I’m very bad at marketing and anything promotional
Even though with books I’m always quote devotional
In short, in matters authorial and even editorial
I am the very model of an unknown author immemorial
(And in this case, a bit of a plagiarist and an awful lyricist)
I know I do plenty right when it comes to my writing. If I thought differently, I probably would have given up a long time ago. But I know I do plenty wrong as well. How do I know that? Because I’ve written two-and-a-half books of writing, editing, publishing and marketing advice and often it’s a case of “do as I say, not as I do” because at least fifty percent of the time, I don’t – and sometimes just can’t bring myself to – follow my own advice. Which undoubtedly has something (probably a lot) to do with why I remain an unknown author (since time immemorial).
Here’s a (hardly comprehensive) list of things I do wrong.
I Only Write When I Feel Like It
I’ve seen plenty of advice from other writers that says you really know you’re a writer when you force yourself to sit down and write every day. At the moment, I have a nine to five job that I sometimes don’t leave until eight o’clock. When I finally get home, I can barely be bothered eating, let alone writing. So I only write when I feel like it. That’s usually two to three times a week and mostly on weekends.
When I was writing full-time without the distraction (and security) of paid work, I wrote nearly every day (weddings, funerals and family birthdays excepted). And even though I wrote nearly every day, I still only wrote when I felt like it. The difference, of course, was that I felt like writing more often and I had the time to do it.
Something that I’ve noticed though is that I do my best writing if I only write when I feel like it. I think it’s because I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to say and by the time I get the urge, it all just spills out of me in a form very close to what ends up being the final version.
I’ve Never Been Part of a Writing Group
The closest I’ve ever come to being part of a writing group – sharing my first drafts, reading the first drafts of others, providing and responding to feedback, sharing my second drafts, reading the second drafts of others and so on – was when I was studying for my two writing qualifications. We were all still learning so a lot of what we wrote wasn’t great but that was the whole point, I suppose. And while I found it valuable at the time, once I had my qualifications, I just wanted to write on my own.
Part of it is about time. Time spent doing anything else is time not spent writing and I resent that a lot. Part of it is about the diversity of other writers. I’d say at least seventy-five percent of all books written don’t interest me. I remember that from my time studying; there were so many pieces of writing about things that I wouldn’t have chosen to read if we’d been given the choice.
But most of it is about me. I’m a loner, a recluse, a hermit (as much as someone with a full-time job and a very large extended family allows). And I’m also someone who wants to help make every piece of writing she sees the best it can possibly be. I already don’t have enough time to do this for my own writing so I have to be kind to myself and keep myself away from other writers while they’re writing.
I Don’t Do Any Networking
Even when I’m finished writing, I don’t seek out other writers or people in the publishing industry very often. I’m as much of a writer as anyone else who claims the title but whenever I’m in the company of other writers and industry people, I feel uncomfortable. I feel out of place. I feel like a fraud.
I’m an introvert and borderline anti-social so it’s not surprising I feel that way and a lot of other writers I speak to (when I do speak to them) confess to feeling the same way. The difference, of course, if that they do it anyway because they know how important it is to know and be known by all the right people.
My biggest fear is saying or doing something that means I get remembered for the wrong reasons and so, in the end, I prefer not to be remembered at all. It’s counterintuitive and counterproductive for someone who wants to be read. I strongly recommend nobody follows my lead in this respect.
I Don’t Have Anyone Else Edit My Writing
Having a professional edit your writing is expensive. I know. As well as being a writer, I’m also a trained editor. I have a side hustle editing books, magazines and marketing materials and my hourly rate is four to six times more expensive than the hourly rate I earn at my day job. Clearly, I don’t do enough of it to be able to quit my day job but that’s another story.
All the advice out there says that writers must have their work professionally edited in order to be taken seriously. And it’s good advice. Most writers don’t have the capacity to edit their own work to the standard required for publishing.
I’m not most writers. I feel very confident that spending money to have someone else edit my writing would simply be an expensive way of having someone read my work. They’re not going to find many, if any, errors. Yes, I’m that good. I was told by someone who worked for a publisher and who was part of a panel assessing my book for a competition that my writing didn’t need any copy-editing. I assumed the fact that it was commented on meant it was rare.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have anyone giving me feedback on my writing prior to publishing. I have a selection of beta readers who give me feedback on plot and characters and style and all of those kinds of things, amateur manuscript assessors. If they find a mistake, they’ll also point it out. But I am, and will continue to be, my own editor for as long as my unknown author status makes it the best financial choice. And maybe even after that.
I Publish When I Think My Book Can’t Get Any Better
I know some people can work on a single book for decades, revising and refining and querying agents and publishers until they finally get a bite on the hundreds of lines they’ve thrown out into the water. I’m not a patient person. I like working on various projects to ward off boredom. And eventually I will get to a point in all my books where I think they’re pretty good, good enough that I don’t have any more ideas on how to make them any better and I’m sick of working on them. That is the point at which I will publish.
I’ve published four books this way. They could probably all be better. But I’m not going to wait around for my fairy bookmother to come along and tell me how. And since no one else is lining up for the job either, I choose to publish instead.
Maybe they’re not perfect but I’m a published author with four- and five-star ratings, which means people have read my books. I think that’s better than harbouring the perfect book that no one has ever read.
I Don’t Do Any Pre-Release Marketing
Because I self-publish, once a book is ready to go – edited, formatted, book cover designed, ISBN registered – I always publish it immediately. I don’t set a schedule a few months in advance and then dangle hints and tweet cover reveals and ask famous writers to review it for some fame by loose association. I just publish. Which means I don’t do any pre-release marketing.
I Hardly Do Any Post-Release Marketing Either
Once the book is out there, I send an email to all my friends, family and acquaintances, share the news on LinkedIn, tweet an announcement, post another announcement on my blog and add the book to Goodreads. If I’m feeling especially in the marketing mood, I might do some very cheap paid advertising. (I’ve only done that for two of my four books though.) And then I move onto writing my next book.
Yes, it would not be uncharitable to label me the world’s worst marketer (if the thing I’m marketing is me or my books – I’m a lot better at it when I’m marketing other people and their work). It’s partly to do with not enjoying the spotlight but it’s mostly to do with not enjoying huge amounts of effort for little reward. That’s the chance you take with writing a book, some might say. But, I answer, there’s a book at the end of it. That’s the reward for writing a book. With marketing, if you put in all that effort and still no one reads your book, there is no reward. It’s just a lot of wasted time.
I Don’t Have My Own Website
I have a blog but so do about a billion other people all competing for attention and it’s not quite the same thing as having my own website. References to my books are buried further and further back in the timeline each time I post something new and with the over four hundred pieces of content on there (mostly writing, editing and publishing advice and book reviews, not specifically about me and my writing), it’s not easy to find… well, anything.
I know exactly what my website should have on it. I’ve helped develop websites for other writers. I guess I just haven’t gotten around to it. The thought of having to put even more energy into another online platform is exhausting. Possibly more wasted marketing time. I’ll get to it eventually, I’m sure. Just not yet.
I Don’t Capitalise on Any Success I Do Have
I’ve written and published four books, I’ve ghost-written another, my next book is nearly ready to go and I’ve got another few in various stages from development to partly written. I’ve been paid to write articles. I wrote an article that had over 10,000 views on LinkedIn. My last book was shortlisted for the 2016 Text Prize. But every time I have a little bit of writing success, I bask briefly in whatever praise I receive, then retreat hastily back into my precious anonymity. Because while I’d love to be a full-time writer again, to have enough of an income to be able to do that, I really don’t like the idea of fame.
And the thing about anonymity and being relatively unknown is that it means you can write whatever you want. My last book clearly has a sequel coming but I haven’t written it yet. If it had been published through a traditional publisher, there would be significant pressure to write the sequel and get it out there to capitalise on whatever success the first in the series had. It wouldn’t matter if the sequel was any good, just that it was ready to go. I know because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve had a publisher confirm it to me when I commented on how I hadn’t liked a sequel they’d published.
I might be completely delusional but I’m going to continue doing things exactly as I am now because this is what makes me happy and if I’m meant to be anything more than an unknown author immemorial, it will happen regardless of anything I do or don’t do. In the end, there’s no right way; there’s just my way. And your way. And his way. And her way. I hope we all get where we’re going.