Help - My Writing's Not Selling!
If the definition of insanity is to keep doing what's not working in the confident
expectation that it WILL work, then writers and other creatives are nuts.
When you're a writer, you write and you market your work. That's it. It's exactly the
same process for Stephen King as it is for Stephen Brand-New-Writer. You dig a hole
and you keep digging until they bury you in it or you hit a gold mine.
That's what makes a life in the arts so challenging. If you're a creative, you create,
and you sell. That's all. This counter-intuitive process leads many writers on an
endless quest for the "secret". There has to be something else, they think. It's too
simple. There has to be more to selling your work than that.
The bad news is that there's no more to it. And that's also the good news.
The good news:
Every word you write makes you a better writer
Write every day. Write constantly. You've heard it all before, you're sick of hearing
it. You donít want to write every day until you get some guarantees that it's not all
for nothing. After all, your partner has threatened to throw the computer out the
window, and you want some semblance of a normal social life before you die.
It's true, every word you write makes you a better writer, and you donít get to be a
better writer without putting in the time writing those words. Dig out some old files.
Go back five years, if you've been writing that long. If you've been writing for less
than five years, go back and read your first efforts. Does your beginning work make you cringe?
Your improvement has been incremental. The more you write, the better your writing gets.
Along with writing, you should also read and study other writers. Take writing courses.
The big benefit of a writing course is that you're forced to write. But that's not enough.
The bad news:
Selling is often a matter of luck
Here comes the bad news. Selling is often a matter of luck. New writers like to
believe that editors and agents are super-human beings who know everything. They
certainly know better than writers. (Big wry smile.)
Editors and agents have problems even as you and I do. They have jobs to do, and
they want to do them as easily and as quickly as they can, with the least amount of
hassle. This means that when you send an article proposal to a magazine and another
writer sends a similar idea, if the publication has worked with him before, he gets
the job. It may not be fair, but to the magazine he's a known quantity. They know
what to expect with him. On the other hand, if there's a book on the topic and the
agent calls to offer the serial rights for less than it would cost to hire either
of you, you both lose out.
Rejection is a fact of the creative life. Many genre novelists have written ten
complete novels before the first one sold, and that sale was often a matter of luck.
That novel was in the right place at the right time, so to speak. Let's see, at 80
to 100 thousand words per novel, that's close to a million words, before a single
word sold. Of course, once a novel sells, the editor and the writer's agent will
encourage the writer to dig out those past efforts, revamp them, and chances are they
will be published too. (So if you're filling a couple of filing cabinets with unsold
manuscripts, take heart. Look on them as your retirement fund.
Many writers have to continue for years, doing what isnít working. They have no guarantee
that it will EVER work. But if they stop digging that hole, they'll never strike gold.
How to survive
until you sell (and forever afterward)
Firstly, donít forget to trust the process. It works. You create, and you market your
work. That's all. However, you also must:
keep up with
what's selling, so that youíre not selling a bicycle in the rocket age. This doesnít
mean you hop on every passing bandwagon. Trust yourself. If you're writing a
multi-generational family saga-type novel and only chicklit Bridget Jones clones are
selling, keep writing. The wheel turns. If you write from your heart, you will sell;