With the New Year come resolutions.
Is this the year you begin, get back to, finish that novel you’ve been planning, working on, put away?
Well, good for you.
Maybe you’re thinking about taking an online course, going to a convention, or subscribing to some sort of writer’s motivational newsletter. Maybe you’ve got a completed manuscript and an inbox full of rejection slips and you’re considering self-publishing and are wondering how to launch that soon-to-be, out-of-nowhere bestseller? Perhaps you’ve already self-published and you’re wondering how to market that box of your books in the closet?
If you’re thinking about getting some help in any of these areas you might find this article helpful (discouraging?). I wrote it five years ago, updated three years ago, and have just now tweaked it with more relevant information (in brackets). With the surge of free and easy self-publishing sites it is, without a doubt, more relevant today than it’s ever been.
The Industry of Writers Teaching other Writers to Write
In less than a second (I have a very fast computer), my Google search engines provides me with the following:
How to write a query letter to a publisher – results 142,000 (five years ago 139,000)
How to pitch an editor – 56,100,000 results (8,500,000 results five years ago)
How to write fiction – 281,000,000 results (48,900,000 results five years ago)
Ever wonder why so many (more) writers are so keen to teach others how to write? Is it that writing somehow elevates the human spirit and elucidates the masses about esoteric concepts and endeavors?
Well, yes. That and money.
Here’s some statistics sobering statistics provided by a number sources:
– The average writer in Canada makes about $12,000 on book royalties.
– The average book in Canada sells 400 copies.
– In Canada a best seller is 5,000 copies.
I’m not even going to attempt the math, but suffice to say that the royalties for a best selling author in Canada would make his income below the poverty level – significantly.
The e-publishing industry is even more dismal. New Concepts Publishing, an e-publisher, had the courage to head up the submissions page of their website with the following royalty information from their stable of authors:
Science Fiction/Futuristic range: $127.89–$8455.46
Paranormal range: $78.00–$5673.50
Contemporary range: $55.18–$7913.78
Historical range: $75.16–$3863.12
Romantic Suspense range: $124.24–$1977.20
Fantasy range: $44.00–$4774.80
Average payout over the three year contract period $450.00
It’s estimated the average self-published author (anywhere) makes an average of $500 a year (I should be so wealthy).
How many hours did I put in writing my two (now six) e-published (paperback as well) novels? My wife could probably tell you, but there’s no question my hourly wage would be well below the minimum, probably closer to that of an itinerant laborer in a destitute third world country.
I’ve always believed, somewhat cynically I must admit, that those who can – do; and those who can’t – teach, give seminars, workshops, online courses, etc. I’ve rethought this now that I facilitate creative writing circles – yes, for money.
Poverty is a mighty motivator and who am I to act superior to other writers, the majority who are more skilled at the craft than myself? It does indeed take time away from my actual writing but I still adhere to the adage that “teaching is learning twice”.
Where am I going with this rambling piece, other than the poorhouse?
A while ago I had the opportunity to pitch a manuscript to an editor at a conference. Having been a sales person all my adult life it seemed to me nothing more than a cold call, of which I’ve made countless thousands.
However, my writing group loop was filled with anxious missives about what to say, how to say it, and how to present it. Was there more to this than being personable, knowing your product, and presenting it in a way to benefit the buyer? I decided to look at a few of the 8,500,000 results from my Google search.
Here’s some of the invaluable information I gleaned (actual quotes) about pitching your manuscript from a few of these sites:
– neatness counts when making first impressions… set the example by presenting a professional appearance. And leave the chewing gum, snacks, and cigarettes behind.
– remember, you must first believe in yourself and your work before you can persuade others to believe in it. Be proud of your writing.
– exude self-assurance, but not arrogance. It’s okay to convey enthusiasm, but temper your zeal with a patina of humility.
– pretend this is someone you’ve met at a party. Offer a personable handshake and some small talk to start things off in a relaxed manner. You’ll then find it easy to segue into the business at hand.
– take a couple of calming breaths before you go in, smile, and be yourself.
If you don’t think this is ridiculous and self-evident than consider the opposite. Would you go into an interview a looking dishevelled, chewing gum, giving attitude and being rude?
What does this say about the writing industry – or more specifically about all those conferences, the workshops and the online courses where writers advise, teach and coach other aspiring writers.
I was further dismayed when I took in the conferences keynote address delivered by a best-selling, making-the-circuit author. She focused on Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers – basically that practice, a lot of it, makes perfect.
No insights, no anecdotes, no secrets, not even any gossip.
I’m inclined to say that it’s all bogus. A self-serving undertaking capitalizing on the zeal and inexperience of those who dream of becoming successful writers.
Unfortunately, the best advice I’ve received about my writing comes from other writers, from discussions with them, and reading their how-to books.
It’s a conundrum.
So before seeing the editor (remember the editor?) I’m not taking any chances. I spit out my gum, slick back my cowlick, park my ego, take a few deep breaths, smile and introduce myself just like I would if I was meeting someone at a party.
Seven minutes later I’m out the door. He doesn’t ask to see my manuscript.
(And just as well, because shortly after this conference the publisher declared bankruptcy)
So you’re saying, all that’s old hat. This guy is not sophisticated at all. The way to publishing success is through social media.
Last September I wrote an article for BookLikes and subsequently they invited me to be a guest blogger.
At the time, Booklikes had 3,143 followers on Twitter and 4,605 “likes” on Facebook. I don’t know how many members they have but they claim to be “The number one blogging platform for book lovers and the best way to discover new books”.
Then I discovered Promocave ,“A place for authors to find readers, and for readers to find books”. I posted my books free and submitted two articles, both which they published. Promocave says they have 16,046 followers on Twitter and 645 “Likes” on Facebook.
That’s nearly 20,000 new people on Twitter and over 5,000 on Facebook who had the opportunity to “discover” me and turn that interest into sales.
Despite all the social media exposure that month I didn’t sell one book.
This is further evidence to me, like I needed it, social media does not sell books. It also hints at something far more significant. Social media perpetrates the myth of popularity, but when put to the test nobody out there really “likes” you, “follows” you or supports you as a member of their “tribe”, at least not enough to buy your books.
So, if you’re an author, the best way to sell your books is…? I don’t know, but certainly not through social media or apparently not by any of the other methods I’ve attempted in the last year (see my previous blog: My 2015 Writing Year in Review).
So in 2016 my suggestion is to resolve to write better, and hope to get lucky,
Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs
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