I read this rant from author extraordinaire Harry Connolly today about the era of the social artist and I was inspired to let loose the floodgates of my own angst. I’ve been wanting to say this for a while — namely, to talk about why I’ve stopped giving advice and totally dropped the writer’s platform and blah, blah, blah.
The reality of being an author is that you have to focus not only on words, but numbers. Where is your money coming from? If you have a steady job like I do, then you can afford to take risks, because you’re not relying on every word to pay or every book to sell. The number of Twitter followers you have does not pay you in dollars; that may have an intrinsic or extrinsic value, but you don’t *have* to be popular on social media to make money. In fact, there are many popular places online that solely survive on venture capital. Internet zeitgeist is (to be blunt) WRONG on many things. It’s a pretty dream, but the reality is that people can lose their shirts if they waste time on things that don’t pay.
Authors don’t have the luxury of venture capital anymore. Oh wait… That’s wrong… Why, yes there is a model in place to give authors some money to live while they write their next book. (This is what the publisher’s “advance” was intended to be. But even that’s changing.) So, to make money, what is an author supposed to do? Market while writing their book? Or market their book after the fact? Or both? Obviously, that depends on the writer and the publisher, but marketing is its own form of work.
The biggest problem a lot of folks have right now is that everyone is so focused on the immediate gain they are completely missing the long-term picture. We’re throwing the marketing onus on authors to reach readers, but the average reader doesn’t care about an author’s blog. It comes back to that beautiful lovely book they want to buy about “X.” Or does it? WITHOUT PROPER DATA IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW WHAT SELLS BOOKS. Who has that data? You? Me?
*shakes head* No, the publishers do after a fashion and the eCommerce sites/retailers do because that’s what they specialize in. Even then, though, there’s long form data and immediate that comes from web analytics on a large, large scale. So the methodology or business model for the rest of us is “Let’s throw everything at the audience and see what sticks, because the internet is popular.” Yes, you can get anecdotal data, but you need direct numbers. I see these in almost every aspect of what I do and the conversion numbers would shock you. Every bit does help, but you need a lot of bits for them to matter!
A vocal minority of book lovers do absolutely love and benefit from all the effort and energy that is being dumped on them from author and publisher websites. And yes, I believe absolutely that these readers need to be nurtured, rewarded, and loved. (Yes, this is where some of these demands on an author’s time come from. Also, this is where a lot of the: “But you can do Kickstarter, this, that, etc. and you’ll be just fine!” beliefs originate from, too.) That doesn’t mean, however, that the general public or masses give a crap about your blog or your articles. Popularity can have an effect provided that persona has long-term sustainability and reach. Internet trends come and go very, very quickly once a particular topic or persona reaches an apex. It could take months of beating down blogs or sites to get a link on a popular site but guess what? That traffic isn’t always sustainable. These aren’t regular readers. These are people who are enamored by the topic of that one post. If you don’t have a good book then you don’t have ANYTHING. The work *has* to feed your platform and vice versa.
The uncertainty of the publishing industry, moreso than any other reason, is what is causing people to freak out and make demands. Sometimes, the people doing that are agents. Other times? Fans or authors or editors or family members (who don’t read) or whoever. But when your zeitgeist is based on confusion and not strong, supportive analysis then the acts you take can really and truly mess you up — even publishers!
Take me, for example. You want to know why I’m not pushing the marketing of self? Because I do not have the novels (plural) out there for readers to pick up. That’s why. Someone says: “What do you write? How can I support your work?” So far, in fiction I have published short stories, game material, and two novellas that I deeply and truly love — but it’s not like hooking a reader onto “a” book or “a” series. The short stories are my marketing tools, a sample of the range and depth and breadth of what I can do, but they aren’t a good way for me to support myself as an author. They’re just not as lucrative as novels.
Every writer has to make their own decisions about what is going to work for them. Same goes for every editor and every publisher, too. Do I believe the industry is evil? NO. Do I believe some publishers (and authors, too!) are having a hard time incorporating new technology and navigating the fluctuating changes? YES. Does any of this have an affect on my work? NO. Will it change what I do business-wise? DEPENDS.
Really, all this means is that I have to write more (and keep writing). Do I have a plan? YES. Will it require the sacrifice of neighborhood children and the summoning of an Elder God? Erm… Let me get back to you on that.
Everything else — including the zeitgeist’s demands on my time — is secondary.
- Mood: Studious with a tough of magic.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: The bull is red. THE BULL IS RED.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Short walk.
In My Ears: The dryer.
Game Last Played: Star Wars Battlefront
Movie Last Viewed: Harry Potter as part of a marathon
Latest Artistic Project: Cross-stitch
Latest Release: “Don’t Ignore Your Dead” included in Don’t Read This Book for the Don’t Rest Your Head RPG