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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Writing's On The Wall - Earl Staggs

I grew up with an image of what life was like for a writer. You wrote a good book and signed with an agent. The agent sold the book to a publisher. The publisher produced the book, placed it in bookstores, people bought it, you were a financial success, and you wrote more books.

Once I started writing, I found out it may have been that way at one time, but things had changed. A lot. Let’s blame it on the economy. People no longer had $25 or more to shell out for a book so they bought fewer of them. As a result, publishers had less profit coming in, so they produced fewer books. Bookstores were selling fewer books and many had to close their doors, particularly the smaller independent stores. Even the major chain bookstores found themselves in financial straits. Agents found it harder to sell books to publishers, so they signed fewer new writers. Writers found themselves with good manuscripts gathering dust with little chance of ever being published.

So the writing was on the wall. Being a published writer became difficult if not impossible. Self-publishing has always been an option, but with two major drawbacks. First of all, paying a printing company –- or “vanity press” -- to produce your book was expensive. Second, there was an unpleasant stigma attached to it. The feeling was that only bad writers with bad books went that route.

Suddenly, new writing appeared on the wall. A revolutionary concept appeared and everything changed. Digital printing. Books available via the Internet. You simply download them. Since there’s no printing, distributing, shipping or warehousing of physical books involved, the cost is minimal. Amazon introduced the Kindle electronic reader, Barnes & Noble brought out the Nook, Sony has one, and several others are out there. Books are selling for half or less what they used to, many as low as $2.99 or even 99 cents. Many books are free.

All this presents a new opportunity for writers. Self-publishing in the new world of ebooks is not the same as the old-fashioned form of self-publishing. Successful writers from the old school are doing it. Newer writers are publishing ebooks entirely on their own and have complete control over their work and their future. People who buy and read books are learning that excellent, well-written ebooks are available at low, low prices.

Writers, though, have a new challenge. Without traditional publishers providing advertising and promotion, and without bookstores shelving and selling your books, how does the buying public know about it? That falls directly on the writer. You’re entirely on your own, and now that it’s so easy to self-publish an ebook, there are thousands and thousands of them out there. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd. The challenge is daunting to say the least, but if you have a well-written book and are willing to put in the time and effort promoting it, it’s possible to rack up good sales numbers and make good money.

Fortunately, there are pioneers who have blazed the trail. Two of them, Joseph Konrad and Robert Walker, offer their experiences and freely give advice on how to go about it. Their blogs are easy to find, and are well worth reading. What it boils down to is this: Use the social avenues on the Internet to let the world know who you are and what you have to offer. There’s Facebook, Twitter, active groups filled with members who read what you write, and places like Goodreads where you can get involved, get to know people and, most important, let them get to know you.

I know some people will shake their heads and say, “I’m not good at promoting myself.” Fine. You don’t have to. You simply let people get to know you. How? Easy. You’ve been doing it all your life. You mix and mingle.

Think about the last time you started a new job or moved to a new neighborhood. You met new people, you got to know them, and they got to know you. It may have taken a while, but it happened. You eventually came to like some of the new people and dislike some. Some of them may have been too pushy, or maybe you had nothing in common with them. But with some of them, you hit it off. That’s the way it happens in real life. The same thing happens on the Internet. You’re not going to like someone who tries too hard to sell you something or the people who only talk about themselves. Don’t be one of those people. You’ll find people talking about their kids and grandkids. Nothing wrong with that. Talk about yours. Someone may mention a new recipe they discovered for meat loaf. Talk about that. Offer a favorite recipe of yours. Others will talk about TV shows and movies they liked or didn’t like. Join the discussion and give your own opinions. There will be some who talk about the kind of books they read and new authors they’ve discovered. Aha! There’s a golden opportunity to talk about your book. That’s how it goes. Getting to know new people and letting them get to know you. Once you’ve made new friends, you’ll be interested in what they do. That works both ways. They’ll be interested in what you do, and if what you do is write books, they’ll be interested if you don’t try to jam it down their throats. Mention it when an opportunity presents itself. If you receive a glowing review, talk about that. That’s no more offensive than bragging about your kids and grandkids. Put the information in your signature line. That’s not jamming it. It’s just there. (See mine down below.)

No one will know you exist or what you do or that you’ve written a fantastic book unless you get out there and mix and mingle. Yes, it takes time. A lot of time. But that’s the investment you have to make. After all, it’s all on you in this new world of digital publishing, and you can do it. Unless you’re a hermit and live in a remote cave, you’ve been meeting new people all your life, getting to know them and letting them get to know you. The only difference is now you’re doing it on the Internet.

The writing’s on the wall for those of us who write. It’s a whole new world and we have to adapt if we want to take advantage of what digital publishing has to offer. Otherwise, we might as well put our computers away, find an empty wall somewhere, and write on that.

Earl Staggs

SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS not available for $2.99 on Amazon for Kindle and Smashwords for other ereaders.

Here’s one for free: Read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer” at earlwstaggs.wordpress.com