when the gods intervene on your behalf, is that “success”

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur

Chances are, most people will believe that a writer is more likely to benefit from sudden good luck if s/he is ready for it. Perhaps not being ready for it means the chance won’t happen. Aside from that, if an editor appears and says, “If you have a great short story, I’ll publish it and pay you fairly for your work,” then it helps to have a great short story ready.

So, I suppose practicing one’s writing skills and being ready for “a lucky break” can be called success.

Nonetheless, as I think of this now, I remember a shouting match–via snail mail–I had with a widely a known writers magazine many years ago. The magazine purported to offer everything a prospective writer might need, from learning the craft to the techniques necessary for finding a magazine editor or a book publisher. They did a reasonable job of covering the basics of creating a salable work and understanding how and when to pitch it to the right place at the right time.

I had no argument with that. What bothered me were their “success stories,” published in every issue to show that their teaching could lead to a successful writing career. What started this shouting match was the fact every “success story” never showed the magazine’s “pitch” techniques working. In every so-called success, the writer labored away at their craft and didn’t get it published until an influential author, agent, editor, or publisher moved into the house next door, ultimately took a look at the prospective author’s work, and showed it to the powers that be, sidestepping the normal submissions process.

My argument was that since the magazine was teaching how to successfully write and how to successfully submit work on speculation or on assignment, that the appearance of a “god” next door didn’t equate with success. The magazine’s submission system included building a platform of acceptances from little magazines or regional magazines or the local newspaper, writing a proper query letter, crafting a synopsis for an agent/editor/publisher, and doing all this according to accepted standards. There was no “god” in the system.

They argued, like Pasteur, the “god” next door wouldn’t have been of much help if the writer weren’t ready. I stipulated that. But I also said the magazine was teaching the standard route to finding a publisher for the created work, and that did not include having Ernest Hemingway or Bennet Cerf moving into the vacant house next door. I said I wanted to read success stories that showed writers following the magazine’s advice from A to Z. They never showed that, so I canceled my subscription.

There’s a lot of luck going around in the publishing business. Yet, I think emerging writers need more to do than sit and wait for it to appear. They need to know how to write and how to find a publisher. Of course, if John Grisham moves in next door and offers to help, I see no reason to turn him down.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Do free books devalue an author’s worth in the public eye?

There must be a thousand gimmicks on the Internet showing emerging writers how to become better-known writers. Some “gurus” advocate “street teams” who read and talk-up an author’s books. Some suggest various methods for gaming Amazon’s algorithms so that an out-of-nowhere book suddenly becomes a bestseller. Others say each of us needs a giveaway book that shows readers our style that includes links to the primary books we’re trying to sell.

I’ve had dinner at Antoine’s numerous times and I like their food. One has to earn the kind of reputation they have. But that doesn’t mean everyone else is chopped liver.

There are stories–some probably true–that tell of unknown writers who followed a guru’s publicity program and suddenly sold $100,000 worth of books. These often sound like the claims I used to see in chain letters. And, notably, while I read a lot, I’ve never heard of any of the authors who became rich according to these claims.

If you look at a lot of prospective books on Amazon and elsewhere, you’ll see that the Kindle edition of a well-known author’s fiction costs more than the hardback edition of an unknown author’s novels. Well, obviously people are going to pay more for a dinner at Antoine’s Restaurant than a quarter pounder and fries at McDonald’s.

Yet, sometimes I think emerging authors are setting their prices too low. This reminds me of the old phrase “I can get it for you wholesale.” Sure, but how good is it?

I don’t expect to compete–on price–with John Grisham or J. K. Rowling. Yet, if I set the price of my books too low, this gives prospective readers the idea that I’m not charging more because my work isn’t worth more.  Nor would I expect a mom and pop diner in Peoria to charge as much as Antoine’s. However, when a new restaurant or an emerging author sets prices too low, I think they are devaluing their work.

As C. Hope Clark (Funds for Writers) has said on multiple occasions, writers are often expected to jump at the chance to attend a conference or serve on a panel “for the exposure.” Why do those in charge of writers’ retreats expect us to jump at the chance when everyone else supplying something to the venture–from publicity to catered meals–is being paid?

In a recent blog post, Clark said, “A few people will get their feathers ruffled. ‘Not me’ or ‘I know a lot of exceptions to that’ but the grand majority of people see free as something of lesser value; otherwise, it wouldn’t be cheap. And if something costs more, there usually has to be a reason.”

I agree. Yes, FREE might have its place, but generally, it’s not a good place. It makes us look cheap and unworthy. As Hope says, “In the long run, you deem what you are worth, and the more you give it away, the lower your stock value.”

I don’t think this is the impression we want readers to have. Experience has taught me that giving away books seldom leads to anything positive: the people who get them don’t flood Amazon with positive reviews or trip over themselves to get to my other books. The same can be said for pricing everything at 99₵. Do mainstream authors to this? No, of course not, so when we do it, the price just screams AMATEUR.

Frankly, I don’t trust cheap or free. When I download cheap or free, I’m usually disappointed. I definitely don’t go looking for more of these authors’ works because my time is worth more than the books’ low prices. Sad, but true.

We have a duty, perhaps a right, to price our books reasonably, neither free nor what James Patterson expects. I don’t think it helps us as authors to devalue our work with too much CHEAP and too much FREE.

Malcolm