Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Becoming a Writer in the 21st Century: Part 1

Over the years of bumbling through this or that rough draft, participating in writing communities, and puzzling through the process and business of writing my focus has skittered about.  At the center of this is was the idea: “Where to start?”

Originally, the idea was with a rough draft.  But after the first few were shelved, or overhauled, I worried what the next step would be when I was pleased with a rough draft.  I got caught up in the idea of “the next step” and it made me resistant to finishing things.  

This had happened due to a few things.  One: the writers’ group i had been a  part of that I very nearly turned into a non-profit before succumbing to my own self-doubt and hanging there, useless, submitting resumes via  monster, watching the bank account dwindle and in such a  haze I couldn't finish reading a book--much less writing one. But before that settled upon me, I had drive and ambition, and a willingness to change and respond to the environment around me.  

We self published an anthology of short stories and I learned the entire process of the thing.   The process taught me that marketing was central to making a book successful.  Generating community, and rising to communicate internally to a particular niche.

Quality is essential to attracting the eyes of the uncertain.  A good cover is not just money, it is a demonstration of the seriousness of the writer.  There are a lot more steps to the process of producing the cover than CreateSpace and other formula-generating self-publishing options generally lead an author to believe.  Not that good covers can’t be produced through CreateSpace.  

Working where I do, I also know that a good cover is not guaranteed when going with a traditional publisher. In fact, it seems that the better covers are reserved for titles that expected to make more money, which means that the author has likely already demonstrated their marketability by reaching out inside a community, in some fashion.  They have been marked by the publisher as an individual with the connections to bring in enough money to make the whole system stay afloat.  

But quality has to be carried through the whole of the book to make certain the sale builds the sort of customer and brand loyalty that can generate a lengthy writing career.   As someone interested in being a full time writer--that’s what I’m after.  

Working in a bookstore, and knowing the limitations and shopping patterns of the book-buying populace I see why marketing is key.  Our store is relatively small--when compared to a box store--and insanely large when compared to most independents.  But there is no way that we can stock the sheer thousands of books published each year.

So whether you’re on a major book tour with your publicist plotting your stays, making arrangements with the stores, or if you are on your own, hauling self-published books out your trunk, it is about marketing.  

Realizing this has actually freed me.  You see, I was so stressed out over “perfecting”: my novel and wondering about timing and how to get an agent and a publisher while also understanding that the system… well, it isn't the same as it used to be.

If it is all about marketing, it isn't about writing to your audience, it’s about identifying who is already prone to like what you want to write.  If it’s about niches--the direction that successful marketing is going-- then it’s about being you.  Because when you market successfully it isn’t just the book--the author becomes a greater presence on the scene.   

And if that is the direction I need to go with my career, than the real thing to do… is write.  not copying the methods that work well for other authors, not harping on what has proven successful before and making it my own-- but generally writing my own thing.  

I am free to explore the form and craft the way that I, hidden under all the uncertainty and insecurity, have always wanted.  I have enough sense, after that, to work it all out.  I have learned enough about the business and about marketing, about the book industry itself, to have a few ideas of just how to go about making a business of it--but first, I’m off to complete a novel.

Complete a novel, my way.


Monday, October 28, 2013

The Educating of Myself Part 2: The Working World

Then I got a job--after three years in pursuit of a paycheck--at a bookstore.  Love my job.  But it has given me much greater insight to the changed nature, not only of selling books, but also consumer behavior in buying books.  On top of that, there is a major gap between customer expectation of a bookstore and what a bookstore *actually* has the resources to provide.  Which, has demonstrated to me, yet again, that an author must run his/her own publicity machine--or pay for someone else to do so, whether they are published by the big guys, or by him/her -self.   

What a career as an author looks like now is not the same as the one I expected to attain when I was a teenager reading: “How to get Happily Published,” or piling through Writer’s Digest’s “Writer's’ Market” in ‘98 through ‘05.

Scheduling events with authors and publicists and publishers, I get a further insight into the discrepancy between what people expect from a signing event versus what actually transpires.   Then, there is the impact of changing formats and what e-book popularity is going to make people expect from print.

We (humans) work off of relationships and identity, and reading, art, education have particular resonance and purpose internal to specific American communities.  The physical objects we take into our lives are indicative of our identity construction, even if we are unaware why, how, or what it communicates to ourself and our community.

Books, however,  are a different matter. I think that booklovers reading this know *exactly* what they mean to us and in our lives.  Especially that gorgeous, signed 1st edition by a favorite author…

But the motivation to buy, and what to buy, will change.  It is changing.  It is changing what is published.  It is altering the composition of the bookstore.  But the expectation of the  buying populace, even if they are modelling changed behavior over all, are not aware of this shift.  So what they, and what authors think, a bookstore does is different from what a bookstore is actually doing, or even capable of doing.  

The result is that we are entering an awkward in-between phase where we expect bookstores to be what they were ten to twenty years ago, without realizing that how we use them now is no where near the same way we used them ten to twenty years ago.

This changes how I will approach my own career.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Educating of Myself: Part 1: My Academic Journey

I chose to major in anthropology because I wanted to soak up knowledge of cultures and history for the construction of my fantasy worlds. Life, as always, has different plans.

What I learned from spending eight years to obtain a four-year-degree can (somewhat) be boiled down to these vague ideas:

1) Culture defines us and our individual identity on such an innate level that we cannot witness or identify the vast majority of its affects on our life, mindset, and actions.

2) Culture is changeable.  The unconscious can become conscious, and history and values can be altered over time.  Technology can change behavior, and as behavior changes, values shift and identity construction adopts new forms.

3) Each people has their own history.  A People’s history formulates the shape of changes internal to one’s own culture, the available avenues to take when your behavior changes in response to an altered environment, and how to interact with others outside your cultural group.

4) Humans relate to the world in terms of relationships between and among things.  This is how all societies develop categories, stereotypes and groups of “like.” But each of these societies arranges the same things differently and their categories may be shaped or changed due to relationships with other groups.

5) The political map is an outgrowth of relationships between and among various societies, forged by the definition of dominant cultures, ethnic minorities, and culturally constructed borders reinforced by economic systems and who is included in that system, and in what manner they are included.  Individuals’ identities and value systems  can be formed and changed by shifts in these relationships and these changes can, in turn, result in individuals taking action as identity and values collide in a manner that can incite action (rebellion, war, law-breaking, etc).

What does this mean?  

For my writing I have fodder for the construction of a very sophisticated political map, based on groups responding to other groups based on deep histories.

For my career--and this is where I’ve been most shocked about my application of my education-- the tools that I developed to be “successful” as a writer are dated.  I saw this when i graduated college and plunged into reading blogs and listening to all the talk of “midlist genre authors being dropped,” but I scoffed at the idea that it would change that completely so quickly.  

I mean, it might be *harder* to get in, but it was still possible. Indeed, it was still *necessary* for success as a writer.  Right???  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Growing-Up of Drea

I started out just writing--like we all do.  Then I started researching the business, and at that point in time it was all about traditional publishing because you absolutely had to have your books in bookstores to sell, and you have to sell (of course) to make it as a writer.  So it was about queries and synopsis and having the first three chapters of your novel so polished that they shone, flawless on the page.  
The same critique group that honed this awareness introduced the idea that publishers were looking for marketability.  
I was an impressionable 21, with the only certainty in my young life the conviction that, in the amorphous future, I wanted to be a full-time writer and nothing else.  I soaked up the ideas of how to attract an agent, a publisher, and promote oneself as a writer.
Young as I was, I also chafed against this focus.  Shouldn't it be about my writing?  This is, after all, what I want to do?  
Besides, the group’s ideas of what made a story “promote-able” were an exact opposite, oftentimes, to what I considered good writing.  I wanted storytelling that didn't treat the reader as an imbecile with ADD.  
Over time, I went off the deepend, eventually being completely obsessed with marketability.  This happened partially in response to the changing industry and my determination to be traditionally published.  
But the more my academic experience changed how I viewed the industry and the trajectory we were all headed into, the more I questioned the viability of starting out pursuing traditional publication.  I gathered my own ideas of marketing, of writing, of developing myself and my career, and then fell down a recession-forged fiscal hole that finished the destruction of my carefully held beliefs of the adult world.  
Now, perhaps, I am ready for the enacting of my ideas.  It’s a long time coming.