Dita Parker

Sunday, August 12, 2012

This ain't a scene, it's an arms race

Andy Warhol once said that "In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." I think it's safe to say the future is here. At least the proper distribution channels are all in place. You don't have to land a contract, know someone in the business or be the next best thing to get your music, films, books or art out there. Just put it out there.

Once upon a time few got published but those who were, were also read. Then more and more authors got published but ever fewer found an audience. Now everyone who wants to be published can be and fewer authors than ever are being read. This is a gross generalization, even a myth in part, but bear with me.

Many author-friends have written about this lately. I think about this constantly. That it's easier than ever getting your voice out there but harder than ever being heard. We're being sucked into a self-defeating cycle where we spend more and more time promoting our work and persona via promo posts and other social media activity alike in the hopes we stand out from the crowd. We do our best but so does most everyone else. Tweet our thumbs numb, update our statuses morning, noon and night and every snack in between, and it seems as if all we've accomplished at the end of the day is a cacophony of voices screaming over each other.

What if we only got to post once a day, be it Facebook, Twitter or some other group? Make it count! Or maybe what we need is some sort of Auto-Tune for Authors, "Turns your coffee cups into timeless nuggets of wisdom!". I enjoy coffee. I appreciate the fact that others enjoy their coffee. But I've rarely had a cup I felt compelled to chat about. Believe you me, when I do, you will hear all about it. Truth is, my coffee is pretty norm, my work days rather uneventful, and yes my kids are really smart and funny but you don't love them like I do so maybe you wouldn't enjoy reading about them half as much I would enjoy writing about them, you don't even know them and let's keep it that way, so how's the weather in your parts?

I know. It's being social, friendly, keeping the lines open and conversation flowing. What am I? Antisocial? No, just European, more straight-talker than small-talker. I just feel that when I do have something really important to relay, or someone else has, it gets lost in a Bermuda triangle of dirty coffee cups, what our kids or pets are up to, and all the funny/cute/appalling/witty things the Internet is full of. In that water we wade, trying to be seen, hoping to be heard, some waving, some drowning.

Not. Antisocial. Really. The cute and the funny and witty have saved my day more than once. So many interesting discussions going on on people's blogs, so many groups I'd love to be a part of and interact with. I'd love nothing more than to spend more time talking to all the lovely people out there, but when I have, that's been the day then. How do you do it? I'd love to hear how you reconcile it, find a balance. It's all so time-consuming. Are we just robbing each other of precious time?

It's probably a good time to be an established author. I don't know. Is it? Meanwhile, back in the jungle, the frog's eye view looks something like this: unless someone's looking for you, you're not likely to be found. Unless you're already fairly rooted, you're not likely to take flight. You can write a good book, a great book, the best book the clitterati has ever seen and never garner much attention.

I can hear the snickering and the sighs, "Oh sweetie, are you just figuring that out? That is so cute!" No. I know that's how it's been in all the arts since the dawn of man, since the day some ancient ancestor of ours pressed his or her hand against a rock and saw their creation. I bet they were appalled as hell that no one paid any attention to their doodle because everyone was so busy surviving. So. Are we just cavemen and women fighting for the chance to tell our tale by the fireside, fighting for survival, a place in the sun, the spotlight?

Is it going to get worse before it gets better? How much worse? Better when? Better how? The Best Authors You've Never Heard of Society keeps growing. Authors made of solid awesome writing pure gold slipping from relative anonymity into total obscurity. Because they can't or won't write full-time. Because they can't or won't promo day in and day out, because it takes you away from the business of writing, a business where you leave self-consciousness and the skin you live in at the door and enter another existence. Because promo is everything but, it's the very antithesis, self-conscious to the max. It's all about you. Not just your book. You. Who are you? Who do you write for? Why do you write? Not everyone wants to answer those questions in public. Not everyone wants to seek an answer to those questions even in private.

I have small children. I have another career. I have a tendency of keeping my feelings and opinions to myself because when I bring them out into the open I have a tendency of saying more than I probably should. (Q.E.D.) I have a book coming out. Only my second Romantica in some 24 months, which in publishing years is something like a decade. (What the hell happened? What usually happens. Life.) I don't stand a chance, do I?

Who does the future belong to? Those who shout the loudest, the longest? Those who can afford to keep at it? Those who write for the sheer pleasure of it, not for money, not for name recognition, not for respect? Those who are content just to have their voices out there regardless of whether or not they are heard? Who knows? I don't. Do you? What I do know is that the happiest people I know are the ones living their dream, doing what they want to do, regardless. I guess that will have to be incentive enough for all of us because for most of us, that is all the reward we have coming.


Debra Glass said...

In the publishing industry I think the future belongs to those who write the best books. By best, I mean, well-written, timely, on trend perfect storms. It's not easy. But write what you love, write it well, network, and the readers will find you.

I've also noticed that my best selling books are ones that I have written accompanying articles in which I collect and share research or some expertise.

I posted an article on my blog about Civil War Mourning Customs with a link to my Bought and Paid For which happens to include a Civil War widow and saw sales rise for that book.

I do share a lot about my diabolical cat, Severus, on facebook, but I don't think even his adorable mug has garnered me any sales. :-) - But I do think positive posts make a writer approachable. I know I've read outside the genres I usually like to read because I felt a connection with an author.

Great post, Dita!

Dita Parker said...

Oh Debra, I hear you. I want to believe writing well is enough, being patient pays off and just being yourself gets the goods. I have to believe, because that's all I have to offer. My voice. My stories.

Thank you for your input and insight, for taking the time. And for the record, I don't mind me some Severus, that is one fine feline.

Happy writing.

Leta Blake said...

As a mother who also works full-time outside of the home, I absolutely understand this sense that my writing will never get the same audience as those women who have different life situations and can devote all of their time and effort to promo, etc. It's definitely the dark cry of envy to a large degree for me, but I admit that promo really does detract from the writing and the time that I can spend doing that.

This is the second post I've seen lately where women are asking themselves if it is worth it to promo. If the amount of time that it requires cuts into the writing time so much that it just fails to be of long term value.

Thanks for putting this out there. I feel less alone. :)

Dita Parker said...

Leta, you're definitely not alone. And I hear such conflicting reports as to what sort of promo actually works I don't know what to think. If authors don't even know if their efforts have any effect, if they're just posting and posting and posting in the hopes one in a hundred affects sales, that's even worse.

You have no idea how much I'm sweating the promo stuff with my latest. I brought my best game. But I can like the book all I want, believe in it with all my might, and I do, my editor and publisher can, and still it guarantees zilch. So is it really just a matter of writing a unique story? Will they want to contract another if this doesn't sell, if I'm not able to promote it with the best of them?

Only time, as they say, will tell. I don't see myself not writing. I enjoy it far too much. I'm slowly and steadily carving out more time to write. But with the pace the business and everyone in it is moving I have no idea if I'll ever catch up.

sabrinagarie.com said...

Hi Dita,
I'm a newby author for EC (in Grace's Fallen Angels), single mother, full-time job and write slower than molasses pours given that reality. I worry about this as well. I also tend toward privacy and agree, that blogging, tweeting, facebooking etc.. about coffee, the weather, and my favorite food is not of particular interest--not to mention time consuming. One of the things I am focusing on is building an identifying brand. So not so much shooting everything that flies, which most promo seems to do but figure out which ducks I'm hunting and target.

I do think the future is up for grabs. Even established authors are fighting for face time. One key is to follow trends and get to know what else is going on. Here are other interesting factors that will have an influence. I am sure there are many more.

1) Even if people buy a book, they may not read it. How many books do I have on my shelves or the kindle that I may or may not get to. As do many of my friends, family and colleagues. Who is reading a lot? Retirees, etc... How do we get people to read our books once they buy them (that's where repeat business comes from).

2) Increasing tendency to read shorter things. It takes my half a year to make it through a 600 page book now. How many books go unfinished? How many shorter books are now being read? Is this a potential new market? Given my time factor, its easier to finish.

3) Markets are changing--that opens and closes opportunities. Given the size of the baby boom generation, will we need more older characters? Romance tends to be dominated by younger protagonists. Multi-racial, international, etc...

We need to define ourselves, our market and aim and shoot. Don't know if it will work, but its better than screaming in the dark that is the internet.

Thanks for this post. Reading it and writing a response has been very cathartic.


anny cook said...

Personally, I believe it's their backlist. I know that goes against current wisdom, but it's true. The more books you have the more readers because there's a perception you MUST be a good writer if you have a big backlist.

I believe NEW writers would be better off if they spent more time writing and less time worrying about promotion. :-)

I believe ESTABLISHED writers would be better off writing the best books they are capable of writing.

I believe PROMO is a short-lived racket. I've never EVER bought a book because of promo. Ever.

Dita Parker said...

Hi Sabrina, I'm glad it was as good for you as it was for me. ;) But seriously, you have some great food for thought there, so thank you!

I was totally clueless about the need to have and build a platform and a brand when I submitted my first story to Ellora's Cave. There. I said it. Lost in cyberspace. When it was time to perhaps decide on one, that's when I ran into trouble. My background, my personality, everything in me rebeled against being labeled and stereotyped as writer of this and that but not the other. What if I did end up writing the other, and then some? Create another pen name, persona after persona? I couldn't. I can't. This is me then. A pen name but not roleplaying. Will I pay for it? We'll see.

Writing what we love may produce the best books but will they be the books readers want to read? Writing for publication may require everyone to start looking closer at what's happening around us, the megatrends, just like you said. Culture changes, tastes shift, trends come and go. But the hunger for stories is eternal.

Happy writing, and thanks again for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts.

Dita Parker said...

Hi Anny, sooo glad to hear a veteran's take on things! And I say veteran with a great deal of affection. And respect.

Like I said to Debra, I want to believe that writing and writing well is all there is to it. But when you don't have an audience (yet!) and are pitted against hundreds upon hundreds of others authors, that's when promo and social media and the likes seem to become a factor, and just for the sake of name recognition. Not a determining factor, mehopes, but one you can't ignore anymore. If you manage to sell a book while at it, that's a bonus.

Many authors have said that their debuts and early work only took off after they had managed to build some manner of backlist. Which makes perfect sense. You're getting published, time after time. You must be doing something right, right? I've also heard that building that audience takes a bigger backlist than once upon a time. Because of a saturated market? Oversaturated?

So what am I gonna do? What am I gonna say come August 31st? What can I say? I wrote a book. I hope people find it. I hope they like it. If you do, let me know. Better yet, let others know. And then I'm going to go back to my WIP and finish the next.

Denise A. Agnew said...

One thing that most writers don't do is ask themselves why they are writing. I've been published since '99 in the epublishing world. It took me a long time to realize the only way I was going to be happy with writing was to define my truth...why am I doing this. It can't be for money in my case because I refuse to write the same kind of book over and over and over to make more money, and that is often what an author has to do if they want to make more money. It has to be about writing the books I want to write and saying what I want to say. That's the bottom line for me. Do I market my books, sure. :) Absolutely. But at the end of the day writing what really makes me happy is my main goal. It can't be how much recognition I get or don't get. :) The publishing world is undergoing huge gyrations, and the only way to survive it with your sanity intact is to decided why the writing means something to you. I figure if the day comes when I can't make any money at it, I'll just write the books for myself. If I need another income, I'll just have to go find that job.

Dita Parker said...

Denise, I think you kind of brought the discussion full circle. Or, as a friend commented in private, "Calm the hell down."

When friends of friends find out I write, they ask what do I write, have I published anything and is there any money in it. When they hear I'm a relative newbie, they ask do I write the popular subgenres, whatever they assume they are, assuming they are some sort of fastlane to fortune and fame, that that is why everyone writes, or anyone seeking publication writes, and when they hear I pretty much write what I feel like flows best, they say how brave of me, but am I not afraid I'm wasting my time?

That's the plan. The whole extent of it. (Not the wasting my time bit, as if it's ever anyone's goal...) The stories that make me want to write them. My stories. My voice. We'll see how far they take me. If I feel the lure and hear the call of megatrends, I promise to look into them, it can't hurt, but I won't promise to start writing them unless I find a story in there I feel compelled to write.

Am I making any sense at all? It's way past bedtime, so maybe it's best to put a lid on it at this point, call it a day, and calm the hell down (Oh M, where would I be without you?). Still interested in hearing what people think, always interested, so feel free to have your say.

Anya said...

Great post. I have a few books published, have tried a variety of promotional ideas, but frankly I don't like any of them. Yes, I know, if you look at writing as a job, just like any other, there are things you need to do even if you don't like them. BUT, promotion in this day and age is dependent on personality...how great is my personality going to seem if promoting is like pulling teeth to me?? It's probably like meeting someone and their smile looks like it hurts, and doesn't reach their eyes...

My goal? Keep writing the best books I can, and hopefully my publishers will continue to overlook my abysmal marketing efforts :) Personally I'm hoping that the hermit writer living in the shadows, rather than the all-accessible, "open his mouth and his guts fall out"* kind will come back in vogue! (*Stephen King, attributed to his grandfather in On Writing.)

tinachristopher said...

Grat post, Dita. I'm with you. I've published two books, have a third with my editor and am working on a fourth. In the same time another author has written 10 or 15 stories, built a backlist I can't compete with, while having a full-time job and building an online platform to rival the Titanic. Talk about Wonder Woman;).

I think all you can do is stay true to yourself and try to combine the writing with what you want out of the writing. Do you want to be a bestselling author? Do you want to see your name in print/ebook? Do you want to earn enough money for a downpayment?

Try and put the scariness of the world out of your mind and do what works for you. And always write the best damn book you can;).

April Vine said...

Hi Dita :)

I read your post and the comments on it twice because I feel as if you were speaking to me personally. Even though I have the time and opportunity to write full-time, promo of any kind gives me palpitations. I fail almost every other day on Twitter and Facebook, and then stress about failing at it everyday - my life is clearly not eventful enough to warrant constant status updates.
But I agree totally with Anya - to keep writing the best books I can because that must and surely does account for something more in the long run.

Great post. Your honesty hits home.

Dita Parker said...

So. I slept on it. Do I feel calmer? Oh man... Some thoughts harvested in the wee hours of the morning and while reading Anya's, Tina's and April's comments:

No one pays me to write. No one forces me in front of a computer. No one expects anything. All the fire, all the motivation, all the stories...they come from within. I'm the one and only me. You're the one and only you. I think someone has written a song about this. I think I've talked about this in the past. The shortest route to discontent is comparison. Don't go there. If you're happy with where you are and what you are doing, why focus on what others are up to? Keep your head down and keep at it, keep working, keep writing. Hear a but yet?

But. I'm not operating in a void here. None of us are. If you want to get published and are lucky enough to realize that dream, the day comes when you have to step out into the light and that's when you see all the other writers out there, some blinded by that light, some basking in it. At least for me, it was a bit overwhelming, still is. So is that who the future belongs to: those who can take the sheer enormity, beauty and horror of it without flinching?

Still more questions than answers. Sorry about that. I do want to thank everyone who took the time to think things over and share those thoughts. I'm still open to venting and wisdom alike, whatever you want to say on the subject. I sincerely hope I didn't aggravate those who are anxious. If I helped someone clear their thoughts, that's fantastic.

I know what a tall order creating something original can be. You have to be thick-skinned and passionate and aggressive (in the positive meaning of the word), and on a good day it's all rainbows and pink elephants, isn't it? At the same time, at the same time, you have to be adaptable and receptive and sensitive, so on a bad day the writing life is nothing but a skinned knee. A constant rollercoaster of raw emotion and cool detachment is what this is. All those along for the ride, holding on for dear life without a clue as to what's beyond the next rise, I salute you.

Brindle Chase said...

I so feel you. I often wonder if I'm cut out for this business. My work days are 6 days a week, 13 hours a day. Then home life, domestic duties, children, etc... all consume the rest. I'm lucky if I can cough up an hour a week for promotion. As it is, I write my books on my lunch break at work. 200-500 words at a time. If I'm lucky.

So, what is my magic answer to this dilemma? Well, I don't have one. But I have reconciled with myself and fallen back to the original reason I became an author. I love to write. And so I write whenever I can and I publish those books whenever I can. If they sell great, excellent. If they don't, oh well. I love writing and that is all that really matters. I've given up on most promotion and the interesting thing is, my sales remain the same and still growing slowly. All the wasted hours posting on blogs, facebooks, twitters and whatnot, amounted to very little. The old addage "The best way to sell a book is to write another one" seems to hold true. Either way, I decided I don't care. It would be nice to be able to afford to write full time, but until I get to that level, I'll just have to make do.

Anyway, great article. You're not alone!

Brindle Chase

Dita Parker said...

Oh Brindle, you have no idea how relieved I am to hear that all the extracurricular activities won't necessarily break or make me because if that's what it all boils down to, might as well pronounce me dead on arrival.

I blog and chat and interact when I feel I have something to say or something someone says makes me want to jump in, but I can't be everywhere all the time. I know it means I'm not only missing out on the daily goings-on...going-ons?...no goings-on of authors I really like but great debates and discussions as well, but that's something I will have to live with if I want to write at all.

So. Have we come to a consensus? Are we at least closing in on one? That all the marketing and socializing in the world can never surpass content, in our case a good story, and another and another? That when it comes to promo, everyone should do what they are comfortable with and feel works best for them, but if it's taking more time than the actual business of writing then you're definitely overdoing it?

So does that mean not all is lost? That I have hope? I have hope... I have hope! We have hope!! There's hope!!! I started this up, writing again I mean, with absolute certainty I could do this. Imagine a pep talk in front of a mirror. Okay, there was no mirror but there was definitely a pep talk. "So you think you can write? Yes I do, thanks for asking." "I believe I can do this. Let others prove I can't." "Write it and they will come."

Pun totally intended but come on, it's erotic romance! And it's late and I'm tipsy on tiredness so indulge me, will ya? This has been weighing on me like the Rock of Gibraltar so I'm glad to hear I'm not alone and rest assured you're not alone and if the world ends up proving I can't do this, I'll just open up a clinic here at the Den and listen to all your worldly and otherworldly (in case you write paranormal like Brindle does and I have) woes, how's that? I'm good for it. That much I do believe I have proved.