Friday, October 21, 2005

Story vs. Marketing

In a recent post to an LDS author's forum, the question was brought up of story vs. marketing. Most authors would prefer to do nothing but write. Why spend what precious little spare time you have attending book signings, doing promotions, worrying over contracts? It's kind of the, "If you build it they will come," philosophy of writing. Just write a good enough story and you won't have to do marketing. This is my response:

In the Pigalle district of France, in the attic apartment of a crumbling brownstone not far from the Moulin Rouge, lived a moderately successful painter. Every morning he gathered his latest works and traveled from gallery to gallery offering his creations to the tourists that browsed the shops.

One day the painter asked himself, Why must I spend my time toiling like a beast of burden? I am an artist. I will spend my time creating. I will paint such a masterpiece that I will never again have to bother with selling my wares.

And so, he locked himself into his apartment. He set up his canvas and began to paint.

But this time he was not merely brushing colored oils onto fabric. He was laying his soul bare for all the world to see. With every ounce of talent and energy he possessed, he applied his lifeblood to the surface in front of him. He wept, and the tears blended with his paints giving them greater clarity. He screamed in despair at his lack of ability to communicate what was inside him and the despair took on a life of its own on his canvas. He imbued his work with every sin, error, and folly of his life, and in doing so gained absolution.

Forgoing sleep, food, or any outside interruptions of any kind, he toiled night and day until, at least, he was finished. Standing back, he looked at what he had created, and beheld . . . a masterpiece. I’ve done it, he said to himself. No one who sees this work will ever question my genius. Years from now, centuries, scholars will study this piece and shake their heads in wonderment.

And so, after carefully wrapping the painting he’d sacrificed so much for, he started toward his door. But a voice spoke up in his head. A voice which asked, Why must you take your creation out to the masses? Does the sun come calling to the planets? Does the ocean beg like a street urchin for others to bathe in it? Do the heavens shout out, “Here am I. Look at me!” No. I will not take my work from the place of its creation.

No longer will I beg the gallery owners to display my work, he decided. My masterpiece will not adorn the side of coffee mugs or be splashed across the covers of calendars. I will stay here with my work and wait for the patrons of the arts to come to me.

Two weeks later, starving and penniless, he wondered out into the street and was run over by a passing bus. Because he was so emaciated, no one recognized him and he was buried in a pauper’s grave.

At the end of the month, when the landlord had not received his rent, the nearly blind old man opened the painter’s apartment and gathered up all the belongings to sell in the market. On top of the linens, pots, pans, easels, and paints he placed the masterpiece. On his way to the market, the old man’s cart hit a bump and the painting slid from the pile to land in a farmer’s field.

A goat quickly discovered the painting there. After giving it careful scrutiny, he took first one bite, then another, and another, until at last he had eaten the entire painting, frame and all. With a loud belch, the goat thought to himself, I may not know art, but I know what I like.

The moral of this overly long story is (to alter one of my favorite sayings): Write as though everything depends on your story and market as though everything depends on you.


Blogger JA Konrath said...

All writers need to read that story.

12:07 PM  

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