When Authors Struggle – A Call to Arms

Even doing what you love, there are times when you have to question the sanity of it all. So few writers make it big, but like the majority of the actors, chefs, film makers and all gamblers out there, you mostly try not to think about it and keep going, hoping the next one will be the big one. Everyone faces rejection and disappointment, its part of being human, but there’s never a time when its easy.

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Giving away books for free doesn’t bother me much. I just hope people like it and are potentially interested in purchasing more from me. I see it in a similar way to the pirating sites that I appear on. At least they care enough to rip off one of my novels (but not the other one – what’s with that?) What doesn’t feel good is when you do a KDP promotion and while sometimes you get huge amounts of downloads, other times you only get a few. There is nothing worse that the feeling you can’t even give away work that took years of your life.

Publishers you expect to be quite impersonal in their rejections. We all know about it and have for years. The new development is that they now don’t even respond with a rejection. If you don’t hear anything, then the answer is no. This is the equivalent of calling someone to arrange a date and having them block your calls before you’ve even been for coffee.  You have not the first idea what you did wrong.

I’m not alone in wondering sometimes whether anyone wants to read my work and if I should still write. I struggled with this, on and off, until I read something written by the head of a large international literary agency. It got me so irate that I wanted to write just to spite them, if nothing else. The quote is “In all of this, only one thing is guaranteed: there are more and more people writing. I’d like to hope that this trend will be reversed sometime soon, and that only the very best and most talented people write, and the rest of us read, read and read some more!” I get that this was to publishers at a conference and that the speech was tailored to the audience, but what I took from this was basically that any writer who was self-published was rubbish and all those authors should go back to their day jobs and leave it to the agents and publishers to decide what we can read. Oh and that they should just buy lots of books in future to keep profits going, instead of making pitiful attempts at writing their own. It’s a few years on and now that same agency is all about assisting the self-publishing authors, for a fee of course.

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What this tells me is that neither publishers nor agents are in the business about caring for authors. But then again, neither is Amazon. Because they are businesses and their aim is to make money. So where does this leave the author, without whom none of this would happen? Do we give up and stop writing because all the social media requirements are driving us nuts? Or do we persevere, hoping that either we make it big or the situation improves? I think everyone walks the line, hoping that the difficulty of the publishing side is never so bad that it outweighs the joy you get from writing. No matter if you’re successful or …not so successful. And there’s usually someone out there who thinks you’re a genius, even if it’s just your Gran.

Embarrassment – the writer’s last frontier

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When you write a book, it’s pretty clear you write about the stuff that interests you. Why otherwise would you bother? It takes a long time, for no definite reward at the end. Most writers, unless you’re a Clive Cussler or James Patterson, aren’t doing it for the money. Even then it’s apparent that Mr Patterson isn’t doing the writing himself anymore. Why bother when whatever you put your name to will be a bestseller? That might sound bitter, and you’d be right. A fine example of this is the man publishing under the name Stephen King, but what most people don’t realise, because they don’t read the reviews first, is that it isn’t the Stephen King.

So I write about stuff that interests me. Unfortunately, I’m not really the sunshine and cups of tea sort of writer, such as Alexander McCall Smith, whose genius lies in making the everyday interesting. The things I write about can get a little embarrassing, particularly when close older relatives want to talk about your book that has some pretty full on sex scenes in it. My standard response is to stick my fingers in my ears and sing the theme song to The Muppets until they give up.  The downside to that is the song gets stuck in your head for days afterwards. I bet its in your head right now, going round and round because, like me, you can’t remember all the words.

I tried something new with my last book. It was clean – no sex or swearing, though still pretty dark, because that’s just the way I roll. I wanted at least one book in my career that I’d be okay with relatives and my kids reading at some stage. I am quite happy with it, and am now waiting, hoping that my agent agrees. So, whatever happens with this one, there is no font for embarrassment, on subject matter at least. The writing may be crap and the storyline line complete rubbish, but there’s no hanky panky or bad words. Because nobody knows about those. Right…

I’m going to admit something embarrassing here, because why else does one write a blog except to expose yourself: I get a ridiculous amount of enjoyment out of some pretty questionable reading material. I’ll read almost anything from space opera to historical bodice rippers, crime fiction to teen fiction. It doesn’t even have to be the best of its genre, sometimes its better when its not. And though I sometimes laugh at the ridiculous premises, I love a good hot alien capturing a human woman whose been done wrong by men all her life. Entertaining shenanigans ensue, because she’s feisty and he secretly loves it. Even though I know from the first page that they’re going to live happily ever after, I can skim the fluffy pages at the end, because that’s not what I read that sort of book for. I just like to know its there.

But what about the not so pleasant stuff? I just finished Tight by Alessandra Torre and though I’ve loved her other books, particularly Black Lies, the imprisoned and torture topic just doesn’t work for me. I realise it was a side line to the main part of the book, but interestingly she referenced the genre that’s out there and quite a lot of women like to read it. It’s one thing to like something in the privacy of your kindle, but the authors who write the stuff are the ones who are really deserve the bravery award. Some of them are hiding behind some pretty obvious nom de plumes, but some aren’t. Are they also having these awkward conversations with relatives? It makes my level of discomfort kindergarten stuff. So even though I don’t want to read about women being tied up and whipped or having sex with Big Foot, I applaud the writers like E. L. James who take their most secret thoughts and fantasies and put it out there.  It can’t be easy when there is a wild and windy plane of mortification to cross, knowing you may never reach the other side.

When exactly are you a “success”?

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I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what it would take for me to consider myself a success. It could be the less than overwhelming response to my last book or the approach of a large numbered birthday, but there has been an unusual amount of navel gazing. If I don’t figure this out shortly, I’m likely to run into something hard and its going to hurt. I don’t do a lot of the angst-filled woe-is-my-life thing generally, so it could just be that I’m not that good at it, but I can’t figure out exactly when or how I could get to the exact spot where I nod my head sagely, decide that I have made it and have a lengthy lie down. If it’s money earned, how much? If it’s book sales, how many? There’s really no end point. Number of books published? What did the last one do?

Lying down is something that I do well (which could be another reason for the aforementioned issues with success) but even so, I have trouble picturing myself relaxing, job done. And this is from someone who has envisioned multiple battle scenes between imaginary creatures with barely a passing sweat. I’ve jumped a few hurdles – I got an agent and a publishing deal – but even then, that’s not quite enough. The agent didn’t sell either of my books and even with a publisher, there is no guarantee of sales. Like a desperate miner panning for gold, I’m hoping the next one will be the one to make it (or the one after that possibly). It’s the hope that keeps you going and the fact that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. But what if I stopped chasing success? It would do away with the nagging feelings of disappointment when things don’t go as I envisioned, but would that just be accepting failure? If there is no hunger (or more superficially the ability to haul out some actual accomplishments when meeting people at parties) is there a reason to get out of bed in the morning, other than small children bouncing on my head?

It was suggested to me by someone recently that maybe I could write a non-controversial, sweet, formulaic novel and possibly make some decent sales. My immediate reaction was NO! Absolutely not! but then I thought about it some more. There is nothing wrong with me doing that, it’s not like I have delusions of grandeur, but deep down there is a fear that even if I did that, sold myself to the devil of commercialism, it still might not sell. And that would leave me in the completely untenable position of having nothing else to blame. I need to hold on to my excuses, along with the idea that I’d rather write something I find interesting than solely for the money. But between you and me? I’d write anything if it was certain to be another Fifty Shades and I defy you to find another writer who’d disagree.