The Writer’s Life – A Few Thoughts

Being a writer is hard work, yo.

We pour our hearts and souls into our work, sell our souls to pay the bills, and hope like hell that all our tampering with words means something to someone somewhere. We subject ourselves to criticism every time we hit publish or send to submit something.

Brace Yourselves Criticism is Coming

That criticism is no longer in the form of blood all over papers submitted in high school or college. No, it’s widespread and typed all over the Internet, sometimes in Comic Sans (shudders). Some people limit it to just the piece which set them off. Others hunt you down on Social Media and tear you a new one for promoting a view with which they disagree. Some try to be helpful and email you or message you about errors in your piece (I actually appreciate that provided it’s not accompanied by “and while you’re fixing your mistake, if you’d add my link” because just no.)

As writers, we are mostly responsible for our own promotions. We cannot simply fling things out into the universe and expect people to promote them for us. Sometimes things may click and spread. But most of the time, it will just sit there, dormant, waiting to be discovered. It’s all about what you DO with your writing that makes it relevant.

I am absolutely guilty of flinging things out into the universe and waiting for something to happen. Then I learned that I have to get behind it and push it – like a car that won’t start. You have to MAKE it start and sometimes that means pushing…hard. If there is one thing I wish I was better at, it’s self-promotion. Improving my self-promotion skills is one of my goals for 2014.

My friend, Pauline, wrote a fabulous piece over at her blog, Aspiring Mama, entitled “Two Rules for Literary Fame.” You should go read it. Literary fame, contrary to popular belief, does not just happen overnight. Even the biggies got rejection notices. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of Best-Sellers which were initially rejected.

Guess who’s on that list? Dr. Seuss, Judy Blume, J.D. Salinger, C.S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter, L.M. Montgomery, Margaret Mitchell, L. Frank Baum, Ayn Rand, Jack Kerouac, George Orwell, Herman Melville….and many more. You get my point, right?

In this day and age, self-publication is easier than ever. Write, upload, market, MONEY & FAME. Boom, right? Not really.

You still have to deal with promotion to get to money. In order to get to money, you need to play nice because if you don’t, bad things can happen and the money will never happen. Money doesn’t just waltz right in the door. You have to WORK for it. There is a right way to promote and then there is a terribly wrong way to promote.

First, you are probably cold-emailing people you do not know based on a list, a Google Search, or goodness knows what else if you haven’t taken the time to build up an audience first. All you know about them is based on what they have shared on their blog or their public Social Media Accounts. You try to be friendly and social. Zone in on something which interests them, state an offer, keep your email short. Then, the fun part – waiting for a response. Most of the people you email won’t respond. But the ones that do are the ones you need to connect with because they see some value in what you have to offer.

This is where things can go horribly wrong. They can also go horribly wrong when you write your initial email if you don’t keep it short.

Here are my rules for initial marketing contact based on a recent experience:

1) Keep contact short and simple. The KISS Method. It’s fabulous. Greeting, connection, the goal of your email, what form your book is in and when it releases, a FEW quotes from your book, offer, closing. BAM. Do NOT assume the person you are emailing has all the time in the world to read your email, even if you know them well. SHORT AND SIMPLE. Think Flash Fiction vs. Epic Novel. Always, always go with flash fiction. An elevator pitch format works wonderfully here.

2) If you get a response which asks questions and/or criticizes your initial email because you’ve failed to follow rule #1, suck it up, answer the questions, and work through it to get your book out there. Respond negatively and you will lose that connection.

3) Not responding at all to someone who is an obviously an ass or ignorant is perfectly acceptable. Not responding (or responding negatively) to someone who has asked legitimate questions and offered constructive criticism is a huge no-no and ends up a lot like, well, this blog post being written about you.

Now, am I advocating that you have to put up with assholes on your way to literary fame? Absolutely not. If someone responds and they are clearly a dick, then don’t bother responding at all because well, integrity and all that. But if you get a response and they clearly are offering constructive criticism as well as showing an interest in your book, you best be responding to them in a positive manner. If you cannot handle constructive criticism via email, then you, sir, are no writer.

Not just anyone can be a writer, you know.

Getting your work in front of people takes more work than actually writing the words. You have to have the balls to spill your soul, the chutzpah promote yourself, the guts to take rejection, and the stamina to stand back up after being punched in the gut over to do it all over again the next day.

Think you can handle that?

If so, then welcome to the writer’s world. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

Coffee? Thesaurus? Nap? Chocolate? YouTube Videos of cats? Wine?

No, you’re good? Alrighty, then.

Go forth. Write. You know, after you’re done staring at the blank screen as if you’ve just seen Perry the Platypus dance like Christopher Walken across your screen. Deadline is in an hour.