BREAKING NEWS (sort of): Sensational author Kathy Hall has written a wonderful review for The Geronimo Breach. Take a moment out, and visit her blog to see what the fuss is all about. It can be viewed here. And new acclaim for How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) just came in as the 15th sequential 5 star review at Amazon here and another at this blog.

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In Defense of Writing

Everyone knows that selling one’s work is a business.

It’s the selling business.

Some are good at it, some not very, but whether it’s selling plush toys or cars or books, the gig’s the same – convince consumers the wares are worth buying and develop a strong enough brand so they return to buy more. Selling is the transactional part; marketing is the brand-building part.

Enter writing. More specifically, enter the act of writing.

Everyone reading this blog knows I’ve done a viciously snarky parody of the slew of self-help books targeting aspiring authors for whom self-publishing is the new Holy Grail. Its title alone should give one a taste of the cynicism which inspired its creation: “How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated).”

What drove me to write it wasn’t to make millions, but rather because I like to write and I especially enjoy mocking human foibles, my own included — and I wanted to express my frustration and disgust with the foolishness and self-important hypocrisy evident in every corner of the writing and self-publishing game.

Which brings me to the point of this blog.

One “How To” book, in particular, by self-publishing sensation John Locke, contains a host of tips and steps for aspiring self-publishing authors. I take no issue with 99% of the counsel Mr. Locke offers, and believe that much of it serves as a decent platform for book marketing in the modern internet-connected world.

But there is a section I have a problem with, specifically where his approach to writing is to do so as though creating a product – essentially, if you follow his model, you’re to profile your target audience/reader and stereotype them, figure out what your hypothesized reader wants (chocolate or vanilla or strawberry), and then write what your target market will consume. Some quotations: “I set project goals: 1) Determine my target audience. 2) Complete a manuscript. 3) Write a book that will sell.” And “…understanding who your target audience is, and what they want, and writing to it (and only them!) is the most important component of being an author.” And “Selling downloads is nothing more than writing to a specific audience, and knowing how to find them.” All good marketing-driven advice. I have no issue with it from a marketing standpoint, nor from a salesman’s. It’s good counsel if you measure success as a writer in sales terms.

And if you think about it, the counsel makes sense if one views writing as product development. It’s a marketing worldview which treats writing as a product, much like any other. For me, it would be the same as treating painting as product, versus art – the inevitable result of which is a world filled with Thomas Kincades instead of Van Goghs.

When it comes to writing there are basically two camps, once you strip away all the hyperbole: Those for whom writing is a business and writing is a product-engineering process; and those for whom writing is an art/craft, separate from the business of selling the work once it’s produced (again, I have no problem with the business of selling and this is not anti-selling in any way).

I would describe it as Camp A, the “writing as product” camp, and Camp B, the “writing as expression of art/craft” camp.

Part of me rejects Camp A at a fundamental level, because I’m a Camp B guy. I write because I enjoy doing so. I write what I want; I do so in genres I myself read, and I don’t attempt to second guess how the work will do in the marketplace. I’m aware that the work is a product, but when I write I do so because I love the act of creation, not because I want to be in the “book widget” design & marketing business. I desperately try to avoid self-censorship, or creating a book because I’m hopeful it’s what the market “might” devour. In truth I’d be terrible at it, because then I wouldn’t be creating what I want, enjoying the craft for my own selfish, guilty pleasure – at that point, I’m churning out a product.

As I read Locke’s counsel to write what your audience wants, I found myself thinking of the scene in Amadeus where Salieri is counseling the commercially-struggling Mozart to craft heavy-handed operas with pedestrian execution and a bang at the finish so the audience knows the opera’s done.

Now, I’m not saying I’m any Mozart, but my point is that I do believe that we owe it to ourselves, as artists and writers, to aspire to be Mozart, even if our talents largely fall short. You can’t be the next David Foster Wallace if you never try to be. And if most don’t strive to excel, and instead focus on cranking out “sellable” product that panders to the lowest common denominator (not a bad commercial bet, incidentally), then it’s likely we will all be the poorer for it in the long haul. When we abandon the pursuit of excellence in favor of the pursuit of commercial reward, we are doomed as artists.

Note I’m not saying commercial reward is bad, or shouldn’t be aspired to. I just don’t think it’s the reason one should write. The odds are better of being struck by lightning or winning the lottery than becoming a bestseller, so setting out to write with commercial success as the reason for doing so is a lousy justification, in my mind.

I think you should write because you love the act of writing and creation, and I believe you should hone your craft with the sedulous devotion of an aspiring Yo Yo Ma – and perhaps if my perspective resonates and finds purchase in the world, the next Mozart of literature won’t be wasted writing the equivalent of greeting cards, pulp fiction, or “Penny Dreadfuls.”

Again, I’m not being artsy fartsy, or taking a high moral tone. But writing is, for me, about self-expression first. If a million people wind up thinking my work’s worth reading, super. If only a handful, I’ll be disappointed, but in the end, it won’t diminish my pursuit of the next well-crafted sentence, or plot twist, or memorable character. It’s the process I enjoy, not the selling or marketing part, and while my end-result may become a product I then market, I don’t set out to produce one for any other reason than the joy of doing so.

I’ve been fortunate, financially, so it won’t kill me if nobody wants to buy my books. I’ve made plenty of money marketing and selling things in my life, and I’ve churned out plenty of products that could be described accurately as mediocre. I never confused that with art or striving to master a craft. It was commerce, the business of selling, and it paid me generously. I apprehend the value of marketing and the importance of selling – as a commercial enterprise, not as an artistic endeavor.

So I’m not a neophyte at the commercial aspect of the job. I understand its role. But I also question whether the world is better off with writers aspiring not to craft work that is the ultimate expression of their gift (such as it may be), but rather to spit out mediocre dross, because that’s what they believe will sell. Do we really need more literary sausage machines grinding forth mundane, unimaginative screeds?

On the flip side, I’m also a realist. I understand the argument that it doesn’t matter how good the work is if nobody reads it. I’m fully aware of that. I’m nothing if not pragmatic, and skilled enough with a pen to write monosyllabic action screeds of marginal inventiveness, if that’s what the world is clamoring to buy.

Only I don’t, and won’t. The reason I don’t is a selfish one. It’s because when I write, I’m not doing it for the money. Sure, some cash is a nice reward for a job well done, and a decent indication others believe the work has value (as well as a reasonable measurement for success), however given that I’m comfortable in life, my motivation is different than one driven to pursue a financially-defined success. Regardless of ultimate sales, I’m already successful if I can create intelligent, well-written books I’d enjoy reading, in the genres I like. That’s just me. I write because I’m passionate about the process of invention, of creation, of using language to evoke emotions; and because I’m intent on becoming a better writer every time I sit at the keyboard.

The line of demarcation really comes down to this — I would write even if there was no money in it; no hope of making bank. For those who view writing as commerce, they likely wouldn’t. Why build it if nobody will come? Would you go to your accounting job if nobody paid you? Would you write tech manuals for fun or out of love? That’s nonsensical.

I’m not being sanctimonious. I’m not arguing that one philosophy is superior to the other. I’m not dissing the business of marketing and promoting, which are essential to getting the work into the world. I’m simply saying that I think the act of writing can happen for multiple reasons, and I’m sharing why I do so. Perhaps I’m all wet, and naive, and should treat my act of giving birth to new worlds roughly the same as determining which type of potato chip texture tests best in my target market segment. I just know that when I write a thriller, I do so because I want to, and I want it to be a book that is the very best example it could be, and if others love it, super, then hopefully acclaim and reward will come. If not, so be it, but I’ll still write, either way.

I fully understand I could bastardize even this pure expression of creativity – I know better than most how to do so.

I just don’t want to. I think it cheapens something special, at least for me, and with a finite period on the planet, I’ve learned to jealously protect and cherish the special.

What about you? Which camp do you fall into? A or B?

I’ll be curious to see the responses. Remember for this discussion there is no C – “I write because I love it, and just happen to love writing what I believe my profiled reader would want.” That’s a camp A person who enjoys the work. That’s the bus driver who enjoys doing a good job and is conscientious, but drives a bus because he’s paid to do so.

Camp B is the “I’d write even if people paid zero for books” crowd, camp A is the “I am trying to write something that will be commercially successful and modify what I write accordingly” crowd. One is workmanlike as I see it, the other is more about artistic self-actualization.

Which are you?

 

Russell Blake is the author of Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, and the upcoming Zero Sum trilogy (all thrillers), as well as the satire/parody How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated). Excerpts can be viewed at Amazon.com, as well as Goodreads.com and at WattPad.com.

 

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Comments

  1. marla madison
    Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 3:34 am

    Well said! Just bought your book. Haven’t finished it yet, but had to call a friend to share the line, “dumber than a plank with a face painted on it.” Loved it. If you get tired of writing you could do stand up!
    I write what I love to read, in the genre that intrigues me–suspense–and hope I hook other suspense readers.
    Wish I had some love of marketing, since that is what one has to do to get their book out there for people to even be aware of. It is not my forte, but I’m giving it a shot! Thanks for the encouragement.
    Marla

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 4:41 am

      Try Geronimo Breach next, and then once you’re on board and get it, do Fatal Exchange.

      I guarantee you’ll enjoy them.

      Reply
      • Webbiegrrl Writer  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 8:30 pm

        Hahaha, nope, you’re not trying to sell your books. You crack me up!

        I spent most of my life as a Camp B person, writing was “art for art’s sake” totally. But I wasn’t getting enough time to write due to spending all my “free time” climbing the corporate ladder and doing what society expected of me–making money, allegedly finding a husband so I could settle down, go into debt. Living the American Dream was KILLING mine.

        I quit a high-paying job in 2005 to be a writer full-time. I had no debt and was definitely not “settling” down, up or sideways. I was writing, alive for the first time in years.

        Given the market of the last few years, however, I’ve had to get a frakkin day job again. This time I chose a low-paying crap job I don’t care about, can walk out of at the end of the day and not think about again until I am compelled to return a day or two later. I work part time for money and write every waking moment in between shifts.

        I’m crazy-busy but I’m still alive, and I hope I’m not over in Camp A completely but I definitely intend to make money off my books. I’m no longer writing art for art’s sake. I’m writing what I feel like writing and then FINDING the market to buy it.

        I’m selling whatever I’ve got as best I can and as quickly as I can so that my writing can be a habit that supports itself instead of my support it. I’d like to believe I’m in Camp B+ or at worst, Camp A-

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 9:08 pm

          Again, I have no problem with marketing and selling – an essential part of the business of selling books. This isn’t a question of do you need to or like selling, or not.

          It’s a question of why you write.

          Again, Camp A writes because it is creating a product for an audience it has defined as being a consumer for a specific type of writing – which usually equates to writing that is, well, pedestrian, to put it charitably. But mission-driven.

          Camp B writes out of a desire to create, regardless of the obvious viability of the work. It’s art for art’s sake, which may turn out to be highly-marketable genius, or barely-tolerable dross, or highly-marketable dross. But the point is, the marketability is considered after the fact, not before, and the writer writes to satisfy his/her own demands, not the hoped-for demand of the marketplace.

          Camp B may or may not turn out to be commercially viable. Camp B may be very interested in the work selling, but only once the work is complete, and doesn’t self-censor or change the work due to notions of marketability. Perhaps later Camp B might make changes, if once it has donned the marketeer hat it seems wise to do so. But the benchmark for a job well done for Camp B is the quality and process of the work itself, and the commercial part is a separate issue.

          For Camp A, it’s impossible to separate the issue, as the work is being created specifically to suit the profile of the consumer. If monosyllables and mooning teen angst are part of the recipe, that’s what will be written, and it becomes a product development exercise, not the creation of art, such as it is.

          Make sense?

          I think what I was trying to say in the blog is that I’m Camp B, but am willing to take off that hat when the writing is done and put on the “let’s figure out how to best sell this” hat. But the latter stays in the closet until I’m through writing. Which may be a terrible approach, and what I should be doing is profiling the widest possible audience for whatever creaky screed I think I can feed them. But then that’s just a job, and if I’m going to go back to having a job, I can make a lot more money doing other things than I’m ever likely to make writing – statistically speaking, anyway.

          Reply
          • Gill  –  Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 5:06 pm

            I’m a camp B person, not that I’m camp you understand… although what a camp woman would behave like I’m not sure… perhaps a woman imitating a woman impersonator would be camp?
            I write for writing’s sake. Anyhow I hate camping, it’s uncomfortable and the food’s awful. Please can I be in hotel B?

          • Russell Blake  –  Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 5:09 pm

            You have a lot of time on your hands, no?

            I’m in your camp.

          • Raoul Anderson  –  Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 11:10 pm

            Which am I? Decidedly Camp B, for while I may daydream about book-signings or being chosen by Oprah or being published by Random House, the fix has always been in the moment, the moment when my fingers cannot keep up with my brain and I actually feel as though I will levitate out of my seat as I hunch forward closer and closer to the keyboard, the monitor and become some mecho humannoid, all one, sound and fury and nearly orgasmic. Or more simply put, in the zone. Those are the times I know I simply love to write and never mind the trails from the corner of my eyes and cramps in my fingers.
            The self-publishing biz will be new to me and I will need all the wisdom from the experienced. But yeah, embroider a big ol’ B on my chest. I could not successfully market myself as an actor, therefore, much less a writer. There I’ve said it.

          • Russell Blake  –  Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 3:57 am

            Me too, Raoul, me too.

        • Elizabeth Loraine  –  Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 1:30 pm

          I have to say that I totally agree with you. I am doing what I love, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to try to make a living at it.

          Reply
          • Russell Blake  –  Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 3:02 pm

            Nothing wrong with that. Everyone would like to. It’s just a question of whether you do so because you hope to, or whether you do so and then hope to.

  2. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 3:54 am

    My dearest I am artsy fartsy and really have an advanced degree from fine ivy league institution that taught me the only thing I can do with my work is keep journals and teach.
    Coming from a fiesty background I went back to the drawing board and got another degree in mathematics and business.- that reasoning was really about feeding my family.
    There is no write right write or wrong. I hope Locke made four hundred grand on the million sold- I hope he makes two million more.
    We Sir are on the cliff of the Grand Canyon ( a place I have hiked in 115 degree heat and paining snow) I see you BraveHeart, keep writing funny and great and thrilling.
    I am so blessed to know your thunder and lightening just online- Go sell some books dude. hugs
    Don’t forget to include the dogs, some pandas, and maybe apple pie

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 4:40 am

      It is what it is. There is no right or wrong, only right or wrong for you or for me.

      I don’t begrudge Locke one penny. He’s earned it – he’s blazed a trail, and made a point.

      I just don’t write the same way, or view the creation process as product engineering, which is how it comes off when he describes it. Does that mean I’m right? Hardly. He’s made some shekels selling a million something books. If numbers count, his perspective’s the winner.

      Then again, there’s that old saying – a billion flies can’t be wrong. In the end, I think you need to make some money, and then do whatever floats your boat.

      Writing as I do floats mine.

      Thanks for the insights and encouragement.

      Reply
  3. David LeRoy
    Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 4:22 am

    I have to stand by my product, and my product is a part of myself. I understand both camps, but when I am writing, I stay in camp B. When I am done, then I start to consider the practical side of life.

    If I was to listen to the advice and editing of my fellow writers, I would have to cut many of my scenes, and add in sex, action and violence, creating the pacing of a thriller instead of a historical novel. Everything about the story would be obvious in the first 50 pages. I would need to add in some paranormal side to the story, or pander to some other trend.

    Indie is more than just target marketing and selling a lot of books. Authors now have a chance to write about topics which corporate giants would reject. Authors have a chance to give us characters that would otherwise be cut, because some vice president decided they were not sexy enough, or daring, or macho enough. Instead of writing to make money as the only goal, authors can write to make the readers think. Corporations are not about making customers think, but entertainment. There are a lot of authors and books that we would never get to read had it not been for kindle and indie publishing. I believe authors have a responsibility to try and do better than the big six instead of just play the same game on their own.

    At the end of the day, ten or so years after your first book reached the market, and the checks have been cashed and spent, will you be proud of your writing? I take that seriously because my name is on that title, and my friends and family will know it, and when something is created just for the sake of meeting a market, it shows.

    It is like an energy drink. It is good for a few hours. Will anyone care to read it once you are gone?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 4:37 am

      I have no problem with selling and marketing. Once all the hair pulling and biting and sweating are done, what’s left is gestation, then birth. What is born is the book. Perhaps when we put on our sales and marketing hats, we make adjustments. My argument is one of sequence, and extent. I want to write the most interesting book of its kind I can, each time, taking risks, breaking rules if I like (understanding them and then choosing to break them being different than doing so out of ignorance), and experimenting. That may not make for the best product, but it will make for my best writing.

      I think one has to joust at windmills in order to be a spinner of dreams. Whether or not financial success manifests, I want to see my peers go, “Holy shit, that man can write the ass off a book.” That’s worth far more than money to me. Maybe if I was destitute I’d feel differently. But I don’t think so.

      I’m in camp B. I can also argue the merits of Camp A and C. It just seems joyless and pandering and mediocre to me. Then again, I’m an opinionated dick, so what else is new?

      Thanks for sharing your views.

      Reply
      • Jaron Deerwester  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 1:45 pm

        “I think one has to joust at windmills in order to be a spinner of dreams.” — Permission to quote? I fucking love that line. Perfect expression of the Camp B philosophy, IMO. :)

        “I can also argue the merits of Camp A and C.” The pedant in me wants to point out that you argued against the existence of a Camp C. My inner pedant also realizes that, by defining Camp C as a subset of Camp A, Camp C actually DOES exist in this context.

        Of course, my non-pedantic side (most of my personality, thankfully) is jeering (and cheering) at my inner pedant for thinking contradictory thoughts, while doing the same. Aah, what a post to wake up to :)

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 2:00 pm

          Permission granted, with attribution.

          Sure, there are subsets, however for the purposes of this discussion I want to force my fellow writers to consider this tough question, and eliminate any weasel room.

          You write because you want to engineer a hopefully popular product and structure it according to what your market research dictates, or do you do it as a form of self-expression/art that you may (or may not) later market? Would you write if there was zero chance of money being made from it, or no?

          IMO, understanding where one lies on this spectrum by necessarily structuring it as a polarized choice of A or B is key to being satisfied as a writer.

          Reply
          • Jaron Deerwester  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 5:16 pm

            Absolutely will attribute – and I’ll enjoy doing so. :)

            “Spectrum,” I agree with 100%. Glad to understand your intent with this post, polarizing to provoke reflection. (Provocation seems to be a familiar theme with you – and not simply for the sake of it, but thoughtfully and with good intent, and we certainly need more of that going around!)

  4. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 4:52 am

    I know your writing pretty well by now, so I know that it’s very good – and from my point of view, you seem to be having fun. I am firmly in Camp B, but have met writers who are so hung up on craft that they never actually put anything in writing. Seriously.

    Which is the one and only stipulation I have about being in Camp B myself – if it isn’t bringing joy, then forget it, because it’s worse for me than plodding along in the corporate world (basically stabbing myself in the eye every day).

    I admire very well put together sentences, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be capable of much in that regard. Where I’m pretty good is drawing characters that are real and first person really turns me on.

    So, I read and enjoy some things which might be called artsy-fartsy (does The New Yorker count?) but probably won’t ever write that way – and that’s okay with me. I do write for the absolute love of it – and I’ve been doing it for years without pay.

    Russell – this is provocative and well-presented, as usual. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 5:00 am

      No, thank you for your continued patience, support, and enthusiasm.

      It’s not about where we are today with the craft. It’s what we aspire to and demand out of ourselves. At least for me. Am I the next Steinbeck or Updike or Vonnegut? Hardly. That’s not what I want to do, even if I could, which I can’t. Are you writing the next Atlas Shrugged? Possibly, but I doubt it, because that’s not where your heart lies.

      As long as you’re improving every day, my sense is you’ll sleep better. I tend to agree – if you really need the money, sell shoes, and write at night for fun. Then again, I’m a Camp B guy, so perhaps that’s a recipe for commercial disaster.

      At least it’s not boring…

      Reply
  5. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 6:20 am

    I believe there is a C – people who are in love with the idea of being a writer, but who never does the real work.

    Both A and B need to do the writing. But if it is for A merely the business then why not get a troupe of ghostwriters to flesh out your marketing research?

    I’m in camp B

    Reply
  6. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 6:25 am

    I’ve already commented on your books, both on Amazon and on my own weblog, so I won’t do so here. I’m rather obviously in Camp B. I can hardly categorize myself as my first book was a straight mystery, the second a speculative mystery/murder and the third an anthology of short stories with about all the genres (except horror) thrown in the mix. So I can’t be an SF writer, or a mystery writer or a romance writer although I’ve written all three. All I can say is that I am in Camp B.

    Reply
  7. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 1:46 pm

    If, early on, I’d picked a particular type of book to write and essentially developed a brand name, I’m sure I’d have done much better financially. Instead I wrote all kinds of books, as if determined to avoid developing a following. OTOH, if I’d taken that course I don’t think I’d have written early as many books, or still be at it fifty+ years later. (And now, mirabile dictu, all those disparate books are back in print, and people are reading them. Who knew?)

    Reply
  8. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Bravo Russell! So nicely put. Thank you for directing me here. I can’t wait to check it out a little more.

    Brilliant! :)

    Reply
  9. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Put me down as an A-.

    Reply
  10. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Great blog, Russell. In your last few blogs I’ve seen a serious side to the author of Gazillion.

    I’m a B, in a similar position to yours; writing because I always wanted to do it after I did well enough in my career to afford that luxury. That being said, I agree you need to market and promote as part of your whole package, because it wouldn’t be as rewarding doing the hard work of writing if nobody wound up reading it.

    That latter point — the hard work — is probably harder if you’re a B than an A, because striving to make your writing as good as you can, even if you write commercial thrillers, is gutbusting. And because it’s hard, I don’t think those who find it difficult should think as a result that they’re A’s.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 3:13 pm

      Nothing worth doing is ever easy. That is an unfortunate truism. Perhaps it’s the effort that forges the finished product, or perhaps it’s just that we aren’t part of that lucky few who can do it seemingly without effort. I do know that for every great talent I’ve ever met, there was inevitably tremendous work behind the scenes.

      Nothing’s for free.

      Having said that, marketing the product is a whole other kettle of fish, and we are in no disagreement that it’s a hugely important part of the author experience. But it’s how we arrive at the product to be marketed that’s my point, as you know.

      I hope you sell a Gazillion, and I do to, but in the end, the work will out. That’s my belief. And the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get. Funny, that.

      Reply
  11. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Russell, you hit a sore spot in my psyche and I must thank you. I, too, have been guilty of creating a framework for a book that is still unwritten and I have been miserable. Life was so much better when I simply woke up every day and wrote 1,000 words.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • David Lender  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 5:11 pm

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with creating a framework for what you want to write. I was taught to do detailed bios and a scene-by-scene outline by my first editor. Maybe that’s not for you, but doing that kind of structural work before or during writing doesn’t mean you’re being mercenary about your writing. Some people, like me, need the structure to stay on track, and know where they’re going. If you don’t do it that way, I think that just means you’re what they call an “organic” writer. I did blog about my approach vs my neighbor’s that you might enjoy. http://davidlender.blogspot.com/2011/07/writers_26.html

      Reply
      • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 5:32 pm

        I’ve also written about my process, which can vary from organic to highly structured. But that’s more of a process issue than a product engineering issue. As an example, you probably use language much at the same level in your books as in your speech. You haven’t decided to dumb it down, because the product you are designing is for those at a 2nd grade education level – what I call the James Patterson approach. Now, perhaps you’ve thought it through, and decided your target audience is fairly erudite, and bright by virtue of the subject matter. Alternatively, that’s just your voice, and if you tried to modify it significantly it wouldn’t be particularly joyful material to write for you.

        Only you know for sure. I’m just guessing. You’re writing what you like to read, in a manner you’d like to read it.

        I’m not sure I buy that you need detailed bios on each character. Might want to try one where you just do a couple sentences, and see how they play. Could be interesting way of keeping the process challenging and evolving. Just me, but my characters generally change as I write them, and sometimes take unexpected turns, as did Al in Geronimo Beach, and even Tess’ arc in Fatal Exchange. Both wound up differently than I envisioned when I sat down and started. Having said that, I note you aren’t doing too badly, with 3 books charging up the Amazon sales ranks and featured in the NY Times, so what the hell do I know?

        I will say, my next book is a tribute to my recently departed best friend and companion, the best dog in the world, and non-fiction – “An Angel With Fur.” I just got a desire to write it, as I did with Gazillions. Just a wild hair. Now, that might not fit my product mix as it’s outside of my genre (action thrillers) however it’s what I feel inspired to do next. After that, it’s back to a couple thrillers that have been bouncing around my noggin. But the point is, I don’t dumb it down, I write in a manner that respects that my readers are intelligent, and I spend a lot of time trying to ensure each book is better than the last, and that I’m improving as a storyteller, as well as a writer, and that I’m engaged and 110% passionate about my writing as I do it. I have no frigging idea what my target customer profile is because I don’t have a target customer, other than someone who enjoys reading my work. That’s hopelessly naive as a marketer, I know, but it is what it is.

        We’ll see how it plays out.

        Reply
      • Landon Cocks  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 8:39 pm

        I meant “framework” in the sense of a concept to be sold instead of an actual literary work. I do outlines and character development, etc. Sorry for the confusion.

        Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 7:35 pm

      I saw your blog on this topic. I’ll take the liberty of posting the link. The photo is quite flattering, thanks.

      http://www.jlandoncocks.com/2011/09/in-response-to-russell-blake/

      Reply
  12. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I’m in Camp Z, by the way. That’s the camp where the sunrise is more important than anything.

    Reply
  13. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I write because I have to. It’s the only way to quiet all the people in my head. Anyone can put words to the page. Not everyone wants to put in the time and effort to be published and sell their books. Certainly you can self-publish or Indi publish your work and be perfectly happy and successful and I’m happy for you. If you want to attain any degree of commercial success, no matter what publishing avenue you decide on, you have to present a product the public is looking for. I know several authors who had editors from the big six publishers want to buy their book but were shot down by marketing. Yes marketing. They felt they couldn’t sell the book. Therefore you have to know the market. That is not saying you must write to the market. I think that’s a terrible mistake. Look at writing a book like building a house. In the 50’s Tudor style was popular. 60’s ranch homes. In the 90’s MacMansions. A builder could put something else up but he was more likely to sell what people wanted. Same with a book. Can you take the idea you have and give it some high concept? Bottom line is what do you want? Where do you want to take your writing?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 5:53 pm

      I respect the impact marketing and sales have in the product engineering process of building a sellable product. Focus groups are helpful, as are test marketing studies. They do it all the time – decision by committee.

      I guess I’m of the opinion that if that’s the gig you’d like, namely creating a product some wonk in marketing believes will sell best, then it’s not the gig I’d like. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. That’s not to say I’m bullheaded, but rather that life’s too short, and I know what I don’t want to be when I grow up. I love to write, and I believe I’m good at it and improving all the time, however as with a musician playing in a cover band versus one writing his own tunes, the cover band, while it probably pays far more, just isn’t for me.

      I also probably wouldn’t do well as a member of a boy band, so don’t waste your time trying to convince me to shake my moneymaker on stage to someone else’s beats.

      Seriously, though, it’s a question of whether you self-censor to fit some imagined target market reader, or whether you just write the book you want, and make it as good as possible, and then look around for a market for it. One implies deliberation on sales and marketing and customer profiling, none of which sound remotely related to quality writing or innovation.

      Just me. There is no right or wrong answer. I just don’t believe the Mozarts of the world created their best work pandering to their imagined audience’s desires, nor did the Frank Lloyd Wrights. Their work is timeless precisely because they didn’t pander, IMO. Same with most quality art of any sort. You either do it for the art, or you do it for the focus group.

      Occasionally the two will be the same. My hunch is, very rarely. But here’s my take-away: if the focus groups and publishers really knew what would sell, 80%+ of the books they churn out wouldn’t fail miserably. That’s a lousy track record – worse than flipping a coin. Question is whether you trust yourself, or want to create a product for some imagined profiled reader.

      Reply
      • Rita  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 6:09 pm

        Great conversation! It is very important for an author to be honest with themselves, understand what they want and to work hard for it.

        Reply
  14. Lisa Pedersen
    Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I’m a Camp B member. I’m writing my very first novel, and some days I daydream of being interviewed by Charlie Rose about my world-changing book… but most of the time, I get up, decide I’m a crappy writer, sit down and write anyway. I am in love with the process and the craft. Thanks for this post.

    Reply
  15. Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 9:04 pm

    What a lucid overview!
    *but* I’m going to throw a little mischief into the mix by suggesting that: A is a subset of B…
    I’ll expand: A seeks to emulate what B can provide; but only delivers the sizzle (and not the sausage) because they are hung up on some circular logic that if a perceived formula sold before it will sell again.

    So, for me, A is somewhat spurious…

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 06th Sep 2011 at 9:24 pm

      Begs the question, IMO.

      Camp A may well be spurious. The logic may be terrible. I’d argue it is awful, which is why the overwhelming majority of traditionally published “good” work doesn’t sell sufficiently to cover printing cost. But it is a commerce-driven logic, whether meritorious or not, versus an artistically-driven imperative to create. One is writing as work, the other is writing as art.

      I’ve written technical manuals. I’ve written spec sheets, and website copy, and labels, and sales materials. I know what Camp A is. I’m pretty good at Camp A. I’m just questioning whether given the finite number of beats one’s heart has remaining – a number unknown to anyone – whether it’s a particularly good idea to write books, particularly fiction, in a Camp A manner.

      I get that if someone approaches me, and I’m willing to take the job, with a concept that is, “How to make millions from your home-based internet business,” I’ll do a workmanlike job of conveying the information in as concise and readable a manner as possible, and possibly even with a little zip and humor.

      But if I’m doing this avocationally – no, even better, if I’m using free time for which I’ve worked years to have to do with as I like, and am paying for the privilege of writing – do I really want to spend that time doing something that seems suspiciously like work, or worse yet, feels to me like pandering? Or am I going to try to create my own personal brand of art, as flawed, pretentious and hackneyed as that might sound?

      In other words, why does one write?

      I think once you answer that question satisfactorily for yourself, then things fall into balance. Until then, there’s a disequilibrium that causes anxiety and a lack of harmony.

      Again, why does one write? Everyone’s heard my high moral tone and my filibustering. I made clear where I stand. I believe I’m simply asking the question every writer needs to ask themselves in order to be satisfied with the outcome.

      As an aside, I am deeply skeptical of the reproducibility in anyone’s claims as to how they sold large amounts of books. Not to detract from their achievement, but it’s a human foible to mistake causality with coincidence. A dog barks, a woman electrocutes herself in the apartment above him. It’s erroneous to say dogs barking causes electrocution, but we are pattern seeking animals and it comforts us to find patterns – even where they don’t exist. So perhaps Mr. Locke believes that it is his profiling skills that enabled him to write for his particular audience, ignoring for a moment that he wrote, by his own admission, 5 of the books before he actually sold anything worth discussing. Perhaps he believes that by linking his blog to the name of a topical figure, that was a major contributing factor. The problem is that all of this is non-disprovable. It could equally be timing, or luck, or the universe aligning, or some combination of unknown factors. I maintain we just don’t, and won’t ever, be able to know. We can only guess, and ascribe causality after the fact. Hindsight being 20/20.

      And so we are left with pen in hand, scratching our heads, and asking ourselves in a quiet, yet important, moment, “Why do I write?”

      Reply
  16. Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 12:48 am

    I’ve been reading and reading and finding more and more that books have been written as “products.” 99.9% of the advice I’ve found online about writing and publishing has been geared toward “product” and I’ve been left thinking, “that ain’t right.” I’ve been going nuts for quite a while now because I’m an aspiring writer who lacks all the years of experience the experts love to remind me they have.

    Thank goodness I found your blog. It makes a lot of sense. I’ve had so many people (aspiring writers same as me) tell me I have to fit a particular formula if I ever want to sell, yet something didn’t seem right. I noticed the books I didn’t like all felt the same while those I loved stood apart and captured my attention in different ways.

    Your assessment is spot on and reminds me to not give up what I want most for what I want most right now. Cheers!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 1:04 am

      Me too. I think it’s a function of how you think about writing. If you are writing to a target market, as opposed to creating a book that is uniquely your work (your art, as ’twere), it’s way easier to market (because you are writing for them and already know who they are and what they want to read) something that’s written as a product.

      And note I’m not saying that’s bad or wrong. It’s just wrong for me. I understand my writing is a product once I’m done, but I don’t want to start out profiling my target market, and then writing for that hypothesized reader. I just don’t like the way that feels. I can do it, don’t get me wrong – it’s marketing 101 – I just choose not to.

      This boils down to whether you aspire to writing something good, or something popular. Note that they aren’t mutually exclusive. However, in my experience, writing that is popular is generally not that good, and writing that is good is not particularly popular. That being the case, as writers, we need to decide whether we measure success by aspiring to write something really good, or really popular, understanding they typically require a different approach. Not always. But generally speaking. So which would you choose? I’d choose good every time.

      Whether that is a mistake, or not, I’m fine with.

      Time will tell, as with all things. Thanks for your comments.

      Reply
  17. Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 2:18 am

    Writing has saved my life. I am not only a cancer survivor, I suffer from anhedonia. Successful? As a writer, I say yes since writing is a survival tool as well as art. I enjoyed your site very much.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 2:30 am

      I’m glad to hear you won your round, and that you enjoyed the site. Come back early and often, and be well.

      Reply
  18. Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 2:59 am

    I’m solidly in Camp B. I write to tell a story, not because I want to be paid for said story.

    But then again, I’m a Camp B person with my day job too – teaching. I left a well-paying government job to take a not-so-well-paying teaching position working with at-risk teenagers, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s not about the money or the accolades; it’s about doing what you love. If you get paid or recognized, so much the better, but that’s not why I do it.

    And I’ll readily, unapologetically admit it to anyone who questions why I do what I do, including writing.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 3:23 am

      At the end of the day, Camp B is about self-expression and pursuit of artistic satisfaction. There is no right or wrong camp. Just the right or wrong one for you.

      Reply
  19. Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 5:29 am

    I think there’s a third camp, Camp C.

    I write because I love story. I write because I love the feel of it in my brain. – Camp B

    It would be nice to get some money to replace the paper, ink, and electricity I use writing – Camp A

    But I also write because my grandchildren need real stories to read (not the product type) with characters that look like them and reflect their culture – Camp C

    So I guess I have a toe in all three camps. I will continue to write because now I’m horribly addicted and the jones gets really bad when I take even a small break.

    Reply
  20. Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 6:03 am

    First time here, first post I’ve read, and I agree 100% with everything that you wrote. I am firmly in Camp B and have been for most of my life. I couldn’t imagine life without writing and honestly, I don’t want to. Writing is as much a part of me as my arms, legs, fingers, toes, eyes, and nose. Simply put, without it I am less.

    Thank you for the insightful post. I am off to read more. Have a good one!

    Reply
  21. Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I’m in Camp B – writing as exploration and discovery.

    Mostly, I write things down to find out if they’re true. If not, that’s great. I’ve discovered that they aren’t true, which answers my question. When I do stumble upon truths, it helps to realize that they’re only necessarily true in the situations in which they were written – dependent on plot, characters, circumstances, and my own mental states.

    All stories are true, or have truth to them. Even fiction is true; even lies, on some level, must be true.

    I write because it’s an addiction, and because I’m incredibly unhappy when I don’t write. If I don’t have something in the works, whether it’s a stint of a short stories or an in-progress novel, my head buzzes with stories that I could be telling, should be, and I lose sleep, lying in bed late into the night lost in imaginary places, watching imaginary people doing very real things.

    Thanks for the well-written, thoughtful post. Haven’t taken the chance to read any of your books yet, but I’m certainly coming to trust the quality of your writing. :)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 2:40 pm

      Try The Geronimo Breach. I’m quite proud of it, and will guarantee satisfaction. If you want viciously irreverent sarcasm, try How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time. You can view excerpts (I believe the first 10% of the books) at either goodreads, Wattpad or Amazon.

      Reply
      • Jaron Deerwester  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 5:24 pm

        Added to my reading list. Usually not a thriller fan, but the glowing reviews – and the descriptions of your protagonist – put it pretty high up there. You’ve definitely piqued my curiosity. :)

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 7:59 pm

          I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Perhaps thriller isn’t the best description of it, maybe intrigue/adventure would be more accurate. Please let me know what you think once done. I’m always curious, especially from folks who aren’t fans of the genre I’m purportedly working in.

          Reply
  22. Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 4:52 pm

    I think a great writer (or even a writer that aspires to be great someday) must write from passion first and foremost. Even if the piece is contracted ahead of time. If the story doesn’t inspire the writer, it shows up to the reader. Really good stuff cannot be phoned in.

    Of course, a great piece of writing usually touches readers. It might not be a huge commercial success (and some huge commercial successes are far from great writing), but it also won’t be a nonsensical ramble with glaring plot holes and one-dimensional characters. From that standpoint, a certain amount of “writing to the audience” is necessary for any piece of writing to work at all. Following certain rules of structure (as suggested in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering perhaps) or conventions (what worked for Dickens doesn’t work as well for today’s novel) doesn’t wipe out creativity but gives the story life. But this is a far cry from trying to nail down some checklist of what readers want to buy. Following trends seems a little dangerous to me because things can shift so quickly and, if you go with traditional publishing, a novel might be trendy now but not when it finally comes out in a year or two.

    I’d love to be a bestselling author. I’d love for my name to as well known as Stephen King. But, I’d write even if I never sell anything. At the same time, I keep looking for ways to make my writing better and better. And I’m working on building my network of readers and writers so that I’ll have a platform in place when I’m ready to publish. But still, even if I don’t make it as a big-name author, I’ve met amazing folks who’ve helped and encouraged me on my writing journey. So it’s still more about the love of creativity than any hypothetical earnings later on.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 8:19 pm

      Agreed. I think that life’s too short to not do whatever you do as a creative outlet with passion. Perhaps you craft the next Slaughterhouse 5, or wind up with something else, but if you aren’t going to put your all into it, why bother?

      Reply
  23. Wed 07th Sep 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Great Article!

    Reply
  24. Thu 08th Sep 2011 at 3:02 pm

    I think John Locke is exactly right: if your sole purpose in writing is money, treat the book like a product. Identify your audience, write to meet that audience, and rake in the dough. James Frey is a perfect example of this Camp A mindset. He’s created an assembly line for best-selling fiction, and it’s working.

    It all comes down to betraying your art. Is what you have to say less important than the money you’ll make from it? Then you know what you have to do. Throw in a vampire. Dress your heroine in skimpy leather. Make your characters superficial and easy to relate to. Above all, don’t challenge your readers or make them examine their beliefs, because people don’t like that.

    And here I am in Camp B, which rarely makes financial sense. I have a job I love, so I don’t need to prostitute my work to support myself. I guess I’ll never be a “successful” author. Like you say, “a million flies can’t be wrong” (love that quote).

    Reply
  25. Thu 08th Sep 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Another one firmly in Camp B here. I love writing – I adore it, utterly and completely. For me there is no greater thrill than translating the images in my mind into a series of words that adequately describe what I see, and it never fails to astound and humble me that people consider those words worthy of their time and money.

    I’m incredibly fortunate that I have the time to devote to literature without the need to profit from it – of course, I won’t deny that it’s lovely when the royalties hit my account, but I do this because I passionately love literature and I want to share the love, as corny as that sounds!

    And I’m convinced that if you only write to fill a slot in the market, then the formulaic words you lay out cannot ever compare to the beauty of the words that come directly from an author’s soul and imagination. For me, that’s what great literature is all about – soul. Camp A – in my opinion – cannot ever have that soul and honesty.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 08th Sep 2011 at 7:19 pm

      I tend to agree. I’d hate to think that someone capable of writing this generation’s The Magic Mountain instead is cranking out formulaic potboilers. It’s the chief reason I wrote this piece – as an argument that there is an aesthetic reason for writing that’s completely different than a financial one. I certainly won’t try to pretend it’s not validating when people buy my work, but the point is that I wrote it without any expectations for financial success.

      And yes, I know that my genre’s not exactly The Grapes of Wrath. But each of my books eschews formulaic structure in favor of stretching to experiment with new stylistic possibilities within the genre. That’s one of the reasons I write fiction, as opposed to when I write non-fiction. It’s more appealing to me to attempt something completely different, and I’d probably have a hard time following any sort of formulaic template required for a by-the-numbers effort.

      There’s also the sheer unbridled joy of turning a phrase that resonates, or creating a character that lingers long after the final page is turned. These are non-financial reasons for writing, hence my station in Camp B. Having said that, I completely understand Camp A. But it seems to me like a recipe for creating tired, mediocre dross instead of aspiring to a personal best.

      Reply
  26. Thu 08th Sep 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I write, and I have always written. I write what I read and in the genres that I like (fantasy/horror). So I would say that I fall into camp B.

    Do I want to make a living off of my writing? Of course…who doesn’t want to make a living doing something they love?

    Am I going to churn out sparkly vampire romances because it’s what the kids like these days? Part of me wishes I could, but another part of me knows that I can’t. If what I write DOES turn out to be a “potboiler” it won’t be because it’s what the market says I should write, it will be because it was the story I felt I had to tell.

    I guess that, in short, I figured I would be writing anyway, so why not share it with everyone else? And if I can, hopefully make a living off of it.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 08th Sep 2011 at 9:31 pm

      Thankfully, Camp B does not mean you need to live in a lean-to and eschew commercial success. It just means you write with a different motivation than Camp A. Of course, we’d all like to make money doing something we enjoy. You’re not alone in that. But I’m disinclined to modify my work as I write to appeal to some hypothesized broader audience.

      I think that the success of some of the recent self-published stars has created a gold-rush mentality that’s crassly commercial, and worships as its idol selling over quality. It seems that nobody wants to call poorly written dross “crap” if it’s selling. That’s a shame, as it sends the message, in my mind, that quality doesn’t matter and that we can’t differentiate between good and lousy. I can’t tell you how many private e-mails and DMs I’ve gotten from authors who think some marquis icons suck. But they’re reluctant to say so openly.

      Having said that, McDonalds sells a lot of burgers, but nobody is claiming they make spectacular food. So maybe we get the celebrities we deserve. That’s depressing.

      Reply
      • Andrew Kincaid  –  Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 1:38 am

        I think it’s just like anything else…people like what they like and they buy it. Is it always well crafted? No, but there will always be a market for stuff like that. Think of it as the pop music of the literary world.

        To stretch the music reference a little further….a lot of the old pop songs from back in the day didn’t survive the test of time. What was remembered was the really good stuff (which leads to the mistaken notion that all of today’s music is bad, when there was just as much “bad” stuff back in the day). Same with movies, and I think the same with books.

        So, what we are seeing now isn’t any different than any other art form, I just think the medium has changed.

        I’ll admit the idea of making money off my work attracted me to self publishing – mainly because I would be in control of everything myself, rather than having to rely on some big publishing company. Better royalties and more control over my own work were appealing to me so I went the self pub route.

        I’ve since realized that it’s definitely not a get rich quick scheme…it’s a business like any other. The ones who made a ton of money often got lucky by putting out a work that was timely and marketable. Whether they just wrote it for fun or planned it that way we might never know.

        I just know that for myself, I write what I write and I will carve out my own audience by virtue of the quality of my work, not because it happens to be trendy.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 2:03 am

          Good point on the music. That’s the same in any of the arts. Most, by definition, is average/mediocre. It’s the classic bell curve distribution.

          I find it fascinating that there’s so much of the get rich quick thinking out there. All anyone has to do is a cursory glance at the stats, and it’s obvious the likelihood of making any serious money is slim. And now that self publishing is out there, we are awash with books – most average, a few great, and a few real stinkers. So the odds are even slimmer.

          I really wanted to drive home the point with this blog that you need to get clear on whether you’d write even if there was a guarantee of no money in it. If so, you’re camp B. If not, you’re camp A. Sure, there are shades of grey, but that’s really the line of demarcation.

          I hope this whole exercise has helped some of the folks who have bought any of the numerous self-help books on self-publishing to get clear on why they’re doing what they do.

          Reply
          • Andrew Kincaid  –  Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 2:59 am

            Even trad publishing, from what I’ve seen, has a pretty slim margin for making a ton of money at it. A lot of folks think that publishing that first novel means you are suddenly rich. Well, that’s definitely not true!

            I think your article does a great job of driving your point home…it did make me take a second look at why I’m doing what I am doing!

            I personally don’t much like marketing, and I’m still trying to figure out the marketing side of things myself, and I’ve read a book similar to the ones you’ve described in the article. It mainly focused on building your author platform, but it had some of the same ideas about targeting your audience.

            I keep her suggestions in mind, but I basically decided I was going to blog and write about what I wanted to write about and that would naturally attract like minded people to read my stuff.

            So, I think individual authors need to just figure out what works for them and the type of stuff that they write, not so much follow some cookie-cutter get-rich-quick strategy.

          • Russell Blake  –  Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 3:43 am

            If you think about it, if there really was a one-size-fits-all marketing approach, every publisher would be using it, and all books would sell well. That’s the conceit of the traditional publishers, after all – that they are the gatekeepers of quality, and that the self-important layers of literary agents and publishers weed out the unfit, leaving only the best to hit the shelves. So if we buy into that, which I don’t, incidentally, then the books that do successfully run the gauntlet should just require the cookie-cutter 12 step program or whatever, which targets the desired market, and presto, sales go through the roof.

            But that’s not how it works. Most fail. With the benefit of that entire apparatus. And when something does succeed, it is often a surprise.

            I agree that each author needs to find a fit that suits them on marketing. I’m still trying out some things. The blog is doing well, and building traffic, so that’s a positive, and the Gazillions book is a good way to reach a different audience – writers – which establishes my ability, or inability, to write well. But in the end, I don’t know what will break my thrillers big, if anything, regardless of whether I think they’re great, or drivel. I do know that I’ll continue to write, and continue to hone my craft, whether the world greets me with wonder or indifference. In the end, the self-fulfillment of a job well done at the keyboard is its own reward, as cliche as that may sound.

            As with everything in life, nothing worth doing is ever easy. That seems perennial.

  27. Thu 08th Sep 2011 at 11:07 pm

    I am so Camp B. I have been writing for 20 years without even trying to sell my work. I am planning to start trying to sell it, but I haven’t changed anything about how I write in making that decision. I accept that once I get to the selling stage, there may be adjustments I need to make, for the purposes of selling, but I have not written anything with selling in mind.

    I write what I love to read. Lots of other people love to read it, so hopefully they will love to read what I write. But I have not consciously identified those other people or what they like or tailored my work for them. I love it, therefore I write it. That simple. I guess you could say the only audience I am writing for is me!

    I also share your frustration with some of the quality issues in indie publishing. I have written a few rants on the subject on my own blog. There seems to be an attitude that self-publishing is easier. Well, sure, you don’t have to go through all the rejections and the critiques, and the heart-break – but a lot of people don’t seem to realize that maybe all that serves some purpose i.e. to make the writing better. This is not to say that indie-published books cannot be quality – but that indie authors cannot skip the step where they get feedback, and critiques and editors (and heart-break associated with feedback). Because this is how we learn and get better.

    Give me art, for art’s sake, over something that is mediocre but commercial. I’ve been writing for so long now that I can’t turn my critical eye off anymore, and mediocre only annoys me these days.

    Reply
  28. Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 3:55 am

    Well said Blake!!!!!! Well said. I know you have probably pissed some people off. As an aspiring novelist with my first on the launching pad, and a several others safely tucked away inside my laptop, and a ton of poetry falling off my bookshelves, I believe, also, that a person should write because of the art and craft itself, and not just to make sales. That is just my own opinion, just like everybody else have theirs, so nobody need to write me no letters in crayon. The love and beauty of writing should be like breathing…. you inhale, then you exhale. And if someone wants to know how you breathe, then they will find out. A person should write because they love it, not just for the finances. If someone loves your work, fine. They will buy your work. If they don’t, find another craft to get into. The idea is to draw that person in your world, captivate them, hold them, and send them on a trip. But in order to do that, you have to captivate, hold, and send yourself on a trip. If you enjoy what you love, then people will enjoy what you bring to the table. There’s always something for someone, there’s always an audience, there’s always a genre, there’s always a following. People follow action, people follow controversy, people always want that bungee jump experience. If you excite yourself, it’s a guarantee that you will excite others, and everything else will fall into place with no problem, whether it be money, a full-time writing career, blah blah blah.
    I’m a camp B guy, 100%.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 4:11 am

      I’m not sure why anyone would be pissed off at me. If I was a Camp A guy, I’d simply respond that what I do is write in order to maximize my likelihood of financial gain – it’s not like in a capitalistic society, that’s bad or wrong. I’d argue that you’re wasting your time if you aren’t being compensated for your work, and financial recompense is how the world rewards you, thus if you don’t strive for that right out of the gate you’re hamstringing and sabotaging yourself. I could mount the other argument equally well.

      There is no right or wrong in this. There is simply what’s right for you. That’s my entire point – if you worship at the idol that is that someone’s book or system will get your work noticed or make it financially successful, you’re ignoring the statistics, and thus are delusional. So if that’s your motivator as a writer, you are delusional. I’m not saying we wouldn’t all like it – I’m saying that the likelihood of what we would like happening is abysmal. If that is your motivation, you don’t understand the numbers.

      Reply
  29. Andrew Harding
    Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 3:49 pm

    I write because I can’t leave it alone and am shocked a publisher actually wanted to publish my fourth and fifth books. The Trilogy [my first attempt at writing] taught me how to write. My style changed over the three books and they won’t be ready for anyone to read for a while. What started me off was writing down something that happened to me and three long books poured out of my head. That’s the only way to describe it.

    I’m in camp B. I’ll write until I drop now, whether they’re published or not. I’ve been the most boring fart over the last eighteen months and have written wherever I’ve gone; even in the carwash.
    I write Crime fiction but they cross lots of genres and are in my head every waking minute and sometimes in my dreams. Crazy, isn’t it?

    I’m fortunate I have the time to write but now I’m having to delve into the marketing of the two being published whilst still writing others in the series.

    I’ve crossed so many boundaries with these books I’m likely to be slammed for writing them but quite frankly, I don’t care. I had to write them and that’s all there is to it. I’ll continue to write the series until it comes to it’s ultimate conclusion. I’ll probably be in my box.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 5:26 pm

      I’ll look forward to their release.

      Wearing the marketer hat and the writer hat’s a ton of work, as you already know. But as long as you are writing what you want and loving it, hopefully the entire effort will be worth it.

      It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll, apologies to Bon Scott.

      Reply
  30. Andrew Harding
    Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 6:33 pm

    If they’re not banned in most countries they might do well but I’m having a ball and the imagination is expanding. God knows where they’re coming from.
    The publishers know I’m on the forth so we’ll see where it goes.
    I’ll keep writing whatever happens and thanks for your reply.

    Reply
  31. Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 10:12 pm

    “I set project goals: 1) Determine my target audience. 2) Complete a manuscript. 3) Write a book that will sell.” And “…understanding who your target audience is, and what they want, and writing to it (and only them!) is the most important component of being an author.”

    Think of any really important book and picture the author trying to do the above. Upton Sinclair bagging out on “The Jungle” due to a lack of people wanting to read about meat-packing injuries, Solzhenitsyn skipping Gulag Archipelago to write a prison comedy instead, etc.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 09th Sep 2011 at 10:31 pm

      And that’s the dilemma. Some would argue that this is a false dichotomy, but I don’t think it is. You either are driven to write as product-engineering for profit, or for other reasons – love, art, pride, etc.

      Of course there are different points on the continuum one could choose, but the essential and fundamental question is a simple one. The easiest way to frame it is, “Would you write if there was zero chance of ever making a dime from it?”

      If no, then you are likely in Camp A, with some sort of a variation or set of caveats. If so, you are in Camp B.

      What I am afraid of is that I’ll be branded as an anti-commercial idealist who’s down on sales and marketing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I have spent much of my life in sales and marketing, so I understand that better than most. In fact, my biggest complaint about product engineering was that engineers would just dream up a spec and then design it, without asking why it was desirable or what features or benefits were important. They inevitably felt that because they’d built a better mousetrap, people would recognize it as such and buy it. Nothing could be more naive. When creating products, my function would be to introduce into the discussion what the product needed to do, have and cost in order for it to actually sell, and be readily differentiated.

      I understand marketing and product differentiation and selling. I’m also very clear that it isn’t art. Blurring the distinctions serves nobody well.

      It is a bit disturbing to me that virtually all the books I’ve seen deal with the marketing and sales side, but few actually tell the truth – that no matter what you do your chances are virtually non-existent. I guess that would be a really short book. And it wouldn’t sell well, as nobody wants to hear that. They want to hear that this time it’s all different in the new new world, and that if they only do the proper things, they’ll wind up in the winner’s circle. It’s a false prophet. Just as the billboard of the Korean grocer who walked out of the casino after winning $3 million is dishonest. Most won’t do that. The casinos win most of the time – it’s their business model. But they need a steady stream of rubes, so you won’t see posters of daddy leaving the casino at 4 a.m. after losing the rent money.

      Human nature never changes. My advice is just understand the math, acknowledge you’re up against tall odds, and then if you want to write, do so because you love to and are compelled to, and become very, very good at it. Then become very good at marketing your wares, and maybe, just maybe, you can be an outlier too. It can happen. But to write in the hopes it happens because you started a blog or are on Twitter is delusional.

      Reply
  32. Peg
    Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 4:26 am

    I think there is a camp C. I write because I have something I want to communicate and I think that’s distinct, somehow, from writing because I love the craft. I say that because I write poetry, fiction and non-fiction. When I write poetry, I am writing for the love of the craft and it is distinctly different from the way I feel about and engage in writing non-fiction and even fiction. I’ve mainly written fiction and non-fiction in the course of my career, however. And I write fiction and non-fiction because I am compelled to tell a story or transform the way someone views a concept. It’s not about the selling of it but it’s not about the craft, either. The craft comes into play and I hope I get better at the craft all the time. But my passion is for communicating.

    I’ve always felt there were two categories of writers: those who write for the love of the language and their ability to mold it into something beautiful, and those who write because they are driven to tell the story or convey the information. Maybe that’s not a distinction in everyone’s mind. But it’s always felt distinct in my mind. Thanks for starting a great discussion and allowing me to share.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 4:39 am

      That’s interesting, because I’ve written non-fiction and fiction, and I’ll agree that they are different and have different drivers. Having said that, I read something like Steinbeck’s Diary of the Sea of Cortez, and I’m struck by the art in the telling. Ditto for David Foster Wallace’s non-fiction work. Now, Wallace was writing for magazines when he wrote them, so he was working for pay, however there’s something more there – as though the magazine had recognized they had a force of nature on their hands, and just let him run.

      I don’t disagree, but I come back to my litmus test. If there was no money in it, would you write? If so, I maintain that you are considerably more Camp B than you think.

      Camp A wouldn’t write if it didn’t pay. All discussion stops if there wasn’t money in it at the end of the day.

      If you would write to communicate, or for the art of it, even if it was a craft that paid nothing, you’re camp B. If you wouldn’t, you’re camp A.

      Reply
  33. Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for the great post. You said what I think and feel about my writing, which saves me from the work of writing it myself. That’s a good thing, since I’m busy working on my next novel. I can’t stop writing and I can’t stop working to do my best on every book I write, even if the book is on an unpopular subject.

    Reply
  34. Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 5:46 pm

    We are a writing duo, more inclined toward Camp B because we jump genres according to our writing desires, rather than market trends. Of course, this could just be evidence of a shared short attention span, too. Still, Camp A is tempting as we both want to make writing a livelihood not just a love. We determined to self publish after wasting over a year waiting on rejections before sending out our work to yet another publisher who hated simultaneous submissions. Self publishing freed us. We can now write what we want. We can hit on touchy subjects and include disturbing scenes. Or we can be boring should we choose that route. So, ok, I guess we are Camp B. But see nothing wrong with Camp A. Even Cap B residents have to deal with marketing and promotion. Maybe it’s more efficient to figure out what people want and write to that, than it is to write something and then try to convince readers they like it. lol. Great article!

    Reply
  35. Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 6:02 pm

    I’m a Camp B girl. I write because I love it. Sure, I’ve put my work out for sale, and it’s doing all right, but I write regardless of sales. It’s as natural to me as breathing. And I write the books *I* want to write. Isn’t that how the whole industry started, anyway? The first novel didn’t appear because everyone said, “Oh, hey, we want a story about ____.” The author said, “Oh, hey, I wanna write a story about ____.” And people read it.

    I think my whole disappointment in the industry is the attitude of “be inventive, be imaginative, but BY GOD WRITE SOMETHING IN A GENRE THAT IS CURRENTLY SELLING.” The artist wants to present their work; the business wants to sell it. The ultimate goals are different: the true artist desires readership (not that money isn’t great and all, but really, the TRUE artist wants readership); the publishers want money. And I understand the dilemma; when artistry and business collide, sometimes the result is an uncomfortable alliance.

    But I just can’t churn out what everyone else is churning out simply to make sales; that, in my opinion, is being a business machine, not an artist. I don’t want to write stories about werewolf packs and vampire wars. Equally I don’t want to write steamy soft porn labeled as “erotica” just because it’s selling. That kind of attitude, IMHO, is just selling out.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 6:14 pm

      I think everyone has deeply personal reasons for doing this. For some, it’s a way to leverage something they’re good at, and make a living. I have no problem with that. My point is that those cases are so rare as to be singularities, and the vast majority of writers, whether they like it or not, aren’t going to be able to make any sort of real money at it, so they need to get clear on their reasons for writing. I write out of love of the craft, and because I enjoy creating. I would also enjoy money, but you’re right, readership is far more important to me. I’d like to strike a balance, if I could, where folks are willing to indicate their valuation of my work by being willing to pay for it, and yet reach a broad audience, but I’d also like the power of levitation and eternal life. So I have many wishes, but I’m also able to differentiate between what is likely, and what is desired.

      I could easily sit down and write a, “How to make a fortune from home with only a PC and a phone” book that would be very readable and engaging. It just isn’t of interest to me. Having actually done that in my life, it wouldn’t even be invention. But I only have so many hours to write, and I prefer fiction, or the book I’m writing right now – a tribute to my constant companion, Oso, the miracle dog. I wish I had the capacity to be more mercenary in my writing topics, but ideas simply pop up, and demand to be written. So I write as the ideas occur. I have no other process. And I don’t really want one.

      Reply
      • Sharon Gerlach  –  Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 6:17 pm

        “ideas simply pop up, and demand to be written. So I write as the ideas occur. I have no other process. And I don’t really want one.”

        EXACTLY!

        Reply
  36. Sat 10th Sep 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Nicely said.

    One of my favourite books is The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, which is shelved in the Young Adult section in North America (but not in Zusak’s native Australia, as I understand it). I read an interview with Zusak where he was asked if he wrote a young adult book. Zusak said something like “I just write the best book I possibly can.”

    Indeed.

    Reply
  37. Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 3:29 am

    Russell

    Man. I’ve had to learn this lesson the hardest way: If one creates exclusively for money, then one dies a little every day … yes? The solution is to realize that we want our work to be read or seen – we are proud of it. In light of that, art for art’s sake wins hands down.

    Check out this interview with Rod Serling – creator of the original Twilight Zone. He collides with a panel member on this very point. The panel member claimed that Fellini did not care if anyone saw his movies. Utter tosh. Of course Felllini cared.

    http://youtu.be/onw4wmnnROw

    Jonathan

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 4:05 am

      Every artist cares. They do it first for their own selfish reasons, and second to generate a reaction in others. I do it for that reason. I think everyone who works artistically does. They do it for their spirit, and for acclaim that acknowledges the work they put into it, and in the end, if it pays, super. The financial reason seems like a sort of proxy for the reaction from others part, but it’s a poor one. I deeply care what every single reader thinks of my work, but not because they pay or don’t (although it’s nicer if they pay, at least to show they value it) but rather to see how my creation affects others.

      I’ve also lived years of my life making money and doing nothing creative. I’m done with that. The tradeoff of $150 dinners versus tacos for $3 isn’t worth it. Better to die who you are than try to pay to be who you can’t ever be. It’s a fool’s errand. Living in the long shadow of your conscience.

      Reply
  38. Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 4:30 am

    Thank you for asking the true question: using naught but the most basic blade that has been sharpened to an edge no thicker than the space between night and dawn.
    Camp A…or Camp B
    I am in Camp B myself. Both as an artist(comic-books) and a writer (fantasy), I have thus far proven no more economically viable than a freshly sealed bag of stale potato chips. I don’t care.
    When I write, I want to find that metaphor that glistens with the blood of a freshly carved wound, cutting deeply and making one think they are a witness to the moment.
    Yes. To be a “published author” who continues to be published under traditional house rules; you must market to sell. That all happens after the magic though. The truth shines through quality…and quality is not found in a sea of mediocrity. Thank you for the post, again.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 5:11 am

      It’s a simple litmus test.

      Would you write if it was an avocation, which had zero chance of ever making money?

      Simple.

      I maintain that writing is a pure expression of the human desire for self-expression, as well as our civilized imperative to reach and touch others. The use of language is art, but a fickle one. And there is tremendous power in words, and ideas.

      At the end of the day, in your gut, aspirations aside, it’s important to get clear on why you do what you do.

      Life is filled with endless compromises; small chunks of your soul indelicately cut out each day by reality. Writing can be the metaphorical fist shake at the unfairness of life – against the the interloping of reality into your own personal universe. I believe it should be treasured, and polished as a fine jewel. If you can affect others, you are larger than yourself, and that’s a gift. A lucky few of us will be able to prosper from our craft. The rest, wait hopeful, yet in vain. Life mostly sucks, until it doesn’t. Making the most of it and creating our own moments of when it doesn’t are the key.

      Reply
  39. Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 6:18 am

    Just a note on Russell’s great post and all the interesting comments. I think what we’re really talking about here is innovation. The same principle Russell outlined in this post applies to all “products,” not just to books, and not just to artistic creations. True innovation comes from the inside-out, driven by inspiration and passion, not by polling people and asking them what they want. We don’t KNOW what we want! When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created their amazing Apple I computer, they didn’t ask people what they wanted–the product was their own idea, what THEY thought was cool. And that’s pretty much how every Apple product has been developed ever since, which has resulted in breakthroughs like iPods, iPhones, and iPads.

    Would anyone have told JK Rowling to write a book about a boy who goes to wizard school if she’d gone around asking readers what they wanted? I doubt it. And even if they had, would she have listened to that idea, coming from the outside rather than the inside? I doubt that, too.

    True innovation and creativity come from within. Always have, always will.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 6:48 am

      Yup.

      That says it all.

      Reply
  40. Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 11:43 am

    I think you’ve hit the answer in your own self-analysis. You’re saying, you can’t help being an art-driven writer, and you couldn’t work if you were only motivated by money. That’s true for everyone, and everyone falls where they’re meant to fall. There are those who can’t work unless motivated by money, and there are those who can’t work unless motivated by art. I don’t think your scenario of the next David Foster Wallace writing penny dreadfuls could actually happen, because the next DFW *can’t* bring himself (or herself) to write those books. Any more than Mozart could sell out and put a big bang at the end of his operas. So I don’t think we need to worry. :)

    Reply
  41. Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Very interesting post, Russel. I disagree with your decision to divide writers only into two camps.

    Do you write for an audience other than yourself? Are YOU your ideal reader? Or do you write for someone else? If you intend on convincing other people to read your stuff, audience awareness should be a key and inextricable part of the process.

    As an editor and a writer, I ask myself throughout the process who will read this story, and how I can shape the reading experience to make it more accessible and engaging for them. I’m above all concerned with writing something worth writing. But what makes something worth writing? Popularity? Sales figures? Because it pleases the author? What does “the ultimate expression of their craft” really mean?

    It’s wrong, in my opinion, to judge something written only to entertain as not worth writing, and it speaks to an arbitrary cultural divide between serious/literary fiction and popular fiction, or anything considered serious art compared to pop culture. Entertainment alone is worth its weight. Of course there are soulless products, and I’m not defending those. Trash is trash. But popularity fostered by a keen sense for how to reach one’s target audience shouldn’t cause us to judge the author as having abandoned artistic integrity.

    They’re not in it just for the money, but so long as there’s money to be made, why not make it? And if one has a (hopefully) profound message to deliver, why not consider how to make audiences more receptive to that message? It takes into account such simple elements as grammar and vocabulary, and can go further to consider specific visuals, symbolism, and rhetoric.

    Dickens wrote such lengthy tomes because his income relied on it, yet his work has been canonized as making a significant cultural contribution. Should we slip him into camp A because he wrote what today would be considered genre fiction tailored for the masses, and he did so to put food on the table? Again, this is irrelevant if your point is to write only for yourself. Leave it on your computer or locked in a box in an attic. Or just burn it. But if you write hoping anyone else will read you’re your work, only a fool fails to define and refine their understanding of their target audience’s preferences.

    I don’t want this to seem as though I’m arguing what you said you don’t mean to say, which is that there’s nothing wrong with selling. It seems to me, though, that you’ve exaggerated the two camps—asking your readers to decide which camp they’re in—by proposing what seems to me an artificial division. With so many ways available to make money, there’s a reason why those in camp A chose writing as their means to generate revenue: because they’re also in camp B.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 6:51 pm

      Well, first, I understand there are gray areas and overlaps. The reason I framed it as I did was to force people to think.

      Basically, if you write, and would do so even if there was no chance of ever seeing a dime out of it, you are camp B. That’s clear. If you wouldn’t, that’s camp A. So perhaps you can think of this as an algorithm. There’s a fork at the top, which divides you into the two camps based solely on whether you would write if there was no money in it, or not.

      Next level down, you can get into more granular distinctions, such as whether you self-censor based upon your imagined reader. That’s all fine, but you have to pass that first level to now be at this level, and by definition you’re already in camp A or B by then.

      As to popular fiction/entertainment versus literary/serious fiction, I write in the first genre – action/adventure thrillers. And yet I’m solidly Camp B. So I’m not tying to thinly veil a condescension towards one genre over another.

      The books you choose to write could be virtually any genre. The question is one of motivation. Would you do it even if writing never paid a dime?

      You can’t proceed to the next level till you’ve answered that one.

      Then, you might be a Camp A who has a lot of pride in craft, or a Camp B who imagines hillbillies reading the work and thus modifies accordingly. But those distinctions are later ones, not initial ones.

      Make sense?

      Reply
  42. Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I write because I can’t seem to help myself, and I write what I love to read. It would be great if people paid money to read it, but that’s never why I write anything.

    Reply
  43. Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 9:19 pm

    I’m firmly in “Camp B” myself. Of course, I don’t write for money — if you have read my blog, you’ll see that there’s no way I’d make money at it……. The books I enjoy reading are the ones where I can tell the author had a great time putting words together in support of a theme for the sheer joy of it. That the author is making money is a bonus I’m sure, but for me — well, I don’t read John Locke…. I tried. The writing is very sterile.

    Reply
  44. Sun 11th Sep 2011 at 11:38 pm

    I have always written because I wanted to write. I have notebooks filled with bits and pieces and a hard drive full of stories, poems and those “seemed like a good idea at the time” short stories that never quite made it out of the rough draft stage. I finished one novel, written purely as something I wanted to write, and decided I wanted to go ahead and try and sell it. I did not alter my story in any way for a “target” audience beyond trying to make sure the spelling was good and the grammar wouldn’t cause spontaneous human combustion. I’ve sold fourteen. That’s all. I tell people it’s good and interesting, exciting etc etc and the reason for that is down to marketing and finding an audience.

    So, to my point (finally), it all boils down to your audience. If you find an audience for what you do, then there’s no need to figure out the secret and then pander to the market. Once you get caught in the trap of making a book by committee, then you’ll find that it’s not yours anymore. You end up with a Frankenstein Monster; a mish-mash of stuff that’s neither original or outstanding but will satisfy the basic needs of the target group.

    Do you want to feel artistically satisfied by your writing? Then write for yourself. Do you want to sell books? Advertise.

    I loved the first James Patterson “Alex Cross” novels but it became apparent that, while he was writing his books for me (his audience), his attempts to continually up the ante or bring a new twist to satisfy me made his novels flat, uninteresting and by the numbers. Alex Cross will survive because he’s part of a franchise and therefore the integrity of the character is undermined by the need to earn money and so the story suffers.

    Indie authors have to do the hard work and find and create an audience where big publishers could basically tell people what they were going to buy. The books come with comments from famous authors and reviewers, and are served up with glossy posters, tv and radio interviews and signing tours.

    I’m Group B but I’m part of Group A too. I want to sell books and be commercially successful because it will allow me to quit my job and write full time. I don’t pander to an audience though. I will remain true to my own ideas and hope that my audience are as smart and as loyal as I think they are. All fourteen of them. So, I’m Group A+B-pandering. I don’t think I expressed myself as well as I would have liked but this is a hugely interesting subject and I’ve enjoyed reading the replies.

    Keep up the good work.

    GSY

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 3:56 am

      Thanks for the words of support.

      I too would love to make oodles of money from writing. But that’s not why I write. I already made enough so if I’m careful I can run out the clock without having to work in fast food, so I am writing because I enjoy it. If it sells, super duper. If not, a few hundred or thousand people a year will get to enjoy it. In the end, we’re all just as dead, so do what you want, and don’t hurt anyone in the process, and you’re golden.

      Reply
  45. Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 12:26 am

    Hey Blake.

    Really enjoyed the post. I couldn’t agree more. I have always found myself in Camp B. I wouldn’t have aspired to be a writer at all if I didn’t love the act of writing so much. The fact is most of the stuff I’ve written so far has been for my own enjoyment. I’m starting to self-publish some of my work, but getting rich was never the intention when I started out (not that that wouldn’t be nice though). I write because I love to. I’ve always been able to express myself in writing far better than in words. And as I’ve been writing, I’ve enjoyed seeing skill in the craft grow. In my opinion, I’m still a bit of neophyte, but the fact that I’ve seen improvement in myself has already made it worth it.

    Thanks for writing this post, Blake. Considering lots and lots of people talk about how to self-publish and market books properly, it is refreshing to see someone step back and say “Remember, it should be about the art, first and foremost.”

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 3:53 am

      Thanks for chiming in. I thought you were dead or something – haven’t seen you in the twitter feed much.

      It’s either about art, or money. We can always hope to make money from our art, but creating art because we have targeted a niche we think we can make art for isn’t my thing. Maybe others are willing to spend their time and talent doing that. I can’t.

      Reply
      • Corey W. Williams  –  Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 4:34 am

        Didn’t die, just had a power outage for a really long time thanks to Hurricane Irene, on top of personal stuff.

        But yeah, I agree. Most of the books I read seem to have some form of honesty behind it. What I mean by that is that you can tell the writer was writing because they enjoyed writing it and loved what they were doing. I’ve read books written by authors who have admitted to writing things marketable, and most of the time I find them … stale. I think most good literature comes from people who enjoyed crafting the story, rather than people who craft the story just to have a product to sell.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 5:05 am

          Well put.

          Glad you got the lights back on. Being a caveman kinda sucks, I hear.

          Reply
  46. Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 5:57 am

    Great post – hugely insightful, and some great comments too. However, I wonder whether the calculation can be boiled down to either-or? I’ve been writing for and publishing with the major internationals such as Penguin and Random House for years. Marketing/branding is unquestionably key to keeping going. As is being professional – publishers love it when authors deliver on time, to spec, and written for the audience.

    And yet – I love writing, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. Equally, material written ‘as product’, at least to me, lacks the spark necessary to make it good – and in turn to fire up the reader. Readers can pick product. In that circumstance, what counts is the author’s creative input, enthusiasm, passion – all those creative things that at times seem to stand at odds against the marketing. But really they don’t.

    Here’s why. Together, stuff that addresses an audience – is well marketed and produced, but still with that passion and sparkle – works. So for me, it’s not ‘either/or’, it’s both. A personal view – but it works for me, anyhow.

    Matthew Wright
    http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com
    http://www.matthewwright.net

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 6:13 am

      Thanks for the kind words.

      I frame the question this way for those who are relatively new to the craft, and who have been inundated with how to and self-help books implicitly promising success if one follows the cookie cutter path. The emphasis is generally not on self-expression or craft, or even storytelling, but rather on how to craft a product to sell.

      I have no argument with being a good craftsman. I have written more than my requisite 10,000 hours to get at least reasonable at it. Much of that has been mundane, paid or utilitarian work, in the course of selling this or producing that.

      I’m trying to frame a choice, create a tipping point, so that new authors, or new to self-publishing, lured by promises of riches or possible lucre, are forced to confront the essential question of whether they’re writing because they hope for money or success, or for love of the craft. At the end, I came up with the either/or of, “Would you write if it paid nothing and never would?” The answer to that question is helpful to get a bead on where in the spectrum you lie.

      I personally think it’s a fool’s errand to write in the hopes of becoming a best seller. I hope to be, but I understand I likely won’t be. The statistics are clear. Yet out of all things I could do in my spare and retirement time, I do this, and not something else. I do it because I love it. And so, take umbrage with the counsel that budding authors should engage in writing as product engineering exercises. They can, and are free to do so, however from my perspective it’s a poor bargain in the end.

      But there is no right or wrong answer. Yet for each of us, there is an answer.

      Reply
  47. Mon 12th Sep 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Short and sweet: camp B.
    Long & potentially bitter: I’ve been writing in some form or another since I could properly grasp a pen. The stories were not always as creative or earth-shattering as anything I read but I’ve always written for my own enjoyment. The few people I shared old & new stories with seem to like them enough and that’s fine with me.
    Plus writing helps me keep what little sanity i have by getting the characters out of my head long enough to stop pestering me.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 13th Sep 2011 at 4:37 pm

      Sounds like you are a dyed in the wool Camp B. Glad you’re enjoying what you do.

      Many don’t. And that’s sad.

      Reply
  48. Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 2:30 am

    I agree with much of what you say. However I am reminded of the old bit that it’s much more work to say something eloquently in 500 words rather than ramble on for 5,000 words.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 2:38 am

      I agree. That’s why I keep my blogs to around 1500-1800 words. Most don’t have the attention to keep up for 5,000 words on a blog – it makes their little noggins hurt like there’s a hive of bees inside.

      So I try to keep it short enough for most, and yet long enough to articulate ideas of substance.

      But the “less is more” philosophy is why my response to critics is, “Bite me.”

      You can probably appreciate the brevity.

      Reply
  49. Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 2:50 am

    Thought provoking article. I’m firmly in camp B mainly because the choice, to me, is the difference between broom pushing and art. I don’t begrudge those who would rather push a broom, though I couldn’t do it myself. I’m not a writer who is able to target markets. I write strictly what interests me–an audience of one. I’ve always had the most respect for creative people in any field who do what they do because they love it passionately.

    That being said, every writer needs to market. It doesn’t matter whether you go the indie route or publish traditionally through an agent. The publishers–and this is true even of the big six–aren’t going to do your marketing for you. The burden is squarely on the writer’s shoulders–unless you happen to be that fortunate one in a million whose work is viewed as a golden cupcake. A writer can’t swim off to an abandoned island in hope a cruise ship will drift by.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 3:09 am

      Agreed that one must market if one wishes to sell. Again, I have no problem with that concept. I just don’t write for what my imagined market might wish to consume. That makes marketing a little less graceful, but it is what it is.

      Reply
  50. Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 4:06 am

    I’m very firmly in Camp B. I began writing out of destitution and poverty (had nothing else to do) and never once expected any of my work to be read. Of course, now that people are reading my work, what’s most satisfying to me is people saying that they enjoy my words. If I’m someday able to enjoy a living with my writing, so be it. If not, I’m quite happy writing for me.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 4:12 am

      To me, that seems the most emotionally satisfying.

      I know I care deeply whether my readers enjoy, or don’t, my books. I like hearing from them, and thank God it’s been all positive to date. I’m sure I’ll get slammed eventually, but it’s nice to have those who appreciate your work tell you that. Worth way more than money, IMO.

      Reply
  51. Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 4:46 am

    Russell,
    I got kicked out of Camp A before I even set up my tent and I don’t miss it – Hell, I don’t know why I wandered in there to start with.
    John Locke turned me on to Twitter and I’ve met some great people there but he turned me off with his perspective on writing as a product.
    That won’t keep him awake tonight and it won’t cause me to lose any sleep either.
    Vocation wise, I’ve wanted two things in my life – first to be a professional speaker and I did that for fourteen years and I did it very well.
    Second, you guessed it, I wanted to write and now I do that. I have published three awesome eBooks and in a good month I’ll sell 100 of them. I’m sure that one day I’ll sell more but I’m not mortgaging this day to guarantee that day.
    Thanks for telling it the way it is for you because that’s the way it is for me too and a little validation never hurts.
    Yours to count on,
    Bert

    Reply
  52. Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I think there’s room for a happy medium. I don’t write for commercial success. I don’t even particularly want to reach the point where my writing can pay the bills – I have high aspirations in my day job. I think that’s good, that writers need to be balanced people with interests outside of writing.

    But I DO want my writing to reach an audience, and there’s no shame in that. I write for myself AND other people, and it’s therefore natural that I want to achieve enough success to publish for a built-in audience, but not necessarily to make it my career. If that makes sense.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 14th Sep 2011 at 3:01 pm

      It makes sense. But here’s the line of demarcation: Would you still write, to reach that audience, if writing paid nothing? The answer to that determines whether you’re A or B.

      Reply
  53. Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Camp B…I have always been a B kind of girl! I write for myself…to hell with the rest! ;)

    Reply
  54. Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 9:14 pm

    When I’m writing, it’s ALL about the writing.

    After I’m done the book, however, I look at it and say, “Sit up! Roll over! Now sell. Get out there and sell. Why aren’t you selling?”

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 15th Sep 2011 at 9:26 pm

      I know that feeling.

      Hopefully my dog book, which will be out in two to three weeks, will sit up and roll over.

      Reply
  55. Sun 18th Sep 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I love this post! I feel exactly the same way about wanting to write the best book I possibly can. But then I need to pay the bills, too, and sales are definitely validation. So I tend to be always torn, always confused, and always trying to make simultaneous progress on multiple fronts in multiple genres. So I’m either an A- or a B+. Argh.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 18th Sep 2011 at 8:35 pm

      Would you still write even if writing paid nothing? The answer to that question is a simple way to determine which camp you fall into.

      Reply
  56. Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Why either A or B – why the divisiveness?

    You can enjoy writing as a craft, while thinking about the commercial value of your book at the same time. I write more literary stories (for myself) and more commercial stories, which I sell.

    I believe I’m type AB, just like that blood type that has no antibodies in it. I enjoy both camps.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 19th Sep 2011 at 8:03 pm

      Would you still write if it paid nothing?

      Reply
  57. Tue 20th Sep 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I’m Camp B all the way. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, mainly because there are characters and stories in my head that won’t quite leave me alone. In all honesty, I always thought the likelihood of getting published was pretty much impossible. It’s only with the advent of indie publishing and e-books that I’ve started giving serious thought to polishing up a novel or two and putting it out there for people to read.

    At the moment, I’m trying to pay attention to the tips and suggestions that other indie authors have for promoting and selling books, but I’m not terribly concerned about money and numbers and all of that. I’m definitely not quitting my day job anytime soon, so I don’t need to worry about revenue. I just want to do what I love, write the best novels that I can, and if I make a few dollars along the way, then that will be an awesome outcome as well.

    Reply
  58. Tue 27th Sep 2011 at 2:01 am

    I’ve been writing for 11 years. I guess that means I love it. Now, I’m going to self-publish because I would like to think that my work is interesting enough and well enough written to deserve readers.

    Reply

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