PICKS AND PROSTITUTES

Once upon a time when I started writing for radio, I learned very quickly how to think in sound. It was easy to transport listeners from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the heights of Mount Everest. All you needed was a sound engineer, a box of pebbles, a few whooshing noises, bubbles blown into a glass and so on.

Later when I graduated into writing for television, I was hauled over the coals more than once for including stock shots that would need to be purchased at enormous cost, so I learned to think in visuals – finding innovating ways around expensive underwater scenes and moon shots from Cape Canaveral.

In between, there were articles for magazines, speeches, newspapers, adverts etc etc.

Then, after a pretend retirement came the books. This can’t be so difficult I thought. I was wrong. The grammar Nazis criticised what I thought was perfect English, I’d been at it for years after all. But no, I’d erred on the wrong side of the written rules, which for a book novice like me, were unacceptable to the general reading public. So, enter the editors and hopefully, all those niggly things were put right. I had a better idea of where I was heading.

Now we come to the nasty bit. How to tell the world you have written a masterpiece (well a full-length novel) it was time to learn the marketing side.

I signed up for numerous ‘helpful’ newsletter and blogs, studied their advice, tried all kinds of different approaches. Most, however, were invitations to spend money on learning this technique or another. If only I spent anything up to $/£1,000 I would be an instant overnight success.

Not having that amount of spare cash lying around, I took what little I could gain from the ‘free’ bits, but it was only after a few months that I realized that one course of action contradicted another.

Use Pinterest – No, Pinterest is out Twitter is the new shout out.

Give book 1 in the series away for free and readers will buy the rest – no, a free book is only read by 2% of the readers who download it.

If you’re an unknown writer, you will only gain readers by giving your books away for cents. No, if you price them that low, everyone will consider them worthless.

Every day I must receive at least half a dozen ‘offers’ in my inbox. I’ve investigated the people behind these and it seems that most of them have had success with books – but mostly ‘how to’ books.

Many of them must be so busy running courses, recording podcasts and writing enticing emails to sell their advice to find the time to actually write. So, does that suggest they are making far more money from selling courses than they ever get in royalties?

The Big Hole, Kimberley

It reminds me of the stories of how so many people got rich during the diamond rush in Kimberley. They were not the miners at the rock face, nor the farmers who originally owned the land, but the merchants who supplied the shovels, picks, beds, tents, beer, and prostitutes to men who’d trekked for miles across land and oceans to make their fortune. The shop and brothel keepers may not have found the one diamond that made them rich, but they made a steady living supplying the tools along with hope to desperate men who handed them their last pennies.

The ones who succeeded in making a fortune from the diamonds themselves were those who could afford to buy several shares and then rent out their claims for a share of the profit, or, the men who determined the price of the diamonds once they were liberated from the rock.

Many of us probably feel like those miners. We don’t buy picks and axes, we buy space in promos, we burrow into the pages of social media, we collapse at the end of the day juggling life and marketing and networking while trying to find the time to write the next novel.

And that’s usually the bottom line for many of these promotional guides. ‘If you’re not selling, then write another book, build up your back catalog.’ That’s enough to keep most of us from complaining their system doesn’t work for writers who are now hundreds of dollars poorer while their sales figures barely peep over zero most days.

Of course, the bottom line is maybe our books are not good enough – our genre is not in vogue right now – the market is saturated – we don’t have the high-level contacts  – readers are now trained to only read free books – most people don’t read they prefer games and Netflix.

There could be any number of reasons, but the poor writer is left wallowing in a pit of self-doubt and worthlessness. Being driven to write is a disease we can’t escape and like a fly in a spider’s web, we are trapped vacillating between writing and marketing with only so many hours in the day to allocate.

What are your thoughts?

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29 thoughts on “PICKS AND PROSTITUTES

  1. Or the horseshoe at the pin! You mention games. I read a post yesterday about the ‘next big thing’ for writers. Based around the capabilities of speech gadgets like Amazon’s Alexa, the idea is to write interactive stories where the ‘reader/player’ is presented with a series of choices, thereby taking the story in one or other direction. They can play repeatedly, making different choices each time. You have to write the scenes that arise from each of their choices. If I can find the link I’ll post it here. The writer of the (series of) blog post(s) is looking for writers to send in proposals – and they pay up front!

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  2. that might be the new genre Frank, interesting. Do you remember a book by John Fowles, I think it was the French Lieutenant’s Woman which had two different endings. Also, the film Sliding Doors had two interwoven scenarios.

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  3. Thanks, Lucinda. You are absolutely right and your comparison is perfect. I’ve been thinking along the same lines for a while. Even when some of the ideas might work, they don’t work for everybody, and the novelty value of many of them is diluted by the time they reach most authors. I know a Spanish author who does quite well, but he invests a lot of money in advertising and before he became a full-time writer, he worked in marketing, so…

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  4. Great piece Lucinda. There are so many fa ties involved and too many writers become obsessed with making money and marketing. I am a marketeer by profession so I know what I’d possible and what is practical. If as a writer your focus is on anything else other than producing good stories that people want to read then you are in trouble. Free book promotion sites are a blight but writers are drawn like s moth to the flame.. like you say something for nothing has less value and is generally not read or appreciated in any great numbers .. enjoyed this thanks for sharing ☘️🎈

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  5. This is so true! I’ve found myself in that whirlwind. As for the instructors, some of them talk about all their sales, but you google them or check them out on Amazon and they hardly have any books at all and not very good rankings. In fact, I just watched a free tutorial from someone bragging about his success and wanted to sell a course about how to get the results he did. Unless he’s writing under a different name, I couldn’t find much of anything he’d had success on except selling courses. It’s a real problem. Because there are things I really need to learn, but who to trust? I figure YouTube is probably as good a source as any. 🙂

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  6. I have discovered a lot of the advisors for marketing and composition are formulaic hacks.The “real publishers” want you to do legwork that doesn’t matter (harvesting followers.) “I love your book!” for $2k I’ll edit it lifeless and leave you with a flat, lifeless version of your story. Or “Show don’t tell” or “Tell don’t show” more scene, less scene, more, less, more, less. I say tell your story your way. See what people think.If the self promoters were making a living as writers they wouldn’t need to harvest emails to send seminar invites to.Whcih is why most real writers rules for writing are short. You can put Elmore Leonard’s on single sheet of paper, Twain’s as well. Add Pulitzer prize winner John Steinbeck and you have almost two pages. OR –

    “If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that make a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.” – John Steinbeck

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  7. Thank you Lucinda for this thorough overview of what life for an indie author is like. Frustrating but we persevere, after all there have been those before us who did eventually ‘strike gold’.

    Your article also helps other authors know they are not alone in their struggles.

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  8. Yes, yes, yes! Your thoughts strike a chord and made a distant memory resurface…

    In the UK, doing the weekly football pools in the hope of winning a large sum of money, used to be a weekly pastime in most households. I remember there was a man in Keynsham who urged people to buy his formula for winning. I was quite young at the time but I remember thinking, if you are so clever why not win the big pot of money yourself. The same thoughts apply to sellers of writing genius. x

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  9. It certainly makes you wonder Kritsa. There are a number of really helpful people who write blogs with excellent hints and they don’t charge for it. I appreciate them sharing and feel they really care about other writers. As for the rest … the bottom line is if you throw out thousands on advertising you might not get a positive return but you will be visible!

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