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Status, Achievement, Diplomacy

Every job has status.  And you know setting out the status you want and if it’s achievable.

I probably did it wrong when breaking into sf/f.  Call me stupid, or maybe take in account I grew up in a country where “celebrity culture” was not the same as in the US.  What I mean is, guys, all we had was the radio. It’s hard to become a US type celebrity with the radio.  Also, I’m broken in that I never pay any attention to movies, and you need to be really famous for me to remember your face. No, seriously. And even then I won’t give a hang who you sleep with, or what you do on your time off. I’ll just go “oh, he was okay as x in x movie.” And that’s it.

So, what did I want when I first got published: I wanted people to read me. A lot of people. The more people the better.  And I wanted to make enough money to live. But fame? Meh. If I’d thought about it at all, I’d have created a complete persona to be famous, and no one would have any idea who I really was.I realize I’m not normal, okay?  A lot of people view writing as Hollywood for introverts.  They want the fame. They want to be on all the bookstores, in a big display upfront. They want to be the person that the TV stations call on on the anniversary of the moon landing, or when cloning laws are being debated.

They want to be important and recognized, and wear laurels at the head of the triumph. (But they don’t really want the slave to whisper in their ear that fame is fleeting.)

There is nothing wrong with this goal, btw.

It might not be fully achievable under indie — I know indie authors who make seven figures, in one of the genres I read, and I’d never heard of them before. The field is dispersed enough that fandom is a tiny percentage — but heck, if that’s what you want, find a way to do it.

But the thing is, one goal doesn’t help the other a lot. Becoming famous (or infamous) won’t sell you books.  No, seriously. It might look like it does, because fandom, particularly online fandom (a subset) but even J. K. Rowling, who must be known by the entire world, doesn’t have a portable name for another genre, as she found out.

So… you can be very famous, if that’s what you want but it won’t sell books. And you can sell a ton of books, and no one knows who you are.

I can’t tell you how to get to “very famous”. What fame I have is incidental, and frankly I’m not invested nor enamored of it.

BUT if you want to sell books, here are a few points, off the top of my head in no particular order:

– You’re lucky.  No, seriously. You’re very lucky these days. You don’t have “every author’s” hand against you.
Despite an outward appearance of comradery, traditional publishing encouraged paranoia, dislike and sabotage amid authors. There were only so many slots, and you had to stay on the publisher’s good graces, so you did what you had to do, including snubbing or kissing up where needed.

Now, with indie, most authors will try to help you.  One good way to sell is to find big selling authors similar to you and whom you like being friends with. Don’t kiss up, but if a friendship develops, they can both give you pointers on your books, and help you gain access to their fandom.

– Don’t try to make a big splash by creating drama or constant problems of any kind.  Look, the fandom won’t care. Most of the fandom you’re trying to reach is not interested in the drama. They’re not on facebook. They’re not on twitter. They’re not even on mewe. They are people who periodically go to Amazon and download a book. Having a new book is worth three or four “OMG” and “Guess what this person said about me!”
That might work if you’re in it for the “fame” and even then, look, you’re never going to be Hollywood. No one publishes rumors of Stephen King’s shack ups, okay? It’s not how any of this works.

– When people more experienced than you tell you that you’re going wrong? Believe them. Particularly when it’s a lot of people. A lot of unconnected, sometimes don’t talk to each other people.  Just believe them. They might not be right about how you should “go right” but they know when you’re doing things they’ve seen done before that led to disaster.

– Ultimately, if you want to make it big by WRITING books?  Sit your ass down and write. Write as much as you can, as fast as you can.  Yes, sure, there might be such a thing as talent. (Don’t know. Ain’t ever smelled it, tasted it, or been convinced it’s there.) BUT there ain’t no amount of talent that can’t be beaten out by sufficient hard work. In fact, total lack of talent can be overcome by sufficient hard work.
You want to be a good writer who sells well and lives from this? Write. Continue writing. Write a lot.
And I too will take my advice.

17 Comments
  1. There’s that old joke about “how to make a small fortune at X”.

    Sometimes I think it applies here.

    Other times I’m certain of it.

    August 21, 2019
  2. I suspect people think there is a lot more glory than the reality in writing. I saw some posts from a fellow on Facebook and liked how he thought, so I sent him a friend request.
    He said he follows me but didn’t send a friend request because he doesn’t want to bother authors. It’s true I still can’t process that I have fans at all. As far as I know nobody has ever named their child after me and I am so far down the totem pole I haven’t even had my own stalker. From my sales and page reads I’ve had at most 150,000 people read my books – almost all of them in the US and that’s not allowing for people who read more than one of them. That means that less than one person in 2,000, more likely one in 20,000 has any idea who I am if they even remember my name a year after reading one of my books. I doubt I will be mentioned in People magazine soon. But I don’t have the irritating buzz of helicopter flying around my house either. But the extra money is nice and it’s still fun writing them.

    August 21, 2019
    • Lo these many years ago (more than fifteen), I went to a Worldcon and wore some t-shirts of the webcomic I was publishing then. And I actually ran across a person or two who had read it—fairly astonishing, given the low circulation and the low convention population. There must have been overlap. So that’s my brush with fame, as such—some people recognized me from my work.

      August 21, 2019
  3. All true. All very very true.

    When I started writing, I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to be read. Of course I also wanted to make money from it, but I never once thought about making a living from it. I knew several authors, and I was familiar with what they had to go through as Trad pubbed authors, and when I looked at what they made versus what I made as an engineer, well I didn’t want the salary cut.

    When indy came along, I found (surprisingly) that people liked what I was writing, and then the goal was to improve on that writing. To make a ‘name’ for myself, as in have a brand that people would read and enjoy. Make some extra money and just have fun with it.

    When I decided to go full time I eventually sat down and wrote a mission statement. I honestly wish I’d done that sooner, and when it came to my goals, successful was one, rich was another (always aim high) but famous? I thought about that long and hard and decided that I’d rather be a success earning a good living than deal with being famous. Being famous is hard work, doesn’t necessarily pay well, and has a large down side.

    Never let yourself get suckered into the ‘fame’ thing. For actors and athletes it’s part of the job, but for writers? For us I think it’s a losing gambit.

    Making friends with other authors is excellent advice (as all of the advice you have given me has been, Sarah). Making friends with authors doing better than you and listening to their advice is just smart. Learning to suck it up and listen to authors who were inspired by you and are now making twice what you are and then honestly congratulating them on it is a very important lesson. (I’ve had to do it twice, and I’ve learned to be proud of the fact that I inspired them). Because you can look at what they did differently than you and LEARN from that. Never be upset with someone doing better than you. It’s human to want to be jealous and to be envious. But their success doesn’t diminish you or your chances – it just shows you what lies ahead if you work hard.

    August 21, 2019
  4. Christopher M. Chupik #

    “Don’t try to make a big splash by creating drama or constant problems of any kind.”

    But Saaaaraaah, how am I going to stand out from the crowd unless I’m The Most Controversial Man In Canadian Science-Fiction ™? 😉

    All kidding aside, I wouldn’t have the energy for that.

    August 21, 2019
  5. Once upon a time a fellow I knew was fond of saying, “When we’re rich and famous.” and always seemed a bit surprised that I’d reply that I’d settle for rich, fame being a troublesome thing. And some years back i got to witness tiny bit of fame up close. Yup, troublesome. Could be useful, but one need be VERY careful – and know when to let go and fade gracefully rather than become ever more desperate to hold onto something that WILL fade.

    August 21, 2019
  6. Synova #

    The author that makes six figures (and possibly not even low six figures) that you never heard of before catches my imagination in a whole lot of ways.

    Primary is this… what I *know* doesn’t define the limits of what *is*. What I *see* isn’t the landscape or even the neighborhood. And the readers? The readers are behind the curtain.

    Or I’m behind the curtain. Whatever. But in the end I’m going to be trying to sell to readers that I can’t see.

    August 21, 2019
  7. I’d rather be rich than poor.
    I’d rather be famous than poor.
    I’d rather be rich than famous.
    As is, I make enough to pay my bills, and nobody interrupts me when I’m eating out.
    Life is filled with small blessings.

    August 21, 2019
  8. I’m not in this for the Fame. Really, as nice as being rich would be, I’m not in it for that either. Mostly I hope to pad my retirement a little and give myself something to do rather than sit around and drool.

    IF fame were to happen, I’m hoping rich will happen along with it. It would definitely suck to have to deal with the fame without the money.

    August 21, 2019
  9. Sea Writer #

    The funniest thing about having published a book is that other people automatically add 10 points to your IQ. They treat you like you are a whole lot smarter than you really are. “You have written books? Oooooh.” And yet you are the same dumb schmuck you were before, if you are honest with yourself. You just got lucky enough to crack the code on how to get a publisher to take your book (and actually pay you).

    The second funniest thing is meeting someone who just had their first book published and lacks the self-awareness to realize they are the same dumb schmuck they were before getting their book published. “I am a published author, I am special. Kiss my ring,” those types say. My response is generally, “Congratulations, that is nice.” The meadow bullfrog’s retort is generally “Oh yeah. And I suppose you’ve gotten a book published.” I generally say, “A few.” The really stubborn ones then challenge me: “Oh yeah? How many? Where are they?”

    I will tell them “Somewhere between 25 and 30. I have lost track. You can go on Amazon and count them if it matters.” (They do have my name, and it is pretty unique.) (Also, I write history, not SF, although I read and review SF.)

    I have not made a fortune writing. It has never equaled what I earn from the day job. It was enough to put my kids through college, and writing was (and is) fun. But I have mainly done it because it is fun, and I get some cash on the side – not because it makes me a celebrity.

    August 21, 2019
    • weirdly, there is more money in indie.
      Look, I’m not even in it for the money. I’m in it because I’m broken. BUT I want to be read, and I’d like to make $$$. Eh.

      August 21, 2019
  10. I’m in it for the readers. And the money, if at all possible. I’ve had a good look at what happens when you have a modicum of fame: a million best friends and six really sick f**ks who hate your guts – and you will never have met any of those people.

    August 21, 2019
  11. Mary #

    Fame is mostly an undesirable side-effect. Especially when they assume you are rich.

    August 21, 2019
  12. Draven #

    I like writing
    i like when stuff i write is read
    i REALLY like when people throw money at me for it.

    August 22, 2019

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