Sunday 21 November 2010

Writing the right writings

I have always loved to write, perhaps too often enjoying the sight of my own words as well as the sound of my own voice. The idea of writing a book was always somewhere in my mind and I knew it would happen one day. However, as with many budding writers I had little or no idea what would happen once it was finished. Who to sell it to, how to sell it, where to promote it, how much money to throw at it? These and many other questions were things I never considered. Having completed it by Spring, my time was then reassigned to my day job, that and house renovation and gardening etc. So it was Autumn when my attention once more returned to the written word, 90,000 of them to be precise.
Firstly I picked out a list of agents from the internet and canvassed them all, possibly 50 or so, many of whom said they may not reply for up to 12 weeks. 12 weeks? What were these people doing, this was their job as agents to read material surely and I didn’t buy the excuse that they were just too busy? One or two agents were a bit more on the ball and the refusals started to arrive daily, mostly being apologetic that the current market was bad or it wasn’t their kind of stuff etc. One or two recommended other agents or even publishers, which was kind of them. A very helpful agency in Edinburgh actually replied in person, explaining a few basics to me which, once I digested the setback, were pretty obvious. In fact other people may have mentioned these earlier but back then I wasn’t prepared to listen as I was too arrogant to value any unprofessional opinions.
What I learned from this agent, I will not divulge their name at the point as I hope to go back to them again, was that book markets are very very specific. And the more specific they are, the easier they are to market to. Up until that point I had assumed that the wider the appeal, the bigger the market. No so.
My book, it seemed, fell between two stools, 3 or 4 possibly. Too grown up for children, too childish for adults, too flippant for serious readers, not funny enough for comedy, these were all things I heard despite not wanting to. It became evident that although many of my friends had enjoyed it, it wasn’t going to be a best seller. I possibly knew that already but to be told it was a bit of a shock. Ok, what to do? Well firstly I was aware that my book would appeal to a certain audience and it was too good to give up on. I picked a learned friend to edit it which was essential. I then chose the self publishing route which was, I have to say, a lot easier than I thought it would be, producing a paperback copy within a few weeks.  I then used online tools such as Facebook to gain some free publicity and awareness. With a continual effort and a bit of advertising investment the book started to move, especially as it was prior to Xmas. Low and behold the reviews I got back were very good. I had been quite correctly advised not to expect to sell it to all my Facebook friends, many who duly ticked the LIKE button without actually buying, others waiting for another time and possibly more recommendation than just from the author himself. I set myself small milestones to achieve and a basic plan. Living in France was a bit of a drawback as visiting UK events and making personal contact was not so easy and came at a cost. Spurred on by the small number of sales I was achieving, I decided to make those trips, to wander amongst people I knew and offer them a leaflet, so they could buy online. I also took a few copies with me and signed them personally. I even grew my hair in an attempt to make conversation and get me noticed. The first 100 sales is just on the horizon now and although far away from the thousands I was hoping to sell, it is encouraging enough to keep me at it.
What I also learned from that agent was that to be successful I had a lot to learn about writing too. I had decided to tone down the sequel to my first novel towards children, possibly 10-12 year olds. He directed me to a couple of books about writing for children which were invaluable and my next book became a totally different animal, literally. He also told me to read read read, especially children’s books, simple but effective advice. I then found myself writing two books simultaneously, one a children’s book, the other a biography. To add to this, I was reading three books at once. Writing two, reading three, selling one, a mission of missions and a tiring one at that. In between that I kept a diary, wrote a professional column once a month and a blog once a week. Who ever said writing was an easy way to earn a living? Well nobody, I don’t think, but it is a common misconception all the same. The biog and the blog were quite easy to write as I could write as me and this is something I have little difficulty in doing. Distractions were not really an issue, music on, dogs barking, Wendy on the phone, I could still keep going. The children’s one, that is far more difficult, because the only way to create a place, character or situation is to be there, right in amongst the action, seeing the colours and semelling the smells. It takes solitude and concentration. But hell, is it ever fun, I mean laugh out loud fun. To make others laugh is satisfying, to make yourself laugh out loud, that has to be the best of all. I have set myself a target to complete two children’s books in my trilogy over this winter. I have to admit it is a bit selfish, partly because it means me spending a lot of time on my own and partly because it is a job I love to do and I can’t really share it. But most of all, I have self belief and the drive that it takes to keep modifying the course in order to succeed as a writer and will not take no for an answer to that quest.

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