Sorry, Your Buddies Won’t Buy Your Book

TW Column by David Biddle

They Love You—but Do They Love Your Words?

 


Last June, after nearly four months of nitty-gritty editing toil, I posted my first novel online at Amazon’s Kindle Store. I was officially an independent author! An indie writer!

guy giving thumb ups

I had no idea what I was doing.

At 8:14 a.m. that first morning, I sat down in a comfy chair with my laptop and a second cup of coffee to admire my book’s Amazon page. I thought the blurb was impressive and the price reasonable. (Just $2.99!) You could click on the cover thumbnail to read a free sample.

Then I checked my Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) business account. Anyone from the traditional publishing industry who is reading this is laughing at me here. The KDP spreadsheet showed no purchases. Zero.

Okay, I cheered myself, time to put on my marketing hat and salesman shoes. Piece of cake. I’d been an independent environmental consultant for three decades.

But where to start?

Facebook! Duh. And maybe some emails to friends and family. I posted a status update about my new book and dropped in the link to my Amazon page. I attached the same book cover thumbnail to a personal email. These blurbs went out to my 400-plus Facebook friends and to about 25 of my closest friends and extended family.

Eight hours later, I checked my KDP account. Zero.

Hmm. Maybe something was wrong with the Amazon download system. I had “One-Click” ordering set up. So I tried it. Bam! My book loaded through the Kindle app on my iPad in seconds. I checked the account. One sale. I posted another Facebook note.

The next morning, my account still sat at one purchase. WTF? Do people not read my posts? Do they not feel excited about what I’ve done? I checked my Facebook wall, where I had four “Likes” of my update from the night before. Great! Why didn’t at least two of you buy the book?

It should have been a slam dunk. My novel is a mystery that takes place in farmland around Columbia, Missouri, where I grew up. I didn’t need 400 downloads; I just needed 10 or 20. The idea seemed totally rational. Start with those who know you, who are your best buddies, who are motivated by affection to buy your creative work. Then count on them to spread the word. Right?

Frustrated upper half of a face

Wrong.

That third morning, I checked my account again. I had another sale! Victoriously, I informed my wife. She smiled and gave me a tender kiss on the cheek. She’d downloaded my book before I woke up to see if the KDP system really worked.

An hour later, I opened up my laptop intending to send yet another Facebook message, but stopped myself. I felt sleazy and pathetic. I’d been reduced to begging my family and friends to buy my book. The more I posted notices online and people didn’t respond, the more paranoid I became.

This is the plight of the indie author. When you go it alone, nobody really knows you’re there. One of the main jobs of a publishing house is to organize the promotional plan for a book and to provide authors with the power of networks. Six months later, I now understand that the only way to be successful in the book world is to build up a following of folks who love your words—not you. But it took me awhile to get there.

As I tracked down articles about online sales and marketing, I finally got my hosanna with a blog post at Guerilla Wordfare. In “How to Build a Targeted Fan Base of Followers on Twitter for Free,” Matt Edmondson, the site’s IT guru, points out:

Fans who think your writing is so great that they have to share it with their friends are exactly who you should be looking for. These are the type of fans that help authors ‘explode’ onto the scene.

This post includes an instructional video about how to use Twitter to find people who are “passionate about an author in your genre, [because] why couldn’t they be that passionate about you? All you have to do is try to build a relationship with them.”

Now, my column may one day cover the importance of Twitter to independent authors, but what I was dealing with at this nascent point in my publishing career was something far more fundamental. It hit me like a revelation. Of course! I need fans!

 

Man slapping his forehead

 

This may seem obvious, but writing professionally requires a weird psychology. You have to be confident enough (and some might say egotistical enough) to think your words deserve to be sent into the world. You also have to be humble enough to acknowledge, without tears or begging or passive-aggressive threats, that the reader is the final judge.

I believe indie writers aren’t any different from writers who work with traditional publishing companies. Who the hell thinks about having fans when they’re in the throes of storytelling? I doubt even Stephen King or J.K. Rowling had fans in mind when they were first starting out.

But publishers know the score. And indie writers need to know it, too. Your friends and family will eventually buy your book. They will! But your fans will put food on the table—or at least a jar of peanut butter and a plate full of saltines.

Of the many supportive articles I’ve read this year, I think Edward Robertson, a fine indie science fiction writer, says it best in a comment he made to me on his blog Failure Ahoy!:

[U]nless you have a virtual army of zealotrous [sic] friends rallying around your flag, I don't think they're going to make much difference beyond a few initial sales. The key is learning to sell to total strangers.

That’s where I am today: selling to strangers. Every time friends tell me they're buying my book, I wince. I'm grateful, too, but I don't want to expend all my energy fretting about what my buddies think.

Occasionally, however, I get emails from people I don’t know, who thank me for my novel or ask a question about the plot. I love that. It makes my day—and these days, you can be sure they go on my special mailing list for fans only.

 


Publishing Information

Art Information

 


David Biddle is a contributing writer at TW. This is the debut of his Talking Indie column about the ups and downs of being an independent publisher.

You'll find information about his novel Beyond the Will of God and other digital fiction on davidbiddle.net.

"I can’t think of what I’ve written as a gift exactly—it’s more a thing I’ve left for people to find in the woods. It’s like when I go out walking with my kids, and we leave a little Lego person standing on a rock or an action figure sitting in a tree." — "The Word Thieves"


 

Comments

I do want to chime in on that last part, David. As someone who has yet to sell her book, but who has had luck selling her articles, selling or not selling has not had an impact on whether I write or not.
I think it's a good reminder that for we writers, writing is something we do because there is no alternative. I've seen it in myself. If I wind up with a week where my teaching duties keep me from being able to write anything, I become cranky and ill-at-ease in my own skin.
Writing, for better or worse, is what I do. Whether I get published is a matter that has, over the years, become secondary. Even as I sit with an unpublished manuscript, I have been counting the days until the semester break, when, taking a moment out from writing articles, I'm going to return to the long-form manuscript that's been churning inside for a while now.
We are affected creatures.
But, I agree. The love that publishing represents is something we crave, too.

David,
Sounds like you may have your next column. One of the things I treasure about a good piece about writing is the comments section, where writers can both reflect on a writer's piece, but also tell their own stories.
Writing is a solitary activity. There aren't many opportunities for writers to come together and discuss the process, especially places where you can do it where everyone isn't out trying to promote their own work.
One of the things I love about TW is precisely the sense that we are a wonderful magazine about a lot of different topics, including the writing process, but we are cohering into a community of writers who enjoy speaking with one another about our work, the process, and the struggle.

Steve- Reading is a dying athletic skill -- even amongst writers. That Billy Pilgrim army buddy had it right without doubt -- "so it done went." And I love the Annie Lamott quote. Got me fired up. Really! Thank you so much.

Spot on, Martha Nichols. The community/comment world is never really talked about...well, maybe it is when we use the term "social networking." But certainly it doesn't get enough direct play in writers blogs and such. In fact, maybe that 's something I should be thinking about for my column. "The 10 Rules of Commenting at Writer's Sites." The "therapy" that's created in back and forths between writers has to be so much more important than the blog posts you read on "How To Market Successfully" or "How to Write a Thriller That Sells."

"It’s a good reminder that for we writers, writing is something we do because there is no alternative" -- this should be TW's official motto, Lorraine! Yes, we probably all need therapy -- or maybe we don't need as much because we're writing. I would add that, in addition to the power that e-publishing now gives authors, the kind of virtual discussion we're able to have here, on a literary mag site, is part of what builds a new sense of community and purpose.

That's a big DITTO, Lorraine. I start feeling depressed -- almost panicky -- if more than a day goes by without writing. Some might say I need counseling, but I'm afraid I might punch the counselor if he or she were to get smarmy with me.

Gee whiz, Reed. That's some pretty tough love there. I am actually surprised you had a hard time getting into the story. But that's okay. You do bring up an advanced point for creative people. My column is concerned with the question of buying my book. The second point is the question of actually reading the book. The third question would be, of course, whether you like the book. Courses: 101, 201, 301. Thanks for bringing up the other two questions and making them real.

Good--loin girding--piece, David. My version of your experience includes seven grown children who don't actually read my books but skim through the pages to find their names. And then there are all those writer friends, some of whom might have actually helped me edit work along the way but, I realize while sitting their living rooms, never actually bought the books. As Billy Pilgrim's army buddy says, so it goes; and as Ann Lamott says, "... that thing you had to force yourself to do--the actual act of writing--turns out to be the best part."

Great comments all.

Matt, ironically, EL James's little kinky fluff story began as Twilight fan fiction online in a fan group. Go figure. I do think as well that she connected with an untapped thang there that I could go on and on about...

Lorraine, I don't know what to say about waiting on agents. I spent 30 years on and off getting strung along and/or unresponded to. It's not been a very effective business model to deal with since the 1970s.

J. Conrad, yeah, free copies to family members, because they probably won't ever really believe you think you can make money as a writer.

Gina, yes, the truth is, of course, all writers are responsible for selling themselves and building a platform. Anyone who thinks that's the publisher's job is in for a rude awakening.

Sheila, you are dead on likening book marketing to nonprofit promotions. I've run several nonprofits. It's also one reason I believe writers need to see their books and articles as gifts to the world and not pieces of themselves. It's funny, though, because in the end for writers (and musicians and artists) we need folks to become fans and, I suppose, as much as you want them fans of your books, they are also fans of you the creative personality. All of which begs the question: What exactly does it mean to be a fan?

Matt: My point is, why wouldn't you at least endeavor to provide a perfect document? As you point out, writing is subjective to interpretation, except where an outright typo is concerned. You claim that because we're all prone to the occasional typo, they should be overlooked. Why not strive to set yourself apart from the masses?

Joseph Conrad learned English (his third language) from reading a dictionary. When he read to his publisher an excerpt from one of his manuscripts, the publisher was aghast at the number of mispronounced words Conrad spoke. Yes, Conrad's work speaks for itself as great literature, but we live in a different world today. Spellchecker isn't infallible, but, as a former acquisitions editor, I've seen work that seemed as if the writer didn't take advantage of even that tool.

Matt you remind me about an early phase of my adult life where I'd chucked writing full-time, gone through grad school, become a partial expert on building energy efficiency and technology analysis, and felt like total shit. I literally went to a psychiatrist about this. "How do I get back to that writing thing, Doc?" "Is that where this emptiness comes from?" Dr. Schwartz wanted to talk about the fact that I grew up with a mentally ill mother, that I was adopted, that I felt like I'd gotten married too soon. We never resolved the writing problem. 30 or so years later, I quit my "career" to go back to writing full-time. Must admit, and Lorraine this is to you too, I felt like I could do it because the new publishing world lets you publish and market yourself so easily. It's so clear the old guard is going to pushed into a niche corner over the next decade. I definitely can't live happily if I'm not writing, but it's that much easier knowing that I can publish independently and at least give readers the chance to buy my work.

Yup. You know whereof I weep. I suppose it never hurts to pander to libidos, either. I wouldn't want to have my name associated with the likes of *50 Shades* and ilk, but I'd like to know how in hell she got that first big push into the collective limbic consciousness. She could sell that to me.

David,
I must admit. You've dashed my hopes. I keep thinking that if this last agent doesn't agree to represent me, I'm going to go it alone, but I never get past the part of figuring out how to get folks to buy my book.
Now I know.
I'm sorry you learned the painful way. And ironically, I'm betting you'll sell far more books this way than by the FB blast, but still. It's annoying that talented folks don't get the recognition they deserve.
I'm going to go remedy that right now.

Thank you David and excellent article. I always tell my XoXo Publishing authors,
"to sell a book you must sell yourself!"
Gina

I understand this. It is not unlike having a great non profit event that you want people to attend to support a worthwhile cause. Just because it resonates with you it might not with your friends. It cannot be about you, your personality, who you are, then it is really not about the non profit, and in this case the writing. Each has to stand on it's own, to have it's own validation. Often that is why people who write about what they really know about, what they have lived seems to resonate. There is a cross over to their personality buried in the work, that is what their friends and acquaintances can recognize. They might buy the book because of that connection. People usually buy based on what they enjoy, a certain style, a kind of genre. Marketing is something that can change the game for everyone, even a person who is new to the whole thing. That is how you grow a non profit base, you put is on the tips of everyone's tongue, you invade the collective consciousness. I used to refer to it as a social capital campaign. People who like a concept, hear about it and then can read about it are interested in it regardless of whether or not the person who wrote it or who it is about is a celebrity. Celebrity helps but it is not the sustaining piece in the puzzle. We used to hire a lot of celebrities for special events as a draw. However, what was more meaningful, was if the celebrity actually was a good speaker and also if they actually had something to do with the cause personally.

Sometimes it helps to sit down and brainstorm with friends about what people are interested in and attracted to. Don't change what you write based on that, but try to see what might apply and what might get people to take a look at your work. Nice piece.

Whether you’ve e-published or traditionally published, the road to an expansive readership and author popularity is an arduous one, not meant for the weak and fainthearted. Because I didn’t want to bash my head against the wall searching for an agent any longer, I finally bypassed that step and eventually found a small-press, traditional publisher who accepted my manuscript. We’ve been working together ever since.

My book isn’t as popular as Fifty Shades, but it’s done adequately since its publication. I knew from the get-go that friends and family probably would feel pressed—and even uncomfortable—to buy my book, so I gave copies to everybody close to me. Well, my brother’s copy ended up in a trash heap (most likely unread), and probably 90 percent of the others I gave away ended up at the Goodwill. But that’s okay. Truly! I write for the pure joy of writing and always have. Where my novels and stories end up isn’t a big concern. Strangers bought my book, too, apparently because the back cover blurb and national reviews piqued their interest. That people are reading my words is the important thing, even if they acquired a copy at the Goodwill.

Some are going to love what I think about and express on paper, and others are going to think those Paula thoughts are foolish. (Some will even tell you they hate your book cover!) So be it. My ego has never been in the way of my writing progress—except maybe in the beginning when I was young and foolish. I got over it. Ya gotta have a tough skin in this business, or you may as well hang your keyboard up on the wall and call it art—a metaphor for all those words never written.

Excellent piece, David Biddle. Thank you. We can all relate.

Title of my rant: Media Whoring Pseudo-Masochistical Bootlicker: a.k.a. The Self-Publisher

Define Media Whore: `A person who has a psychological need to get into TV, Film, Radio or Print'

Define Masochist: `A person who obtains sexual pleasure by inflicting pain or suffering upon themselves'

Define Bootlicker: `An obsequious or overly deferential person; a toady'

Now that we have established what these terms mean, we can evaluate why I have come to the conclusion that I have become a perfect example of the combination of them, and why I know that I am not alone.

First, let me assure you that I am not degrading myself. This may seem illogical considering the individual components, but truly, my evolution into a Media Whoring Pseudo-Masochistical Bootlicker has been enlightening, liberating and, I must say, a whole lot of fun.

The addition of the prefix `pseudo' to masochist was meant to dilute the intensity of the sexual slant of the word, but it was necessary as I simply I do not get any sexual pleasure from self-publishing and marketing my books. I just suck in the pain and suffering part of it and, like a cheap shampoo, repeat repeat, repeat. I do get a huge thrill after clicking the `submit manuscript' button on Amazon KDP Select, but it is hardly orgasmic. Yes, I get slightly dizzy, light up a borrowed cigarette and have to cuddle the nearest pillow for a minute afterwards, but doesn't everyone?

I think it's important to `know yourself' and having just self-published my book The Saving of NATION on Amazon, and having made a real attempt to market it properly, I now know that I am a M.W.P.M.B. (sorry, it's not a clever acronym but I couldn't figure out how to make S.E.X.K.I.T.T.E.N. work). I had Self-Published two other books a while back, but never really tried to sell them, thinking that the sheer brilliance of my writing and genius premises would attract buyers like the devout to a bleeding Virgin Mary statue, but I soon met reality (after making $33.27 cents on my first royalty cheque) and made a vow to not abandon NATION to Smashwords purgatory. And now, as they say in the SP biz, I agree with the generally accepted but unwritten SP Motto "The writing is the easy part". Yes...the promoting/schlepping is the killer: finding an eye or ear big enough to help get your work on top of the Heap. And I do mean capital `H' Heap.

So, that is what I did, and am doing. I Self-Published, then set out to promote, spotlight, highlight, advertise and generally shove my book down as many throats as humanly possible without getting bitten. I started out with the usual `FFF&T' (family, friends, FaceBook & Twitter). I got VERY lucky and had a famous author, Ian Ferguson, hop on board and kindly offer me a pull-out quote for promotions which I am flogging to death, but then I realized that the new trend towards creating book trailers was a massive attention getter, so I taught myself to make them which was, besides giving birth, the most ball-busting experience a scrotum-less female has ever survived. But survive I did and I am pleased with the results, especially for NATION, which made it easy for me to offer my video-baby up for sharing on YouTube, but hoping, deep in my heart, that a King Solomon-like publisher will sweep in and make a judgement call, taking my baby away and giving it to its rightful mother: the buying public.

But for now I will hone my wanton ways and continue my

100% Guaranteed Successful 7 Point SP Marketing System:

1) Tweet dozens and dozens of journalists, magazines and newspapers around the world (Canada, USA, England and especially Germany, as my book is about the son of Hitler who was hidden and raised in Canada after the war) saying succinctly, in 140 characters or less that my NEW HIT NOVEL (my white lies can blind the unprotected eye) is the next best thing since sliced bread...dipped in Baily's Irish Crème;

2) E-mail editors of every known media around the world with a very important looking news release explaining that there is a breakthrough novel out now (maybe I should change that to `breakthrough a'la novelle' to avoid legal action?) that has proof Hitler had a son and they'd better get that on the news RIGHT AWAY before the kid reaches puberty;

3) Write publishers and agents praising them for their astute business senses, keen eyes for talent and sexy on-line profile pictures;

4) `LIKE' hundreds of Face Book sites that I would never dream to looking at, posting my trailers, Amazon links and my measurements while `THANKS FOR LOOKING!' them all ad nauseum;

5) Repeatedly add aforementioned links and trailers to random forums, my blog site: Parca's Chosen and my website: denisesevierfries.com (see, I warned you... Media Whore) making my poor followers, who never complain about (or notice?) my desperation, suffer right along with me. And shake things up once in a while and caption these posts with an eye-catching 'SEX SEX and MORE SEX!' title, then apologize for the trick. It works.;

6) Use pictures for the author's photo that are at least 20 years old. Sex sells and having one chin and my own teeth is definitely a more attractive look. It isn't lying...it's still 'me'. *Actually, I seem to be getting younger in every picture I use, so if you ever come across a book with a fetus on the back cover's author profile...that's me.

7) Continue to e-mail, Face Book, twitter and generally pester the rich and powerful (read `connected') like Oprah, Dr. Phil, Wolf Blitzer, Jon Stewart, Brad Pitt, Stephen Spielberg and Adolf Hitler himself (on the off-chance that he pulled a Walt Disney and is frozen somewhere in Argentina and willing to give an interview after thawing).

And yes, I will continue to write books that tell the myriad stories trapped in my graying head and I will not judge those SP writers who are trying as hard as I am, to be the best MWPMB that they can be. I know I am not alone. I live on writer's forum boards and enter writing contests whenever possible (and if someone comes up with a group that can actually make S.E.X.K.I.T.T.E.N. a useful name, I'm in.)

David - a great post for all of us who entertain the idea of entertaining through our writing. The word persistence comes to mind. It is a very rare author ( much less than one in a million) who hits commercial success with their first book. I like to tell people that the best piece of marketing for your first book... is your third. You really do need to accept the responsibility for marketing - no publisher will do it for you. If that is the case, then a book that I read over the weekend may help most of us who need a plan to move our marketing efforts forward - "Marketing Your Book on Amazon" by Shelley Hitz is an excellent introduction to the process required to make it available and then build a following, just like you are doing with this blog. The internet is full of free advice from people who have experience in writing and promoting a book and it is definitely worth the effort to research them.
Best Wishes for your increasing success David.

Hi David. Nice article about friends reading your book. As your friends my wife and I bought your book. She has more social skills than I so she bought it and read it immediately. I have fewer social skills. It took me a fair amount of time to buy the book and I read about a 1/4 of it before guiltily moving on. The sad truth is that while I love you as a friend that doesn't mean we like all the same things. Like many people who have been married for a while I learned the art of loving someone with whom I share so much yet with whom I also differ everywhere and every minute of every day. She sets the dishwasher on economy. I set it on normal. So yes, you're looking for readers that love your fiction. That might be your friends but more than likely they love you and their taste in literature is elsewhere. Thankfully with billions of English readers in the world there are people whose taste in reading matches your taste in writing. You may never be friends though.

David, you are so right to say in so many words that authors need to seek help with their projects—preferably professional help. Speaking strictly as a reader here, it frustrates me when I’ve downloaded a volume on my Kindle, begin to read, then find error after error, misspelling after misspelling. When preparing their manuscripts for publication, indie authors should make the same effort to attain the perfection traditional publishers do before a book goes to press. If this means hiring a professional copyeditor (etc.), then so be it. As you state so clearly, this is a business, and the products authors sell—their books—should be as pristine and as perfect as possible, meeting the high standard all consumers expect of any other product on the market. Not only is the author’s reputation at stake, but more importantly, readers deserve excellence for the money they spend.

Paula - Without doubt tough skin helps. So does resiliency and the ability to adapt and grow and change and learn. I love your foresight about friends and family and just giving them the book. I didn't do that. I figured my tribe would understand this is how I make my living. If I sold T-shirts or water bottles I know they'd buy them (about the cost of a book).

Bob - I love the idea that the best marketing advice for a first book is your third...(My third book comes out tomorrow morning). And you're so right about all the information out there and in books available at Amazon. The new world of publishing is a natural born learner's paradise.

Lucy - I checked out your FaceBook page and left a comment. Thanks so much for re-posting this there and good luck with your endeavors. There's so much room for micro-publishers to work with Indies. My advice to all Indies is to understand this is a business and to know that it's totally rational to invest in a little help, whether that's typesetting, design, copy-editing, production, or marketing. All depends on who you are and what your resources are.

Steve, you are a wise man: "It’s ultimately a self-defeating process to pit one’s passion against one’s family." I also love your reference to the "complex need to be a part of a tribe." Yes. There's something very basic and bittersweet about the world inside our minds vs. all we love outside it. I'm at the point where all I really care about, at least in terms of my writing, is achieving greater self-knowledge, even if that knowledge isn't pretty. Internal honesty is what I'm after, which is why the life of a creative person can feel so cognitively dissonant within the loving (but ever vigilant, worried, and guilty) embrace of one's family. In any case, I sense a great TW piece in this discussion....

I hope that Paula and Elizabeth are still online. I've gotten more support and encouragement from them and the people on this page than from my own family. Whatever reason may account for that, thanks to David and everybody for the help. I thought I would loose my mind when my immediate and extended family as well as my friends just blew me off. My family has always dread my 'writer's stare'. You all have to know what that is.

But like everybody on this page, I am compelled to write. I'm also a photographer which is nearly as satisfying as composing words. There is a reason they call it 'composing' you know. Music and writing have a lot in common. While some ignore the call of the craft, mispell and improperly format, all of us here do what I do, we pore over the construction of every paragraph, every sentence, every word. The music must flow.

Whether we us the traditional agent/publisher path to publishing or jump into the instant publishing of eBooks, it is ultimately the reader who decides good from bad, appealing from grueling, what flows from what goes. They don't know that we do it for them.

Then again, John Kennedy Toole wrote "Confederacy of Dunces" with Nr.2 pencils on lined Indian Chief school tablets. Of course, he had to kill himself before anybody would look at the manuscript, and then it was his mother bullying Walker Percy to do so, but... I've seen agents' requirements warning in a scolding tone that typos and improper margins, etc., **in query letters**, will guarantee automatic rejection. In light of such arrogance it's no wonder writers are flocking to Kindle Direct and CreateSpace.

Now there's indiePENdents.org, a nonprofit outfit that awards a Seal to self-published books that meet such basic standards as grammar and punctuation. It's a start. http://www.indiependents.org/index.html

Dennis, so so so many of us have been there. Forgive them. They truly know not what they do. And please feel free to chat away. Your comments help other authors out there who are struggling with the same trials. One more thing: Tell us the title of your book. I, for one, will buy one, absolutely. :)

Conrad ~ I started out thinking I was talking about degrees here -- or inches, to borrow a measurement from America's pastime. Of course I seek perfection in my work, both in selecting the right word or metaphor or punctuation or any of the myriad choices in the craft of storytelling. I strive for perfection in crafting the perfect pitch and the perfect query and format and font and, of course, spelling, and physical appearance of the page and on and on, wherever such choices may lead. I trust I haven't given you the impression I celebrate carelessness.

Perhaps the agent whose submission requirements I'm recalling was herself a rookie and wanted to jumpstart her career by attracting journymen, skipping the rookie writers who might be inclined to include her on their list of prospects. In any case, I was less intimidated by her admonitions than I was disappointed that she seemed more interested in the skills of a secretary than of a storyteller. I was looking for someone I hoped might have a little juice in them. I don't mean to imply, either, that she was the only one whose requirements struck me as akin to those of someone hiring office help. There were others who played that theme prominently enough that I began suspecting the "closed-shop" reputation of an industry on the cusp of a publishing revolution was a valid one.
Perhaps arrogance was the wrong word to use. "Discouraged" might have been better.

I, too, read The Art of Fielding. I concluded what I already knew: best sellers aren't written, they're created by the publisher. I'm still scratching my head over the praise that book received by the likes of Irving, et al.

Also, I wouldn't trust a professional to prepare my cover letter for me. Make suggestions on how to improve, yes. But I stand as much chance of committing a faux pas as he. It's my letter, and I know more about my credentials and project than he does. If my name is going to appear on the letterhead, then I'm going to write it.

Is it just me or has this thread veered into something Eugène Ionesco might have written? Incidentally, did Ionesco's family and friends read his stuff?

While I do appreciate whatever gate-keeping role that agents and others have traditionally played in weeding out the clueless, most of them seem to be needlessly ruthless about it and take an age in doing it. Most communication with them is via form letters that tell the author nothing. I appreciate also that most of them are inundated with material, but a statement that 'if you haven't heard from me in two months, you won't hear from me', is uselessly dismissive.

Also, Paula is right that some writers give us all a bad name. The 'dictionary' icon flashes right in their face from the top of their word processors, but is rarely used. Some don't even set their manuscript to the same font or the same font size. This is how so many plagerists get caught in school. They cut and paste from Wikipedia, then forget to reformat their piece. Some people submit their hand-written manuscript tied up with twine. There oughta be a mandatory class. I learned to write in Freshman English, a flunk-out course at OSU.

"Memoirs" are a strange, alluring, spiteful, often entertaining, frequently boring, tempting and incredibly courageous, if not egotistical beast. The right combination of elements and emotion remain illusive to almost everyone who attempts them.

Just to change the subject, my latest effort was 135,000 words of memoir. I found this type of work to be a curious mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Even though the focus of the memoir is surely not fiction, you have to incorporate the art of story-telling and the flow of events into the tale. Consider the 'Christmas Story' with Peter Billingsley. As funny as this is, the story is actually a memoir, an odd mixture of auto-biography and fiction. It's possible, even likely, that the events of the story did not happen on the same day or even the same Christmas season. Still, all the weird events that happened in one locale were crammed into one day for the sake of proper story telling. The 'triple dog dare' and the tongue stuck to the flagpole may or may not have happened on the same day. Likewise the trip to the tree lot and the flat tire incident may or may not be the same trip.

It took me literally years to realize that a memoir is not an auto-bio and some things could be left out if they did not run to the point of telling the story. I wanted to tell the story of my dysfunctional relationship with my father and events that were not the result of that or were changed because of that were left out. There is loads more to talk about with this though I would like to hear from you folk.

I agree with your viewpoint, Dennis. I think truth emerges in an alchemy of craft, voice, detail, nuance, dialogue, characterization - all the elements of storytelling. Facts are merely the ore. The jewel is what we're after, what lasts.

Yeah, right . . . . . what he said. My point is only that memoirs are an odd mix of fact and fiction.

J. Conrad Guest: Please see my secdond comment above. Through various venues, including TW, David Biddle has written extensively about the problems with indie publishing you've addressed. There is no easy answer for this, but bottom line, it's up to each author, before publishing their work, to clean up their offerings until they reach the high standard any reader would expect. Will all do this? No, but it is my sincere hope that eventually we authors who adhere to high standards, along with savvy readers, especially, will demand that they do so. Until then, we can only wait patiently until this cockeyed new publishing world rights itself again.

PS: I just got back from a meeting with my book group. We're still reading novels and enjoying the heck out of it. Maybe we and other members of book groups around the world can begin to turn around those dismal statistics you quoted as well.

The issue I have with "overnight ebooks" is that very often, perhaps more often than not (certainly more often than in bygone eras of self-publishing), the author uses the venue to circumvent having to learn craft.

While certainly dictatorial, agents and publishers are at least gatekeepers, with standards for what they consider quality or marketable novels. Many notable authors from 15, 50, 100 years or more ago got their start by self-publishing. But the digital age has made it possible for anyone to see their work in print. No longer must an author incur the cost of printing "X" number of books, to be drop-shipped to their front door, and sell them door to door to brick and mortar bookstores, to be displayed on a consignment basis. It costs nothing to list an ebook on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere. And a strong Internet presence and social network means little, if any (or as much as one can afford), money need be invested in advertising.

All of which results in a lot of poorly written books flooding the market, where demand seems to be dwindling--60% of Americans admitted to not reading a novel in 2011, and 40% of college grads state they never pick up another book after graduating. The bottom line is that it's more difficult today for anyone not named, King, Patterson, Brown, Rowling, and a few others who drive the profits for the major publishing houses, to find an audience.

Dennis, I reaffirm Paula's offer to continue the conversation. The "talking" part of our name is there because we strongly encourage dialogue about issues we all share. We can learn from and support each other. And your comment about the agent/publisher gambit vs the ease of overnight ebook listings is right on.

Dennis, I had a deep and emotional reaction when I read your comment above. You encapsulate why Martha Nichols and I decided to launch Talking Writing and why exceptional editors like Paula have joined us. I'm very glad you found TW.

D avid,

I know that this is not a chat room but think of all the humiliation and angst you might have faced if there were no ebooks? I am an indie author myself (no, I won't give you my website) and listed with these guys overnight. Remember the agent/publisher gambit that took years to navigate? We're lucky.

Dennis,

I feel your pain. One's family and friends often have in their minds, "I gotta buy Dennis's book..." but then the thought slips away.

They say it takes 5-8 connections with any product for people to "pull the trigger." I imagine with books it's more like 10-15 times for a general reader and there's no way to put a number on it for family and friends. They just figure they'll get to it one of these days. My solution in the end is to follow Paula's thoughts (above). If people seem interested, just give 'em a copy. Whether they'll read it, is a different story.

Keep putting yourself out there. Keep writing. They say the best marketing task is to write another book.

Thanks for the lift. You saved me a lot of money I would have spent on a psycho therapist. I have just reached the point of exasperation with my family and friends, wondering why they don't wanna know what goes on in my head. I would have thought it would be a matter of simple courtesy on their part to read my damn book and give me their feedback. OH-h-h-h-h no. I have enough ego to say that this thing is exceptionally well written and I would love some comment. But neither my extended or immediate family or any of my friends will even look at it. They just go on like it never happened.

I've been the email route, the facebook route, the coupon route, though my book is only $2.99. I was about to take it more personally then I found your blurb. Thanx!

Apparently, I am the only one who remembers that this page exists. I don't know why that should be since this is a problem for nearly everyone. David has put his finger on the very pulse of one of a writer's biggest and most unforseen contradictions. Whatever. Dig this!

I just came home from my mother-in-law's house where Easter celebrations are in full swing. My entire extended family was there, including everyone anybody would think of as a ready-made fan base. NO ONE, I mean NO ONE would talk about my book that I notified all of them about on Facebook. I brought this up, of course. You could literally watch those at the periphery of such a conversation, melt away at the very mention of anything related to my writing. In moments, all the hangers-on and listeners-in would be gone and the hapless nephew at the center of my attention would take on the face of one who was hopelessly trapped. Mostly, my family simply avoided any conversation with me at all rather than fall into such a snare.

I am so far beyond exasperation, I am numb. I ask my mother-in-law why any of this should be and she claims I cannot 'push' anything at the family. The damn book is free for God's sake!! We all sit and catch up, because we want to keep up with what everyone in the family is doing. All that is very important for and to everyone but me, I guess, who cannot 'push' anything on them. I, the family writer, am at a complete loss for words. Now that's sayin' somethin'.

Pages

Add new comment

More Like This

Jun 14, 2013 | Media Debate
Jan 16, 2012 | Media Debate, Agents
Sep 14, 2012 | Media Debate