Selling the Book of Your Heart

Writing yesterday’s post got me to thinking about what happens when it’s time to sell the book of your heart.  Most of us write because we want to put our words in front of readers, so it’s discouraging when the manuscript sits in the trunk in your attic or languishes on your hard drive for twenty years.   At the same time, writing for the market is fraught with perils: it can be as much fun as going to the dentist, you can do your best to write for the market and still miss the market (you finish your vampire novel just when shape-shifter novels become all the rage and no one reads about vampires anymore), you can get so caught up in the game that you never get to write the book that matters to you. 

The key, I’ve always believed, is to find the right balance.   I first started my career writing non-fiction, mostly how-to about martial arts.  But I had always wanted to write a creative non-fiction book, a narrative, about the philosophy of martial arts and how it can help you cope with the challenges and obstacles in life.  I had pitched this book to any number of editors and agents, all of whom loved the idea but none of whom thought there was a hope of selling it to an audience of more than ten people.

A chance conversation changed that.  What if I made the book more marketable by breaking my ideas into “lessons” and including self-help exercises in it?  Thus the Dojo Wisdom series was born.  It certainly found an audience of more than ten people, and while the books in the series didn’t end up being published exactly as I had originally envisioned the project, each one was a very pleasing compromise between “book of my heart” and “book that people will buy.”  It’s been several years since the last book in the series was published, and I still get emails every week from people telling me how helpful the books have been or how they recommend them to their students or how they were particularly touched or motivated by a certain lesson or idea.  That is deeply meaningful to me — it’s why I do this work in the first place — and it proves to me the value of letting what the market wants and needs to help shape our ideas — but not to dictate them.