Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"Can You Draw A Circle?" or "Do Your Skills Suit Market Demand?"

As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite things to do is volunteer for programming at conventions. Capricon is a favorite of mine, in particular, and I make it a point to volunteer in several capacities. Which is why I was sitting on a panel about how to get into the games business at the opposite end of the table from Clifford VanMeter. If you don't know who he is, seriously, go check out his website, it's full of amazing art.

This is one of my personal favorites.
Anyway, we were all telling our stories about how we'd first gotten our foots in the door in the world of publishing. Turns out Cliff had been in the game since before Internet access was a standard part of the publishing world, and he'd made his mark in the early Star Trek roleplaying game as a go-to artist for their ships. Not because he was an extremely talented artist (or so he said), but because he possessed the skill the company needed... someone who could draw circles.

Because, despite all of the great artists who were hanging around TSR headquarters (big publisher of RPGs, for those not in the know), and all of the talent chomping at the bit to get in on this action, a lot of them had trouble with the circular design of a lot of Star Trek ships. As such, their art always looked a little off, and the company wasn't happy with it. And when Cliff heard the editors and art directors talking about it (in-person, as he was dropping something off in the office, though these days you can sometimes get similar results on social media), he spoke up and said that he could do the job everyone else was falling down on. And while he was the first to admit his ship illustrations may have been less dynamic than what other artists could produce, they were recognizable, technically correct, and exactly what the books needed.

Can You Draw A Circle?

What does this have to do with writing? Well, it's all about whether or not you can draw a circle when that's what a publisher (or the public) wants from you.

Because cash flows to those who have the skills that are in-demand.
On the surface, the lesson is fairly simple. No matter how talented you are, in order to get work (or increase your fan base if you're independent) you have to make things that please your paymasters. Which is why you should make sure you can draw (or write, since that's my bivouac) in a variety of styles, sizes, themes, and genres in order to make sure that you always have something you can bring to the table.

The other lesson, the one that I think is just as important to get from Cliff's story, is that you can't be afraid to speak up when you see an opportunity. Whether you're at a convention and someone on the panel mentions they have a hard time finding writers who work in your genre, or you have a chance to catch an editor and ask them what the company is looking for, you will miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

There's something else, too. Something a lot of folks miss, but which Cliff went on to emphasize by the end of the panel. That you can never get comfortable just doing one thing. If you put all your eggs in a single basket, it might still be in one piece by the time you get home. But if the bottom falls out, then you're left with a skill set that was once a valuable commodity that has been splatted all over the sidewalk.

Does The Market Need You?

People love to talk about the free market, and about how the collective desires of the public can shape your fortunes. It's just as true in the cases of artists as it is in stock market savants and investment prophets, though. Because if your work strikes a chord (whether it's with readers, or with the publishers who will get your stuff in front of readers), that can make you into an overnight success. However, if your specific niche falls out of favor (such as how very few folks gush about steampunk anymore, or how modern fantasy is no longer the jump-start label it was a decade back when there wasn't so much of it underfoot), then you face either diminishing returns, or attempting to do something different.

It's important to remember that you are here to provide things the public wants to see. The public doesn't exist simply to buy your books, and subsidize your career. Put more simply, you work for them, even if they don't realize it.

Which is why, at the end of the day, if they want you to draw circles, you'd better be able to deliver.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing. Hopefully folks found it helpful! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive. To keep up-to-date on all my releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me and my work, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon to leave a tip in my jar, or just Buy Me A Ko-Fi! Either way, a free book is yours for the asking when you donate.

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