Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why Do You Write?

It's a pertinent question to today's topic, and one I ask myself regularly. I mean, writing takes sacrifice ... of time, of money, of large chunks of your life that speed by with the velocity of a comet.

The reality is--as our CMs have pointed out all week--that writers who are not household names or NYT bestsellers do not have the luxury of NOT promoting their books. Even that's not entirely true: bestsellers need to continually promote in order to stay on top of the game--and move up the list (you can find ladders everywhere you look) ... but they more often than not can afford help or their publisher will pick up the tab.

Making traction in the slough of despond that is publishing in 2011 demands that the writer jump up and down as often as possible in order to be noticed in an ever crowded and more cacophonous field. So ... where to put your time and energy for the greatest return? And (scary thought as it is) ... does it do any good?

Two schools of thought here. I've talked to well-respected midlist writers who say "None of this matters a damn--just concentrate on writing the best book you can because ultimately, you can only control words on a page."

This is true. And yet ...

An attitude of this sort is more easily adopted if you already have at least one successful career already. And that brings us back to question one. Are you planning to make writing your sole source of income? Are you happy in your "other" career? Is writing about fun and personal satisfaction more than about numbers and longevity?

If so, you may be happier if you minimize your promotion efforts. If not--if you think of writing as primarily a business rather than a creative pursuit--you may want to spend some time on your marketing plan.

I can only speak for myself, of course, but going on tours (virtual and real), checking in to social networks, writing articles, making book trailers, etc. etc. makes ME feel better ... because at the end of the day, I want to feel like I've done everything I can to help make my books successful. Because, at the end of the day, I started my first book with the idea of making this a career.

Does it do any good? I wish I knew. I do know that I've made friends and forged professional relationships through nearly every channel of communication I've opened (book tours, Twitter, Facebook, conferences, etc.) I think it's necessary, though, to set boundaries--personal and professional ones, so that you don't get burned out.

Because, what seems like a long time ago but was only five years ago, I thought I'd write a book and try to become a writer. I didn't know then that you'd need to be a marketing guru and write like the wind to build up a backlist--or somehow juggle promotion and marketing to stay profitable for your publisher while you took time to write that backlist. I didn't know that demographics are misleading (you find readers in unexpected places) and that e-books would become the present and future of reading. I didn't know how much luck plays into publishing (it's a leading role).

I also didn't know how supportive, kind and generous the community is.

I know these things now, and I'm still here--in fact, THE CURSE-MAKER launches February 1st--and the cycle starts all over again. I learn something new with every book. And I hope some day soon I can have the full-time writing career I dreamed about.


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Hey Kelli! You are the Master of Promotion (Mistress of Promotion sounds naughtier), and you definitely get out there and do the work in a savvy fashion. Balance is the hardest part, I think. It's so easy to fall into endless promotion because it's an endless road. I think balancing that with word on the page of the next novel is the hardest thing I do as a writer, and the one I was the most unprepared for.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

Kelli Stanley said...

Hi, Becks!! :) I'd rather be Mistress of Promotion (sounds like I'd get to wear leather). ;)

Balancing time and money is hard enough, but I think the real key is to learn to balance emotion ... that's the hardest for me, and one reason I can't wait to spend a vacation at Santa's Writing Cave in Hawaii! ;)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

always a room for you in the cave! And the Santa Cave has peppermint bark...

Kelli Stanley said...

Mmmm ... peppermint bark. Year round. With Guittard chocolate? ;) And Kona coffee?

That's what I call a real writer's perq!!!

colette obrien said...

At the end of the day . . . thoughtful answer to difficult question that in the end, at that 'end of the day,' following what makes us feel right with ourselves and true to our work does seem to be the correct answer.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for your insightful post, Kelli. It's so hard to feel that you're doing all you can, when there's always more to do. But I, like you, tend to look on the positive side of every interaction. I get something out of every event I do. But I, like Rebecca, have a hard time balancing the writing with the promotion demands. It's quite a juggling act!

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Colette--and I agree, absolutely. We don't have uniform books and there are no uniform promotion plans--just what we feel we can and should be doing. :)

Kelli Stanley said...

Hi, Meredith! :) That juggling act sometimes feels like we're using chainsaws, doesn't it?

I get stress bombs from feeling like I NEED to do something when I CAN'T do something ... hence, the need to step back and take a deep breath. We can't do everything ... I'm very limited financially as well as time-wise, and everything we do means we don't do something else.

It's a tough call. The good news--such as it is--is that I think whatever we do can and does help, in some small fashion, sometimes in unpredictable ways. And of course, the best marketing tool of all is another book you're proud of.

I really enjoy the people part of writing--conferences, blogging, Facebook, book tour, all that stuff. But ouch, sometimes those chainsaws come down hard! ;)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great post, Kelly. Everything you said (and said so beautifully) should be pounded into every wannabe writer's head. You really don't understand the demands until you are staring down the barrel of them and discover they can be overwhelming. Like many of you, I juggle time and money constraints and a busy other career. Now that my backlist is established I'm pacing myself better, but I still have to schedule a lot of events in between writing.

Kelly, you are doing so fantastic and it's such a joy to watch your career booming.

Whitewing said...

Kelli, another reason to keep writing. Our city library has two copies of your City of Dragons, and they are both out! You are being read in a tiny city on a huge island on the left hand side of Canada.

Kelli Stanley said...

Sue Ann, you're an inspiration to all of us--I wish I knew your secret to establishing THREE successful series and a full-time career as a legal professional!! :)

Thanks for the comment and the support--the weird thing for me is that I feel like I've been around forever (publishing ages you, I think)! ;)


Kelli Stanley said...

Ah, Whitewing, you've touched my heart. :) Thank you so much for letting me know!!! :)

It's finding out how our books reach readers--in small and large places, in poor libraries and exalted biblio-temples at private universities--that keeps us all on the road. As someone who spent her teen years in a rural community, I'm always particularly happy to know that my book reaches the far corners, especially libraries.

Thank you SO much for making my day!!! :)

Reece said...

Excellent post, O Mistress of Promotion! I agree with you and Becky that finding balance is the toughest part. In my other career as an attorney, I also have to market myself. I try to apply three basic principles to both of my marketing campaigns. One, you never really know what works. Two, you can't do everything. Three, despite one and two, make sure you're doing something consistently to market yourself and make it part of your routine.

Kelli Stanley said...

Such excellent strategy, Reece!!! And as a super-successful attorney and thriller writer, you're doing it ALL right!!! :)


Joshua Corin said...

February 1st is right around the corner! I am so excited for you!

(and for me since I'll get to read it)

Kelli Stanley said...

Aw, thank you, Josh!! :) It'll be strange going on tour talking about 84 AD when my head's wrapping itself around June/July of 1940 for the next Miranda (CITY OF GHOSTS is the working title--we'll see if it sticks).

THE CURSE-MAKER was inspired by RED HARVEST, THE DAIN CURSE, THE THIN MAN and POODLE SPRINGS ... I had fun writing it ... once in a while, it's such a pleasure to write characters that are actually in a healthy relationship! ;)


Michael Wiley said...

Well, if anyone is doing it right, you are, Kelli. May THE CURSE-MAKER sell a million books. And then a million more.

Kelli Stanley said...

Thank you, Michael!! :) From your mouth to God's ears (or maybe that should be specifically directed to Minerva, since we're dealing with ancient Rome). And may A BAD NIGHT SLEEP sell millions when it hits the stands!! :) CMS will rule the universe!!!

Just realized I kind of miss Pinky and the Brain ...

BTW, I put that picture of a pogo stick up just for you ... ;)