Mark Terry

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Are We Having Fun Yet?

February 11, 2007
I have quite a few blogs by writers that I visit rather obsessively, and the majority of them are over there on the links page to the right, although there are quite a few others I regularly visit, but am too lazy and/or busy to add to my links section.

As a rule, the majority of these blogs are devoted to the business of writing, or maybe the business of marketing your writing.

And today I'm feeling just so exhausted and annoyed by this.

I'm sure that some of this is my reaction to Robert Gregory Browne's recent post about the amazing success he had at his first book signing, selling 58 copies of his book. I've done a few dozen signings and another dozen or so talks at libraries or Rotary Clubs or book conferences and the most I've ever sold at one was 15 copies and the worst signing was a big fat zero. (Even worse, in some ways, was I paid a publicist to set that one up; talk about rubbing salt in a wound).

So, aside from crushing envy (really, I'm happy for you Rob, you bastard), there's a part of me that wants very much to step aside from the marketing and promotion aspect of novels and say, "We're all pretty much wrong, you know. Nobody knows what makes books sell. N-O-B-O-D-Y." The more rational side of me suspects that this kind of success isn't planned, it just happens.

Let's face it, if I knew, I'd be making a lot more money from novel writing than I am. Hell, Joe Konrath, who has successfully convinced the blogging world that he is an expert on book marketing (and much of his advice is excellent) is not a bestseller.

So mostly what I'm doing today is taking a deep breath and saying, "Clear your head."

The rumor is that there are about 180,000 books published in the U.S. every year. I don't know if those numbers include self-publishing or not, and it really doesn't matter. Even if there were only 20,0o0--hell, even if there were only 2000 books published a year in the U.S., I wouldn't be buying all of them. Probably even if there were only 200 books published a year in the U.S. I wouldn't be buying all of them.

So if you're a writer, published or aspiring, and this gig has turned into a chore because of the marketing aspects, or the promotional aspects or the business aspects or the rejection aspects...

I hope you're having fun.

Because God knows that it's tough to make a living in the fiction business, so you'd better AT LEAST be getting something else out of the experience. I hope the actual act of writing is something you enjoy. I hope that these wildly personal stories that we tell and hope will appeal to others, entertain you, enlighten you, or at the very least kill the time in a reasonable fashion.

I know that often my writing made me unhappy. Not the actual writing. No, I always seemed to enjoy that. But the struggle to get published, to get an agent, etc., often made me very unhappy. And it wasn't even the rejections that made me unhappy, but the sense of defeat that came with it. The feeling that the publishing world was behind a castle wall and I was beating on the door and nobody was willing to open it.

Now that my fiction is being regularly published, I still very much enjoy the writing process. I enjoy getting published and receiving the books. But there are aspects of marketing and promotion that annoy the living shit out of me, not because I find the activities in and of themselves annoying, but because there is little or no sense that your time, money and energy isn't being wasted. I'm not getting any younger and there's very little I despise more than the feeling that I might be wasting time or energy.

So really, if you're a writer, I hope you're having fun.

Best,
Mark Terry

14 Comments:

Blogger spyscribbler said...

"Nobody knows what makes books sell. N-O-B-O-D-Y." The more rational side of me suspects that this kind of success isn't planned, it just happens.

You're right, but ... it's kind of like studying the writing craft. You dig deeper and deeper, trying to understand what works and what doesn't and why. We come up with all these conclusions and 'rules', but then someone comes by, breaks every rule and writes an amazing novel that sells like crazy.

In the end, though, I believe that the study of these worlds makes one a better writer, and probably a better promoter, too. I hope. What else can we do?

4:42 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

My thinking is to read a lot of writer blogs and not consciously "learn" anything... but to let my subconscious do the work. That might sound horribly immature, but it's the same way I learned about writing fiction to begin with, and that's getting published. So I figure it must have some validity. Also, if I didn't do it that way? I'd start to hate writing because it would really be too much like a "job."

4:48 PM  
Blogger Writer on Board said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Just for this, I'm going out and buying a copy of your book.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Tom Britt said...

If you are writing to become a best seller, good luck. Most writers write to "help someone", "they have a story to tell", or "because I like it". Sorry the business side of publishing isn't what you thought it would be, but the reality is there are over 180,000 new titles a year (usually over 200,000 since 2000 but last year there was a blip) and yes, they include self-published books. Book stores can hold about 15,000 titles total, that includes the harry potters, bibles, and other stables. Who was your publisher? Are they providing any marketing support?

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, I'm confused by your comment. From Mark's post, I didn't get the feeling that he's writing to become a bestseller at all. He was simply stating that the business side of being an author is tough, and no one has the secret to success. (And while support from a publisher can help, we've all heard stories of books that failed to sell through, despite the publisher's big-bucks marketing campaign.)

He also cited the same statistics you did.

As a frequent visitor to this blog, I think Mark has an extremely realistic view of publishing.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Shayda said...

This was fantastic insight.

I feel like a fatalist, standing at the cusp of the publishing universe. I'm hoping to dive in soon. I know it won't be pretty, but somehow hearing it comforts me.

Anyway, it's nice to hear a published writer's opinion.

1:46 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Tom,
My publisher, Midnight Ink, an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide, is very supportive. The Devil's Pitchfork is my third book published and the first book in a four-book contract.

I'm also a fulltime freelance writer and this is an area where I seem to be very successful. (By most definitions). I find the business end of fiction publishing to be a huge struggle and it's an industry where when you ask questions, are often told, "Nobody really knows."

That can be, often, very frustrating, which is much of what this post was about.

Thanks for stopping by.

4:45 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Mark, I agree.
So much seems into the abyss.

5:22 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I love writing, making up stories and monkeying around with words.

I loathe practically every aspect of the publishing industry.

Unfortunately, for me, the game of writing involves communicating with readers and the publishing industry is still the best way to find readers.

Maybe someday I'll convince myself I could find enough readers by just posting stuff to the web.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Welcome back to sunny Michigan. And yes, I'm having fun writing. I find it's much cheaper than destroying $180 worth of cherry in my woodshop.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Ron,
And papercuts aren't as bad as those caused by a table saw or one of my nightmare tools, a band saw.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

I think all writers relate to this post. That feeling that your swimming against the tide and no one cares. I feel that often and sometimes its more overwhelming then others.
From where I sit, you've made it! I read the Devils Pitchfork and ordered the Megan Malloy book (checks in the mail-I swear!)because I like'd Devil's so much.
But I think writers feel the self-doubt more then others because when we put our words out there its like laying open your soul. But could you not write? I don't think so. My husband says I get crazy when I'm not writing. Its like a part of you you can't change.
I leave you with this:
"A man is not a success because he has never failed, but because failure has never stopped him."

4:13 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Aimless,
I like the quote a lot. Who said it?

Now that I'm a fulltime writer a few days off might do me good, but my wife used to say the same thing when I was writing after work. I would finish a novel and say, "I'm going to take 2 weeks off," and about two days later she'd say, "You're driving me crazy. Go write something!"

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Barbara W. Klaser said...

Mark, I often have those happy-for-but-envious-as-hell-of thoughts. But I've also learned from visiting writers' blogs that everyone feels that, at every level of publishing. Dean Koontz no doubt has his envious-as-hell-of-Stephen-King days. Even if they're best friends (I have no idea whether they are friends or not).

But I also had those feelings when I was simply an employee trying to get my next promotion, or a single girl whose friends were all getting married and having babies, or a four year old envious of my cousin's clothes (she was the only girl, I was the youngest of three and wore hand-me-downs). What I'm getting at is, I think that's just life.

What I have found is that it's frustrating to only read blogs by writers, especially in my rather humbling position of being only self-pubbed so far. All I can do is look at it as a way of learning about writing, about publishing, and about life, and making some buddies I hope to meet someday. I NEED to feel I'm part of a writing community.

But advice about how to sell books (at whatever point in the future I'm ever actually published and have to worry about it) is I think not something I want to learn from other writers. Or publishers, or agents, or bookstore owners. Because from what I can gather, no one really knows. It's a mystery, and you can beat yourself up badly by imagining all the things you're doing wrong. Probably the most honest answer is the rejection slip that gives no reason. No one knows.

When it all starts to make me feel inferior in any way (which really it doesn't -- it's me that makes me feel inferior or dissatisfied, no one else), I have to take a break, because that's certainly not what I read blogs for.

But, I have found some really wonderful people by reading blogs, so I never take a very long break. Just long enough to get my priorities straightened out. :)

7:56 PM  

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