May you live in interesting times…
Nar! (extra points if you recognized the origin of this)
I recall reading somewhere that the ‘ancient Chinese curse’ was made up by Eric Frank Russell. Who knows or cares? Its origins are murky and probably not Chinese. EFR is possibly implicated in making up quite a few things (including spontaneous human combustion) so, as I like his work, I’ll choose to believe it.
We’re in interesting times. As writers we tend to write about them – although as escapism, I suspect ‘less-than-interesting-comfortable’ books may be a coming trend.
It’s been interesting for me as an observer to see how aspects of EFR’s ‘Wasp’ have become true. We have had the Kaitempi out in full force for some time. Everyone believed they alone, helpless, and would suffer the consequences of any opposition. Then the wasps started putting up stickers and posters… Well, internet contacts, and then elections. According to the Kaitempi those who were not with the ruling power were few and weak and just waiting to die. They had no future. The future was a manifest destiny of the modern way.
And now that is less certain, it seems. I suspect we’re in for tit-for-tat – one side will protest, attack any of their members who are not displaying loyalty enough… the other cut funding and buying support in response… which could get messy in academia and the media, of which publishing is a part. Sense would suggest that there will be casualties. Interesting times, indeed, especially as many of my traditional publishing peers, failing to make a living at writing, have been going back to college to earn writing related degrees with fall-back plan of teaching others to write. I think I see the teeny tiny flaw in the idea of taking such a course in the first place, (to learn to be a writer from those who can’t make a living writing) but I suspect it’s going to get messier.
So as writers facing uncertain times what steps should you consider taking? My own guess is academia with the intent of teaching writing is probably not what I would do. I’ve read various comments from writers desperately unhappy about the outcome of the US election sneering at the ‘hoi polloi’ (yes really, they used that term) who they blame for not knowing what was good for them and saying: “well being called ‘elitist liberal’ will become a badge of honor because at least they can read.”
Hmm. I’m not the only one reading that. Methinks that attitude will not go down well with a lot of customers. Not for books, not for tuition, and certainly not for the funds for that tuition. It’s not actually supported by facts as an attitude either, but it is certainly deeply resented by ‘flyover’ country. My guess is colleges are going to take a sharp turn away from the arts and funding for courses in them, and will face a downturn in enrollment for such courses.
Nor would I bet the farm on anything coming out of traditional publishing: – it’s hitched its wagon very tightly to the left’s pet causes, to the point that it is being identified as one and the same, and very much part of the media – which is suffering a huge financial and credibility downturn. That bloodbath will affect traditional publishing too.
My advice hasn’t changed – no matter where you sit on the political spectrum.
- Write a LOT, as much as you are able. Writing improves writing. And it’s pretty hard to sell what you haven’t written.
- Build your own brand and platform: I, like so many others made the mistake of believing all I had to do was write and my publishers would do the establishment of my name as a recognizable brand. Learn by my mistakes, don’t repeat them. Be more than just a string of book adverts, find communities you fit into and don’t over-push.
- Don’t spend money you don’t have: So many writers setting off spend, in the expectation of earning. They hire publicists, take out adverts, use precious resources (including time) and then discover the income is 1) nothing like as big as they hoped. 2) A lot slower than they believed possible (trad is usually bi-annual, and often months, and sometimes years late). You do need to speculate to accumulate, but it’s risky. Balance risk with reward using pessimism, and not resources that will leave you in trouble if it doesn’t work. The right place to start, if you have to prioritize… is with proof readers, then covers and designs, IMO.
- Be agile – more than I am – at new platforms. Remember facebook wasn’t very relevant not that long ago. Remember twitter was, but is dying.
- Only make enemies to purpose – Think of it as not your opinion that you’re expressing, but your brand. If you were a restaurant with a largely vegetarian clientele, you’d be an idiot to put a picture on facebook of you tucking into a steak, and on the inverse – if you have a generally omnivore clientele who like steaks – telling the world ‘meat is murder’ won’t help. You may think this obvious, but as the authors sounding off publicly during the last US election, particularly about how they loved Hillary and detested Trump, it plainly isn’t. On the other hand some were clearly trying to make enemies to purpose. That’s a way raising your profile with those who think like you do. But don’t just do it, think about what you do.
- Remember who you write for! (clue. It’s not you. Or the editor. Or in fact for most of us a little bubble of people in NYC). You want to be loved by those ‘hoi polloi’.