Art vs. Commerce

We’ve been talking about contradictory messages all week, so for our last day, I wanted to address a topic that is integral to the life of anyone trying to create something artistic – and then sell it. There’s a constant tension between art and commerce, isn’t there?

How do you balance the amount of time and energy you devote to learning the business of publishing vs. perfecting your craft?

Do you have set times for each? Which takes more time? Which is more important?

Have a good weekend!

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. Janice Campbell from NAIWE on June 21, 2010 at 2:29 PM

    >Balancing is a challenge, but I try to spend each morning on creative/craft work, and each afternoon on working with the more commercial aspects of the career. In the evening, I read the newspaper and something creative, usually fiction.

    I believe that the commercial activities, including learning about the publishing world, networking, and marketing all support the creative/craft end of the equation, so I don't begrudge the time spent. I like to connect with readers, members, and others in the field. It's both a learning experience and a way of giving back to the writing/editing community.

  3. Mary on June 21, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    >I've been giving a lot of thought to the business of writing – my term for balancing art and commerce. Without plans, understanding the market, knowing the competition, developing a sales strategy, building a platform and so on, we writers run the risk of writing only for ourselves.

  4. error7zero on June 20, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    >Writing takes up 80% of my lit world. Editing, rewrites, building the blog, driving traffic. Trying to woo an agency or publisher is 5% or less. The rest goes to reading online columns or books.
    My feeling is a huge wave of hopeful writers are swamping a dwindling publishing base. Agents and editors are responding to the reality of more writers, less readers. As for "networking" – – a third of what I read on various blogs' COMMENTS seem little more than kiss ass. Apologies to the more sincere.

  5. Queen Mab on June 20, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    >Lately…I've spent more time learning about my craft (the business), which is helping to perfect my work. When I started really writing (more on paper than in my head) I knew nothing about the business, so it's beneficial to me to learn.

  6. Carol J. Garvin on June 20, 2010 at 1:17 AM

    >"… learning the business of publishing vs. perfecting your craft."

    One will be more important than the other at different times, depending on where we're at on the writing journey. First I wrote, then I went back and learned, and now the balance has tipped again and I'm writing and networking to continue both processes. I don't think we ever stop learning, but neither can we stop writing as we learn. Catch 22?

  7. Jolene on June 19, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    >The joy comes from the craft. That's an easy one.

  8. fourdaysaweek on June 19, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    >I used to start my writing hours around 3:00 a.m., but with the recent launch of my website/blog and wanting to read all the great writing blogs out there (including this one), I find myself getting up between 1:00 – 2:00 a.m. these days (and before my full-time day job beckons). I sacrifice sleep.

  9. Camille Eide on June 19, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    >All I know is that though I need to know the commercial side of being published, Art was the reason I began this journey. So while I learn all I can about commerce, I need to keep looking for beauty, keep feeding the muse and keep growing as an artist. I don't know how this looks in time spent, but I know how it looks when the art has been neglected.

  10. Mitch Feigenberg on June 19, 2010 at 11:31 AM

    >I have a slightly different take on this. For me, this is like saying, "which one do you want, the head of the coin or the tail?" Of course, they go together! Even the best book makes no contribution in the world if it is not read. Good work does not attract readers in and of itself; you have to go out and get them. Otherwise, you're just writing a diary.

  11. Kathryn Magendie on June 19, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    >Dang. When I figure out how to balance it, I'll let everyone know my secret *laugh* – But, once I start writing I pretty much stay writing on my project until I'm tired or my back hurts or it's time to eat, whatever; and that's hours of my day–every day if I have a deadline, most every day if I've completed it (because there is always the next project).

    The business side of it I try to take care of first thing in the morning, during a short break if I need it, and after the writing is put away for the day.

  12. Mike Duran on June 19, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    >At a recent writers conference, Mick Silva (of Waterbrook) said, "If you capture readers with your craft, the marketing will take care of itself." As much as I believe that, I'm still unclear how that translates into actual marketing. Or does it?

  13. stevengriffin on June 18, 2010 at 11:00 PM

    >I spend roughly an hour each morning reading through my Google reader feeds to see what's going on with some of the authors, literary agents and industry news sites I follow. Throughout the day I keep Hootsuite running on my second monitor while I work so I can catch any "real-time" conversations that may develop.

    In the evenings after the family all go to bed, I spend quite a bit of time writing with the specific goal of learning a new craft element while working on a piece – that tends to cause me to research and read up on different ways to sharpen my writing skills.

    Overall, I would say roughly 75% of my time is spent writing and learning the craft while 25% is spend learning the industry and interacting with other writers. I'm sure the percentages will probably start to even out a bit more once I get closer to sending out queries and looking for representation.

  14. James Montgomery Jackson on June 18, 2010 at 8:59 PM

    >If you have nothing to say, you have nothing to sell. If what you have to say won't sell, no one will hear.

    I spend about 1/3 of my "writing" time on the business and 2/3rds on writing/rewriting.

    ~ Jim

  15. Beth on June 18, 2010 at 8:50 PM

    >I would say that in the beginning you'd have to work on the craft of writing first, the reason being that it often takes approximately four years of steady work to produce a publishable manuscript (give or take depending on the author and the time put in to writing). If you have a poor manuscript, it doesn't matter what you know about publishing. It's just not going to happen.

    But once you have a publishable manuscript which you or an agent is working to get accepted, some of your time will have to go toward the business of publishing while the other portion continues to be devoted to writing and improving.

    Perhaps take one day of the week or half a day a couple times a week to do your publishing business. Then devote your other time to writing.

  16. MJR on June 18, 2010 at 8:36 PM

    >I'm like Krista–spending a bit too much time on the publishing side of things because writing is all-consuming and it's difficult finding a block of time to write (I don't have a good excuse like she does). I worked in publishing for ten years so theoretically I shouldn't have to spend so much time reading blogs and learning about the business from agents, editors, and writers. But I learn new things every day so it's hard to stop reading the blogs. My goal is to finish a first draft by the end of the summer, so I need to unplug and really work on it. No excuses!

  17. Shigune Matsui on June 18, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    >I actually have been in the process of publishing a book and perfecting craft. Well, I don't really 'perfect' craft persay, just fix out a couple of things.

    I used to set out times for both, doing art on Monday – Wednesday, Friday and do writing every other day of the week. And the next day it would evenly switch out.

  18. Michael K. Reynolds on June 18, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    >I think part of the answer is to break down our work processes into three areas: seed planting, growing and harvesting.

    We should be planting the seeds of our marketing (i.e. beginning the lengthy process of building a platform)as we are planting the seeds of our writing (i.e. character outlines, plot development, etc.). Then we can approach the growing phase (writing, building a social media audience) as we begin more seeding.

    Then we can do the harvesting (finishing the book & marketing it to agents) as we begin to work on more seeding and growing (new marketing ideas, new stories). By this method, we can avoid attacking this in a linear fashion that will be plagued with waiting and delays.

    I think we always need to be planting seeds.

  19. Kathryn on June 18, 2010 at 1:06 PM

    >What a great question. For me, if I'm not actively writing a first draft of something, I'll try to spend some time researching the industry. Otherwise, if I'm writing, I want to stay focused on that and still participate online and network, but not actively or aggressively study everything I get my hands on.

  20. Barbara's Spot on the Blog on June 18, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    >I don't stick with a schedule at all and tend to free flow. I did lose my focus for almost a year after some rejections and feeling like I was wasting my time. For the last while I've been investing my time in studying the craft of writing–but all this I fit in coffee and lunch breaks and after work and weekends–that's when I'm not knee deep in my beehives 🙂

  21. Arabella on June 18, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    >It really depends on where I am in the process. One of my favorite biblical chapters is Eccl. 3. There is a time for every purpose under heaven. There is a time for creation and a time for business. Even God followed this pattern, right? Difficulties might, of course, arise if the writer is working on the artistic process of one book while dealing with the business side of another–but, still, a time for every purpose. The hours that I spend writing would not be the ones I would spend on business.

  22. Jen J. Danna on June 18, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    >Another excellent topic, Rachelle, and one worthy of discussion. I'm really enjoying reading others' responses.

    From my own perspective, I've been writing with my partner for nearly three years, and I wrote for a year solo before that. Together we have written five novels, but it wasn't until we had finished the fourth one that we thought that we were at a point where professional publication was a possibility. We consider everything up to the fifth novel to be a learning experience and a necessary part of teaching ourselves the craft.

    So, up until we started outlining and story planning last August for our now finished novel, I hadn't learned anything about the business end of publishing. Even during the early writing days last fall, I was really concentrating on writing, rather than anything else. But by the close of last year I made the decision to start to do intensive research on what would be needed to send our project out into the world. Now, research and blog reading and interactions take up a much more significant piece of my time, but still, the writing has to come first. It's all about balance. I was lucky that I had the time to learn my craft while not even looking at publication and during that time my partner and I were able to really settle into our collaborative process. Now that we are entering into the query process both the art and the commerce angles must be attended to equally.

  23. Kelly Freestone on June 18, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    >I write early morning, and learn at night…slipping it in between work and family.
    What works for you?

  24. patriciazell on June 18, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    >I write both for the business end of getting my book published and for the actual book. Both of these aspects are so intertwined that I don't separate them. I've taken almost a year to write my book through blog posts, and during that time, I have also been busy becoming known to people by commenting on their blogs and by tweeting. Practically everything I do is writing. (I've been at this for a long time, so I already know the basics of my craft and of the publishing business.)

  25. Ann Best on June 18, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    >Most of my energy goes to perfecting the craft since I'll never get something published if it's not very, very good!! And I learn a lot from other writers, here blogging, following links, and reviewing some excellent how-to books. I don't read many of these anymore, but there are a few I keep glancing at to spur me on, such as On Writing by Stephen King.

  26. Liberty Speidel on June 18, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    >I think you constantly have to be putting in time and energy to both.

    That being said, I also think it depends on the stage you are in your progression. If, for instance, you decided yesterday that you're going to start writing, you're going to need to spend 99.9999% of your time for a while learning and perfecting your craft. If, on the other hand, you've already written 4 novels and thrown them in the dark recesses of your PC or closet, and you've just finished the 4th draft of your 5th novel, you're probably needing to spend more time learning about the business of publishing than you are about craft.

    However, no writer should think they've ever "perfected" their craft. One should always be learning. So while they may be at a stage where 80% of their time is spent on writing the latest novel and marketing it and others, they should still be learning from other writers to become even better.

  27. Debbie Maxwell Allen on June 18, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    >It's difficult to give writing and learning the business the time they need. One thing I do, is highlight a different agent on my blog each Friday.

    As part of my 'reasearch' on an agent, I spend some time scouring their past posts to find the best ones to highlight in the post. So, I guess I'm multi-tasking. Learning the business and blogging at the same time.

    My perfect week is when I write 1000 words each day, Monday through Thursday. Friday is set aside to write my blog posts for the coming week, and do critiques for my crit groups. This way, the weekend is free for my family, and if I find a little extra time, I catch up on blog reading.

  28. Kathi Lipp on June 18, 2010 at 8:54 AM

    >I know that it is all the time I spent learning the business upfront, before I was published, that gives me the fredom, space and time to write now. Becuase I've developed habits and routines for marketing, social networking, researching publishers needs, etc. all of that ebbs out when I'm being creative.

  29. Author Sandra D. Bricker on June 18, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    >It's a more organized process these days than it used to be. I think that's because, as my career has blossomed, I've had to push back for more room to focus on marketing, social networking, learning about the business end of things, etc.

    So now my writing life is a scheduled box, much like my life in the day job.

    Every weekday morning, I spend an hour reading blogs like this one, Chip MacGregor's, Steve Laube's, and author blogs that I've found to be particularly relevant. I also check out Publisher's Marketplace's DEALS section to see what's selling and to whom.

    Weekday evenings are for networking. I read the day's tweets, post a few myself, check out Facebook, etc.

    Then the weekends are for writing. If I'm on a deadline, they're treated like workdays. I set the alarm, I get up and get started, and I write until sundown. If I'm not on a deadline, I'll just do that on Saturday, saving Sunday for my down time and personal errands.

    It's a full life, this writing gig. But I've found that it's really important to strike a balance between the business and creative spectrums.

  30. Wendy Paine Miller on June 18, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    >You know I love these questions. Or maybe you don't know. I love these questions.

    To Richard's point, I believe learning the publishing business includes marketing. Right? And I agree, that's one to tackle. A big fish!

    So the question was how do I balance. Mornings are for learning the business, including networking, reading up about marketing, trends, visiting key blogs & websites, etc. and afternoons and/or evenings (when it's quiet) I dive into the craft (which I believe is more important…hence needing the quiet).

    Always open to learning more,

  31. Timothy Fish on June 18, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    >I’m not going to bother putting a figure on how much of each I do or I should do. With all things, we take time to learn what we need to learn at that moment. But I do think it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we need to spend more time learning the business of publishing than we actually do. We get so focused on the dream. When we look at the business side of things we visualize ourselves actually getting that call from an agent or actually getting that publishing contract or actually being on that panel of authors. It’s like a new romance. We spend more time daydreaming about what things will be like than actually doing it.

    But to get to that point, we have to do our part. The business side of things is important, but our primary purpose is to write. If we want to call ourselves writers we must write. I’ve never seen a successful author who has credited his success to how well he understood the business. Though we may disagree on what good writing is, good writing is what everyone is looking for, so our job is to produce good writing. If we don’t know how to produce good writing then we’d better figure it out.

  32. Richard Mabry on June 18, 2010 at 7:52 AM

    >I think the proportions have changed as I move further down my road to writing. At the onset, I spent all my time trying to learn the craft. As I progressed, I sacrificed more and more craft time for familiarization with the publishing world–and what an education that was!

    There's another quandry you haven't addressed with this question. After publication comes marketing. It's imperative that authors market their work, because publishers can't do it all (and no author thinks they do enough). As Jack Cavanaugh put it, "If you're writing, you're not marketing. If you're marketing, you're not writing." That's a dilemma I haven't yet solved.

  33. Jane Doe on June 18, 2010 at 7:04 AM

    >I don't spend any time on perfecting the publishing side of anything. It's just not what matters. If you're writing to get published, you're not being true to your art, in my opinion.

  34. Krista Phillips on June 18, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    >I've heard many preach about the split between writing/business for an unpublished author… can't remember the %'s thrown out (of course they vary, ha!) but something like an 90 writing/10 business split for unpublished authors and … maybe a 60/40 or something like that for published writers (the 40 including marketing time)

    regardless of what percents are bantered around, I think the principle is spot on. Unpubed authors need to spend MOST of their time writing and perfecting their craft, and a little bit of time with the business/networking/marketing side. As we near being ready for publication, I think the business side tilts a bit.

    FOr me, I am still working on the balance. I find it's easier sometimes to work on the "business" or networking side of it, because I need all my faculties for the writing part, and they aren't all there at the moment (blames huge prego belly, ha!) But… I'm not giving up! Just allowing myself a little breather at the moment. I can't WAIT to get back to my daily, concentrated writing!

  35. Lisa Jordan on June 18, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    >I can't really say I'm doing that well of a balancing job. I probably take more time writing than learning the business of publishing because right now, my writing time is limited.

    I read blogs and work to build my platform, but writing takes priority right now.

  36. Creepy Query Girl on June 18, 2010 at 6:00 AM

    >It's kind of like watching 'the making of' your favorite movie. For me, it totally removes the magic. Same thing with the business side of publishing- they really try to make it as sale-worthy as they can. And its anything but magical.

  37. tessaquin on June 18, 2010 at 3:30 AM

    >I wrote my manuscript before reading a single letter on the internet/in books on how to write. I actually didn't do that badly, considering. But I've been reading a lot since then, both books in the same genre, blogs by professionals, and books on writing, and I've edited my manuscript accordingly (cutting out a lot of unnecessary fat, showing vs. telling, etc.)

    I sent out my first query letter two days ago and yesterday I got a denial. So I checked out Jody Hedlund's blog and read her tips on first chapter mistakes – and my first chapter, although well written, is a big mistake.

    So before I query more agents, I'm going to spend more time (not rushing things, like Jody advices) deleting the first three chapters, and see if I can write one instead.

    So what I'm trying to say, is that I spend maybe three hours reading through blogs, articles and suggestions, and use about five or so on making changes (and proofreading, brainstorming, etc.).

  38. Barbara on June 18, 2010 at 2:29 AM

    >Like Emily, I read a few blogs first thing (I start writing around five in the morning) and then get to work. There is so much more to writing a book than just the book itself. I keep a few files labeled "Marketing Plan", "Concept", "Structure", "Query" &c. and make sure I get some work done on each and every one of them every week. By Friday lunch time I wrap up my changes and send my work off into cyberspace for storage.

    This week I meant to finish my synopsis. I did not quite get there but at least it is coherent now. It might take a few more months until it is as good as I want it to be. I have also done a lot of conceptual work. I have not done any writing this week but that does not matter because I also finalized the structure of my website and other things.

    Regarding Rachelle's question, I guess I decide on a daily basis what it is I need to do at that stage, just like I would with an ordinary office job. I do some planning, I mentioned the synopsis above, but mostly I just do my best and try to have fun while doing it. I have done a lot of reading, books and blogs alike, and listened to speeches &c. Lately I find most information repetitive which is probably a sign that I have learned what I need to know in order to get the work done.

    All the best from Germany, Barbara

  39. emilymurdoch on June 18, 2010 at 2:07 AM

    >My writing comes first, period. Without that boundary, there'd be no need for the business side of things, anyway.

    Each morning, over coffee, I read a few agents' blogs religiously, and, during downtime (non-writing time) read more biz-wise, blog, tweet, mingle with writing friends on a writing forum — I couldn't make it through without those generous writers.

    But then, all of this feels more like play than work.

    It *is* a balance overall — a lifestyle, really — although I have no problem walking away from "the box" if I feel enslaved to it, writing or biz-wise.

  40. T. Anne on June 18, 2010 at 1:36 AM

    >I'm so much more efficient with my writing than I am with social networking, blogs, and educating myself in publishing. I need to reign in my time spent on the business side and increase my writing time. I could easily double or triple my writing if I outlined a strict schedule which allowed for both. *off to outline a strict schedule*

  41. Trading Plan Template on June 18, 2010 at 1:34 AM

    >Indeed these two will be like lines that will never meet. And maybe right now I still cannot balance both. While commercialism is being practical, being artistic is being

  42. Harry Markov on June 18, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    >Tough one. I can say that I spend an equal amount of time on both. I have an addiction for blogs and sites owned by professionals, so I read them on a daily basis, but at the same time I write and try to identify what I want to do with the words and how to do it.

    I think that these do not contradict each other, since they are two separated activities. One is learning from reading, the other is learning from doing.