Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wah!!! I wanna spend my time writing and not all this other stuff.

If you hang out on writing oriented discussion boards or in discussion email groups, you often hear the same complaint. It usually runs something like this:

"I just want to write my stories. But I have to spend my time marketing, blogging, tweeting, social networking, researching, speaking to groups, going to book signings. I just want to write, but I've got to do all this other stuff. It's not what I want to do."

Okay, here's my response: Tough. Get over it.

If that sounds harsh, well Tough. Get over it.

What job have you ever had that didn't have some administrative work that you didn't like. I want to teach. Yet, I have to go to committee meetings, grade papers, update course outlines, work on accreditation, evaluate other instructors and a bunch of other things that are part of my job which I don't particularly care about.

If I went to my dean and said, "I really just want to teach my classes, but I've got to do all this other stuff. What would he tell me?

Tough. Get over it.

He would say it in nice academic four-dollar words, but the point would be made.

Writing, like any job, involves more than one activity. There's writing, editing, making contact with editors and publishers, keeping up with trends, polishing your craft, negotiating with publishers, working with editors, and, if you write books, hitting the "streets" so to speak to sell those books.

The last has become especially important in recent years with the advent of internet bookstores. Today, a person is as likely, and with small independent publishers where most of us will find our first sales, to have a book primarily or solely available online.

Increasingly, bookstores buy narrow and deep. By that I mean they buy a lot of a few best sellers with very few copies, if any, of midrange or niche type of books. People are a lot less likely to just "happen upon" your book on a bookshelf today, than they are to hear about your book and go looking for it.

The bookstore model that many of us expect is a passive model. People go in, they see your book on the shelf, they read the blurb on the back, look at your beautiful picture, are suitably impressed and buy the book. Okay, it didn't even work that well way back then. But it works even less well today.

People don't "browse" online bookstores. They go there looking for something. If you are writing nonfiction, they might find your book when they run a subject search, but fiction is another matter. Very few will run an Amazon search for Science Fiction and just happen upon your book. More likely is that they have read a review, saw something in a social media site, saw an ad, met you at a book signing or reading, read an interview with you during a blog tour or are among your Facebook fans or Tweeps on Twitter.

Remember, the reason we write is to be read. However, in order to be read, people have to know what you have written, what it's about and where to find it. The only way that happens is if YOU tell them.

So, if you are getting tired of promoting and marketing and wanting to just sit all day at your keyboard turning out peerless prose. Tough. Get Over It!

9 comments:

Publisher said...

Good call! You've gotta love a writer with the balls to tell it like it is... oh, wait, most good writers do that! hehe

Jan

Charlie said...

Great article. No wishy way around it and it makes a writer sit up and kind of be thankful for all the other stuff they have to do...if they weren't being productive writing, they wouldn't have to blog, tweet, etc., etc. Thanks
C.K. Volnek

Caprice Hokstad said...

I think even teachers would be rightly upset if they were asked to do so much "other" stuff that they literally no longer had TIME to teach. My biggest complaint is not that I have to do all the less-pleasant tasks, but that it seems expected that you spend MORE time doing these unpleasant things than you can actually spend WRITING.

Terri said...

Actually, it is a concern of teachers. This past semester, for instance, I wrote two portions of the accreditation document (about 100 pages), developed Student Learning Outcomes and Rubrics to measure them for six courses, attended 3-4 hours of meetings every week. We worked through Spring Break last year. I pretty much put in 50 hours a week on the job.

It's not that we don't have the time to teach. When you are "on the job" you go to work and do your job. We teach AND we do all the other stuff, much of it on our "own time."

That's part of being a professional. You don't stop at 9-5, you stop when the work is done.

What most writers mean by saying they don't have the time to write and do the other stuff is that they don't have the time to write, do the other work of a writer and do things they want to do or would like to do with family, friends, hobbies etc.

However, if someone was working on a job and the job required them to be somewhere doing something and they wanted to keep that job, they would be there even if their favorite show is on the tube or they were planning on going to the movies with the family.

If they were not willing to do that, then they would get another job. Bottom line is that some jobs require more of us than others.

And there is nothing at all wrong with saying, "Hey, I don't really want to be a professional writer. I just want to be a hobbyist and fit it in whenever. It doesn't really matter if anyone reads what I write or I sell any books. I'm just going to enjoy the act of writing."

You know, that is perfectly OK, too. I've been there and done that when I didn't really want to or could not commit to the time necessary to write professionally.

Nothing wrong with that. Just shift your perspective and let it become a pleasant past-time because it is.

Terri

Kat Heckenbach said...

I do agree that the problem can be the *amount* of marketing and other stuff--when you start to feel like publishers look more at your marketing skills than they do at your writing skills when considering taking on your work. But I also agree that is part of the job and you have to either deal with or expect to not make progress. Mainly because of what you said here:

"People don't "browse" online bookstores. They go there looking for something. If you are writing nonfiction, they might find your book when they run a subject search, but fiction is another matter. Very few will run an Amazon search for Science Fiction and just happen upon your book. More likely is that they have read a review, saw something in a social media site, saw an ad, met you at a book signing or reading, read an interview with you during a blog tour or are among your Facebook fans or Tweeps on Twitter."

That is just so true these days.

Terri said...

>>>I do agree that the problem can be the *amount* of marketing and other stuff--when you start to feel like publishers look more at your marketing skills<<<

With nonfiction, it has been this way for a long time. One of the sections in a nonfiction book proposal has to do with what you can do to market the book.

I understand the frustration. Back several years ago I was in advertising and I was working with this woman who was a fantastic gardener, knew everything there was to know about plants, so she opened a nursery. It was so frustrating for her because she just wanted to talk about plants, grow plants and educate people about plants. However, running a nursery business is only partially about plants. It's also about bookkeeping, marketing, store design and all the things it takes to just keep the lights on.

In the best of all possible worlds people would be able to do ONLY the things they like or are good at, but in this world usually, for the professional, it means taking care of business as well as doing what you want to do.

However, you can control the amount of time spent on some aspects of this field. For instance, Set a limit on editing. Get it right, get it clean and get it out the door. Some people are trying so hard to get it perfect (an unattainable goal) they let perfectly publishable pieces sit languishing. Another is to track your marketing efforts. While it is impossible to get a perfect 1-to-1 read on which bit of marketing produces which sale, you can get a read on the penetration of certain marketing efforts.

For instance, how many visitors do you have to your blog in a given day? Blogger has a stats program built in. If you are not getting very many hits to your blog, and you don't really enjoy blogging, that's something you can eliminate. What pages on your website are most popular? Update those more often. How many followers/friends/fans do you have on certain social networks? Focus on those that seem to produce the most interaction and spend less time on those which produce less interaction.

You can also be more time conscious about your writing. Get a netbook or tablet computer and keep it with you. When you have a few minutes sitting in the doctors office, don't watch the medical channel, write or edit or prepare some marketing item.

You can also choose projects with time in mind. Ask yourself, if you are choosing between two projects, how much time each will take to follow through to completion. Choose the one with the lower time commitment.

But that's a whole other topic: Time management for writers.

Andrea Graham said...

I know all the professional wisdom, and to an extent, agree with it. But lately I've been wondering if it doesn't actually make more *business* sense to hire our own marketing departments. What makes more business sense--me stumbling around and making mistakes as I learn on my feet, or hiring a marketing professional who already has twenty years experience selling books? We need to do our part, but some of this could be hired out to a publicist, if we had the money to invest, of course. Don't smart business people know their strengths and weaknesses and hire smart folk skilled in those areas where they are not? Why should this business be any different?

Terri said...

Andrea--

What you say makes good sense to a limited extent. If you are talking about hiring someone to build your website or write press releases, that's true. However, think about the politician. S/he has a ton of media consultants, but at some point, the speech writer can't give the speech, the politician does.

I am a big believer in delegation. But some things you can't delegate. You can't delegate your facebook interaction with fans. You can't delegate personal appearances, going to conferences, or doing book signings. You can't delegate a lecture or reading or blog interview. Those things you have to do yourself.

Now, having said that, one of the big time management tools is delegation of authority. Personally, I'd rather spend money I would spend delegating writing a press release on someone to clean my house and write the release myself. I'm better at writing than cleaning anyway. Actually, I do this. I don't have time or energy or health to do everything I do professionally and clean, so I pay someone to clean for me. Actually, it's my niece I pay. She can use the $$ and I can use the time.

However, I do make some money of my own by doing marketing for writers. I design websites and write press releases. However, I am so often frustrated by authors who want me to design their websites or set up a marketing plan, but don't want to do anything.

Here's an example. I set up a website for an author with a particular expertise. I want to set up a website with a page of hints and tips which changes periodically in that field of expertise to "tease" people into buying the book. However, the writer doesn't want to write this. I'm no expert in the field. I can't write it for him.

Another one, I set up a Facebook fanpage for and tell him how to use it and suggest he post a tip a day or a tip a week or updates or things his dog does, anything to connect with fans. He does nothing with it. I cannot do that for him.

Another should be giving workshops on the subject matter of his book. He could sell a ton of copies just by running a workshop in his local area. I offered to create the lessons, powerpoints, handouts even give him a "script" for his presentation. But he would rather not.

The truth is a marketing expert can only do so much. Mostly s/he can only equip the author with the tools necessary - a press release, a media kit, a web site and some advice - after that, the author has to use those tools.

Terri

kimberly van meter said...

Nicely put.