Sunday, January 13, 2013
Publishing and Marketing Your Crap
James Scott Bell
I get emails from The Writer's Store in Burbank, CA, because I teach there from time to time. It’s a great store that offers a wide variety of classes, many of which interest me. This one really caught my eye:
Publishing and Marketing Your Crap
Now there is an honestly titled workshop! Or so I thought for about a second. Then I realized what happened was that the subject line in my email viewer cut off the full title. And looking closer I saw that the C was really a G, and the actual title was: Publishing and Marketing Your Graphic Novel.
Nerts! I was really interested in the other one, just to see what the curriculum would look like. So, with a catchy title and no workshop, I now offer some notes on how to publish and market your crap.
1. Write fast, but with this caution: don't ever worry about growing as a writer. Believe that if you write in a genre, especially erotica, the quality of the writing doesn’t matter.
2. Don't seek anyone else's opinion about your writing, especially people you have to pay, like a freelance editor. Save your money (you're going to need it).
3. Design your own cover.
4. Upload your book.
5. Market your books by setting up robo tweets, at least eleven each day, urging people to buy your book. You don't have time to actually interact with people on social media. You should be busy writing your next piece of crap!
Okay, all seriousness aside, the issue of fast production versus quality of product is crucially important. It was recently given treatment by astute industry observer Jane Friedman. On her blog she suggested that “commodity writing” (as opposed to “literary writing”) has a chance to do well in the indie world because it can be churned out to an audience that reads these things “like candy.” She laid out the formula this way:
1. Write a ton of material.
2. Publish it yourself on all the digital platforms.
3. Repeat as quickly as possible.
4. Make a living as a writer.
Then Jane added a line that produced no small amount of blowback: “This model doesn’t care about quality.”
Indie sensation C. J. Lyons responded with a comment: “But I disagree with your point that indy writers are not concerned with quality. It's not just writing a book and repeating that leads to success, it's writing a GREAT book, one that will delight and inspire your readers to tell their friends and share it with the world, then repeat.”
Jane clarified that she was not advocating this view, but that it seems to be somewhat prevalent among those going indie.
The fertile keyboard of Porter Anderson tapped out a discussion of all this for his popular Writing on the Ether column, which prompted yours truly to add a comment of his own:
Re: "commodity" publishing. I've been saying this ever since "the boom" was a boomlet and people were going, "Whu?" about digital publishing: it's like the mass market boom post WWII. Fast, cheap, genre, and it sold a ton. And a lot of it wasn't, well, all that great. But guess what? Within that market emerged those who WERE writing with an obvious quality. John D. MacDonald. Gil Brewer. Charles Williams. Richard Prather. Ross Macdonald. And guess what else? They rose to the top. Or maybe not all the way to the top, but certainly more than halfway up the glass.
So "quality" (an amorphous thing like obscenity, which one Supreme Court justice defined as "I know it when I see it") is definitely something the indie writer ought to pursue if he or she really want to increase the odds of making real bank at this game. It's not just about numbers. My "formula" is quality + production + time.
How does one add "quality" to the writing? Study the freaking craft. Not just on one weekend. Every day, learn something, in what you read, in what you write. But carve out specific times for study, too. I don't want a brain surgeon who just surges. I want him reading the journals and going to conferences and learning to do what he does even better. Then I may be able to keep what little brain I have left.
So my bottom line is this. There may be some who argue that quality doesn’t matter and sheer volume will bring in the big dough. Allowing for the occasional exception, I say it won't. You've still got this pesky thing called a reader you have to please. If readers don't like the first book of yours they try, they're most unlikely to buy any of the other 37.
Yes, quality is in the eye of the beholder. So behold your own work, and kick it up a notch. This is the only way to improve the chances that your books won’t get dumped into the great white bowl of literary obscurity.
Flush with optimism in 2013, I remain,
Your humble correspondent.