Mark Terry

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why Do You Write?

October 11, 2007

I received an e-newsletter from mystery novelist David Skibbins today. I've enjoyed the first two of David's books and so I'll recommend them to you. He had an essay on why do you write, which I was going to take an excerpt from. Then I decided, hell, it's a great essay, let's just steal the damned thing and stick it up on the blog. So here it is.

I wanted to title this "What works in marketing your novel?" and make it a very short article: two words, "Who Knows?"

There are some writers who have done little and taken off. There are some who have toured, done all sorts of media, and who have faltered. Some writers got great publishing support, and prospered. Some got great publisher's support, didn't earn back their advance, and got dropped like a hot potato. Most of us get little support and have to work from there. It is a crap shoot. Most writers don't earn back their advance. Most books lose money to their publishers.

I do believe that, if your publisher plans to spend tens of thousands of dollars in co- op (basically bribes to bookstores to mention the book in their newsletters, and display it prominently) then you stand a better chance of success. Don't hold your breath.

I also believe that writing a break-out novel has little to do with the quality of your writing, and at lot to do with fit, accessibility, publisher co-op and luck. Fit means hitting a topic that is hot. (Not like current events, but a topic that catches someone's interest in the seven seconds it takes for them to decide to pick your book off the shelve and look at it. Like a serial killer who only kills serial killers.)

Accessibility means writing a book that is hard to put down because of it's compelling plot and simple, readable language. Is The Da Vinci Code a better book than To The Lighthouse? Who cares?

Co-op I mentioned already, and consult the Tarot to find out about luck.

What are you in it for? And that is not a flippant question. Do you want financial success, or do you want to be an excellent writer? Sure, ideally both. But which is more important? If it is success, then pick your hero, your topic, and even your nom de plume carefully, to hit the broadest target market. Louise Foster's introspective police procedural about a feisty but insecure new female homicide detective is likely to hit a wider reading audience than Joe Foster's action-packed military novel. (80% of readers of fiction are women. And women tend to read more women writer than men writers. Men usually always exclusively read men, but who cares, the number of male readers are insignificant.)

Or you pick door number two, and write the book that calls you to write it. There is such satisfaction in following your muse, and then actually getting your book recognized and published. It's a great rush. If you are lucky, your book will sell enough copies so that the publisher will consider your next proposal. If not, well it was fun, wasn't it?

Buddha says, "All suffering comes from unmet expectations." Be clear about your expectations. Are you writing for dollars, or for the joy of mastering the craft of it? Know what you are in it for, and you might cut down a bit of that self-imposed suffering.
As regular readers of my blog might guess, this is where I often get into psychological trouble. (The rest of my psychological troubles are caused by, er, me, but that's a different topic). I want to make money off my novels. Preferably a lot of money. And so I get into that art vs. commerce dichotomy all the time, particularly since I make my living as a freelance writer. There's only so much time and energy to go around and I could probably use the time I use to write fiction and put it toward better paying nonfiction. And believe me, I do spend a lot of time stewing about this. So now I'm just going to have to contemplate the Buddha's teachings for a while, because although I don't know if ALL suffering comes from unmet expectations, certainly some of it does, especially when it comes to your expectations regarding publishing.
So anyway, it's a great essay. David's a good guy and a good writer, so check out his books.
Mark Terry


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Some writers want to get rich writing novels. As for me, I just want to make enough writing novels to allow me to spend more time writing novels.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Touche, Eric.

There is something to be said about being published even without a lot of money involved at least justifies the time you spend on it.

11:25 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Show me the money. ;-)

I just don't want to waste the time I have in life doing something that I hate, or something that makes me crazy. And I like to imagine my stories touch someone out there.

5:25 PM  
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