Being a writer is quite appealing, to say the least, especially in the 21st century when self-publishing and on-demand printing create avenues of success that simply were not available in the past.
I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hand. I still have the first “books” that I wrote over 35 years ago. My success, however, was a long time coming and I have the technology of the 21st century and the loyalty of my initial readers to thank for that.
I find it interesting, however, to observe the reaction of people when they ask what I do. The conversation goes something like this:
Person: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a writer.”
Person: “Oh. (silence…crickets chirping) I always wanted to write a book. I’ve been thinking about it for years. Maybe I’ll do it one day.”
Now, let’s try that with another occupation.
Person: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a brain surgeon.”
Person: “I always wanted to be a brain surgeon. I’ve been thinking about it for years. Maybe I’ll do it one day.”
I think you get where I’m going with this.
Recently, I joined an online writers’ group. For the most part, I read what they post and try to learn something from their questions, comments, and observations. It seems to me that what I’ve really learned is that an awful lot of people share my passion for writing.
It’s like singing. Ever since American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and any other variation of these reality shows became popular, the secret passions of America’s youth have exploded! Everyone wants to be a pop star. Children are taking singing lessons, guitar lessons, piano lessons, you name it. They are recording songs, uploading them to iTunes, dreaming the Big Dream.
Unfortunately, just because one writes a book and uploads it to Amazon…just because one sings/records a song and uploads it to iTunes…success is not guaranteed.
Maybe it’s because we all learned to write in school…and we were all forced to take art classes and chorus. However, we were not forced to take neuroscience or tort law or psychology…at least not in high school. For some reason, when you mention that you do something cultural for a living, the questions shift away from what you do but to how the other person always wanted to do the same thing and still might give it a shot.
Far from me to begrudge anyone that chance. I just hope they don’t think that it’s as easy as 1-2-3!
A few years ago, I read a book called 10,000 Hours by Malcolm Gladwell. He’s one of my favorite authors. He just makes sense! The basis of this book was that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. I like this theory. It’s a good theory. Of course, just because you practice the piano for 10,000 hours doesn’t mean you will be playing at Carnegie Hall. But you sure are going to be better than the majority of people who practice an hour a week and wonder why, after three years, they haven’t progressed beyond a few quality show tunes.
Additionally there is something more that must be considered: Talent. A person can have a passion for painting and paint incessantly. That does not mean they are a good or talented painter. The same goes with writing.
And then, with any profession, a person must understand basic marketing. Yes, remember that Marketing 101 course that we took in college? If you were lucky, you also took Marketing 102 and Marketing 103. As a former marketing professor, I feel qualified enough to remind everyone of the Famous Four Ps: product, placement, promotion, and pricing. It seems most singers, writers, and painters focus on developing the first P (product) but forget about the other three Ps.
For example, on an online writers’ group, a woman recently asked why her books were not selling. I cringe when I read questions like that! Personally, I write because I love to write…not just to sell books. Still, I poked around and tried to find some answers for her. To begin with, writing (like singing and painting) is not enough. Contrary to the popular saying, there is no “if you build it, they will come” mentality in the world of publishing. For this particular writer, I couldn’t find anything about her (or him!). The writer of the post did not identify her/himself and, after searching for fifteen minutes, I finally responded with a “What’s your author name?”
That should have been the first clue that something was wrong. Instead, I received a reply with an “Oops!” together with the author’s name (which was not even a variation of anything I could have possibly guessed!). So, back to Amazon I went…to research the author. What did I find? One book with a cover that was nearly impossible to read. It was so dark that, even when I enlarged it, I could not make out the title. I also found another, more recent book, 72 pages, that was priced at $8.00 in eBook format.
Now, she has the product (and a questionable quality one at that, because most people judge a book by its cover, before deciding to open it or not…the cover was too hard to read on the first book) and, while she had the books listed on Amazon (placement), it was rather hard to find them, even when searching by their author’s name. Promotion? I would never even know that she existed if it weren’t for her email in the writers’ group. As to pricing…$8.00 for a 72-page ebook by an unknown author that I cannot even find when searching on Amazon for her author’s name…
Writing as a career is only partially passion. It is also about skill, talent, and the ability to work…and work really hard at something that is not as easy as it seems. Hours can be spent writing and re-writing but one single sentence. Days can be spent revising story lines. And research…even one little inaccuracy in the story or detail can ruin the entire book. Last but not least,
In short, a writer does not allow her/his books to reach the shelves, electronic or not, unless totally satisfied with the end product, inside and out.
It’s a lot of work to be a writer. Of course, after having spent over 10,000 hours doing it and anticipating another 20,000 more or so ahead of me (God willing), I still wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.