Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Behind The Curtain: On Being a Writer

Guest post by author Del Staecker

Ten years ago, after decades as a word junkie, I plunged into the world of writing.  It is a place many people dream of dominating through the miraculous application of their talents, yet it often proves to be a land of stark challenge seasoned by rejections.   After 128 of them I landed a royalty contract and a small advance for the hardcover release of my first novel.  That was before Kindle, Nook, print-on-demand, and the rise of self-publishing.  Since then I have seen five more of my books published in multiple formats by two publishers, received flattering reviews, appeared in most forms of media, won some awards, and earned a few dollars.

My success, slow in coming and limited, has taught me much about the “publishing game.”  Based upon my experience, here is what I believe (with interjections from RYS blog editor Ella Kennen, for a different perspective):

  1. The big (six) publishers value bankable names more than literary quality. (Everyone wants to make money off of writing, and publishers can't stay afloat if they can't pay their editors, copy editors, interior designers, cover designers, accountants, and publicists -- not to mention pay for the costs of creating and shipping a physical book and paying the booksellers... oh, yeah, and the authors. So, does money matter? Absolutely. But does that mean that the Big Six don't care about literary quality? Absolutely not.)
  2. Agents want commissions.  It’s their business.  A small number of good ones truly wanted to be writers, but settled for being “in the literary game” and earning a pay check while still loving words and writing.  They are a Godsend, but are few and far between.   (Agents put in the work first with the hope of making money later -- that takes a love of their job and faith in their clients. Can they be pulled in a zillion directions and be slow to respond? Yes. Whether an agent who harbors dreams of being an author is better than one who doesn't is up for discussion.)
  3.  Most small publishers want to grow, and ultimately be big publishers.  But that will never happen, so they mouth all sorts of tales as they search for the next “breakthrough book/author.”   Again, some are staffed by book lovers, but many are not.   Few small publishers know anything about marketing beyond telling writers that it is their own responsibility to sell books. ("Small publisher" is a vague term; some small publishers have amazing reputations and are very good at selling within their niche. Many small publishers have very poor sales track records. Do your homework before you sign any contract.)
  4. The “slush pile,” once sifted through by interns and low level staffers at” the bigs,” was farmed out to agents, and then finally became the morass of self-published, print-on demand, and e-books that flood Amazon’s book section. (Yes, basically. Agents and publishers still get mountains of slush, though -- not a small number from people who self-published first and, disappointed with their sales, want someone to "fix" things. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.)         
  5.  Readers, as a group, are not increasing in relative number.  They are inundated by the onslaught of choices thrown at them.  More and more writers, plus static growth in readers, equals confusion over what to read. 
  6. Bookstores.  As youths ask, “Bookstores?  What are they? ”
  7.  #6 leads to Amazon.  Also lovingly known as, “the 800 Lb. Gorilla.”  A blessing and a curse.  It keeps authors’ works available, but has expanded the slush pile to a point beyond the limits of the reading public.
  8. Blogs?  Widely recommended, can be excellent forums for sharing ideas and techniques, but I doubt that they sell many books. (Does your own blog about writing sell many books? Probably not, though it may help you establish or reinforce a social network. Does going on a blog tour where your book is reviewed or showcased help? If the audience is right and the reach is broad enough.)
  9. The future?  It is so wide open that anyone’s guess is as good as the next person’s. (More hybrid authors -- those who mix-and-match between traditional and self-publishing; more tailored ways to reach the target audience; a continued struggle to capture reader's attention; 

Often I am asked, “What would you do differently, if you could?” 

My response is that I would simply focus more on my writing.  I would still participate in all the usual marketing and promotional efforts, but I would not get “angst ridden” over their application.  I believe if someone focuses on the money and fame they will be sorely disappointed.   To avoid that, I would spend a great deal of time remembering certain moments.   For example, I would savor the time at my first event when a credit card machine failed and an attendee walked through a blizzard to a cash machine, returning to purchase my book.  Later he tracked me down through my publisher (before I had a website) to tell me how much he enjoyed my work.  Or, I would relish the day after Christmas when a publisher called me to say that he read my book on his rare day off and liked it very much.  And, I would relive as many moments as possible of my sponsored tour of three Mediterranean bases as a U.S. Navy Writer on Deck.   Most of all, I would constantly tell myself, “It’s about the writing.”   So, if I could change anything, anything at all, I’d just write and write and write.

Del Staecker is the author of, to date, five mystery and suspense novels and one nonfiction book. Del describes himself as a storyteller. He has been a soldier, lived on a boat, and has completed all but one item on his list. He is a member of the Royal Society of Arts, London, United Kingdom and currently he lives and writes in his Pennsylvania home, which is shared by his wife and the colorful characters in his head. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Del...I enjoyed your post very've given a candid response to the world of writing, books and publishing in general. I also believe that the bottom line as an author needs to be that you just cannot be anything else...or, if you need to be something else to pay the rent, that's fine, as long as you keep doing what you love, which is writing. :) Should books that have great value be published even if the author is unknown? Yes, but that may not always happen. Should writers get a bigger portion of the profits from their books (if their books make a profit)? Yes, but that may not happen either, unless the writer takes control of the publishing AND the marketing...and then there isn't much time left for the writing. :)


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