I’ve been following some interesting marketing conversations lately. One has to do with the relative merits and follies of giving away free books to generate interest. Another has to do with creative ways to increase Amazon rankings. A third deals with the pros and cons of self-publishing vs traditional publishing. And in all of these threads the same question kept occurring to me.
Are we fooling ourselves?
Are writers becoming a band of one-trick ponies trying desperately to be noticed in an ever-growing stable of one-trick ponies?
As I teach at conferences and interact with other writing-related groups, I find that most people who want to be writers actually want to be novelists. They are not interested in writing articles, essays, marketing copy, press releases, Bible studies, or much of anything else. They want to write novels. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing novels, there comes a time when every writer has to decide why they are writing and what they want to see happen with their writing.
Most professional writers (and those who are doing all the right things to become a professional) say they write because they cannot imagine not writing. It’s something we seem hardwired to do. I’ve been doing it since I was in the third grade. Most writers I know can say something very similar. As children we create hand drawn comic books, carefully hand printed and stapled “books” and stories, plays, and anything else we could get on paper. And as adults we continue doing it. Only now our method of delivery is more sophisticated.
And that often leads some to a kind of self-delusion.
For example, with self-publishing in particular, writers have become creative in how they categorize and market their books. They create subcategories of fiction then boast of a number 1 ranking in that category… a number 1 ranking among similar number 1 rankings. A sort of Post Apocalyptic Dystopian YA Fiction for Pre-Teen Girls kind of thing. And while it is an interesting marketing strategy, have we become so enamored of the seemingly all-important Amazon ranking that we lose sight of what it means to be a writer?
Writer and editor Kathy Ptacek was the first one to tell me the all-important secret of being a writer:
“A writer writes. Whether it’s a novel, a bumper sticker, or slogans for coffee mugs, a writer writes. Period. It’s just that simple.”
A writer has to pay his or her dues. It’s part of the process. And the process of paying those dues has always done two things:
- For the writer, it was a way of honing his or her skills and learning the craft and discipline of writing.
- For the editor, it was a way of “separating the wheat from the chaff” since those who weren’t serious or didn’t have the perseverance to learn the lessons of craft and discipline often dropped out and moved on to other things.
But in today’s publishing atmosphere, there is no need to hone the writing craft and spend countless hours churning out word after word, only to find them lacking, and rewriting and revising until what once was dull and lifeless now shines. In today’s world, everyone is a writer and publication is as close as the nearest keyboard, and marketing is often a matter of manipulation.Writers beg for reviewers, not readers. We give away copies to boost numbers, but generate few sales. I recently saw a Facebook post that said, “The best thing you can do for a writer is review their book.”
I think the best thing you can do for a writer is BUY their book. Reviews don’t pay the light bill. Or buy gas. Or send you to Disney World for a week or two.
Does that mean there is no place for self-publishing, giveaways, and aggressive marketing? Of course not. What it does mean is that we as writers have to think the process through. We have to decide what we want our work to say about us. We have to be honest with ourselves and stop taking shortcuts.
We need to stop fooling ourselves about what the profession is becoming.
Because the cream still rises to the top, but these days it has a lot farther to travel.