Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Think It's Tough Being a Writer Nowadays?

Here's a shot of me waiting grumpily for
 an answer from a publishing house in days
gone by ... wait a minute. That's not me.
Sorry about that. Didn't have my glasses on.
The past few days found me grumbling about the amount of time, effort, and hair-pulling it takes to market my recently-released book. Haven't I already spilled enough blood, sweat, and tears just writing the darned thing? Didn't I fuss enough over finding an agent, executing the perfect proposal, a succinct, enthralling (and yes, dreaded) synopsis? Wasn't the wait for a buyer long and well ... just long?

Apparently not. I can fuss all I want about what's happened so far. Yes, it was a long haul to get here, and in a perfect world, I could skate by on what I've already done and leave the rest of it to chance. And in that perfect world, "chance" would produce thousands of avid fans chafing at the bit to get their hands on my book, leaving me to write another bestseller and gather my awards.

But I don't live in a perfect world, and I'll bet you don't either. So lest I forget what being an author meant in days gone by, I compiled a list of things writers/authors had to do in the distant past to get the word out about their books, poetry, plays, etc.

1.  Aside from the number one bestselling book in the history of the written, spoken, whispered, or thought-about word, which is, of course, the Bible (wherein the multiple writers had lots of divine help in the Personage of our Heavenly Father), most writers still live solitary lives today, and have no help from the outside natural world (aside from the internet, writing groups, educational opportunities, and computers, of course, but we'll get to those in a minute). In the olden days, that meant sitting in a cold turret writing by candlelight with only gruel or grog to sustain you. If you didn't have a turret at your house, I guess you were either out of luck and had to find another occupation or found some other form of higher ground on which to perch. Perhaps a sturdy tree limb or a mountaintop. If you were a purist, I suppose you chose a tree limb on a mountaintop. Seems like a lot of trouble to me, but if you wanted it badly enough, I guess you did what you had to do. Much like today.

2.  You needed something to record your words on and some  kind of writing instrument which with to do it. In days gone by that meant papyrus, parchment, tree bark, animal hides, or anything else that would hold your version of ink, which back then might have been dye made from flowers or other colorful ingredients, charcoal, or the ever-popular blood. I guess that's where we get that "opening our veins and spilling our blood" stuff we all do still today. Fortunately, we've got other items to use that don't require a transfusion every other day.

3.  You needed access to the latest news. In past history that meant getting the news from someone who had sailed from one side of the closest sea to the other, taking a mere two or three years, ensuring your topics were timely and of the greatest interest to your readers--most of whom couldn't read anyway, so you had to hope someone in the village could read it to them.

4. Once you had your location, tools of the trade, and news or topics to write about, most writers depended squarely on one other thing to ensure their work was read and enjoyed by others.

They died.

Yep, most writers had to die to have their work discussed by more than their family members or one or two villagers who had the inclination to listen to them in the first place. Only the passage of time created enough literacy among the world's populations so that reading became commonplace, along with the search for knowledge or entertainment or diversion so necessary to a writer's chances for readership.

Happily, that isn't the case any longer and when I think of how much better a writer's world is today than even thirty years ago, I want to hang my head in shame. (I don't, of course, because that would imply I'm a whining, ungrateful wretch who doesn't understand how good I have it nowadays, but nevertheless, I still want to.)

When I first began writing, I used an electric typewriter--yes, you read that correctly. A typewriter. From there, we progressed to a word processor that used floppy disks that really were floppy. Then the first computers appeared. My first one had about an eight-inch screen, and about four hundred pounds of hardware connected to it to keep that 8 megs of RAM churning along at less-than-warp speed. A lot less. I could dial up the internet, go home for the weekend, and come back Monday morning to find that some dolt had used the phone line I had tapped into to download the internet and cut me off entirely. I had to start all over again. By Thursday morning, I might be connected, and by then I'd forgotten what I wanted it for in the first place.

Submitting a manuscript meant copying it off and mailing it to an agent or publishing house one at a time. No multiple submissions allowed. Those were the days when we didn't necessarily need an agent to submit. Of course that changed, and before long, agents were a requirement, and now that's starting to change. If you stick around in this field long enough, things are bound to change right back into what we had before. It might take up to a year for anyone to get back with you (and it was usually a "no") and then you started all over again. Marketing wasn't a problem because you seldom got anything published anyway. You spent all your time after completing the book, proposal, and synopsis, and then finally submitting it somewhere, just running back and forth from the mailbox awaiting the reply. When it came you cried for a while, railed at the injustice of it all, and started all over again.

Nowadays our computers run at the speed of light (well, almost), and our internet connections are instantaneous and seldom interrupted. We can work nearly anywhere, the majority of people are literate, we can publish traditionally or indie, and we can secure an agent (my personal recommendation) or not to navigate the treacherous waters to the publishing house just right for your project. Yes, the bulk of marketing falls on our shoulders, but the fact that we even need to market is a far cry from a few years ago when so few of us even had the chance to do so.

Let's face it: the fact that we have to market to see our work in the hands of appreciative readers is a real blessing. We're published! We need to let others know! We have an opportunity to influence, entertain, educate, and inform others with our work!

And best of all, we didn't have to die to do it.
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