Thursday, February 25, 2016

My personal relationship with self promotion

I read this blog post on self promotion with great interest. And then its follow up. I felt like the author and I were kindred spirits.

My greatest joy as a writer has been discovering that a complete stranger has selected my book from amongst a shop's curated wares, read it and enjoyed it. When someone I don't know says 'this is my child's favourite book,' about something I have written, I want to cry tears of happiness. I thought my heart would burst when one young reader told me she identified with the central character in one of my novels and said reading about him had made her feel better about her own situation. This is what I want for my books. It's why I write.

And it's why I am rubbish at the direct kind of 'self promotion.' I do blog, and have a presence on facebook and twitter and instagram. But I find it eye-poppingly difficult to actually tell you to buy my book. The moment we build a connection on social media or in real life, you can no longer be the unbiased reader. And I struggle mightily to believe any nice things you might say about my books, no matter how sincere you are (strangely I will believe you if you say something negative about my stories - my brain is a weird place). And that connection might also make you say 'yes' when you were actually thinking 'no'. And it might mean you can no longer just see me as a creative person who writes books, because you might wonder if I am also just seeing you as a potential purchaser. That's just awkward. I want us to be friends.

I also know the direct sell approach doesn't work on me. It's involuntary. I glaze over. No matter how good the product might be. This is how my nature is wired. I blame my genes, and possibly also coffee and olives and organic peanut butter. We may never know.

What I do know is that I want to pour my heart and soul in to my books and then let them speak for themselves. I want them calling to readers with their own voice that I carefully crafted with love and hard work. That is the job I want to do. Not self promotion. Not selling. Writing.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Some brain twirlings on being a mid-career writer

Chuck Wendig recently blogged about mid-career writing. Tis an interesting read (although the faint-hearted should avert their eyes cos there are swears and sexy bits) and it got me to thinking. Cos I guess that's where I am at now. Mid career that is. I'm certainly no longer a beginner and I hope, hope, hope I am not at the end (at least not an end that isn't prescribed by me). So anyways, humour me, and let's say I'm a mid career writer.

Mid-career - you jumped in, you've done a few lengths and touched the end of the pool each time, and you are still swimming.

Mid-career means you have been published. How doesn't matter if your books have been bought and reviewed positively by people who don't know you, and some folk outside your family and your writing circle know your name.

At mid-career point, theoretically, you probably know a fair bit about the craft of writing. About rules of grammar, and the way words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters are ordered. You have a handle on plot and character development and understand why it's important your character has an arc as well as your plot having one. You know what voice, tone and style are. And the difference between 'show' and 'tell' and why that difference matters. You are probably still in two minds (or maybe three) about how many adverbs are too many. And if you are me you have given up caring about the correct use of commas and how many times you've used the word 'just' knowing that an editor won't hold it against you for too long after you've bought them that second cocktail.

But you don't have all the answers. You've realised there is always more to learn, and envelopes that can still be expanded and pushed. It's a journey with a destination you are never likely to reach, but that's not a bad thing. It is harder to find writing courses that are pitched for mid-career folk. You know the fundamentals and you've developed your own habits and style which are individualised to you. If you have been published several times or more you are doing enough right and it isn't always easy to pinpoint what you now need to add to your writing repertoire. I try and reach towards more ambitious projects, grander ideas that force me to try new things. And I am always reading which still remains one of the best schools of writing. And I keep working on my books.

Chuck talks about checking your direction, and making career plans. He acknowledges the difficulties of making plans in an industry where the individual (author) has so little control. But I agree it's smart to check what your desires are and to write and act accordingly. And these things need to be updated on the regular because you will continue to discover things about the industry and you will probably continue to evolve as a writer. Whether your goals are seriously ambitious and your plans structured and aggressive, or you decide you are going to see where fate takes you and you keep things simple, what you choose to do will affect your outcomes. Just remember, choosing to do nothing is also a plan. Whatever else you do, keep working on your books.

There are potential perks to being a mid-career author. It's not all a big mystery anymore (although at times you still wish it was more like a fairy-tale) and you know other writers and some industry professionals. You are a card-carrying member of your tribe and this feels like a warm hug. You are familiar with the process and have found a few shortcuts, even if the process is ultimately still sometimes difficult. It's a bit like running a hurdles race. You are pretty good at getting over the hurdles now after considerable practice, but sometimes your shoe catches and you eat asphalt. Sadly reaching this point has also not necessarily provided you with any security or certainty. While YOU have changed, the publishing industry, at its heart, remains fundamentally the same. The majority of mid-careerists still get rejected and don't get automatic invitations to schools, festivals and other events. But now you know not to take it personally. Keep working on your books.

I like what Wendig says about marketing and promotion. Who you are and how you behave in the real world and on social media will, in the long run, have an impact that goes beyond any structured promotion. And the final word on whether people continue to buy your books is their content. Keep writing and work hard on making it something you are proud of. That is the thing you do have control over.

Some mantra for the mid-careerist:

Things will probably stay the same more than they change
It's not just you, they are like that with everyone
You know more than you think you do
Keep working on your books