On the Pursuit of Filthy Lucre, and other Worthwhile Endeavors

 

Let’s face it; unless you are independently wealthy, or at least supported in the style to which you have become accustomed by someone else, you need to earn enough money to keep body and soul together. And maybe pay the rent, utilities and insurance, buy a bit of food every now and then and maybe even put a bit of gas in your car/truck/van/Bugatti or at least fill your bicycle tires with air.

But you’re a writer; by trade, avocation, inclination or even out of sheer desperation (just like yours, truly) because your last your last job went away and nobody wants to or can afford to hire you.

If you write for pleasure, lucky you; you can ignore the rest of what I have to say and just toddle off down the garden path and sniff a few roses, chase a butterfly and pet your cat. But if you hope to or simply have to earn your living through writing, here’s the nitty-gritty, down-to-earth rude and crude truth about what’s involved.

Most folks who produce material on earning a living as a writer will write an entire book on the subject, and give you lots of information on a particular segment of the writing industry, even giving you a list of contacts for submitting to agents/publishers. Check your local bookstore.

But you didn’t need me to tell you that; you probably have one or two such books on your shelf now. I’m not going to waste your time – and mine – doing your research for you. That’s your job and you will learn a great deal if you invest some time and effort in it.

I’m much more interested in discussing how you turn a talent into a skill, and how you convert that into a product you can sell into your chosen market. So let’s assume for the moment that you do have a fluency with words; you know how to organize your thinking and how to put words on paper so they will mean something to a reader.

That’s a great starting point. I really don’t care if you’re a poet at heart, or a short-story writer, a novelist or you derive great pleasure from writing travel articles or fly-fishing stories. You have a talent for expressing yourself and a marketable skill.

Or at least you think you do. Join a writer’s group. There are scads of writer’s groups, both on-line and in your area. Look into Yahoo Groups, join LinkedIn, join your local library and inquire about writer’s groups. Nobody cares what you write, only that you do.

And then submit your stuff for some constructive (if occasionally harsh) criticism. You and your writing both need and deserve criticism. Tough it out. It’s good for you and for your writing. That sort of criticism will help you to grow as a writer; until you do this, you really are working in a vacuum.

You need a plan. A marketing plan. You need to treat your manuscript as a ‘Product’, because it is. In the same way a furniture maker builds cabinets or chairs or rocking horses to sell, you write stuff. In the same way he or she has a feel for what will sell in his chosen market, so do you.

Or at least you should. There’s no sense investing time and effort in writing something that won’t sell; not if your goal is to make a living as a writer.

And you can’t convince the market to buy your stuff just because you like it. Oh, readers might invest in one of your stories/articles/novels/whatever, but if they feel disappointed in your work for whatever reason  they will never, ever buy another piece from you.

And there goes your market. You can wave bye-bye now. See you.

Get to know what’s selling in your genre today, and figure out how to forecast what will sell by the time your manuscript is ready for the printer. That may be six weeks or six months from now. Or a year or two years, depending on your productivity.

You write for a specific market, whether you know that or not.

So get to know your readers, and what they want to read. It really does not work the other way ‘round. Or at least it does not work very well. The first law of writing for a living is that you have to write something your customers want to read. If you want to sell lots and lots of books/articles/collected poems, you have to write what lots and lots of readers want to read.

It’s really rather simple, if somewhat harsh on the ego; nobody cares what you want to write. They only care that you write what they want to read.

You have to become accustomed to looking at your writing as a business. Marketing – orienting your sales toward a market, and Promoting yourself and your products – getting the right eyes on your products and convincing them to invest in your writing, is the most important part of writing for a living. If “Content is King”, as many people say, “Marketing is the Emperor”.

All the content in the world isn’t worth spit if nobody knows it’s there, and if nobody sees any value in that content for themselves, your sales will be, well, minimal.

And THAT is the key to selling your work.

You have to add value to your work. You – your name, your biography, your skill as a writer, has to become your major marketing tool. Everybody knows of John Grisham, John D. Macdonald, Carl Hiaasen, Agatha Christie, and so on. Most of those same people could not name more than one or two novels written by any of those authors, but they do know their names.

They know their names, and they trust those authors to write what they want to read. In other words, their very names add value to their work in the eyes of their readers.

You sell yourself to your market. Then your market buys your books. It’s that simple, and that important.

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About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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