The Commercial vs Creative Conundrum

“Look, no one’s gonna buy it — no one.”

“No one in Middle America, anyway. That’s for sure.”

Sweetheart, it’s just not commercial!”

These are some of my favorite lines from the song “Putting it Together” on Barbara Streisand’s Broadway Album. I played the song yesterday while I was driving and sang along as loudly as I could. I felt that song and needed to belt it out because right now I’m caught in the same conundrum as the painter George Seurat that it was written about and Barbara Streisand–balancing being creative with being commercial. It seems the state of art has changed little since Seurat was around.

One of my goals in becoming an author was to push some boundaries and expand the scope of the romance genre. I had reached my limit of bad boys and good girls, slut shaming, and billionaires desperately looking for poor, clumsy dates. I wanted to read about smart, funny, edgy females and intelligent, kind, multi-dimensional men, so that’s what I wrote. That part was actually easy, it was once I published it that things got complicated.

Genres, tropes and archetypes exist for a reason. They give everyone involved in fiction shorthand to help authors find readers and readers find authors. It’s easy to find a new vampire, BDSM novel to read when you and the author use the same language (keywords) to define the story. But what happens when a writer goes against the grain, on purpose? There isn’t a category for good guys and the smart, sexual girls who love them. I truly believe that I’m not the only one who wants to read a story about them but finding the others has been…well…daunting.

It’s part of being indie. Whether you are a painter, writer, musician, screenwriter or designer–indie is supposed to be independent of commercial influence. Indie is innovative but indie can also be broke. So I’m now pushing my indie boundaries by trying to find my more commercial side.

This past week I started to work with a designer on the covers for my Vivienne Series. I had pictures in my mind that looked like cutting-edge advertising, very arty. I showed a creative friend who also happens to work as a web designer (commercial). Through her eyes I was able to see where my “cool” image could easily been read the wrong way. We discussed the plot of each book and she fed me ideas for much more literal images. Part of me mourned the death of edgy but I could see how her ideas clearly let readers know what kind of book each is and a little of what to expect. They will still be cool, but not at the expense of being clear. I love my books and I want to give them a fighting chance to find their audience.

In the next couple weeks I will be rolling out new, more commercial covers for my first two books then the first book in the Vivienne series. I can’t wait to share all of it and my journey to get there. If you’d like to join me behind the scenes and get a FREE copy of Fearless Flying – The Vivienne Series book 1, click here.

And let’s talk. Are you ready for good guys and smart, sexy women? What new story lines are you looking for? Comment below.

 

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The Best Times Are the Hard Ones

What if I told you, all of you who are just starting out as a self-published author or internet entrepreneur, that right now, when you are often frustrated, sometimes lost and occasionally pissed off, this is the best time in the life of your business?

“Karen, stop drinking,” would probably be your first response. And while I have been drinking more recently (holiday tradition) I’ve also been gob-smacked by the Universe with this message and compelled to share it.

It all started with Adele. In an interview she explained that her new hit, “Hello” is not about a couple or lost love, it’s her talking to the girl she was a few years ago before, as she says, “the world fell at our feet.” When you listen to the lyrics from this perspective you hear someone who isn’t unhappy to have found success (on a mass scale in her case) but someone who fondly remembers being young and free and hungry for the fame she now has.

Once the song got me thinking I started to see the same theme everywhere. The end of the year is a time for reviewing and reminiscing. It seemed like every TV show I watched or podcast I listened to was waxing nostalgic for the past–be it a year, a decade, or just the past in general. Over and over I heard people sharing stories about their trials and hurdles and how they overcame them. What I heard in all those stories was a deep sense of pride for the ah-ha moments when they found solutions and for persevering. I heard a lot of funny stories about working together and forming bonds over late night deadlines, sparsely-funded road trips to meet potential buyers and three-person staff meetings over a five-dollar pizza. It seemed like everyone who had “made it” missed some of the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants excitement of their early years.

It was definitely a message I needed to hear. I tend to focus on my next challenge, what I still need to do, how far I am from where I want to be. I forget to stop and look around me and note where I am now, how far I’ve come already and the really great people I’m meeting along the way. I’m currently struggling to create my 8-novella series. The two novels I’ve already published (link here) had been percolating in my mind for years before I got the stories down on paper. When I did start writing I was able to complete each one in a few months.

Vivienne’s story is newer, revealing itself as I write (and rewrite). I’m proud of what I have so far but it has been ten times harder to produce. There are definitely days that I wonder if I’ve bitten off too much. Book eight feels too far away for me to even picture. The trick I’ve discovered on those days is to project forward and pretend that all eight novellas are completed, published to great reviews and solid sales. If I look back on today and see my frustration as part of the process I feel better. I feel less like I’m spinning my wheels and making little progress.

In other words, the trick is to see now from the other side.

As we all gear up for 2016, working to grow our businesses and create our art, take a minute today to appreciate where you are now. Journal your hopes and dreams, challenges and fears. Appreciate how much all those drive you to keep going and do better, that way when you get there you can stop briefly and rest on your laurels then jump into a new challenge knowing you’re ready to enjoy the process of getting there all over again.

Now open a tab for YouTube, que up Adele’s “Hello” and sing to the struggling you as loud as you can.