone has made it popular, usually someone who brought an "IT" factor in her writing and actually doing something different, perhaps not very commercial even. I know for a fact that, in the mid-90s, all was doom and gloom for paranormal romance and the few who toiled it was told to write something "more commercial." Some did. Some toiled on.
In 1999, I sat beside a woman at RWA. I was the newbiest of newbies. So newbie, I didn't even know what I was supposed to be doing at RWA except wander around staring at groups of women talking about this agent that, that editor this. I didn't even know the concept of networking. This woman and I had a very short, but nice, conversation.
I had no idea who she was, and when I asked about her being there and whether she was published, she said, yes, she was, but not quite in romance. Her story, she told me, wasn't the usual commercial stuff. The conversation went on a bit, and finally, she signed a book for me and left. I think that was my first ever signed book, one that I hadn't even requested, by the way. It had never occurred to me to ask for an autograph, LOL.
The book was Outlander. The author, Diana Gabaldon. She wasn't very well-known in the romance world at that time, although her time-travel was getting a very good buzz. She was right; she wasn't the "usual commercial stuff."
Look at her now.
As the newbiest of newbie, I learned an important lesson that day, but I didn't know it till much, much later.
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