If you’re online a lot–including social networking–you’re probably used to the fact that if you ever mention (or think about) a product, you’ll suddenly see dozens of ads for that product. At present, Facebook is deluged with ads for toilet paper. Gosh, I wonder why? Those who checked out these ads, unfortunately, found that the projected ship dates were in June.
Writers see ads others don’t see because we’re always researching something. For the novel in progress, I checked on the kind of Khaki a middle-aged person might wear in the early 1950s. Now, Khaki ads are showing up on Facebook, on news sites, and everywhere else I’m going on the Internet. At least, on Facebook, you can make the ad go away if you say you’ve already bought the stuff.
(We go through a lot to bring you the most accurate books on the planet.)
When I was researching hitmen, I started seeing ads for contract killers until finally the FBI called up and asked if I wanted to kill anybody. I said “no” and they said, “fine,” but I wonder if they’ve really gone away. No doubt the NSA scoops up my telephone calls and searches for words like “rub out,” “concrete shoes,” and “kick the bucket.”
Some writers share Facebook accounts with their spouses and get in trouble when these kinds of ads appear: “Honey, why are we suddenly getting ads for brothels?” The proper response to that is “Somebody hacked into our account.”
When writers talk on forums about their research, they wonder how many watch lists they’re on for researching nefarious stuff for their novels. While the famous writers can visit the police department and learn everything they want to know, little-known writers are stuck with Internet searches.
“Honey, I got a letter from the FBI and they told me you want to know how to kill your spouse by putting a pinch of something in his/her coffee.”
“Don’t worry, sugar, I saw that in a movie called ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ when I was a kid. The FBI has me mixed up with somebody else.”
Malcolm R. Campbell’s short story collection, Widely Scattered Ghosts, is free on Smashwords during the company’s “give back” sale.
If you dabble in anything writing, you know it shares a similarity to any ordinary business – seasons. Businesses experience boom or recession; writers experience feast or famine. To escape this cycle, writers capitalize in two ways: finding retainer clients and collecting a plethora of clients. But do you know there are other options that can help beat the challenges of seasons?
Here are six alternative revenue sources to engage in as a writer.
Derick Omondi’s guest post presents some workable ideas. If you’ve been writing a while, and especially if you keep up with publicity techniques, you may have seen these ideas before. If they’re new for you, all of them may not apply, but some will.
A helpful and knowledgeable post from the Funds for Writers blog.
However, I think many webinars crafted for aspiring and emerging writers are taking a lot of our money for very little information.
How much does the webinar cost? $150. $250. $500? That seems to me to be a rip off from the outset inasmuch as those producing the webinar could sell the same number of tips in a paperback book or even a downloadable PDF for a lot less.
When you look at the number of facts in a webinar, you’ll quickly see that the number of words is very low when contrasted to, say, a pamphlet about the same material. Writers don’t earn a lot of money, so I wonder why we are being gouged with high prices.
Most webinars are not closed-captioned. So, if you’re hard of hearing–and if no transcript is offered–you’re paying for a presentation you cannot hear. That is to say, it’s worthless.
Webinars are linear. That is, they’re like a tape recording. You have to listen from beginning to end. That means you’re forced to hear the information you already know. Unlike feature films on CD, webinars usually don’t include a table of contents or any other way to access specific parts for the information you want.
When webinars include guests or panels, a lot of the introductory minutes are used up with that we used to call happy news chatter. That is, the participants introduce themselves, talk about each other’s work, and spend a lot of time (and your money) saying how nice it is to see each other.
If the information in a webinar we produced in print (or PDF) in a magazine format with subheads, you could quickly go to the information you don’t already know. That is, your eyes could see the entire presentation’s format in a fraction of the time it takes to laboriously listen/view the whole thing from beginning to end.
One thing many webinars don’t acknowledge is that some promotion techniques lend themselves more to nonfiction than fiction. So, they present promotion as an outgrowth of one’s business. This doesn’t work for fiction writers. Don’t get rooked into spending on a webinar focused on business owners who write books about their businesses when you’re looking for help with a novel.
Like many written presentations, webinars often spend a lot of time rehashing what aspiring writers already know. If the production included a table of contents, you could see how much of it was new and how much was old before you spent your money.
Frankly, I don’t understand the popularity of webinars. Other than the fact they cost a lot more money than the same facts in printed form, most of us can read faster than we can listen. We can scan a page of type in seconds, but a webinar moves along (relatively speaking) at a snail’s pace.
The advertising for webinars typically suggests that when you pay to listen/view, you’re going to see and hear secrets that are only known to those who created the webinar. Seriously, what a joke. Do you really want to believe some author you’ve never heard of when s/he says his/her webinar will turn your book into a bestseller? Let’s not be naive.
Sometimes a disagreement gives me pause to explore how I see a certain style of writing and why. In this case, a member of my critique group and I differed on the use of italics for inner dialogue, or thoughts. He hates them. I use them. It has caused some strong discussion. (Yes, we remain good friends.)
Basically, how you approach a character’s thoughts comes down to personal preference unless your work is going to a publisher with a strong editor and/or a strong style sheet.
In my novel Conjure Woman’s Cat and its two sequels, I used italics to indicate that the cat was using telepathy to talk to the conjure woman. My editor thought I didn’t need to do that, but I didn’t want to go through entire pages of “thought speech” with “Lena thought” and “Eulalie thought” tied onto all the lines. That might make readers think they were just thinking about those things when they were communicating them.
Italics becomes a bit of a problem when passages become lengthy. It’s generally considered harder to read–or a “put off” to readers–when it covers entire pages.
This piece in Indies Unlimited is, I think, a catalyst for us to think about what we’re doing when we write.
C. Hope Clark has been advising authors through her weekly newsletter “Funds for Writers” for twenty years. I’m a long-time subscriber and look forward to Fridays and the arrival of the newsletter in my in-basket because it contains nuts and bolts tips, writing ideas and inspiration presented with a positive can-do attitude, and lists of upcoming writing opportunities.
Clark, who is also a novelist (The Carolina Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries) brings the best contest-related ideas from her newsletter to Writing Contests with Hope that was released in paperback and e-book in February. “This book has been a long time coming, “said Clark. “It speaks of the myths of contests, and shows how amazing contests can be for your career.”
From the Publisher
Everyone loves winning, but nobody enjoys losing. Writers are no exception. Contests in the writing profession offer opportunity in many forms, but so many writers fear entering. Whether they fear scans, rejection, or being judged, they hold back. On the other hand, others throw caution to the wind and enter every contest in sight, likewise winning nothing. Contests are a serious venture. They can catapult a career if entered thoughtfully with serious intent. Yes, intent. Contests aren’t a whimsical endeavor. With planning, practice, and research, writers can enter contests and genuinely improve their odds of success.
A lot of writers I know don’t enter contests. That makes sense in they’re busy finishing their latest novel or meeting a deadline for a magazine article. Otherwise, I don’t understand why they don’t do it. Hope understands: in the book, she discusses some of the usual reasons writers don’t enter any of the dozens of competitions available each year. If you have concerns about contests, take a look at the What’s Inside feature on the book’s Amazon listing. The point of view there may change your mind. If it does, this book will increase your odds of success.
Every week on Facebook and in my e-mail in-basket, I see the following:
Podcasts and videos that promise to show me how my next book can be a bestseller.
Free PDF downloads that promise to show me how to get better coverage on Amazon and in Google searches by changing the keywords I use in my promotion copy–and even in my book title.
Publicists who want me to gamble, say, $5,000 to hire them to get more reviews, articles, TV appearances, and other promotional exposure for my novels.
Some of these people mean well. Perhaps most of them mean well.
But I’m tired of all the offers because: (a) There are so many of them, (b) A large number see books as a value-added extra for people whose real business is doing something else, (c) They’re focused on non-fiction, (d) Use videos that are not closed-captioned, meaning that they are of little value to those of us who are hard of hearing, (e) Use podcasts that, while very popular, present information in a linear fashion that means–even if I could hear–I’d have to wade through the whole thing to get information I could see on a webpage in a fraction of the time.
There’s an old joke that people selling shovels made more money than those heading out as part of the gold rush. This seems similar to those promoting writers’ tools. People wanted to strike it rich in the goldfields. Apparently, writers want to strike it rich–or, at least all these sellers of so-called helpful information think we want to strike it rich.
Many of us on Facebook joke about the fact that whenever we go out on a website to buy gifts or check on prices for something we need, our Facebook screen is filled with advertisements for that very thing the following day. Maybe that’s why writers see all these promotions. The promoters find out we’re writers, so they display “how to write” advertisements in our e-mail in-baskets and Facebook timelines.
Frankly, I think a lot of these promotions are looking for writers with a short attention span, the writer who don’t want to “pay their dues” working their way up, and so we’re offered promises of instant riches. The whole thing would be amusing if it weren’t for the possibility that a lot of writers are paying money for “all this help” that probably won’t get them anywhere.
I wonder, how naïve can a person be who has just graduated from high school, self-publishes a book, and thinks that with a small investment of, say, $5,000 s/he will suddenly be in the stratosphere of writers by listening to a podcast? Yes, it could happen. But for most people, it won’t. The lottery probably has better odds of success.
My publisher and I joke about when Oprah will select one of my books for her book club and when Viola Davis wil read Conjure Woman’s Cat and want to play the role of Eulalie. Sure, these are nice dreams, but I can’t base my writing career on waiting for them to happen. Or, on thinking I can pay somebody to make them happen.
Writers everywhere are asking what it takes to get more reader reviews on Amazon, reviews in prestigious review sites like Publishers Weekly and Booklist, how does one build a platform that major publishers and major critics and the book-buying public notice, what does it take for a word-of-mouth campaign to bring in sales, and similar questions. When all of this is discussed online, it brings you a host of ads and purported deals that claim to help you get those things.
In most cases, they won’t. And, I think that the majority of people who spend money on such services are spending more than their books are likely to earn.
Yes, I think you can build a platform. I think you can do yourself a lot of good submitting short stories and essays to carefully chosen contests and magazines, I think you can make comments on the Facebook status updates of other writers as well as their blogs, I think you can develop a niche for your own blog and website that sooner or later captures the attention of readers, editors, and agents. But, there’s nothing certain about this process. Keep your day job and keep at it, and look at all those people selling shovels with a sceptical eye.
“I was talking with a class that I was teaching this past week about marketing strategies and realized we haven’t had a marketing post in a while. Twitter and Facebook are what I think of as old marketing standbys, but there are other, more creative ways to market. Of course, as the kids say, YMMV (your mileage may vary) with all of them. Below is a summary of what we discussed.”
As an author, I like reading posts about book marketing because there’s usually something new to me in each one. Plus, times change, and what worked five years ago may not be quite as effective now. Melinda Clayton is a publisher and a university teacher, so she sees more of what works and what doesn’t work than most of us.
She also includes links to other articles for writers at Indies Unlimited.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena.”
“If I write in the present yet digress, is that real time? Real time, I reasoned, cannot be divided into sections like numbers of the face of a clock. If I write about the past as I simultaneously dwell in the present, am I still in real time. Perhaps there is no past or future, only the perpetual present that contains this trinity of memory.”
– Patti Smith in “M Train”
Writers are seldom in real time. We’re writing about yesterday or years ago and we’re writing about tomorrow and aeons into the future, creating time machines with words. If I’m sitting in a room in the purported here and now and you walk in and sit down in a vacant chair, you may soon observe that I’m not really there; I’ve gone deep into the past where time and space are so real that I can taste her breath in my mouth while noticing that the color of her lipstick matches the color of the dawn’s “sailor take warning sky.”
Patti Smith follows–figuratively speaking in her own time–the gurus who postulate an “eternal now.” Interesting, perhaps true, but that concept doesn’t help us get to work on time or remember when to feed the cats. Time used to be all mixed up before the railroads created time zones at high noon on November 8, 1883. Before that, time was a roll-your-own approximation of the sun, moon, stars and custom. But, you cannot run a railroad–other than the Polar Express–through roll your own or the eternal now.
As the New York Times said looking back at the date and time in 1983, “Some citizens grumbled about ‘railroad tyranny’ and tampering with ‘God’s time.’ The Mayor of Bangor, Me., deplored the change as an ‘attempt to change the immutable laws of God Almighty.’ The Indiana Sentinel lamented, ‘The sun is no longer boss of the job.'”
I’m reminded of the verse in Isaac Watts’s old hymn “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”:
A thousand ages in Thy sight Are like an evening gone, Short as the watch that ends the night Before the rising sun.
That verse made quite an impression on me the first time I sang it in church. I felt small, awash in an almost-timeless universe, awash in the power of my own thoughts and words to take me away from the “now”–as defined by the railroads–into fluid moments so far away most people have forgotten them or not yet imagined them.
When a writer writes, the time is always now or, if not now, whatever we say it is. From time to time, I ask people, “Is it yesterday yet?” Nobody seems to know. They haven’t yet noticed that the right creative thought and/or the well written book will take them into yesterday with or without clocks and time zones.
I guess people notice the eternal now when they read and become lost in the story. Writers are always lost in the story, and I think that’s a blessing even though it plays hell with temporal appointments ruled by clocks.
When I read H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine, I thought what a wonderful invention that would be, this long before “Star Trek” invented the “temporal prime directive” stating that the people in our time couldn’t tamper with the people in another time. Science fiction writers love playing with the notion that if a person simply strolls through the past, his/her presence there might change the world. What would happen to you if you accidentally killed your great great grandfather?
If there really is an eternal now, then the answer to that question is probably “nothing.” For years, writers have wondered if a time machine might make it possible to “go back” and save President Lincoln. Some say that, had he lived, reconstruction wouldn’t have become the hellish mess that it was. A character in Stephen King’s 11/22/63 figures out how to return to Dallas on the date in question and save President Kennedy. The world resulting from that was a horrible mess, darker than the dark ages. As it turns out, playing God is dangerous because we don’t know what God knows in the “evening gone” since Lincoln and Kennedy were shot.”
Yet, when we write, we are playing God. Sometimes I wonder if our play is confined to the pages of our novels. Perhaps our stories have impacts we can’t imagine and will never know. Best we can do is hope that our muses keep us on the straight and narrow so that we always write the right thing when the time is right.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels, a fact that shouldn’t surprise you after reading this post.