Reflections on writing

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“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.” —Ernest Hemingway

Ever notice how some people look at others and exclaim how lucky they are when life rewards them for work? Brian Tracy does a super presentation where he talks about this. Basically, he outlines how someone labors for twenty years creating a situation where they’re ready when opportunity presents. The person spending evenings on the couch feels life is unjust because he’s not so fortunate. Of course, Tracy can’t help but relate it to taxes and political rhetoric about everyone paying their fair share. It’s quite funny.

Some assume people who are talented were born that way. Did you wake up one morning and have all the skills come into your head and hand via osmosis for the job of your choice? Me neither. Do you have people approach you and say “I wish I could _____ like you?” What do tell them? Next time, say they can. All they have to do is put the time in to learn – or pay you for your inborn genius.

It’s only taken me 30 years and counting of practice to write. Just ask my first newspaper editor about my natural talent. The first article I submitted had more markups in red than original content.

Another thing that makes me laugh is the assumption that good means fast. People figure if they can write a letter in ten minutes (for those who do, by the way – it shows) that any writer for hire can pound out twice as much in half the time. It’s true – just go to Fiverr to see a good number who do just this. You might want to check if they’ve heard of a dictionary, though.

I’m thrilled with the advent of e-readers and what Kindle is doing in particular. Vanity presses that have hijacked the self-publishing label, not so much. It’s opened up great opportunities for people with interesting writing ideas to publish and promote tight niche topic tomes and a variety of other material that would be too expensive to manufacture traditionally.

Of course, most don’t realize writing is the easy part in the book publishing industry. It’s the marketing and selling that winnows the successes. Many a writer has been dismayed to discover it’s their job to help drive buyers to books. In fact, publishers are putting a bigger emphasis on the author platform than credibility. A book with a well networked, eager promoter on the title page sells better than the best ever examination of a topic written by a hermit.

When you see a wordsmith who just seems to have good prose flow from finger tips effortlessly, chances are there’s more that goes on to get there than you think. If you dream of being a writer, you can – provided you’re willing to work for it. That includes selling. Or, you could simply hire someone to craft the message you need so you can do what you really want to do.



7 responses to “Reflections on writing”

  1. It’s certainly true that if you self-publish, you’re going to need to sell as well. But I can’t help thinking that if you work with a publisher, then that’s their job. Isn’t that the root meaning of ‘publish’ after all – to bring to public attention.

    I’m hearing dreadful stories from writer friends of ‘publishers’ who think their role is really just to edit.

    I’m interested, Nanette, when you take on a job as a ghost writer, do you advise the client how to market the product you create as well? Is that what they generally expect?

    • Publishing has changed a lot Alan (or maybe not so much). The big houses aren’t profitable like they used to be and get a few huge sellers to carry the rest of their titles (most are a loss). They’re not willing to invest resources in a book that doesn’t earn out the advance in less than six months. They pay for the production, design, some editing (it depends on the house – some are now requiring the author cover this cost too), cover art, manufacturing, warehousing, minimal marketing and distribution. With that, they expect the author to support marketing efforts. It’s kind of like your Coloring the Wind project and what you’re talking about beyond that. Would you want to work with business owners unwilling to put forth time and resources to help generate awareness for their work? In that context, it might make a lot more sense. That’s why often it’s better to seek out a smaller niche publisher (Ten Speed has become extremely successful with this model) if you’re serious about being a serial author. With many of these presses, you’re working with the owner or someone who is reporting directly to them and it tends to be more of a partnership (has to be if they are to succeed). Of course, if you do get an advance it’s likely to be quite small, but again, the publisher is bearing all the cost risks. Margins are tough too. Wholesalers take 45-55% and distributors as much as 70% (if you’re not working with a house big enough to have in-house distribution). That leaves 30% to pay for production, printing, overhead, etc. plus the author’s cut on royalties. Most are in the business because they’re passionate about sharing information – and books, of course. It’s not as lucrative as some might imagine.

      On the ghost writing, it depends on the project. I do a lot article and speech ghost writing, so in those cases, it’s mostly on a per project basis and the client already has a strategic marketing plan in place that these activities are just a small part of. On the books, I rarely take on an entire treatise as a project (it’s cost prohibitive for most on a full length book). Instead I’ll be handed sections or projects shorter than standard length (in the 10,000 – 50,000 word count range). Many of these are used to support other company marketing initiatives and revenue. In many of these situations I’m very much involved in the big picture marketing strategy. In fact, sometimes that leads to the a decision not to do a book :-).

  2. This is not career related, but same sort of deal . . . when my husband and I had been married a year, we made the decision to buy a home. We had both been working for *many* years prior to marriage, spent our first year living well within our means while we were renting, and then spent months house hunting to find something that would meet all of our needs, including budgetary. But one relative in particular (not very stable in the financial standpoint) insisted on saying multiple times how “lucky” we were to be able to get the house. It was really grating on my nerves. I’m all about recognizing my blessings, and maybe some consider that “luck”, but hubs and I worked danged hard to put ourselves in a position to have a nice house, and I did not enjoy the implication that our life choices had nothing to do with the end result.

  3. This reminds me of a story of a professional dressage master rider who was complimented by an amateur rider. Then the amateur said something like, “I’d give my life to be able to ride like you.” The master rider said, “I did.”

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