A long time ago, when the internet was just starting to take off, I was at university studying the craft of writing. From research papers to marketing copy and competitions, I was immersed in words. I read. I told stories. I lived the dream. And I had a lot of fun. What was this pesky thing called money or career or contracts? I didn’t care.
Then I graduated.
Since those glory days, I have joined the ranks of millions of writers out there who desperately desire they’ll make money doing what they love. While I’ve managed to do okay so far, I haven’t achieved my goals yet. Like anything else I suppose, it’s a love-hate relationship. I love to write, but there are times I hate dealing with the business aspects.
Enter Jim Frenkel, editor at Tor Books.
I met Jim a while ago at a convention called OddCon. Over the past couple of years, he and I have had the pleasure of sitting down to talk shop. I remember one of our conversations very clearly. I was saying all the things I “thought” was supposed to say and Jim scolded me. Gently, mind you. But it stuck.
Because I do not have a photographic memory, I can’t quote exactly what he said. The gist of it, was that I expressed myself in a way that sounded like I didn’t love to write. “Don’t ever do that,” he said. “Don’t ever let an editor hear that.” That bit, I remember very clearly.
At the time I was working full-time and, like everyone else, had one too many responsibilities. Worried about providing value for the clients I had, I was all about platform and visibility and experimentation, etc.
The thing is, Jim was exactly right. I know how much I love to write and tell stories, but do you? To generate readers and build a reputation as an author, the formula is a lot simpler than others would have you believe. Write, edit, submit, rinse, repeat. Over and over again, as many times as it takes, because I love to do it. Money aside, the repetition is necessary. Not because my hands are chained to my keyboard, or because I expect I’ll be a best-selling author some day. Simply, it’s to develop a following who will read and buy my work.
I am very fortunate that I have a professional background in online marketing, because I have knowledge I can apply to whatever I do. From analytics to SEO and social media, the skills I continue to hone are invaluable to me personally and professionally. I’ve garnered a lot of followers and friends on social media, and as important as they are to me, they’re people who I interact with online. They’re not a replacement for readers.
All this talk about the publishing business and whatnot is severely hurting non-established authors like myself. Instead of talking about writing and honing our craft, which should be eighty percent of what we do, these discussions give non-established authors the impression that the remaining twenty percent is more important. I cannot even begin to count how many discussions I’ve had with other authors about this, either. The focus is on getting ahead by increasing our marketing skills. The trouble is, online marketing doesn’t do jack unless you have a legitimate reason to do it. I’ve heard something like this time and time again.
BIFF: “I need to be on Facebook and Twitter and blog and…”
BIFF: “Because everyone else is doing it and agent so-and-so said I needed a platform.”
ME: “Are you writing?”
BIFF: “Of course, I am!”
ME: “Are you published?”
BIFF: “Not really, but agent so-and-so said my chances of getting published increase if I have…”
ME: “So, let me get this straight. An agent said your chances of getting published increase if you have a platform. Where have you been submitting your manuscripts? Query letters?”
BIFF: “Well, I haven’t gotten around to that yet. I’ve been too busy blogging and Tweeting and…”
ME: *head desk*
I’m sorry, Biff, but unless you plan on going the self-publishing route, you’re missing the point. If you want to increase your chances of getting published, you still have to submit your work to a publisher. Online marketing is still important, but only if the core of your business is solid.
From tie-in fiction to my original work, I have a lot of fun doing what I do. I’m very happy with the work I’ve already published and the stories I have yet to tell. I am, however, extremely and expressly realistic about who I am, where I want to go, and what it’ll take to get there. Without readers, without a good reputation with other writers, editors and publishers, I might as well recite stories to my cats all day.
They’re not exactly the best listeners. 🙂