AWP, Conventions & Conferences, Education, Novel Writing, Writers on Writing, Writing Programs

AWP 2012 | Now That’s a Novel Idea: Marketability (Gasp!) and Creative Writing Programs (Part 2)

Hilton Chicago
Hilton Chicago (Photo credit: Diorama Sky)

Yesterday, I began my discussion on the 2012 AWP Conference session titled, “Now That’s a Novel Idea: Marketability (Gasp!) and Creative Writing Programs.” Today I’d like to share some of the panelists’ advice on approaching the early stages of writing a novel.

Before I start, I should tell you that I arrived at this session late after getting lost trying to find my way to registration upon arriving at the conference. So, I missed out on the introductions and am unable to attribute some of the quotes I wrote down during the session. (Thankfully, I’m no journalist; otherwise I would probably be in big trouble!) I’ll do my best to give credit where credit is due, but if I get something wrong, please tell me so I can fix it.

One of the speakers at this session recommends that you write a synopsis of your novel early in the process to make sure you have a clear picture of what your novel is about. The synopsis will also help you sell your story to potential buyers (agents, editors, publishers, etc.) Remember, they won’t be interested in your novel if you can’t sufficiently tell them what the novel is about.

The panelists also discussed how some writing professors try to limit their students by pushing them into writing for one genre or another, or by being snobbish toward certain genres (graphic novels come to mind.) But one of the presenters pointed out that these genre boundaries are nothing more than marketing concepts that were invented by publishers who need to determine how best to sell each individual novel.

Apparently, a common question that publishers often ask of authors is, “If I were to put your novel in a book store, where would I put it?” In other words, in what section of a bookstore would your novel be shelved once it’s been published?

Mark Winegardner says when a publisher asks where your book goes, your response should be, “Right in front, the big fucking stack of books, that’s where it goes.” Winegardner says that marketing concepts are guiding the pedagogy of many writing professors.

If you consider your writing to be art, do you really want to allow your art to be governed by marketing concepts? And why do these professors insist on bringing marketing concepts into the classroom during the writing process? Maybe writing programs need to include a marketing course as part of the program instead of trying to shove each writer into a particular genre hole while they’re still learning to write?

The panelists also say it helps to map out your novel early on. Your story may end up taking a different direction than what you’ve mapped out, but that’s okay.

I think you should approach the planning of your novel as you would approach the planning of a vacation. You might map out your itinerary before you leave home, but once you arrive at your destination, you may decide to stray from that itinerary. Logistics may stand in the way of your completing one leg of the journey, while opportunities that never crossed your mind while you were planning the trip may pop up when least expected.

I think the trick is to remain flexible when writing, as when travelling, so you may take advantage of those opportunities as they arise. The best vacation often isn’t the one on which you stick to your itinerary every step of the journey. The best vacation happens when you seize the moment and let the trip take you where it will. The same lesson may be applied to writing a story. You should plan it out in advance but then remain flexible and be willing to let the story take you in unexpected directions.

What do you think? Please comment below.

~Mandy Webster 

Note: This blog post is based on an AWP 2012 Conference and Book Fair session I attended, which is titled, “Now That’s a Novel Idea: Marketability (Gasp!) and Creative Writing Programs.” The session was held in the Continental A ballroom on the lobby level of the Hilton Chicago. Presenters included Jessica Pitchford, Brock Clarke, Leah Stewart, Mark Winegardner, and Susan Finch. Check out my first post on this session for more details.

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