The Art of Marketability and Art

Updated: Nov 8, 2018

By: Meagan Collins


To an editor, one of the greatest questions a writer-turned-author can ask themselves is whether they are writing to create art or to create profit. Neither answer is inherently right, though most people will feel adamant about one or the other.

Though many editors—and especially other writers—will tell you to create the best story possible for the story’s sake, this mentality also makes it harder for writers to accept edits from outside sources or make extensive structural and developmental changes. It also breeds pretentiousness and makes for unruly clients.

In my (limited) experience, friends who have focused on art for art’s sake have written beautiful, intricate, and moving pieces of prose and poetry, but they eventually revise it to death. They have the talent and the hard work, but not the gumption to submit. They don’t share their writing experiences with others, often for fear of ruining the magic around their latest draft. Their work is loved by few and shared by none.

Focusing on profit is equally as complicated. To create profit is both to destroy the inherent artistic value of literature and to actively respond to the inherent business-like nature of the publishing industry. It breeds ruthlessness and apathy towards the work, which can weigh down the editor as much as the writers themselves.

In this scenario, the end goal is vapid (be the next #1 New York Times Best Seller) and often unreached. Friends, regardless if they have written a lot or a little, submit to every publishing house, literary journal, and webzine they can find. Compared to the ‘for art’ party, these friends frequently post about how much they’re writing, submitting, etc. on social media. They produce unedited, flimsy work that lacks artistic beauty and integrity.

Of course, these are the most extreme examples I’ve seen. In the end, the worry about marketability is ultimately the editor’s burden, which should be filtered and given in small doses to the writer. The editor is the ultimate gatekeeper between the writer and the publisher; they must balance the art and the market on a razor’s edge, always keeping the author’s hopes and the publisher’s budget in view.

It is certainly not the job of the editor to take over the project as if they were a continuation of the writer or to see every writer as a walking dollar sign; however, it is their duty to bring out the best artistic endeavors in the writer and marry them with shrewdness and moxie. In this way, the editor is mentor and guide, gently nudging the writer on to publication.

The writer is certainly responsible for how they wish to best communicate to the market and to readers; after all, they are the linchpin of the entire operation. But they are not the final voice in the matter. It is the teamwork of the writer (artistic integrity and resourcefulness) and the editor (mentor and employee) that can bring to fruition the most moving artistic pieces that sell well.




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