Thursday, April 21, 2022

Author Rant Ahead

Posted by: PG Forte

 You have been warned. 

I belong to a lot of author groups online (I also belong to a lot of reader groups, btw, but that's a rant for a different day). And rarely does a week go by without some newbie-ish author asking for advice about things that make my blood boil. Like so-called self-publishers that only charge a grand or two to put your books into print. Or self-styled literary agents who eight-hundred dollars to get your book ready to submit to a publisher. 

Typically, responses to this sort of thing tend to be something along the lines of, "Don't do it!" "It's a scam." "That's not how this business works." And yet nine out of ten times the author who's (theoretically) seeking advice will respond by saying, "but he/she seems so reputable." Or, "I just don't have the time to market my books myself." 

I just don't know how to get through to these people. What I want to say is something like this:

Dear Newish Author,

I once was you; perched on the edge of publication with one, or possibly two, books under your belt. You have no idea how to market your books. You barely even understand how publishing works.  And you're still at the silly question stage: What font should I use for my ms? How many pages should my chapters be? 

On the one hand you have people offering to lead you by the hand and help you navigate this confusing new world. On the other you have people offering what you think has to be the lamest, least helpful phrases of all: "Congratulations. You've written a book. Now the hard part begins."

Obviously the latter have no idea what goes into writing a book--am I right?  Because how could that be true? How could anything be harder? And, how could anyone believe that something that discouraging could ever be helpful?

Well, because it is. 

Marketing and promoting your book is something that all authors, even the traditionally published ones with A list agents have to do. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And, yes, it's complicated and confusing and time-consuming and soul-destroying and, especially if you're a math-challenged introvert (as so many authors tend to be) much, much harder than writing. 

Writing (even popular, commercial fiction) is still an art form. And, like all art, ultimately there is no right or wrong way to do it. 

This isn't to say that there aren't rules and conventions that you'll probably want to follow--especially if you're hoping to sell your book, get decent reviews and make actual money. It doesn't mean there's no learning curve, or no trends or fashions that you'll want to consider. But, in the writing stage, the world is (quite literally, if we're talking about the fictional world you're creating) yours to do with as you wish. You have no one to please but yourself.

Marketing, OTOH, requires  a whole different skill set. For example, you to find an audience--people who are A) are looking for books to read. B)  would enjoy your books in particular and C) are willing to actually either buy your books or rent them through proper channels--like libraries. 

In a world where pirating books is rampant, where read-and-return is viewed as a clever game, where readers are pre-loaded with prejudices, triggers, and lists of words that will automatically land your book in their DNF pile. Words like moist or nub or honeypot, or plunged or wet or chuckled.

 Maybe you'll get lucky. But, in all likelihood, finding your tribe will be much, much harder than you think it will be right now.  Some readers only want free books. Some only want to read books in third person, or first person, or present tense, or with a specific number of narrators--no more than two, but not less than two for example. Some are easily triggered, others will only read particular tropes. And then there are those who would probably love your books except that they won't read a series until it's finished--so your series will never get finished because either you or your publisher won't see the point of it. Clearly there's no audience for it. Let's just pull the plug. 

You could be a great writer, but a terrible marketer. BUT you could also be a terrible writer--and it's hard to keep the faith and trust that it's the first, not the second, because the resultant lack of sales still looks the same. And there will always, ALWAYS be someone ready and eager to tell you that if your book isn't selling it MUST be because it's bad. 

It's depressing and demoralizing. It makes you feel helpless. I know. I've been there. I think we've ALL been there, to one extent or another. And that's when the scam artists crawl out of the woodwork looking to take advantage of you. 

Please don't let them. Please don't give up or take the easy way out. Because it's NOT the easy way. You'll end up giving them money that would be better off spent elsewhere. You might end up giving away your rights, and sometimes it's too hard a slog to get them back. You could conceivably lose all the joy you now get from writing. You could find yourself unable to write at all. 

Educate yourself about industry standards. Cultivate realistic expectations. Develop a long-view approach to your career. And, FFS, if you ask other authors for advice, please don't write off what they tell you just because it wasn't what you wanted to hear. 

Congratulations. You've written a book. Now the hard part begins. BUT YOU CAN DO THAT TOO!

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