Good Writing: Reaching the Readers
Everybody wants to write a book. Most never do it, but many give it a try and manage to make it in the marketplace, whether through a traditional publisher or through self-publishing. Most books are awful, but some of those “penny dreadfuls” like the Fifty Shades erotic romance trilogy written by an admitted amateur, E.L. James, succeed in making their authors wealthy while genuinely talented writers make ends meet with their “day jobs.” How does the talented writer get noticed?
This piece isn’t about me. It’s about writers like Kathlena L. Contreras (aka K. Lynn Bay), a first-rate writer who is also a small business owner, wife, homemaker and self-described computer “geek” who, by the way, largely built this blog for me. She has been at seriously writing for fourteen years. During that time she has been represented by a top agent, has won national writing competitions and has come close to being accepted for publication only to be turned aside by one or another of the big five publishing houses. It seems the traditional publishers want proven writers because that’s where the profit lies. The question is: how does any talented “new” writer get published and attract a committed readership for her writing?
There are only twenty-four hours in a day. Running a business (her “day job”) demands five days a week, attention to employees and business matters plus the physical stamina to wrestle often-reluctant dogs that object to being groomed. Being a married homemaker demands attention to all the details of keeping the home purring along and the plants watered. Being a writer means writing. Being a successful writer and selling books demands not just skill in the craft of translating ideas into words but enticing potential readers into buying an unfamiliar writer’s work. And it is hard work.
Those of you who have explored my blog site and ventured into the Worth Checking Out list will have noticed from Flying Tiger Press that Kathlena L. Contreras, (K. Lynn Bay), is my daughter. That requires some explanation of my credentials. I read prodigiously in a variety of genres and I have been a fantasy/science fiction aficionado since I was in my teens. During my years as a television censor I read and synopsized thousands of scripts and submissions, some very good and many barely readable. Thus, I know good and bad writing when I see it. Paternal feelings aside, Kathy’s writing is unquestionably superior. Were that not the case, I would not be writing this piece. So what you are seeing is frustration that too many publishers and readers have failed to recognize good writing, engaging storytelling and, maybe, that it’s hard to get noticed in the vast sea of choices available to the potential audience.
Kathy has introduced me to the world of publishing, first to traditional publishing and, more recently, to the world of self-publishing through Amazon. The traditional publishers have tried to stave off extinction through mergers that have reduced the markets open to writers, both established and new. They are now attempting to survive by reducing staff and cutting back on the services they have provided to the writers they represent. Though these publishers would deny the latter allegation, many writers are recognizing that they are being given short shrift by the traditional publishers. Barring significant change, can extinction be far behind?
By contrast, the new breed of publishers recognizes that writers need an outlet for their writing and have stepped into the breach with a new concept. Amazon is one of those. It is ironic that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has now purchased the Washington Post. Is this the birth of a new era of publishing? But I digress.
Writers are now lining up to self-publish and receive the income and accounting they have previously ceded to the traditional publisher. Worse, the published writers in the world of traditional publishing received no compensation for six months and have had to accept on faith that they were being properly paid, perhaps later to learn that they were not being properly paid. With self-publishing, writers quickly receive income for all sales, both domestic and foreign. By self-publishing, the writers avoid the predatory restrictions of the contracts demanded by the traditional publishers.
An example of the problem of getting recognized is Kathy Contreras’ contemporary fantasy Thautomaturgy: Familiar Magic which is not only beautifully written but features a bright, attractive Hispanic young woman who is resistant to accepting the fact that she is a wizard of considerable power. Those of us who read current trends know that the Hispanic demographic is growing at tremendous speed and that the Hispanic market is underserved, to put it mildly. Despite this, our submission of a proposal on Thautomaturgy to a well-respected production company has met with a lack of success. Although we don’t know the priorities of the company, the evidence is that an effort to promote recognition of quality material is going nowhere.
Online sites devoted to self-publishing, such as The Passive Voice (TPV), provide a forum in which established authors and beginners can present their experiences and air grievances against traditional publishers. Goodreads is a social site where readers write reviews while BookBub is an advertising site that presumably separates the wheat from the chaff. The problem with BookBub and a number of similar sites is that they must approve a submitted book for listing, a barrier that many cannot pass.
Kathy and I have discussed possible hindrances to acceptance such as an author’s name or the title of a book that potential readers may not understand as, for example, Thautomaturgy. Do these seemingly unimportant details result in an undecided reader turning to another author or book?
We are up to our bloody necks—forgive me there—in vampires but there is no avenue for exposure to a bigger audience of good writing and appealing minority characters. Yes, exposure in the mass media of television or film is one way to promote a good writer’s work, but what else exists for the writer to get his/her writing before a wider audience of readers?
All of that said, the key problem for the new writer is attracting sufficient readers to allow her/him to make a living from writing. The obvious answer, aside from good quality writing and readers that recognize good writing, is promotion. The catch for writers like Kathy Contreras is that there are only twenty-four hours in a day and a writer must write.
Promotion has many avenues and all take time away from writing. The “day job”, home and promotion, let alone formatting and selecting covers for print editions, leaves only a limited amount of time for writing. Like any skill, a writer must do a certain amount of writing in order to maintain or improve the skill. So, what is the most effective promotion that will still leave time for writing? Must one be sacrificed to achieve the other?
Facebook and Twitter are two avenues for promotion but, again, both require time and attention, time that should and must be spent writing. The alternative is patience and putting more books out there for sale in the hope that lightning will strike one that will ignite others that have previously languished with only minimal attention. Is there an answer that will allow Kathy and other writers similarly situated to reach an audience sufficient to earning a living? A writer must write…but a writer must also make a living.