I’ve been following a couple of writers discussion threads on LinkedIn and twitter for some few days now. The most active being one called “What’s the best way for writers to promote themselves?” on LinkedIn. Having been writing with various degrees of success over the years, I thought I’d add my five cents worth.
For those not in the rarified air of academia, where various cliques interact to publish what the rest of us mere mortal hacks sometimes consider too self involved. I refer to ‘Prize winning’ books with prose so dense as to be almost unreadable. Books that without the publicity of the prize would inevitably suffer the fate of pulp mill and remaindered book store. The volumes where content is subservient to style are my particular dislike. As far as I’m concerned it’s the story that matters, not the author.
To we lesser mortals left to our own resources, the task of getting one’s work into print often seems insurmountable. Manuscripts languish unread in publishers ‘slush piles’, having failed to engage one readers specific interest. There have been occasions where an author has submitted the first three chapters of a published ‘classic’, only for the MSS to be returned with a rejection slip and formulaic ‘Better luck elsewhere’ letter. I’ve had thirty plus years of observing the mainstream publishing trade in inaction and I’ve formed my own opinion on what a writers best path forward is.
Two elements seem to be key, apart from grammar and spelling etcetera; theme and amount. A single book will not engage a readers interests unless the story is so compelling that it cannot be ignored, nor will the most polished and crafted short story. For all their perfection, they are merely another tree in the forest. Mostly ignored. A body of similarly themed work is, I argue, far more likely to attract attention. A lot of mud has to be thrown for it to stick.
Now take for example the work of Terry Pratchett; particularly his semi-satirical Discworld novels. I ‘discovered’ Terry’s work via a friend who lent me a three year old copy of his howlingly funny Sourcery, which as anyone who knows Terry’s work will observe, is hardly the first of the Discworld series. Before that, I’d never heard of him. Even afterwards, having read everything of his except his latest offering ‘Snuff’. I’m moved to concede that had I only read “The colour of magic” I’d not have bothered with the rest, and missed some of the funniest, most refreshing reading I’ve ever enjoyed. The more he’s written, the more avidly I’ve devoured each new volume. Yet had he not written so much, his comic genius would have had at least one less reader.
Some authors who write under a series of pseudonyms for the romance and erotica genres seem to pump out a novella a month to a formulaic plot. Thrillers not so much, but there are a number who put out one book every six months, recycling plots better than a garden compost bin. Yet these people become household names. Why? Because they write what can only be described as ‘Product’, and like cans of beans in a supermarket their output sells. The royalty cheques flow, which is what a writer needs. Food in the larder, and a little in the bank to fuel the obsession, because writing and storytelling is by specific need, obsessive-compulsive. It’s certainly no way to get rich.
It seems to me that a person is either (and often both) a storyteller or a listener, and neither can help who they are. We can only tell our tales to feed our mutual human need for novelty and stimulation. There is, I contend, an audience for everyone. It’s down to the individual storyteller to pump out so much work that their voice cannot be ignored.
In this way, the Internet and eBooks are becoming the new sounding board. Critique and reason is now open to all consumers of prose, not just that sifted by professional readers and bored Summer Students hired to wade through a mountain of literary pitchblende to find commercial radium. This is a situation we as writers need to take full advantage of. Write, create, polish, publish online. Short fiction, biographies, long fiction. Put out such a body of decent work it cannot be ignored, and your readers will discover you.
That is what I intend to do.
Back to work.
New resources for ePublishing; Amazons Kindle and Barnes & Nobles Pubit.
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