If you’re interested in writing, if you are an author, if you have anything to do with writing or are just curious as a reader…read this post. Read it, memorize it, love it. That’s all the introduction a guest post like this needs.
It is the Best of Times, and It is the Worst of Times; Healthy Approaches to Life in Today’s Publishing Climate
-by Stephen Zimmer
The market has never been easier to access for an author. The gatekeepers of yore are no longer an impediment to good, hard-working authors making their work available to the public. Where an author of the past couldn’t stand much of a chance at a viable career if they could not get their work placed on bookstore shelves, the author of today is just as accessible as any other with the world of eBooks taking center stage.
One would think it is the Golden Age for a writer, but omitting a few words from the end of the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, one could apply the description to the modern era of publishing:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -”
While those famous words from Dickens were certainly not directed at the publishing world in the age of eBooks, I think any writer who has gotten a little experience under their belt in this brave new world can understand what I’m getting at here. No gatekeepers and easy access to a market is a positive in one aspect, but there are other consequences, some of a less positive nature.
The fact is that there is a huge flood of material entering the market on a regular basis. Readers wading into this ocean of new titles often themselves playing a literary version of Russian Roulette. Some of the eBooks contain well-crafted writing that has been through the necessary stages of editing and layout, while others are little more than non-edited first drafts flung out there, with visions of being the next Amanda Hocking dancing in the heads of the people doing the uploading. The extremes in quality among indie published titles has undoubtedly instilled some hesitancy in readers taking chances on new writers.
Making matters even more difficult for the dedicated writer is the fact that sales success is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Some well-written works of literature sell, while others don’t. Some poorly written works sell like hotcakes, while others don’t.
We would all like to think that the crème rises to the top, but the truth is much more haphazard. The crème might be at the top, the middle, or the bottom, at the end of the day, when it comes to indie book sales and there is no rhyme or reason why exactly that is the case. It is just a reality that writers of today have to accept, or you will drive yourself crazy trying to analyze it.
I will use the popular 50 Shades of Grey as one example, so you have something that has been discussed extensively in writing circles to reference. Certainly, there are readers that enjoy this series, and have connected with it, but it is also a fact that there are many, many eBooks on the same themes that feature a better quality of writing and much more originality than 50 Shades of Grey (the roots of which were in fan fiction, regarding discussions of originality).
The authors of those works did every bit as much to promote and try to sell their work as E.L. James did at the beginning, yet their eBooks sputter along sales-wise while 50 Shades of Grey is a multi-million seller. E.L. James did nothing uniquely different from the other authors in pushing her novels, but her eBooks found their way into a trending status that propelled word of mouth.
I can cite many more examples of authors with tightly written, well-edited novels who struggle, and others with very derivative works, essentially clones of other authors or popular series in some manner, who sell very, very well. This can undoubtedly be very frustrating for an author who has worked hard to create something with an original flair, and who has not tried to consciously conform their work to “what’s popular.”
What I’m getting at is that there is an undeniable luck factor involved in the modern world of publishing. Of course, you enhance that luck, and put yourself in a better position for it to strike, when you take the pains to develop your craft, make certain that your work is edited by a professional, and you promote and publicize your work on a regular basis.
Smart approaches do not guarantee success, but they definitely raise your chances. I think it is healthy to face the reality of the chaos head on, with a sober mentality, than second guess yourself based on what you see selling, and what you see that is not selling.
Looking at the whole picture, in light of the realities of today’s publishing world and your own place within it, I believe the healthiest approach is to focus entirely on your own pursuit of excellence. Part of what I mean by this is to not get bogged down trying to analyze what sells, or doesn’t sell, or think that there’s a sure-fire formula for career success as a writer.
Be an originator, not an emulator. Turn your energies inward, and instead put those energies into being the best writer that you can possibly be. Push yourself to become stronger in developing plots and characters, strive to better master the nuances of different word choices, and put the time in to research elements that relate to the particular writing project you are working on.
Take time to read, as reading will make you a stronger writer. Read authors who are known for having different strengths. Experience what works and doesn’t work when it comes to compelling plots, engaging characters, and settings. So many lessons are taught while you are engaging in the enjoyable experience of reading, so avail yourself of them.
Work on effective time management. This, more than anything, is an area where most writers of today have lots of room to improve. Don’t let the needs for promotion and social media consume your writing schedule. Come up with an efficient, balanced approach that serves your writing and the needs for promotion and marketing activities. It is not so much a matter of how many words you write in a given session, but rather that you are having regular writing sessions. Writing, and writing on a regular basis, should be on top of the priority list, so don’t let the other demands of being an author consume the most essential part; writing itself.
Do not be provincial or territorial. Remember, as I said earlier, writers of today are in the midst of a chaotic publishing arena. It is one that does not operate according to a formula, rhyme, or reason. It is not a finite market either; in that sales are not being taken away from you when eBooks are bought from another author. As such, be supportive of your fellow writers who are dedicated to their craft and putting out quality works, and encourage them to put out the best possible product.
It is like those two loveable sages from the Bill and Ted movies wisely stated, “Be excellent to each other.” Follow that simple maxim and you will find yourself both progressing and having some peace of mind.
Truly, it helps all of us when readers are satisfied and encounter quality works. They will read more, and they will buy more. Having the support of your peers and supporting them in turn can only bear positive results. It is a true win-win situation. Dog eat dog has no place in the world of indie publishing. The real competition should be entirely with oneself.
Therefore, at the end of the day, put your focus on a pursuit of excellence in all phases. Whether it is your writing, promotion/publicity, or relations with other authors, push yourself to improve at all times. There are no guarantees of success in this business, but having a healthy approach will result in much more progress, and faster progress at that. It will also put you in the best position for Lady Luck to one day shine her graces upon you as well.
Best of all, you will have done things the right way. You will have maximized your talents, and treated others generously and ethically along your writer’s journey. In the even bigger picture of life, those things alone make you more of a winner than selling a million books could ever do.
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