The thing is, I’m not even mad about anything anyone has done to me personally. This is more of a “Think of the children!” sort of pissed-offedness. In this case, the “children” aren’t children, they’re aspiring authors asking for advice. Of course, being mildly successful, I’m always ready to dispense my wisdom at length…or ad nauseum, depending on whether you agree with me or not.
So, here’s the splinter in my ego. In multiple author groups…no, let’s narrow that down just a weeeee bit further. In multiple indie author groups on Facebook, that place where I procrastinate when I should be writing (you do it, too. I’ve seen you), there are authors who are asking for advice on VERY specific kinds of things, some of which have to do with things other than (gasp) writing! They have questions about sales and marketing, the dirty side of writing that, back in the day, a REAL writer didn’t have to sully their lily white hands with. I mean, between being depressed alcoholic drug addicts who had this Divine access to the Muse 24/7, who had TIME to worry about things like an author platform or visibility? If you weren’t writing, you were supposed to be on a whirlwind book tour or at a bar with your other writer friends lamenting the sorry state of the Art because of all those hack writers out there stinking up the joint. Or something. All you needed to do was write a good book, and POW! You were famous. Publishers beat down your door and made sure of that.
Isn’t mythology fun?
So, back to the questions. And more importantly…the answers. No, wait, these aren’t answers. Hell they barely qualify as fucking platitudes!
“Write a great book! That’s the secret to sales!”
"Concentrate on your writing, not sales!"
“Don’t force your writing! I can always tell when a writer is forcing it and I’ll stop reading a book the minute I see that.” (Oh, wait…that’s another pet peeve. I’ll kill that one in a different post.)
AAARGH! Those aren’t answers. They’re NOT helpful. Hell, they’re beyond useless. They’re fucking BUMPER STICKERS! You can’t build success in twenty words or less. You. Just. Can’t. Granted, I can boil my writing success down to three basic concepts (Persistence, Practice and Reading), but there’s a whole damn BOOK worth of other info behind those three words. What’s worse is that most of this advice didn’t work in the good old days, either. But let’s look at this non-advice.
"Write a great book! That's the secret to sales!" Like hell it is. Effective Marketing is the secret to sales. You could write the best book ever but if no one knows about it, they’re NOT GONNA BUY IT! One person said “WRITE A GREAT BOOK AND MARKET THE HELL OUT OF IT!” Just like that. In caps. With a smiley face. That’s like saying “Wanna fly? Build an airplane and become a pilot!” Two things you need vast amounts of very specific knowledge to do. But hey, it’s that simple, right? Because marketing the hell out of a book always works. Sure, you carry a sign with you everywhere you go with your book title and Amazon link printed on it. And you email five thousand random people every day with links to your book. You marketed the hell out of it, but did you convince even one person to buy it? No, because you marketed the hell out of it, but you didn’t market it EFFECTIVELY. Huge difference there. Writing a good book is still crucial, make no mistake, but it's less than half of the equation for an indie writer just starting out. Marketing, cover art, editing and formatting are just a few of the things a budding indie writer HAS to either become good at, or be willing to spend money on. Even if you're willing to spend money on some aspects (God knows I have zero skill at making covers, for example), you have to know enough to hire someone who will do a good job. The whole “Write a great book” cliché deserves its own rant. Right up there with the Muse.
"Concentrate on your writing, not sales!" No! Write, yes but don't neglect the other parts! (Caveat: My advice always assumes you want to write for a living, not a hobby.) The publishing industry has changed drastically in the past few years. DRASTICALLY. There, I put it in all caps so you knew it was true. Opportunities are more abundant now than ever before for an aspiring writer. Opportunities exist now that never did before. In order to take advantage of them, we have to learn to take on new roles as authors and publishers. If we don't master new skills, and put our heart into the entirety of the process, we're going to get left behind by those who do. Wait, that wasn’t harsh enough to reflect the reality of the situation. Let me say it with some more meanness and sharp pointy edges. If YOU don’t master new skills, and YOU don’t put your heart into the entirety of the process, other writers who DO are going to leave you behind (I imagine that I’m one of those writers, but time will tell what I master).
I could write a book that was filled with the good advice other authors have given me. A pretty thick one, too. Because the advice they gave me…the really GOOD advice that worked…and is STILL working…wouldn’t fit on a bumper sticker.
The young authors that are asking these questions deserve better from the writing community. They NEED well thought out answers, answers that will work. Not trendy catch phrases. Not literary platitudes. Not “conventional wisdom” that hasn’t worked for you so far. And certainly not mythology that doesn’t work anymore. Or that never worked in the first damn place. The world of publishing is evolving. Our answers need to evolve with it.
Stop with the bumper sticker advice. Please. I said it nicely.