Tag: writing

The art of selling stories

What’s the first question someone invariably asks when you tell them you are reading a great book?

“What’s it about?”

If you say it’s about good vs. evil battling it out in outer space and they aren’t interested in that kind of thing, they will shrug their shoulders and never bother reading. People make up their mind very quickly about whether they are willing to buy a story.

Once I was at work and I told a woman I work with that I had an idea for a story. I said I was writing about a woman who meets her soul mate, but is already married to someone else. Within the next couple of days, different women around the office were asking me about the book and saying they thought it sounded good, yet that one-sentence premise was all they knew about it.

I asked the women what they would do in that situation and each one said she would stay with her husband. I didn’t realize until much later that I was basically planning to write Bridges of Madison County, which makes me think about the difficulty in selling old stories.

Movies like Casablanca or books like the Invisible Man probably aren’t making much money at this moment and it isn’t because they aren’t any good. It’s because they aren’t front and center in our minds.

People don’t read books because they are well written and they don’t watch movies because they are artistically shot. Take the two following cases as proof:

The seven-year old son of a man I know was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt the other day. I asked him if he was a Star Wars fan.

“Not really,” he said. “But I’ll watch it anyway.”

I just finished watching a movie called Passengers, which was made in the past year and frankly wasn’t impressive. I watched it anyway, because the premise intrigued me and I was in a tired mood and needed to relax.

In both cases, the consumer would gladly watch a better movie, but would also be willing to settle for a mediocre one. Now I understand how so many bad books and movies get made. The public doesn’t demand good.

If I told that kid he could watch a great classic movie from 1956 or the latest Marvel superhero movie, he would probably choose the latter. Premise and freshness trumps depth of content when selling a story.

 

 

 

Keep blogging, even though it won’t sell your book

That was the theme of an article I read last week. Blogging will not sell your book at all, wrote a female author, not even if your blog is read by thousands and thousands of people.

This female author had a real, published book for sale and her widely read blog post led to one or two sales of the book and that’s it, she wrote. Yet, she insists that blogging is still a good thing. Blogging gets your writing and your name out into the world and keeps both on your readers’ mind, so when the reader runs across your book someday, they know who you are.

Last year, I read a blurb from a literary agent who said the first thing he does when he gets a submission is Google the prospective author’s name. If they don’t have an online presence in place, he won’t even read the submission.

I guess the lesson to take from both of these tidbits of information is that modern writers better be online in some form.

Do you need an editor?

I completed 23 percent of that book I mentioned the other day and could go no further. I gave it a two-star review on Goodreads and in the process ran across an interesting review from another Goodreads user who also gave two stars.

Her review said the book started strong, but became repetitive and slow moving, which she thought could have been fixed by an editor. I agreed completely with her assessment and it forced the question: do all writers need an editor?

An editor of mine at a newspaper I worked for used to say everyone needs an editor. She didn’t say it to me directly in a scolding sort of way; she just said it out loud when circumstances called for it. While there were rare occasions in which she wouldn’t change a word of my stories for the paper, she more often changed them for the better. A few times, she changed them for the worse, but only a few times. Overall, my work was better for having an editor.

So, if I had to give advice to anyone thinking of publishing a book, I would tell them to get an editor. They don’t help with spelling and grammar as much as they help with analyzing the feel and flow of a work.

From what I understand, self-publishers can hire decent editors. Does anyone out there have a good editor they can recommend?

 

Instant rejection

Yesterday, someone asked me if I had read any good books lately. It may be the first time that’s happened in a decade. The exchange that followed was revealing and educational for anyone thinking of selling a book.

I told her Comanche Moon was pretty good and her response: “That sounds like a western,” meaning she would never bother with a western. She didn’t have to see the cover or read a page or two. She heard the title and rejected the book immediately.

Even though I thought she might enjoy the book despite it being a western, I didn’t press the issue. Instead, I told her she might like Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. This suggestion seemed to satisfy her and she said she would look it up and try an e-book sample.

No word as to whether she started reading Beautiful Ruins, but that’s not important. The lesson here is that a casual reader will reject your book in a heartbeat if there is the slightest chance it doesn’t fit their idea of what they want to read. A title or a cover can turn away a reader before they ever give a chance to the writing or the story. Readers have preconceived notions about what they want to buy and if an author doesn’t deliver the goods from start to finish, there will be no sale.

Who are the greatest writers of our day?

As an English Literature major in college, I studied many great writers of the past. The old writers were celebrities of sorts, or so the stories seemed to suggest. Everyone knew of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. What writers do we speak of today?

If someone asked me who the best writers of the 21st century are, I wouldn’t have an answer. Maybe that means writing is totally irrelevant in our world today. If asked, I think most people automatically mention the old writers as the best. Jane Austen is still a big name today, thanks to movies made of all her books. Do people actually still read her books or just know her name from the movies?

If I asked my niece or nephew, who are both in high school, whether Jane Austen was a good writer, they would both answer yes. If I asked whether they had read one of her books, they would both answer no. Around Christmas time I asked them if they were familiar with A Christmas Carol. They were, but only the movie. They had no interest in reading the book by Charles Dickens.

Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer for fiction this year for writing The Underground Railroad. Is Colson Whitehead one of today’s great writers. Whitehead has a twitter page and six novels to his credit, according to a Google search. Do modern great writers have to have a twitter page? Must they write novels?

Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature last year. He doesn’t write novels. He falls loosely in the poet category, if you consider modern-day song writers the equivalent of ancient poets. Do poets still exist outside of songwriters?

These are some of the questions floating through my head on this Wednesday night. Who do you think are some of the 21st century’s greatest writers?

What if word of mouth was all you had?

A writer can wake up each morning and ask the question: what should I write? Whatever the writer decides to write, the next question becomes: How will I get read?

In today’s modern world there are more options than ever for getting read. A writer can start a blog and perhaps generate a few readers. A writer can post their work to social media and beg their friends and acquaintances for a moment of their time. A writer can save the morning composition and collect it as part of a future book, in which might be their ticket to stardom and riches. 

What if there were no publishing houses with advertising and marketing at their disposal? What if you were left with one method of promotion and that was word of mouth? 

Advertising professionals are little more than carnival barkers pulling a fast one on the consumer, saying anything to make a fool part with his money. Yet, they are a necessary part of the entertainment world. Without them, consumers wouldn’t know what exists. 

Professional marketers and advertiswers are often good at their jobs and their methods are effective, but pretend for a minute that the world of advertising doesn’t exist. All that exists are writers and readers and the only way to get read is through word of mouth, perhaps the most honest form of advertising.

Would you choose to write something different today? 

Best laid plans

Most of us have at least heard of Lonesome Dove, a western novel turned TV movie years ago. I occasionally read from the book and just ran across a quote worth sharing. One of the main characters named Woodrow Call offers the following thought on making plans:

“Though he had always been a careful planner, life on the frontier had long ago convinced him of the fragility of plans. The truth was, most plans did fail, to one degree or another, for one reason or another. He had survived as a Ranger because he was quick to respond to what he had actually found, not because his planning was infallible.”

As much as I try not to plan things out too much, I fall into that trap a lot, so the quote served as a great reminder to me to take life one day at a time. It applies to all walks of life, but can easily apply to the life of a writer. There is a lot of advice floating around out there for aspiring writers, but in the end a writer just needs to write and see where the effort leads.