Or, Artisan Writing
Right now American culture celebrates DIY and the hand-crafted or one-of-a-kind item that is just exactly you.
How many times in the past month have you heard or seen the word “artisan” related to bread, or cheese, or honey—any of the small food crafts that used to be done at home, got exported to large companies, and are now coming back to the hands of individuals running small-scale operations? Etsy (and, I’m sure, other similar sites) has a marketplace of crafters selling either goods they have made or their services to make something specific for you. Microbrews as a group now eclipse any one of the big three beer distributors. The trend in restaurants is smaller spaces with more limited menus that do a few things very well. Hip music now is not to listen to what’s on the radio but to some relatively unknown and esoteric sound that crossed your path in the digital stream. Hundreds of film festivals across the country showcase independently made movies, some of which get picked up for distribution on Amazon or Netflix and sometimes even theatrical runs at the AMC just down the street.
All of these represent a splintering of our popular culture from being dominated and driven by a handful of corporate interests to being dominated not by one or two big things but by a large group of little things. People like to find the niches that appeal to them. We all have slightly different tastes from our friends, and so we find a few common interests and many more that only we, ourselves, are passionate about.
Ebooks and self-publishing have created a marketplace for niche writing, as well.
So how should we, as disintermediated writers, approach our job of writing for an audience with this new long-tail marketplace of niche in mind?
First, take a cue from the cheese-makers: artisan products take time, attention, and deep understanding of the process of creation. Take the time to make your book the best it can be, but don’t hold it from the world so long it becomes over-ripe. Send it out at peak freshness and start on the next batch.
Second, take a cue from the artists on Etsy and give the world the book or story only you can write. This might be the actual plotline of the story, or it might be the fantasy world you’ve built. It might be the way you write—your style, or your pace, or the point(s) of view you choose to use. Just don’t try to re-write someone else’s book. Write your book.
From microbrews you can learn to market yourself based on what makes your writing different. They talk about the honey and the spices they use to flavor that Fall Harvest, or the ridiculous bitterness of their IPA. What’s the most unique part of your book? (Hint: if you’re writing in a well-defined genre, like romance, or one with a ton of iterations, like urban fantasy, it’s much easier to sell your book based on what makes it different, because everyone who reads that genre/sub-genre will have some expectation of elements, thus you can ignore those as a given and focus on what you did differently.)
And, finally, from music and films we learn that to have a successful product, you need to have a product finished to a degree that makes it indistinguishable from a studio-produced project. Just like no one wants to listen to music that sounds like it was recorded in your closet, no one wants to read books that look like they were published from your closet (note: written in a closet is just fine, because editing and proofreading and ebook formatting are meant to take that closet-based feel out of the final version). This is different from the perfect ripeness of your story—tip #1 was about when to stop writing—because it relates not so much to the words and story but to their presentation…to the product nature of a published story. Your book needs to be edited at the very minimum for consistency, typographical errors, and disambiguation. It needs to be proofread for consistency of your punctuation (smart quotes, em dashes, ellipses, chapter headings, etc.). It should have a professional-looking cover and a format with some sense of design, although if these can’t be done, plain and competent is preferable to failed attempts at more.
The main point of all this is what Aristotle described as pride in work. You should be comfortable feeling proud of something you have worked hard to create and produce well, if you have, indeed, met the standard of excellence you set for yourself. Writing is done for yourself; publishing is done for your audience. Take pride in both parts of the process. Take pride in your work.
Be an artisan writer.
Read it on the amwriting blog here.