Okay, rant time here. Wrap your sensitive sensibilities in bubble wrap and hide them from the wrath of my self-righteous frothing of the mouth.
The thing is, I’m not even mad about anything anyone has done to me personally. This is more of a “Think of the children!” sort of pissed-offedness. In this case, the “children” aren’t children, they’re aspiring authors asking for advice. Of course, being mildly successful, I’m always ready to dispense my wisdom at length…or ad nauseum, depending on whether you agree with me or not.
So, here’s the splinter in my ego. In multiple author groups…no, let’s narrow that down just a weeeee bit further. In multiple indie author groups on Facebook, that place where I procrastinate when I should be writing (you do it, too. I’ve seen you), there are authors who are asking for advice on VERY specific kinds of things, some of which have to do with things other than (gasp) writing! They have questions about sales and marketing, the dirty side of writing that, back in the day, a REAL writer didn’t have to sully their lily white hands with. I mean, between being depressed alcoholic drug addicts who had this Divine access to the Muse 24/7, who had TIME to worry about things like an author platform or visibility? If you weren’t writing, you were supposed to be on a whirlwind book tour or at a bar with your other writer friends lamenting the sorry state of the Art because of all those hack writers out there stinking up the joint. Or something. All you needed to do was write a good book, and POW! You were famous. Publishers beat down your door and made sure of that.
Isn’t mythology fun?
So, back to the questions. And more importantly…the answers. No, wait, these aren’t answers. Hell they barely qualify as fucking platitudes!
“Write a great book! That’s the secret to sales!”
"Concentrate on your writing, not sales!"
“Don’t force your writing! I can always tell when a writer is forcing it and I’ll stop reading a book the minute I see that.” (Oh, wait…that’s another pet peeve. I’ll kill that one in a different post.)
AAARGH! Those aren’t answers. They’re NOT helpful. Hell, they’re beyond useless. They’re fucking BUMPER STICKERS! You can’t build success in twenty words or less. You. Just. Can’t. Granted, I can boil my writing success down to three basic concepts (Persistence, Practice and Reading), but there’s a whole damn BOOK worth of other info behind those three words. What’s worse is that most of this advice didn’t work in the good old days, either. But let’s look at this non-advice.
"Write a great book! That's the secret to sales!" Like hell it is. Effective Marketing is the secret to sales. You could write the best book ever but if no one knows about it, they’re NOT GONNA BUY IT! One person said “WRITE A GREAT BOOK AND MARKET THE HELL OUT OF IT!” Just like that. In caps. With a smiley face. That’s like saying “Wanna fly? Build an airplane and become a pilot!” Two things you need vast amounts of very specific knowledge to do. But hey, it’s that simple, right? Because marketing the hell out of a book always works. Sure, you carry a sign with you everywhere you go with your book title and Amazon link printed on it. And you email five thousand random people every day with links to your book. You marketed the hell out of it, but did you convince even one person to buy it? No, because you marketed the hell out of it, but you didn’t market it EFFECTIVELY. Huge difference there. Writing a good book is still crucial, make no mistake, but it's less than half of the equation for an indie writer just starting out. Marketing, cover art, editing and formatting are just a few of the things a budding indie writer HAS to either become good at, or be willing to spend money on. Even if you're willing to spend money on some aspects (God knows I have zero skill at making covers, for example), you have to know enough to hire someone who will do a good job. The whole “Write a great book” cliché deserves its own rant. Right up there with the Muse.
"Concentrate on your writing, not sales!" No! Write, yes but don't neglect the other parts! (Caveat: My advice always assumes you want to write for a living, not a hobby.) The publishing industry has changed drastically in the past few years. DRASTICALLY. There, I put it in all caps so you knew it was true. Opportunities are more abundant now than ever before for an aspiring writer. Opportunities exist now that never did before. In order to take advantage of them, we have to learn to take on new roles as authors and publishers. If we don't master new skills, and put our heart into the entirety of the process, we're going to get left behind by those who do. Wait, that wasn’t harsh enough to reflect the reality of the situation. Let me say it with some more meanness and sharp pointy edges. If YOU don’t master new skills, and YOU don’t put your heart into the entirety of the process, other writers who DO are going to leave you behind (I imagine that I’m one of those writers, but time will tell what I master).
I could write a book that was filled with the good advice other authors have given me. A pretty thick one, too. Because the advice they gave me…the really GOOD advice that worked…and is STILL working…wouldn’t fit on a bumper sticker.
The young authors that are asking these questions deserve better from the writing community. They NEED well thought out answers, answers that will work. Not trendy catch phrases. Not literary platitudes. Not “conventional wisdom” that hasn’t worked for you so far. And certainly not mythology that doesn’t work anymore. Or that never worked in the first damn place. The world of publishing is evolving. Our answers need to evolve with it.
Stop with the bumper sticker advice. Please. I said it nicely.
So, imagine this as the premise for a science fiction movie:
In 1994, a lone technician at NASA hears a mysterious radio signal coming from deep space. As he tries to track it, he discovers something amazing.
The signal is moving. Faster than a planet or a stellar object. It's also getting closer. Then, he finds the source of this mysterious signal. A comet! NASA however, decides to keep this a secret until they can investigate further.
Working with other space agencies, they propose and design a probe to catch up to the comet and investigate using a small lander. Eight years later, they launch the probe but still keep its real mission secret.
What mysteries will they uncover? What answers will they find? Sounds almost too cool to really happen, right?
But wait....what's this? (Personally, I think the film itself is pretty cool...)
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/H08tGjXNHO4" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Too bad the other part didn't happen, right? Because, that would have been cool. I mean a comet emitting radio bursts? How cool would that be if it were real?
Surprise....it is. Evidently, the whole thing (except the part about the lone technician) happened pretty much the way I described it. NASA appears to have known about the radio emissions for twenty years. The ESA just confirmed it with the eerie recording in the link above.
Truth really is stranger than fiction. Now, a lot of speculation has cropped up about what this all means. Some folks claim to have seen a radio tower on the surface and a flying saucer flying above it in one of the images released by the ESA. I took a look at the picture they are using as a source, and while I can honestly say that there is a formation that bears a resemblance to a radio tower, I can't say that it actually is. It looks like a rock formation to me, but I'm also not an image analyst. The other part of the image does look like something circular and white is casting a shadow on the surface while not appearing to actually connect to its shadow. Is it a flying saucer? No idea. Not gonna even try to guess on that one. (Having a hard time finding what I'm talking about? The saucer shaped thing is easier to find, it's on the upper globule, in the big depression on the right. The tower like structures are almost due south of it in the image, outlined against the black of space behind it.)
All of this happened while we weren't looking. The Rosetta Mission has been in space for 12 years. NASA evidently heard the radio signal 20 years ago. And we just found out about it yesterday, right? No, word about this has been wandering around since September 29th, via an email from an anonymous whistle-blower at the ESA. No one believed them...one writer even constructed a well-put together arguments against the very possibility of this happening. Comets can't emit radio signals! Pshaw! Balderdash! Such a thing couldn't happen...until it did.
In the end, does this mean we're going to meet aliens before the end of the year? Probably not. If there is intelligent life in the universe, I think it hasn't contacted us yet because it hasn't' found enough intelligent life on this planet to justify the risk of letting humans off the planet. More than likely, this is a cool magnetic thing that will teach us more about comets. Maybe we'll find some amino acids that help explain how life on Earth began. Baby steps. It's a big universe, and we need to stop shooting each other over stupid shit before anyone is going to let us eat at the big kids table.