My Commercial Spirit

Artistic rendering of Outlaw Mama

Artistic rendering of Outlaw Mama

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on therapy, so I am someone who is self-aware.  After all, the point of all that internal exploration is to understand who I am and either make peace with it or work to change it.
One thing I know is I am not indie.  I’m about as indie as an Olive Garden bread stick or a Best Buy flat screen.  There’s literally nothing indie about me.  And it’s not that I once was indie, but somewhere along the way decided I hated being so marginalized for my coolness that I “sold out” and started following Ryan Seacrest’s musical recommendations or Oprah’s book picks.  No, I’ve always had a top 40 sensibility, and my life has been marked by very few forays into counter-culture.
However.  I got swept up into the frenzy of a writing conference and signed up to pitch my book to an indie press.  You know, because “it would be a good experience.”
To prepare,  I looked at the press’ catalog and read the first chapter of about 10 of its books.  The only thing my book shares with those books is that we are all using words to convey meaning.  Each of the press’ books, including the one that one a major literary prize, has gorgeous language (think “elegiac”, think “shimmering prose”), big themes (“the nature of consciousness”), and is not concerned with traditional narrative elements.  Like plot.
My book, by contrast, is pretty plotty.  Without the plot, there’s plenty of lovely language lying around, like the eloquent passage where my protagonist describes her impure thoughts about Judd Hirsch (“I concentrated on his hairy eyebrows and thought about his dramatic arc on Barney Miller.”).  Trust me, ya’ll, it’s poetic.
Of course my book isn’t any more indie than I am, but I put on the only clean clothes I had left in my suitcase and prepared to pitch my heart out.  I know what you’re thinking.  What’d she wear?  Yes, it would have probably been more helpful if I wore a vintage dress with some artsy boots and glass jewelry– at least I could show some indie sensibility.  OMG if I only had some funky glasses.  I considered getting a tattoo– a quote from an obscure REM song or Spinoza.  I didn’t.  I put on my sweater set, my seersucker pants (red and white, which is edgier than the traditional blue and white, amiright?), and my ballet flats.
When I sat down with the editor, I reminded myself that this was an exercise to get experience and not to land a book deal.  I looked into the editor’s kind eyes and unfurled the tale I’ve spent 61 weeks writing.  Maybe I looked like a seersuckered jackass, but I heard passion in my voice, and I felt proud of and grateful for the story I’d conceived.
The editor, however, didn’t experience the same rapture.  “It sounds commercial,” was the assessment, delivered in the sincere, nonjudgmental tone of a professional.
Alrighty then.
As I walked back to my room, the word commercial rattled in my head like a marble in a wooden box.  I tried to muster some indignation or offense, but I couldn’t.  The truth is that it feels like a compliment even if it wasn’t intended as one.
As time passes, threads of shame have woven themselves into this story.  To combat their potency, I’ve started a running list of things that are both commercial and not soul-destroying.  So far I’ve got The Help, S. Pellegrino water, Ikea, Dollywood, The Happiness Project. 
Maybe one day I can add my debut novel to this list.  


69 thoughts on “My Commercial Spirit

  1. How each of us interprets things is so subjective – it can vary from person to person — or in my case even day to day (but I’m a little nuts). You will have some time to process the experience, and who knows what will come up. The most amazing part – the one you need to take full credit and glory for – is that you had the experience at all (because lots of people at that conference hid from putting themselves out there in any way). You make me proud and inspire me!

    • You think so? Sometimes it feels like the difference between something beautiful and something cheap and consumable. But in fairness, the editor never saw my writing….just heard the pitch.

      • People read for a variety of reasons. Entertainment is a huge one. Even within a commercial work, you can relay powerful messages and observations about humanity, and I’ve seen beautiful, hard hitting prose even within the most commercial books.
        And listen, in more “literary works” although I do try to read them, I’m often impatient with the slowness of plot (Gilead is the one that comes most readily to mind). Although I found that book comforting and wonderful, like listening to an old hymn, it took me a full week to get through it.
        Gone Girl, on the other hand, I devoured in a day, and I enjoyed both books in different ways.
        Long story long, there is a market for all kinds of writing, and commercial isn’t a dirty word. At least to me!

      • I too devoured Gone Girl and also Prayer for Owen Meany and On Beauty and Little Stalker and the biography of Willie Nelson. So there’s a place for being commerical.

        I have Gilead on my list, but I know it’s going to require more of me than I am ready to give. Your comment confirms that.

  2. I don’t see why commercial is bad. Group think and all. I know we’re all supposed to be so different and unique, but (based on my blog name) I guess you can tell where I stand on that. Commercial just means a lot of people are willing to pay for your stuff. And that’s the highest compliment the Western World can offer! haha.

  3. Commercial…sounds like you hit the jackpot! Indie publishers are the ones I imagine taking on projects that are too dark or deep to find a substantial audience, no matter how brilliant they may be. And it’s all about the Benjamins, right? Ha, ha. As I’ve said before, can’t wait to pick up your book someday at Target. That’s right, I said TARGET, woman!!!!

  4. Why not add Stephen King to your list? I suppose his novels are about as commercial as they get, and that man has tons of heart and soul. Good company, I’d say. I imagine that the same could be said of many other writers, too, but he’s the one who popped into my mind.

    • You’re right. Totally right. He’s got a generous spirit and tells a good story. HIs On Writing is pretty influential and inspiring as well.

      On Tue, Jun 18, 2013 at 10:05 AM, Outlaw Mama

  5. i’m all for commercial! christie brinkley is commercial. american idol is commercial. freaking mcdonalds is commercial. commercial means general population likes it, and while i’m mixed on general population, there’s no denying success. take it, own it, be proud of it. 🙂

  6. I suppose these indies don’t eat velveeta either? It’s all about balance. I love an artisan latte made with fair-trade house roasted beans, but I go to Starbucks. All. The. Time. And I mostly rely on friends’ recommendations for books to read…and by friends I mean you. So I’m happy to read commercial plot-heavy chick lit if you tell me to. And what’s the point of publishing if it’s not marketable?

  7. Commercial sounds like money to me. Money is good. Bring on the commercial. I know you and believe me, you’re the best mix of both commercial and indie. Let me know and I’ll write that for your book jacket ;-)!

  8. Next time you pitch to an indie press, you can borrow my vintage dress and funky boots. And I would totally take “commercial” as a compliment. And I can’t wait to buy your book and have you sign my copy.

  9. Commercial is AWESOME!! All the non-Indie presses are looking for commercial because it sells lots of books. That’s the best compliment EVER. And good for you for pitching it.

    The first writer’s conference I went to I pitched my book. It was basically the scariest thing I’ve ever done, outside that one memorable incident with the self-tanner.

    Girlfriend, you are on the right track. I can’t wait to go to your first book signing.

  10. My editor tells me he wants commercial to some extent…its sellable. I do know what you mean though I just read something my sister in law wrote and I don’t even want to continue writing any further on the book … SHit.

  11. I’m not saying anything new, but that hasn’t stopped me before.
    It seems to me that editor was saying that you can find a non-indie publisher because your book would have wider appeal. The indie press probably prides itself on publishing things that don’t have a wide market and wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity. I think the editor is saying that your book will have that opportunity!

  12. First, let me say congrats on writing a book! That is awesome. Second, “commercial” sounds like a compliment to me. “Commercial” translates to “People will buy and read your book.”

    • I like it when you say it. There’s just a mean old voice in my head that says “commerical” and makes me think of crappy shit that is bad for society. Thank you.

  13. I already love your book in all its plotty glory. I think being commercial is a really good thing. Just ask Nora Roberts, whose books have spent a combined 861 weeks on the NY Times bestseller list. I know some people may find her romances soul-destroying, but I find them to actually be soul CLEANSING. And anyway, can’t argue with the NY Times list. Well, actually you can, and I often do, but not when it comes to romance novels, the most popular genre in modern literature.

    • This is what I needed to hear. I always smile when I think of your dedication to modern romance and Ms. N. Roberts. It makes me feel cozy and affirmed. Thank you.

  14. Labels can be soul-destroying. Write what’s important to you, and the English-speaking part of the world is large enough that others will share your feelings and want to read it. I, too, am a devoted Nora Roberts fan, as well as Sharon Sala fan. I come back to their books time and again because they build such believable characters and, yes, have plots. My devotion to them and the genre they began in (because they both long ago transcended the label “romantic fiction”) actually makes me look down my nose at “indie” and “serious” fiction as being snobbish and self-important. Be yourself – nobody else can do it better!

    • As I heard it, the editor meant that it was governed by plot predominately and would appeal to people who think books should have plots. “That’s not to say your book isn’t full of gorgeous prose….” But I note that I didn’t show a sample of the work so we were discussing based solely on my description of it.

      On Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 11:50 AM, Outlaw Mama

  15. First and foremost- we both own seersucker pants. Rock.

    Secondly, you are a faithful blogger. I just checked my email and had more from Outlaw Mama than My Own Mama. I commend you AND envy you for that.

    And C.), I love that you had the guts to pitch your book. I love that it has a plot. I dig Dollywood. And Dolly. And I love commercialism. Take that as a compliment, and hopefully our commercial novels with eye brow references will rest side by side on our commercial big book store shelves.

    I heart you to effing pieces.

    • You know I am a huge fan of yours. (I accidentally wrote “man” of yours, so I don’t know what that’s about.) Anyway, how awesome is seersucker. I love it so much I could weep even though it makes my ass look gigantic.

  16. Hold on! You don’t have a pair of cowboy boots you could have paired with your “edgy” pants? For shame! I’m sure that Indie press wouldn’t want a commercial book – ya know, the one that becomes a bestseller. Then the wouldn’t be an Indie press anymore, right?

  17. “a quote from an obscure REM song or Spinoza” — ha ha, two of my favorite things! I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo… hmm…

    “Commercial” reminds me of Next Top Model (definitely not indie) — it’s an insult on that show too. A “commercial” model is not high fashion. She belongs in JCPenney catalogs or something. But she’s also on TV selling Cover Girl, so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s