Monday, November 15, 2010

Lock Up the Darn Writer

When I see a trend in my emails, when people seem to ask the same question, I feel the need to blog. If this many people are asking the same question, how many aren't . . . but are thinking it?

Writers write. Sometimes they go on a binge and write for days, weeks, months. It consumes them. It's not like NaNoWriMo, but more like running ahead of a wave, before it overtakes them, dragging the ideas away and out to sea. They run and write, knowing in their heart of hearts that this story is what will enable them to quit work and/or earn a living . . . as soon as it hits the bestseller list.

Soon the book is written, usually self-published which is quite the trend today. Some people are paying the bills via self-publishing, so it's become a little more viable an option than a year or two ago. But these people are not making a living writing . . . not yet. So they write more to assuage their doubts.

There comes a time they need to lock the damn writer in a closet.

"Oh, it's what I do."
"If I do it enough, it'll find it's way to a publisher looking for great stories."
"I posted it on Amazon."

I write these people back, not asking for a consultant's fee because they are struggling, seeking a quick fix. So I give them a quick answer. Shed the mantle of a writer and don the one of an entrepreneur - at least once a week. What does that mean?

1. Work the blog/website.
2. Write something that will earn money, even if it's not that heartfelt story.
3. Reach out to the targeted reader - define that reader - find that reader.

The results?

1. Um, thanks. (meaning they disagree or don't like the idea)
2. I refuse to write anything that doesn't stir my passion. (meaning the obvious)
3. *no response* (deeply disappointed or a silent message to me to take a flying leap)

Seriously, nobody embraces the concept of becoming a salesperson. They do not believe their work is a product/widget/inventory item. No, it's a dream that's taken flight, that people everywhere should read to feel elated, educated, enlightened, or entertained. It's manna from heaven . . . if only they would read it.

It never crosses their mind that nobody can find it!

When someone greets me, and we talk about what we do, and a book enters the discussion, three questions cross my lips:

1. Oh, who published your book?
2. How do you sell it?
3. How many copies have you sold?

I don't have to ask what it's about, because most authors exude plot, characters, and why they wrote it without being asked. But my interest in books is how they enable someone to earn a living. It's what I do, so naturally I'm curious. I've heard everything from "I self-published and sold 100 copies. I think that's great!" to "I self-published and speak to church groups. I've had three reprints and sold 5,000 copies."

The latter impressed me. I didn't ask for a website. She continues to speak and sell and has been successful doing it. She'd defined her market. If we'd had more time, I'd have asked more about how she developed her market, made her connections, and scheduled her events.

But others fret about no sales. They ask me what to do. I tell them. Many don't want to hear it. Often I hear excuses as to why they cannot speak, cannot have a website, cannot get out and sell the book, cannot afford to market. They don't understand how to self-promote. Their eyes glaze over when I speak about platform.

We part disappointed. Me in them and them in not hearing the magic formula for success.

Hundreds of thousands of books are printed each year. Most of them languish in sales. It's rare when I meet someone who embraces marketing their words. Suddenly the sales statistics make sense.

The entrepreneur is in the closet, the writer running rampant.
Lots of words - no sales.


Ellie Garratt said...

An excellent post, Hope. Selling a book is a business whether we like it or not!

Name: Holly Bowne said...

I'll listen to you, Hope! And once I finish and (hopefully) sell my novel, I'll be more than happy to take on the marketing challenge. (Sure hope I'm on the good side of the statistics! ;o)

M. M. Justus said...

You make a good point. Being a freelancer in another line of work I have to agree that marketing is crucial.

But I don't think an inability to market is always because of an excuse. Sometimes there's a good reason. If you can't market should you quit writing? (that's an honest question, BTW)

Hope Clark said...

No, MM. You should't quit writing if you don't market. But you should definitely quit expecting to earn a dollar from the writing. To expect a check from writing turns it into a job. It's arrogant for writers to feel that writing shouldn't be marketed to be sold. When money changes hands, business basics apply.

M. M. Justus said...

And, of course, that brings it back to that business of "if you're not published, you're not a writer" which the nonwriting (and much of the writing) world believes so fervently.

I've never sold a quilt, but I am a quilter. Writing seems to be the only creative endeavor I've run up against where you have to sell your work to claim the name.

I'm not arguing with you -- I realize you can't make a living on something if you don't sell it, but I'm talking about validation in general, not necessarily financial validation.

I do find that wrong somehow.

M. M. Justus said...

I know it's foolish to wish to separate the wish to be read from the desire to be published, but that's what I wish I could do.

I don't particularly want to be published, and for me the money's a side issue. But I do so desperately want to be read...

Hope Clark said...

Now I didn't say you aren't a writer if you don't publish. I just said you can't expect to turn a dollar and not consider writing a business, operating under business rules like any other enterprise.

If you desire to be published, go ahead and self-publish. If you wish to be traditionally published, you have to become a business entity. After all, the publishing house is banking on you.

Believe me - I hate the marketing aspect of our world, too. A necessary evil.

Trelawney said...

Hi Hope,

Thanks for posting this! There are a few things that I'd like to comment on.

1. I completely agree with your response to M.M. Writers don't need to be published to be writers. Writers write. Period.

2. Marketing doesn't have to feel like "selling." A lot of writers get caught up in the fact that it is business, and it sours the whole thing. We are communicators. If we focus on communicating with the people who would benefit from our book, then the whole "marketing" thing feels a lot friendlier. In other words, selling doesn't have to mean selling out.

Just for the record, I'm still in the learning the craft stage of my fiction writing career. I'm starting to think about the next phases, so I'm ready when I get there. I'm reading Bonni Goldberg's book, Beyond the Words, and I highly recommend it.

M. M. Justus said...

I'm sure you realize this, but it's not you or anyone individual's opinion on whether a person is a writer that matters.

It's the general consensus that all of us have run up against over and over.

And self-publishing is not a way to get your book read without marketing, either.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how you go about it, there's no way to get read without marketing, no matter what you do.

And without having your book read in one way or another, the consensus of the world at large seems to be that you're not really a writer, no matter how many words you write.

I'm not complaining, I'm just stating facts.

So, yes, for all practical purposes, there's not much point in writing if you're not going to be read and therefore, in the eyes of the world at large, really be a writer.

Sorry if I'm sounding irritated, but I find that deeply frustrating. Even though I, personally, am willing to do the marketing.

Scott Bergman said...

Marketing is an important part of anything you do. It's the "work" that has to be a part of the fun. Doesn't matter if your trying to impress a boss for a promotion, writing a book, or twittering, marketing has to be a part of the strategy.

Great article. Thank you!

Laura said...

I've been wondering: is it better to start marketing AFTER the book is written, near the END of writing/editing the book, or from the very beginning? Particularly in regards to self-publishing.

Hope Clark said...

You don't just sell a book. You market a book, a brand, the author. You start that at any time, but don't just market "the book." People these days want something in return for their attention - something free that you give them to take home - advice, expertise, short stories, wit, wisdom, knowledge of a geographical area - something. Don't just say you wrote a book and here it is. It just won't sell. Think savvy. Think brand. Think selling an entire package, not just a title. In that case, you can start at any time. Especially start with a blog, IMO.