What makes a writer? it seems obvious that a writer is someone who writes. Which would then follow that a professional writer is someone who is paid to write? But, oh, what is a real writer?
Now there we get into the area some people want to draw lines. Or in other words, the battle between the independent, and the dependents. The dependents would have it that the only real writers are the ones who were chosen to be supported by an entity known as a publisher, acting as a gatekeeper. The independents are less worried about what makes a writer ‘real’ than they are about writing, publishing, and finding that market which will mean they can write the next book in good conscience.
I came across Kristine Kathryn Rusch talking about markets yesterday, and was stuck as always by the clarity of her thoughts on this. You should go read all of it, but pertinent to my point…
There is no market.
There is a marketplace.
A wide-open marketplace that lets readers browse and find whatever is to their tastes. Think of one of those bazaars you find in major cities, the kind of bazaar that goes on for blocks and blocks. Sure, there’s a lot of fresh fruit currently in season, and some lovely woven scarves and some beautiful hand-carved bowls. But there are also one-of-a-kind items, from artists who might not be able to afford to be near the entrances, but you can find them if you look.
That expanded marketplace is new in publishing. Before, the gatekeepers controlled every single stall in that marketplace. You couldn’t find the lovely one-of-a-kind item even if you walked past every stall in every aisle.
Now you can.
What makes a real writer? Sales. Real writers get paid. Real writers don’t subsist on government grants for work they might produce in the nebulous future. Real writers know that they have fans who will happily buy the next book, and the next, and… Now, this takes a while. And it takes a lot of effort. Writing is no sinecure.
I love Kris Rusch’s metaphor of the bazaar. How are you, as a writer, going to stand out to the readers in this new, bustling marketplace? because this is how you will get paid, by attracting the attention of the readers. Now, objectively speaking it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘bad’ writer in the eyes of the dependents who keep telling the independents (even those who take home six figures in a year) they aren’t ‘real’ writers. If you’re a ‘bad’ writer and people buy your stuff and beg for more, stop fretting over it and keep writing. Note that I am not talking about lack of editing, poor grammar, and plenty of typos. That’s not bad writing, that’s bad editing. That’s why you hire an editor, or at the very least if you’re at the beginning and can’t afford it yet, you find someone in the same boat and swap services with them. Both of you will learn from that process.
In order to stand out in the marketplace to the readers, you have to know the market. This is where many writers balk. They don’t need to know the market. That is what their publisher is for!
No, the writer doesn’t need to ‘write to the market’ but the writer does need to understand what the market is looking for, so the book that is produced can be marketed. I don’t know if that is clear.
Let’s say, for instance, that I wrote a sweet Western Romance, and put it out there. With no other books under that penname, and no real promotion of that title, in a marketplace that has been conditioned to expect sex and lots of it in a romance title, my book with no sex would sink like a stone (it did). On the other hand I have been watching in delight as a young writer I know has been working diligently at breaking into the market. She’s flying in the face of urban fantasy expectations (and paranormal, which her work tends more toward) by writing sweet stories that aren’t heavy on the sex and who frankly remind me of an up-to-date Nancy Drew dealing with voudon, ghosts, and oh, she’s a witch… But I expect she will do very well, because I know there are those who have given up in disgust with the Urban Fantasy that focuses on sex first, action and story second, or maybe third and fourth after character angst (I’ve just been trying to read an iconic UF series and finally gave up in disgust). She is, really, setting up a booth with her wares in the marketplace and she’s different.
Different is good. But not too different. I’m thinking about craft fairs I worked in, years back. When the shoppers walked into them, they had certain expectations. If you were going to a church bazaar, you expected funny little old ladies with hand-crocheted tissue-box covers. If it was an upscale juried show, they wanted to see fine jewelry and prices that were at least three digits. Which isn’t to say that the grannies were selling bad wares. They were selling to their audience.
And how to do that? I’ll ask you what your thoughts are, and then in the coming week, we’ll take a look at the nuts and bolts of creating a product to sell. I’ll tell you one thing: it’s not all about the writing.
The little contrarian voice in the back of my head threw out an analogy at me, along the lines of “If a tree falls in the forest….”. Is a writer a writer if he never gets read? If a Writer just writes every night in a Journal and hides it under the floorboards, never showing it to anyone, is he really a writer? Or is writing about the COMMUNICATION of ideas between the writer and the reader?
After all, If there’s nobody there to hear it, how do we even know that a tree fell at all?
Forgive my French, but reading your comment the phrase “literary masturbation” leapt to mind. And having made its presence known in my head I also realized that it applies quite well to a certain set of works nominated for Hugos the last few years.
I once had to take a course about Art (lot of recent art history in that) and after dealing with that crap, that’s where I decided that the important thing about art is that it communicates something from the artist to the viewer (and likewise writing).
I’ve long held that if a piece of art requires a little plaque next to it to tell you what it actually means, then it has failed. And if the artist says “It means whatever you want it to mean” then the artist has failed.
Art suffers from the same problem as the publishing industry. Gatekeeper-approved art? Bleah. Indie art? You and I both swim in that community and dang there’s some beautiful stuff out there. http://cedarlili.deviantart.com/favourites/67349149/SFF-Art
Dr. Mauser’s battlebot, to me, is a work of art. Of course, I’m definitely a metal-shavings kind of a guy.
I agree, though. Just because it’s mechanical doesn’t lessen the art.
Certainly there’s creativity involved in building something original. OTOH, there was Duschamp who took a commercially available urinal, put it on a pedestal, and called it art, as if the mere act of putting it there made it art. When you completely “deconstruct” art, there’s nothing left.
I think the answer may come clearer when you realize that, at bottom, what we’re talking about here isn’t so much writing as it is storytelling. There, there must be an audience component, thus readers and sales become a sine qua non.
A writer’s a writer if he writes. A writer’s an author if he gets read. (By anyone, including spouse and kids.)
I think I like that. Does that work for you?
And we know the tree fell when we take a walk and find it growing mushrooms on the forest floor. Some folks need to take more walks.
I think people need to stop looking to others for validation of whether they’re a ‘real’ writer. Do you write? Is that enough for you to feel like you’re a writer? If yes, then you’re real. If no, then look to the next of your benchmarks – be it ‘writes every day’, ‘writes to be published’, or ‘is published’. Whatever the benchmark is, set it yourself, and when you reach it, yay. When I started writing seriously, I started calling myself a writer. That was 10 years before I published my own first book. Now I’m a writer AND I’m an author (because whether people could buy my books was the benchmark for ‘author’ to me). Woohoo. Whether anyone else thinks I’m real or not is immaterial.
Yes! Because the alternative is what, you’re a ‘fake’ writer? But I see people struggling with it, so I wind up writing posts like this.
When you say “Writing seriously” that begs for a comparison to what is writing non-seriously. Personally, I’ve been terribly unmotivated to write for a while now. Does one stop being a writer after a certain period of time?
No, you’re stuck with it 😉 But you may be burnt out and need to focus on something else for a while. I’ve done that.
Writing seriously for me means with an eye toward finishing the book and getting it published as opposed to the years I spent scribbling in notebooks and never getting to THE END or ever worrying about whether anyone would ever read it.
I’m with you, with a slight variation. I’ve got stuff I’ve written, but will never see the light of day because frankly I lack the nerve to submit it anywhere.
Two of the most well received things I’ve done this year weren’t intended to be serious writing. Okay, they were jokes, and I worked at them. I wrote them to get off my back.
Was that western romance the one I beta’d for you a while back?
Shame that it didn’t find its audience as IMHO it was very well written and I don’t even like romances.
Of course in my opinion based on the quality of your work your sales should match those of Butcher or Correia.
thank you 😀 No, it’s been sitting there quietly doing nothing. I know that if I managed to find time and put up a half-dozen in that series, then push them, it would find it’s niche. But right now I’m trying to make my name, I don’t have time to float anything else. *sighs*
Probably you need to team up with Celia or with other sweet Western romance writers.
You know, there were several pulps dedicated solely to sweet Western romance, back in the day. For a while, they were written and read by both men and women. Some of the stories were more historical, others more contemporary. Ranch Romances is the best example.
It’s kind of a shame that never happened to sf (until now, I guess). Rusch seems to have uncovered a fairly decent number of early sf romances, again written and enjoyed by both men and women.
Not because Celia writes romance, but because people who like a good story set out West might also like a good love story set out West. (Depending on how genre-exclusive the story is. It sounds like it must have crossover appeal to non-readers of the romance genre.) After all, Louis L’Amour wrote a ton of adventure stories that were also recognizably sweet Western romance (at least to an older definition of the genre).
Interesting. I know common wisdom is that, although an author might write in several genres, she shouldn’t write in them under the same name–unless you’re already so successful you don’t care. What if you used the same author name for all your books, but just made sure you prominently labeled them by genre? The covers if done right should give that away. I know the theory is that an inattentive buyer might buy your romance, and decide he no longer wants to read your fantasy because “Romance, blech!” but has anybody really tested that, or is that just a myth?
I’ve had some interesting reviews on the fantasy pro/con romance, so I do know that a reader brings preconceptions to genre that don’t always fit what the rest of us think. With this book, it’s an open penname, and it was more in the way of an experiment. I’m learning, just slowly.
I’m actually quite interested in sweet romance sans sex…but the above link sent me to the UF instead. What’s the title?
Sara, the title is Farmhand, by Lilania Begley.
Thank you!! 🙂
I bought this awhile ago, and enjoyed it. I was wondering if there would be more. Now I know. I hope your sales pick up so you will write more.
I have another one about half-begun. It’s school, more than lack of sales, that has quenched my output.
I hope that when you finish school, you’ll finish the next story following Farmhand. I liked it. 🙂
How do you sell to your audience? First, read so you know what’s out there, especially the books your friends and co-workers gush over. (Brandon Sanderson and Andy Weir are on their third go-round through the school. Teachers have had to replace worn-out copies and students are passing _The Martian_ around like it was samidzat. Apparently teenagers have had enough of grey goo YA.) Then write, write a lot, polish a little, revise where needed, get decent covers, and launch. Then let people know, politely, that the book is out and they might enjoy it.
Or you do like someone I know: write a really really good, gripping, hard mil-sci-fi book or two, market the h-ll out of them, write more, and grin as people clamour for the next book.
Speaking of marketing, how many of us market hard-copies at places like, oh farm-and-ranch shows or gun shows? Other than investment cost and being serious introverts, why not? I know one or two local children’s book authors who sell at the farm-n-ranch shows – books about farms and ranching, both picture books and snort chapter books. A gun show might be a great venue for mil-sci-fi or urban-fantasy of the Jim Butcher and Larry Correia flavor.
James Young has been experimenting with gun shows in addition to cons, I think. I’ll see if I can get his input. I suspect hand-selling books from a booth if they are right for the niche, priced low enough, and look good, would work. I’ve thought about experimenting but no time.
I knew a local writer who had a cute little cookbook of recipes featuring lemons as an ingredient – and she routinely took a table at gun shows and cleaned up. She dressed the table with a checked tablecloth that matched the cover of her book, had a plate of sample lemon cookies … and sold a ton of books. Either to guys feeling guilty about having spent too much on guns and hunting gear and wanting something for the significant other, or to those significant others who were bored of guns and hunting gear,,,
I’ve been debating doing a cookbook – there are several reasons it’s stickier to manage than a fiction book – but this is a great idea 🙂
Thanks for the shout out, Cedar! 😀 Still working on finding my market so trust me when I say I’ll be hanging on your every word in these next few posts on that 🙂
Cedar and Amie — make that picture clickable or at least give us a link to your work? Some of us are lazy, and having to go to Amazon, then search… A link goes faster!
There should be a link in the text and the picture should be clickable. I will check it. I try to set them up that way!
Got it now. The other day the Internet and I were disagreeing about a lot, might have just been me. Thanks!