By Clint Gaige
I’ve noticed on the net an increasing moral stand to write for pay. In fact, I read an article comparing writing to being a plumber– and they don’t work for free, so why should a writer? The business of writing is in danger of becoming watered down by the faux professional. In fact, you can even find these faux professionals getting national coverage. Does that make them a professional? Let’s take a look at the world of writing and examine what it has to offer.
First, in the past, writers would slave over their manuscript for years and toil to get it published by a publisher. This process would average decades. To have your work published was a struggle of blood and ink. In this day and age, being an author is as simple as having a spare hundred dollars. Blowing a hundred bucks does not a professional make.
Let me use my first novel as an example. I self-published it before it was ready, because I was sure that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. That’s quite an admission for me. While I am proud of the work in my first novel, it was not ready for publication. It has editing errors and some story gaps that I wish I had fixed prior to publishing. Now, the book has done quite well, to my chagrin. However, what does this say about the nature of the book industry, that a sub-par novel sold as well as it did and received critical praise in the Washington Times? It says that the readers are becoming accustomed to reading sub-par work.
Second, writers today tend to forget how they got started. They assume and market themselves as experts well before they have that right. To become a master at any skilled trade takes years, however, many writers seem to think that one book has made them a master.
My wife works for a large book chain and deals with first time writers from both the major houses to self-published writers. What she has experienced makes me a little ashamed of our profession. She has witnessed self-published authors trying to tell her how important their work is, never mind that they need her assistance to get their books in her store. Many writers need to take a course in marketing and professionalism. The bookstore does not owe you a signing. Nor does the public owe it to you to buy your work.
Third, think of writing as baseball. When you’re getting started you’re in the minor leagues. Minor league players have to pay their dues. But many writers I meet seem to think that they have already paid their dues. In the words of my father, you never finish paying your dues. And, if it takes a free article to get noticed and get the word out, then do it. Exposure is the hardest thing in this industry to get and it amazes me how many writers complain about getting that exposure. Instead, they focus on the trivial, like $50 for an article that may or may not even be worth it.
Unfortunately, what I’m starting to see is a new trend. Books by experts that aren’t, books on how to get published by self-published authors, books about how to deal with agents by writers who have no agent, books about the publishing industry by writers who chose a POD. We have built a society of expert pundits who know much about nothing.
Let’s examine their advice.
1) Don’t write for free!
The best advice I ever received when I was starting out in the world of business was to offer my services for free to start. Pay your dues. Nowadays, dues have been replaced by POD service fees.
2) Don’t take “no” for an answer!
As a marketing veteran I can tell you sometimes “no” really means “no.” So, what do you do? Come back at another time with a revised sales pitch. Nowadays, they tell you to act like a rabid dog and to complain until you get your way. That’s the best way to lose the sale. What didn’t work? Go back to the drawing board and fix it. It’s okay to ask why they didn’t want to work with you! But be ready for honesty.
3) Bookstores need you!
No, they don’t. Bookstores are overstuffed with books. If you want them to need you, then prove yourself to be invaluable. Bookstores lose money on book signings. Yes, you read that right. They LOSE money. They do book signings because they want to work with you, not because they have to. If you want to keep your job in this day and age, the best way to do it is to be invaluable. Why would the book industry be any different? In case you want to dispute this fact, here are some numbers. A bookstore usually buys POD books at a 20% discount. Most books purchased by these bookstores are at 40%, so the store is already taking a hit to carry your title– not to mention that POD titles are usually non-returnable.
So, let’s assume that your book is $10. The bookstore pays $8 for 10 copies. They just spent $80 plus shipping and handling to get your book in their store. Shipping and handling on 10 books averages $4. So, that’s $84 out of pocket for your title. Let’s say they don’t do anything to support you. Staff has to be paid to assist you and get you set up. Lets say at $6 an hour they spend 20 minutes with you. There is another $2. Now their total is up to $86 to support you. They also buy you a drink and usually put out some sort of snack. Let’s take the expense up to $92 just for argument’s sake. What about the time and effort it takes to promote you in store? Someone has to type up those newsletters, flyers and displays. So, let’s add one full hour for that at $6 an hour. That brings their expense to $98. Never mind that most bookstores do a whole lot more than this for signing authors. Now, best-case scenario, you sell out of your book, they just grossed $100, a net total of $2. Now, remind me, how much the bookstore needs you? If they sell one copy of the latest Stephen King, they have made more money than your entire signing.
I am hardly against POD books; after all, that’s how I got started. However, too many POD authors rest on their laurels and thump their chest– they are authors. Back in the day, that term meant something because the author had to spend years getting there. Now, its as simple as clicking a mouse. It can mean something again, but that depends on us.
(POD stands for Publish On Demand…its a new technology that makes self-publishing easier to accomplish)
For more information go to: http://www.absolutewrite.com/fun/the_professional.htm