Apr 21st, 2020
Hey kids! Are you ready to sell out to make cash fast?!
In today's episode of We Make Books, we discuss what artistic integrity is, how to tell if you've blown yours to smithereens, and why it's 100% okay and good to make a living from your art.
We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.
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Episode 33: Artistic Integrity and Suffering For Your Art
transcribed by Sara Rose (@saraeleanorrose)
K: Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of We Make Books, a show about writing, publishing, and everything in between! I’m Kaelyn Considine and I am the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press.
R: And I’m Rekka, I write science fiction and fantasy as R.J. Theodore.
K: And, Rekka, as a writer—
R: Which I am! Totally.
K: Which you are, yeah, of course you are. You probably have a lot of opinions about what people tell you—
K: Well, yeah, a lot of things in general. But, specifically, about other people’s opinions and them giving you suggestions and guidance and thoughts about what you should do, not only with your writing, but your life and how to support your continued writing, in your life.
R, unenthused: Yeah. Yeah, they do that. So, you’re gonna intermix with a lot of people’s opinions over the course of your writing career. Especially as you let other people read your work.
K: So today we’re talking about artistic integrity.
R: Right. When people tell you to change stuff, where do you plant your feet?
K: Not only people telling you to change stuff, however, also what you’re doing with your life in the meantime to support your art.
K: We were thinking about this episode and thinking about this idea of what does it truly mean to be a writer?
K: And we start far clear of that definition—Or, we really steer clear of that conversation because I, personally, am of the opinion that if you are trying to write something professionally, that makes you a writer.
R: Correct. I also agree with you.
K: Yes, so now that we’ve got that established.
R: If you’re listening to this podcast and then, when it’s done, you go and you try to work on your writing, you are a writer.
K: You are a writer. Congratulations.
R: If you just listen to this podcast and you think about writing and you never go write. Uh, we might have to debate that one.
K: You’re a… future writer.
R: Yes, hopefully. Hopefully an aspiring writer.
K: Yes, there you go.
R: To be a writer without a modifier, is to write.
K: There ya go. But there’s also a lot of conversation around, like, well if you’re doing this then you’re not serious about your writing career. If you’re, you know, not focused 100% on only writing, then how could you be serious about your writing career?
R: Which is funny, you know, because it just occurred to me—we don’t cover this in the episode—but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a family gathering, speaking of opinions, where they find out I’m a writer and they say, “Oh you should write _____.” Children’s book. A Gone Girl. You know, whatever’s hot at the moment. Their opinion is you’ve gotta write the most commercial thing that I’ve actually heard of right now.
K: Yeah, yeah. So there’s—You’re gonna run up against a lot of this stuff in your career, as you interact with people. So we, in this episode, talk first about this notion of if you’re not suffering, you’re not writing. Which is silly.
R, sarcastically: If you’re not abusing prescription drugs or if you’re not abusing alcohol, then are you even trying to be creative?
K: Yeah, exactly. Then what are you doing? But then, also, we discuss having to make changes and modifications to your story at the recommendations of other industry professionals. So it’s all within the same subject, but we’re covering two different angles from this. The before and the after, if you will.
R: With an intro of: Why do we have to suffer, again?
K: Yeah! Thanks everyone, again, for tuning in and we hope you enjoy the episode!
[intro music plays]
R, deadpan: Kaelyn, I’m suffering.
K: You’re suffering?
R: Yes. Because I’m supposed to.
K, ironically: And do you know what? That makes your work more valid!
R: I am, yes, validated and authentic because of my pain and anguish.
K: … Except you’re not because—
R: No. ‘Cause that’s bullshit.
K: ‘Cause that’s not really a thing.
R: I mean, yes, it’s possible that someone who puts out good work is also suffering, but I would like to posit that I wish everyone felt better and that we could all see, because we all feel great, that suffering is not required for good art.
K: So today we’re talking about artistic integrity.
R: Or we’re going to try to.
K: We’re going to try to. And what we kept coming back to is this idea that we seem to have a fixation on if you’re happy, you’re not making good art.
R: If you haven’t cut off an ear, then you aren’t suffering enough.
K: Well, I mean, look at tuberculosis. That was considered an artistic disease. People deliberately infected themselves with it because it was a slow, wasting, elegant disease. Of your body slowly breaking down and your heart not working anymore.
R: Yeah. Lovely. Sign me up.
K: Yeah, no. I mean that was… And, of course, it made you look like a vampire which was very in, in Victorian fashions, for whatever reason.
R: It’s still kind of in sometimes, in some circles. Yeah, I mean, just give me some consumption and allow me to cough blood into my lace handkerchief on a settee and that’s how it works, right?
K: Pretty much, yeah. You know the: [coughs softly] Oh goodness. I’d better tuck that away. I feel like every movie set in that era now—
R: Someone has consumption, yeah.
Both: Discreetly coughing blood into a handkerchief.
K: And then, you know—
R: Hiding it from their loved ones. That’s the ticket. That’s how you get to the Big Times.
K: Look at Mary Shelley! She wrote Frankenstein while she and her husband and some of their friends were off seaside trying to cure his tuberculosis.
R: Among other things.
K: Among other things. So, anyway, you don’t need tuberculosis to produce good art.
R: Please, in fact, do not try.
K: We’re gonna start with this idea that levels of success in your life are dictating whether or not you’re a “real writer.” And there’s this very strong feeling toward: I am a writer, these are the things I will write, I will not do anything else but write this thing. And, if I need to, I will suffer for my art. I don’t care if I’m living in my parents’ garage living off ramen noodles. My art is my art, nothing is going to change that. I will suffer for it. Conversely, you’ve got some people who are trying to write what they wanna write and then also doing other things to supplement their income in the meantime.
K: And, Rekka, would you say that that is looked down upon in some circles?
R: There are definitely circles that feel that people who write for IP which is, you know, a Star Wars book or a Minecraft book or a World of Warcraft book. Folks who write other people’s IP because it pays the bills are ‘selling out’.
K: Well, I wouldn’t even take it that far. You know, obviously, there is that component of the sell-out, but what about if you’re just picking up freelance jobs writing marketing copy?
R: Right, so. Some people would probably say, everything you write that isn’t your greatest work of that time, is a waste of time, or is distracting you from being a better writer. Or something like that. Instead of taking the opportunity to say, pour your heart into everything you do and use the jobs that are not going to reward you artistically to practice something. Just writing all the time is always a good exercise if you wanna be a writer.
K: Also, you know what’s nice? Money.
R: Money is also pretty good.
K: Money’s good to have.
R: If you can pay for groceries, you can fuel your mind and body and then you might be a better writer.
K: And, again, we did back into this notion of: doing something for the money lessens your artistic integrity.
K: There’s nothing wrong with doing things for money. Money is not a dirty thing.
R: I mean, it’s physically pretty dirty.
K: Well, yeah, no and there’s cocaine residue on a lot of it. But money, the concept of money itself—and having it—on its own, it doesn’t corrupt you. Being able to support yourself and live in a lifestyle that you consider comfortable, there’s nothing wrong with that.
R: No, that should be what everyone aspires to and is able to reach, just by hard work. But that’s not the world we’re in. You know.
K: Yeah, well, that’s a different issue.
R: It’s a different episode. The Despair episode.
K: But that’s exactly what we’re talking about here. There’s this mental block of: if I’m doing things other than creating my art, and I’m doing it strictly for the sake of the money, am I selling out? No, of course you’re not. A lot of people have jobs that they don’t necessarily love that you’re doing for the money. I mean, do you think I just wake up every day and go, “Boy. I really can’t wait to get on the phone and talk to people about network video equipment.” No!
R: I mean, I assumed you do, but…
K: Well, actually I do like talking to people, but… I’m doing this because they pay me to do this! And there is definitely this stigma in, I think, especially artistic circles that if you are working in some sort of creative or artistic endeavour, you must be doing it strictly for the love of doing it.
K: Rekka, you’re a graphic designer.
K: Do you love everything you do?
R: Absolutely not.
K: Every project you work on?
R: No, no. Not really at all. I mean, it’s not that I don’t love the work. I enjoy doing the process. I take pride in my work, but each individual project is not guaranteed to be something that inspires me and fills me with joy.
K: Yeah, and so, why is writing any different? Because you can still take on a writing project that does not necessarily inspire you and fill you with joy, but it’s gonna pay you.
R: I mean, you know what doesn’t inspire me and fill me with joy? Is the first draft? Can I just not do that part?
K: That’s an excellent point.
R: I mean, if I was going to be completely true to my artistic self, I would only revise and edit. And outline. I do like outlining.
K, laughing: You do love outlines. But that’s the thing, is that your art is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Now, if you need money, and you have other means of working within your artistic means to make that money, that does not make what you’re doing any less valid.
R, outraged: And you know what’s just absurd is that an artist is only supposed to—their work is only supposed to be very, very valuable after they’re dead. Like, what kind of bullshit is that? That the artist is the only one who doesn’t get to profit from their work?
K: Well, that’s because at that point they’re not gonna make any more of it.
K: Some, and I’ll take it an extra step in how it’s even more sick, is because your entire catalogue is now complete. So everyone can evaluate what you will ever make in your life against itself.
R: It sounds like you’re defending not paying the artist what their work is actually worth.
K: Absolutely not.
K: Just saying, this is why stuff becomes more valuable after people die.
R: No, but I’m saying—becomes more valuable after people die because you know they’re not gonna make any more. People wish they’d acted sooner. Wish they’d discovered them sooner, whatever. But why can’t that artist make a living wage of their art and still be an artist?
K: Well, I think there are—writers are a little bit unique in this. Because writers, I’d say, are one of the groups of artists that do make their money in their lifetime. I’m sure there’s probably studies and things out there about this, there’s probably always a spike of books being bought after a writer dies.
K: That’s to be expected. The same way that there’s people who watch movies that an actor was in, after that actor dies. Part of it’s a nostalgia factor, part of it’s a “Oh! I’d always wanted to check that person out!” and now they’re dead. I think artists, however, and—this is a little bit all over the place—If you think of the modern artists that we can name right now, off the top of your head. Who can you name right now, off the top of your head?
K: Yeah. That’s exactly what I was gonna say. I think most people will say Banksy.
R: Mhm. Because of headlines.
K: Because of headlines and because Banksy’s got shtick. The reason, I think, behind a lot of this—and this is something that does not apply to writers—is that artists that create paintings, sculptures, what have you, it’s not easily accessible to the community at large. The art community is pretty exclusive. I would go so far as to say snobbish, in some regards.
R: Yeah. But, again, it’s in their best interest to be snobbish.
K: Absolutely it is, yep.
R: There’s like a false rarity.
K: Yeah, and that’s the idea with art is that, in theory, they’re creating one painting and there’s only gonna be one of those ever. Writers, on the other hand, benefit from this great thing where, first of all, their work is incredibly accessible.
K: Especially in this day and age. And, also, once you make a book, you can give the same piece of art to a bunch of people. And they can all read it together and interpret it how they want to interpret it.
R: From across the country, across the world. They do not have to be in one gallery looking at it for the two hours that the gallery is open.
K: Yes. So, that also then puts some pressure on the writers, I think. Who are trying to navigate and discover and figure out their own art. I resent the idea that working on projects that are not your magnum opus for money makes you less of a writer, less of an artist.
K: Because why would it?
R: Because if you’re a chef you better not ever eat a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese.
K, laughing: I don’t think anyone should eat a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, ever. But that’s, you know.
R: Hey, it’s delicious. I don’t eat it, but that’s not because I don’t like the taste.
K: Ah, see, I was never a fan.
R: Oh, okay.
K: My mom used to try to—I remember even when I was a kid, my mom would be like, “Oh, we’re having—” and my sisters and brother would be so excited. I would be like, “Can I just have a sandwich, please? I don’t think this is good.”
R: It’s funny. My mom never bought it, so when I’d go to a friend’s house and they were making it, I would always be like, “Oh, my god this is amazing!”
K: So exciting!
K: No, I was never a fan.
R: So one of the things I need to point out is that “the dream” of being an author is becoming a full time writer.
R: One of the things that’s very difficult to do is be a full time anything, if you’re not being paid for it.
K, sighing: Yes.
R: Somehow we haven’t worked out how to make that easy.
K: Yeah. The thing is that no one is going to pay you enough money to live off of for the rest of your life, to sit and work on writing something.
K: At some point you’ve gotta produce something that can be sold.
R: Yes. And the more you can produce that can be sold, the better, for your income stream predictability.
K: Now, that said, the thing that you’re producing that can be sold, like my earlier example, might be market copy.
K: Maybe, you know, you do need to spend a lot of time still working on what is truly deep in your artist heart that you want to put out in the world. But, by doing that, you’re supporting yourself. And the people that are paying you to do it are, in a roundabout way, supporting your writing.
R: Yeah! It’s pretty funny how that works, right? They are supporting your writing career, even if all they want from you is some marketing text of 300 words or less. If you get paid for that, that supports your writing career. When you can pay for the basic necessities of your life, your stress goes down and it makes it a heck of a lot easier to work on your writing.
I know we said the Suffering Artist is an unfair thing, and that’s why. You can’t create if you are spending eighteen hours of every day tearing your hair out and six hours of every day not sleeping and creating fever-driven work. That’s not healthy and it’s not sustainable and it’s not kind that we’ve set up this expectation that you should suffer. So having your basic income needs met, through whatever means.
I would happily “become a full time writer” and work six hours every couple of days as a barista or something like that.
R: I mean, to me, that’s actually kind of fun because I love coffee, I love talking to people, and I, you know, worked a similar job in high school. So, to me, that sounds like fun. That’s probably some people’s absolute nightmare and that’s why we have so many people in the world who can handle different jobs. Some people are better at it than others.
K: There are people with my job that I think would rather walk into the ocean than do my job. I don’t think my job is that hard or difficult, in terms of my day to day. For some people it would be a living nightmare.
R: So for people who can write all day, you probably still can’t write creatively all day. Coming up with your novel. If you spent ten hours at the keyboard every day on your novel, you would burn out. Because your brain just needs to switch tracks sometimes. If you can work from home as a full time writer, I don’t think you’re going to spend all that time working on your novel. It’s not like, “Oh! Now, with a day job, I write two hours a day. But now I’m going to be able to write ten hours a day and it’s going to make me so much more productive!” It may not actually increase your creative writing output by anything.
But what you can do to supplant that is to continue to write copy, you can write non-fiction op-eds, you can write things that you can submit to Tor.com, kind of things.
K: You can write book reviews!
R: Book reviews, exactly! Articles on the industry. Get supported that way.
K: Go back and listen to our episode from a few weeks ago about publishing reviews and publishing literature. Publishers Weekly has hundreds of people whose job is just to freelance write book reviews for them.
K: If you want to remain in your realm of employ—
R: Your wheelhouse.
K: Yeah! That’s a great way to do it.
R: And that was Episode 29: Industry Reviews.
K: This notion that doing anything but working on what it is you want to publish is selling out, I think, is a very damaging mentality to have. I think it, long-term, could end up hurting your career.
K: And it’s certainly not gonna make you any friends.
R: Yes, and these might lead to new discoveries. The things you learn—if you have to research and write copy for something that you might never have researched—you might end up putting into a book someday. Everything you do is either writing exercise or just brain exercise, so I don’t think we should discount anything. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, everything feeds your experiences and it comes into your writing later.
K: I look back at weird jobs I had in college and I can’t believe the stuff that I picked up and took away from that. That was just to make some extra money while I was a student. Did that mean that I wasn’t very serious about my studies and I was copping out on all this? No, absolutely not! It meant that I was a college student and had no money and occasionally liked to drink beer and therefore needed money to get beer.
K: I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of not being serious about becoming a historian because I tutored and worked in the library. And I don’t think that it’s fair, or even rational, to say the same thing about writers.
R: Yeah! And your example is perfect because you tutored and worked in the library and these are things, actually, not all that far away from what you were majoring in.
R: I mean, it’s kind of like writing business copy or corporate copy or commercial copy instead of working on your novel.
K: So now, that said, there is sort of a flipside to this conversation about artistic integrity and that is once you’ve finished something, now.
K: So you have suffered, you have struggled, you have rolled the boulder up the hill and now someone is interested in publishing this. Maybe you just even hired an editor to take a look at it.
K: And they’ve got some suggestions.
R: Right. So this could be, like Kaelyn was saying, an editor, it could be an agent. It could be a beta reader.
K: Let’s say you’ve got a completed manuscript, it’s in good enough shape that you’re gonna let other people see it. I’m gonna use the example, here, of an agent or an editor. Let’s say we’re dealing with someone at a professional level, at this point. They say, “Listen. I really like this book. The zombie dinosaurs at the end are a really great twist. Never saw that coming. I really like how the aliens show up at the beginning and they’re the ones who, it turns out, were manipulating the zombie dinosaurs the whole time. Got one little problem here though, at one point you introduce some hobbits. The hobbits just really don’t go with the story. I think you need to take out the hobbits and really shift this to complete sci-fi, rather than making it a little bit of a sci-fi fantasy.”
But! If the hobbits are something really important to your story, in your mind, how do you approach this? And if you change that, what does that say about your artistic integrity?
R: Right. So this is a absurd example of some of the possibilities—
K, contrarily: No, it’s not. I’m gonna go write this book after we’re finished.
R: Well, good! I hope you leave the hobbits in.
R: But Kaelyn and I were talking about this before we started recording. I gave a more concrete, or more likely, example that she avoided. But I think what she’s doing is making a generalization and we can go into the specifics of where do you make these decisions.
You have to be able to draw the line and know where your line is on the various things that you might be asked.
K: Now, I’m going to stop Rekka real quick and say, when you draw your line, that means that you’ve gotta be willing and ready to walk away from something.
R: Mhm. That might be an agent who was going to offer you a deal, but they just think you are too stubborn.
K: That line has to be a real line for you. So, before you are willing to draw it in the sand and stick the stake in the ground, think really long and hard about how worth it that thing is to you.
R: The nice thing is, in most cases, you’re gonna be able to have a conversation with the person making the suggestion to see what it is about the hobbits they don’t like.
K: Like the big feet. They must be so gross, they don’t wear shoes.
R: Yeah! Is it just that this editor apparently has a thing against feet and it’s just going to trip them up, specifically, or is it honestly the fantasy aspect of it. Is there a logical reason? Is there something that actually contradicts something else you’re doing in your book? If every other character in your book is a human, and everything is dealing with the humans and the aliens, and then these dinosaur zombies, maybe the hobbits do feel like they came from another book. And if there’s no logical explanation, someone might be able to debate you into seeing in that way.
And saying, “Pull the hobbits out, put ‘em in another book! I don’t have a problem with that. But not this book.”
K: Rekka was right, I made kind of an absurdist, general example because it’s just trying to give you a big picture idea. Things you are more likely to encounter, though, are going to be related to the marketability of your book. In that example, I had said, we want to take the fantasy element of this out and move it more towards a strictly sci-fi audience that we think will pick up on this really well. But then more controversial things could come up. What if, instead, the conversation is: this queer character is going to alienate a lot of the target audience.
R: There’s an excellent question to respond with that: Do we care about that audience?
K: Yes! So this is where I’m saying your line is. Because the thing is that if you’re talking to, for instance, an agent, or an editor at a publishing house for that matter, at the end of the day everyone is trying to make money off of this book.
K: Thankfully, a lot of the publishing market and the people involved have shifted where, not only is this stuff—
R: Less controversial than it used to be, yeah.
K: Not only is writing things that ten, fifteen years ago would have been a nail in the coffin for a book, it’s celebrated and encouraged now. People are looking for it. But someone might say to you, “Listen. This is a hard military sci-fi book. The people, this social commentary you have in it, that’s not going to appeal to this audience. They just wanna read about spaceships fighting each other near Jupiter. If you wanna sell a lot of this, take that stuff out.”
R: Right, so if someone’s looking at your book and they see it as military science fiction, with an unfortunate helping of social commentary, when what you were doing was—Your vision was to have the social commentary as a throughline with the framing of this military science fiction genre, you two may never see eye to eye on this.
K: And that may make them not wanna publish your book.
R: And that may make you not want to publish with them! I mean, it goes both ways. If someone comes to you and they want to fundamentally change what you’re doing with the book, or in the case of the queer characters, if they want to strip out diversity or identity that you strongly believe in supporting, maybe walking away is the best option. People seem to fall into the trap of this may be the only offer I ever get.
K: But, here’s the thing: it might be.
R: It might be!
K: And that is a very—And this is why I’m saying you need to figure out where your line is because, I won’t sugarcoat it, that could be a very hard decision for you to make.
R: But, how do you make that decision? Try to picture yourself in five years, having gone with what the changes they suggested were. How are you going to feel about that?
K: By the way, you may be totally fine with those changes. Maybe the agent says, “Listen, I want you to take the social commentary out of this first book. Just get a hard military sci-fi book going, build an audience, and then once you’ve hooked them, let’s absolutely go back and write that book.” Not everything is going to be a clear cut-and-dry, this or nothing. As Rekka said, you know, there’s probably gonna be a conversation here. There’s gonna be a talk about this, but it is something that you’re gonna have to decide. Is it more important to you to write the book that you had set out to write, or is it more important to you to get a book published?
R: Right. Keep in mind that in these situations, where this is your first chance, your first debut book we assume. This does set the tone for the rest of your career. Under this pen name. There’s always a chance to debut again with a different pen name in a different genre, or just to start over. But if you do that because you regret the choices you made—Keep that in mind as you make the choices.
If the choice isn’t a big deal to you. If, as Kaelyn said, it doesn’t bother you to make the requested changes then that doesn’t even come into play. Clearly, it’s not a thing you’re going to regret. But don’t do it because you feel like you need their approval.
K: Now, also though, changing those things based on suggestions also does not make you a sell-out. There is nothing wrong with an agent saying, “Listen, if you can make these small changes,” and you’re on board with them and happy with them, and the agent is saying, “Make these because it will reach a broader audience,” or “It will reach this more focused and fanatical audience and you can sell more books,” that also does not make you a sell-out. There is nothing wrong with making some small adjustments to try to get your book to appeal to a broader audience. Because, again, there is nothing wrong with wanting to try to make money off your writing.
K: And to capitalize the ways that you’re doing that.
R: As long as you’re not compromising your morals.
K: Yes! Yeah, of course.
R : If you, as Kaelyn said, if you can make these changes and be happy with them. If you make those changes and you hate them forever, that’s not the right change for you to make.
K: Can you sleep at night, having made these changes?
R: Right, can you sleep at night five years from now?
K: Or is there a pit in your stomach every time you think about it?
R: Yeah. If this is the sort of thing where it’s that moment you think back on and, no matter how far away from it you get, you’re embarrassed every time or you squirm in discomfort, then keep that in mind.
K: One thing I’m gonna bring up from the publishing side of things. As a writer, do not think: “Well, I’ll agree with this now, but when it comes time to actually put this on paper and start getting it published, I’ll just leave it in there and fight with them about it then.” Don’t do that for a couple reasons.
One, you’re gonna piss people off. And that’s just not something you wanna do. If you had a conversation with the understanding that you would do things in good faith, hold up to that. Because, conversely, there is probably language in your agreement that—
R: That you are going to change those things.
K: —that you are going to do this. It is not uncommon for agents and publishing houses to put specific things in contracts that say: blahblahblah, with the understanding that you will do the following. You will take the hobbits out of the book. You will not mention anyone’s feet. The zombie dinosaurs will remain zombies.
It is not uncommon to find those kinds of clauses and stipulations and agreements. And the reason that publishing houses do this is because they’re used to dealing with authors and their protectiveness over certain elements of their story. So if you agree to something and say, “Yes, I’m going to make those changes,” guess what? You’ve committed to making those changes.
K: Even if it’s not in writing, you are going to burn a lot of bridges if you don’t.
R: If they brought it up with you before they offered you a contract, it’s that important to them.
K: Yes, yes exactly.
R: And—here’s the thing—we’ve been talking about all of this as though there’s a contract right in front of you that, like, you could sign this if you make these changes. You may also get revise and resubmit requests from agents or you may get rejections with some suggestions from agents, if you’re lucky. I mean, you might get form letters, too, but if an agent says, “I’m passing on this, here’s why ___.” Don’t necessarily take that as the next one will take it, if I make this change.
K: That’s a very good point, yeah.
R: Especially if it’s something that you feel weird about making the change on. Like, if you think making one agent’s request is going to get you the next agent, you are sadly mistaken. Everyone is an individual. We have not joined the Borg hive mind yet. So, therefore, what one agent says does not apply to all agents. Unless they tell you your grammar is bad. Then you can verify that.
K: Yeah, that’s probably pretty across the board.
R: But, yeah, so if they’re rejecting with some suggestions, that doesn’t mean you’re a shoo-in if you make those changes, for the next person. At best, you wanna evaluate, if you disagree with them, why you disagree, what that person’s perspective on it might have been, and then you can consider: maybe I want to go in and revise that section or revise that element before I submit again. But if you react in compliance with every criticism you get, you’re going to have a very exhausting writing life.
K: Yeah, yeah exactly. So artistic integrity, I think, is murky waters for a lot of people because you want to sell your book, you want people to enjoy it. You want to appeal to a broad audience. One of the biggest issues, I think, a lot of books come up against is relatability. At the end of the day, no matter what, relatability is central to appealing to an audience. However, you don’t have to water that down to the point where you end up with a bland character who is a placeholder for anyone to insert themselves into.
K: That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about making this essentially a Choose Your Own Adventure starring—
K: —the person reading the book. So it is a hard thing for a lot of people to navigate. But, at the end of the day, you have to go with the choices and decisions that are gonna make you happy and are going to make you satisfied with what you’ve put out into the world.
R: Right. And, honestly, there’s a feeling in your gut that you know when you’re not happy with an idea. And there’s a feeling in your gut when you just feel silly that you didn’t see that change, you know? And they’re different. They come from different parts of you. So learn to identify how you take criticism. Maybe go out and find a critique group and just learn to take the hits and understand your reactions to them. That’s a good exercise.
I mean, I would hope that someone’s read your work before an agent or an editor and a publisher, so if you haven’t gotten people’s eyes on it and gotten their reactions to it, it might be just a good place to start. To help process your own feelings about what people say. And it’s gonna be different from what the agent or editor says. That’s why we’re saying, “Would you make these changes for an agent or editor?” Because they’re the people who hold the keys to the next step in your career.
K: And, again, I would just round out this conversation by reinforcing: it is not a bad idea to sit down and write down, for that matter, what the most important things are to you.
K: Is it most important to get your story, exactly how you have it, out into the world, or do you just first want to get a story out into the world, and get it in front of as many people as possible? Neither of them are bad. You just have to decide what’s important to you.
R: Right. Neither is the wrong answer. But what’s your answer?
K: Exactly, yeah. And it might be somewhere in between! There’s no—I shouldn’t be presenting these as binary options. But decide what’s important and work from there.
R: So, basically, you need to identify your goals and then ask yourself, whenever you’re faced with a decision: which direction, or does this get me to my goal?
K: Yep, yep. So that’s artistic integrity, our thoughts on it.
R: Artistic Integrity: something that has riled people up for centuries. We covered it in thirty-eight minutes.
K: I mean, what can I say.
R: The simplest things get people very angry. So, as usual, you can yell at us @wmbcast on Twitter or Instagram—
K: Yeah, tell us if we’re violating our artistic integrity just by having this podcast in the first place.
R: And you can reach out to us with questions, also, or ideas for future episodes. You can find us at wmbcast.com for our backlist of episodes. This is Episode 33 now, so there’s lots to catch up on if you are just entering the stream now.
You can also find us at patreon.com/wmbcast where you can support us for as much as you like, in order to give us a little financial nod of approval. And if that’s too much to ask, which we totally understand, if you could leave us a rating and review—and review!?—on Apple podcasts, to help our audience grow and help us reach more people so we can give them our opinions on artistic integrity.
K: Ratings and reviews, they feed the algorithm.
R: They do, they do.
K: We are all beholden to the algorithm.
R: And its appetites! All right, thanks everyone! We’ll talk to you next time.
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