My wife yells at me. “Why do you keep reading that if you think it’s crap?” I shrug. But I know why. I keep going because somehow, somewhere, I’m going to find the reason why this calamity of a book in front of me made it into print. Why reviewers raved. Why copies flew off the shelves.
Let me first admit one of the unspoken truths of the writing life. Writers are viciously competitive. Oh, they can workshop, they can have support groups and book clubs. Blah, blah, blah. But let’s be honest. If you’re a writer, and you read someone else’s stuff, you’re comparing every word to your own. You’re thinking, “God, I could have constructed a far better sentence. How many adverbs does someone need? Oh, give me a break — another exclamation point?!”
So with that said, you can probably deduct that I’m a harsh critic. And you are, too. Admit it. Everyone wants to be the best. Most of us think we’re the best. Despite evidence to the contrary.
While writing my previous post about how good writing conquers all, I reread that WSJ article. Actually, I read through the comments. “Kilgore Trout” wrote: “It’s hard to take this article seriously when it references the ‘author’ of the Twilight series.”
I have not read the “Twilight” series, nor do I intend to. So I can’t comment on Ms. Meyer’s writing ability. But I have read my share of bestselling, award-winning garbage.
And that’s why I ended my last post with the disclaimer. Good writing gets you nowhere if you don’t know how to hawk it.
So thank you, “Mr. Trout,” for summoning the ghost of one of my favorite authors. I can imagine what Vonnegut would think not only of Ms. Meyers but of the state of the publishing industry in general. More importantly, what he’d think about the hoops writers have to jump through today to survive. Talk to him about blogging, and he’d laugh you out the door. Don’t even get him started on Twitter.
Here’s the truth: The way it stands in today’s market, you could have just penned the greatest novel in the history of literature, but it’s going to sit in the drawer if no one thinks it will sell. And “how it will sell” usually translates into “how similar is it to other books that sold.” You can’t blame publishers for this mentality. In this economy, taking risks is scarier than ever. Jobs are on the line. Shareholders are banging down the door.
After writing a 70-page business plan for Pubmission, I came to the crazy conclusion that I would have to do the same thing for the novel I’m writing. Maybe it won’t have to be 70 pages, but I will have to approach publication the same way I approached starting a business. Who’s my target customer? What’s my mission statement? How will I create a brand identity? Who will provide financing?
Sure you think financing shouldn’t be necessary. Writers shouldn’t have to pay a cent for getting their works in print. But like all viable businesses, you have to advertise and market your product. You’re going to have to do some leg work, such as traveling to conferences to meet with publishing professionals. That costs money. If you’re only going the social networking route, that ain’t free either. It requires an incredible amount of time. And time is money.
So even before you start production (e.g., writing the first sentence of your first draft), you need to channel some of that competitive energy I mentioned into telling the world why your product is going to be so much better than anyone else’s. Think like your customer. Think about how you can make your brand visible to that customer. And much to Mr. Vonnegut’s dearly departed chagrin, that customer is the editor sitting on the other end of the slush pile, the editor wondering how he’s going to sell his next e-book on Twitter.