The State of Publishing

Just read an article in a leading British newspaper about well-known, well-respected writers who are just this side of starvation. Not surprising in the current publishing environment, but disturbing nonetheless. Six months ago I’d have probably made some glib observation about how the landscape is changing and that writers and publishers have to recognize it, anticipate it, and be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities.

But since then, I have begun to question those so called opportunities.

After experimenting with self-publishing over the past six months, I can now offer a number of qualified observations based on my experiences.  I should point out that this has been an “experiment” since the beginning, of the “what happens if I push this button” variety.

Part one of the experiment was to start re-building the audience that I allowed to drift away over the ten years when I stopped writing and marketing fiction.  I joined Wattpad. With hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of hits per day, it seemed like a great place to start building an audience. While I considered Wattpad a terrific resource and a great place for writers to network and find inspiration, there were many problems I didn’t anticipate.

1. Backlash. With so many writers and publishers on the verge of starving in the dark, the problems with the system are only exacerbated by writers giving any work away for free – no matter what the quality of the work or the excuse or rationale behind it. The publishing industry doesn’t necessarily articulate it – but the policies about considering anything that appeared on Wattpad to be “published” makes it near impossible to sell anything that has been posted there. This is strong incentive to avoid putting new material on any such public forum. But it’s almost impossible to get anyone in the professional writing world to take anything published on Wattpad seriously.  Most won’t even glance at it – which is probably for the best – because if they did like it it would just piss them off even more that you’re creating unfair competition for them by giving it away for free. If they didn’t like it, it would simply confirm their opinion about the essential worthlessness of material published there. It’s a lose-lose situation.

2. It’s an all-or-nothing forum. If I were to carry on and publish an entire novel on Wattpad, I could push to have it “featured.” Success with a “featured story” could theoretically bring millions of readers (this is distorted because readers are counted separately for each chapter – thus a book with 50 chapters and a million readers – in reality has 20,000 readers tops). To this point on Wattpad, I have just under 5,000 reads – which probably translates to about 50 readers. These are wonderful people – many of them good up and coming writers in their own right. But after six months on the site, how much of a new audience did I actually build? ie: how many of my Wattpad fans actually went on to buy my book? I estimate ten, give or take a few.

2. Self-publishing. Creating a nice product for very little investment is not difficult. Getting any attention for your self-published book is brutally hard. Even if you do everything “by the book” and manage to get some reviews and media attention, no one will necessarily follow through and buy the book. My PR efforts actually got some excellent results. The launch of Psychedelia Gothique got blurbed on Boing Boing and echoed on literally hundreds of sites. The book is available through almost any bookstore in the world via Print on Demand and is available through almost all online retailers. I have a site for the book that gets reasonably good traffic. I have half a dozen (mostly 4 and 5 star) reviews on Goodreads and Amazon – some from top Amazon reviewers. I’ve raised my profile by being invited to participate in public forums – most notably to date on SFSignal. This is all wonderful. As I gain more traction I may even earn back some of the credibility I lost with the more experimental side of my approach.

I also need to cut myself some slack. My book is a story collection after all. Story collections are famous for being slow sellers and most big publishers will only put out collections by big name writers. But even with appropriately diminished expectations – I am coming to the conclusion that I need to take the time to re-establish my credibility in the traditional publishing world before I set off on my own path.

3. I will also state for the record that overuse of social media ie: trying to maintain four blogs and three commercial websites at the same time will indeed burn you out while guaranteeing that you fail to keep up – and it will diffuse the impact of anything posted on any of the sites.  What is required is focus. One or two sites max. Some social media backup – but it’s important not to waste too much time or energy on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Tumblr or anywhere else.  For that reason I will be letting this and other sites to expire. As of mid-April, the only personal sites I will be maintaining are www.psychedeliagothique.com and www.sculptorstouch.com. I will be somewhat active on Facebook and Twitter and will remain on Linked In.

My first novel, The Goblin’s Touch will be finished in the next month or two. And I will apply all the lessons I’ve learned with Psychedelia Gothique to that project.  Which means I will look for a traditional publisher and see where that takes me – before I go the self-publishing route. The book is the first in a projected trilogy and has a pretty strong hook so I am cautiously optimistic.

I’m thinking of increasing the price of the Psychedelia Gothique ebook – which will likely kill sales altogether…but at least I’ll be starving in good company. I do still believe strongly in self-publishing but will avoid putting all my eggs in that particular basket until it achieves more legitimacy in the eyes of the traditional publishing world.

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Once Something is Free there is No Going Back

When I stopped writing fiction at the start of the millennium, I also stopped trying to market my stories. So when I started writing again last year, I was naïve as to the ways of the current literary marketplace.

In previous posts, I have talked about what a wonderful writing tool Wattpad can be, but this week I got my first real look at the negative side of my Wattpad experience.

I tried to market a story that had been inspired by and written for a Wattpad writing contest (with no prize except bragging rights) and discovered to my surprise and dismay that by making my first draft available for free on the website, I had pretty much disqualified that story from ever appearing in a paying market. Once something appears on Wattpad or as publicly accessible content in any form, a vast majority of editors consider it a reprint. And most publications these days flat out “do not accept reprints”. Never mind that the ungainly thing that first appeared online bears little resemblance to the polished gem at the other end of the process. Never mind that the story owes its conception to the medium where it was born. Never mind that the free material is no longer available and never mind that free online stories can be a very effective incentive for people to pay to read more of your writing. A reprint is a reprint.

I don’t blame the magazine and anthology publishers and editors in any way for their wariness

Bless their souls for providing a venue where creative types (writers and artists) can get paid to showcase new work in the first place. It’s their publication and they can make whatever freaking rules they want!

Besides, the ubiquitous “no reprint” rule pre-dates the internet. No longer does a prior appearance simply make the re-publication less desirable to people who have already read the story – the odds of someone having read it increase exponentially. Once something has been online. there is no effective and dependable way to erase it and guarantee that it’s gone, so it may still be online somewhere. And when a potential buyer can find material online and enjoy it for free, why would they pay for it?

That’s one of the prime conundrums of our time. One that writers and editors and publishers struggle with every day.

The Process of Writing

Unless you’ve studied engineering, you probably couldn’t build a ten story building. No one would give you the resources to let you try. Unless you’ve studied coding, you’re unlikely to be able to unilaterally create a new computer app that anyone would want to (or could) use. You might be able to come up with a great idea, but by the time you gain the skills necessary to turn it into something useful and readily available, someone else will have done it first, and probably better.

Hard skills – from driving big trucks to brain surgery – are not things that are easy to fake.

But we are all taught how to write in grade school. And most of us are fluent in at least one language. As a result, almost most people think they can write, and to be fair, most people can write to some degree.  So when you’re unemployed or unhappy in your job and you’re looking for some sort of outlet for your energies, and you start tallying up your skills, you may think, “Oh this skill isn’t current” or “I haven’t done that since grad school” or “I was doing that for a living ten years ago and haven’t even thought about it again since I was promoted.”  But many hundreds of thousands of people write on a daily basis – or at least believe that they can write. And so we do. It’s a natural fallback

We write about the things we do know, sharing our skills and opinions. We write poetry, even if we barely understand the concept of rhyme schemes. We write stories like ones we’ve seen on TV. We write fan fiction and blogs and recipes and erotic fantasies.  And we dream of penning the next breakout bestseller, becoming the next JK Rowling or EL James.

But at some point, most people come to the realization that writing well is harder than it looks. I remember the auditorium where I went to my first year creative writing class and I remember the professor saying, “You’re all dedicated to becoming professional writers, but I want to all to look around at the people next to you and behind you. Only one out of ten of you will ever have something professionally published. Maybe one out of a hundred will make any kind of a living from it. The rest of you will realize at some point how hard it is and will go do something else.”

With the economy and the job market the way they’ve been over the past twenty years and with the extra free time many of us enjoy, there are more people than ever who set their sights on becoming writers. With the advent of self-publishing, we don’t have to deal with the same level of rejection or frustration and we don’t have to wait for someone else to publish us.

I’ve been pretty impressed at the number of people who persist – who find the hidden talent deep inside them and coax it out and get better and better. But unfortunately, the number that get good enough to make any kind of a living from it probably still hasn’t increased since my university days. There are just a million more people to fight off on your way to the top.labour

Most of us who write believe we are better than we actually are. But becoming a successful writer involves so much more than the ability to coherently put your thoughts on paper. If you’re funny and entertaining enough you may get by with not much more than that, but sooner or later most writers realize that – as in engineering – creating a solid story or novel requires an understanding of structure and involves a complicated and time consuming process. These are the aspects of writing that most writers learn through a combination of training and experience. They are often hard won. And while  they can be circumvented, if you ever hope to have a career as a writer, there comes a point when you have to find your process.

That’s the tricky part. The process is different for everyone. I can tell you or teach you what works for me. But chances are, it won’t be what works for you. Here’s what I have learned about my “process”:

For me, a first draft is little more than a raw idea. Very often it is a summary. First this happens and then this happens. The characters are only there to move the story forward. I explain  things rather than letting the reader experience them.

The second draft is just a clean up of the first, making things flow better, fleshing out the characters a bit, making events more logical, finding a scarier narrative voice etc.

My characters don’t usually come to life until the third draft because that’s when I’m able to ask, “why would this character do something like this? And why would the other character react the way she does?” When relationships and relationship dynamics come into play, they usually change the course of the story. This is usually the draft when I examine the structure and change it so that the reader gets the necessary information at the right time to keep them intrigued. All that revision usually introduces complications that need to be fixed.

For me, it’s pointless to worry to much about sentence structure, word choice, story rhythm and character arc until the fourth draft. If I’m really lucky, the fourth draft is publishable.

The fifth draft shines it to a high gloss – and if it’s not working at that point it’s best to rethink it from the ground up – which is sometimes worthwhile and sometimes not. If I read the story after that draft and it’s still not working, I have learned to recognize that fixing it may require more effort than its worth. Endless revisions suck the life and inspiration out of any project, so that you end up with something workmanlike but unspectacular.  Or it may be lacking something vital – ie: nice house but too bad you forgot to put in a kitchen or a bathroom.

For me, the two hardest things in writing are figuring out when something is done and when to admit to myself that I have no idea why something isn’t working – and then to simply wipe my hands clean, walk away and work on something else.

With all the work it took getting to that fifth draft, it’s brutally hard to simply accept it as a learning experience and realize that the greatest potential lies in future projects.

I am somewhat buoyed by the knowledge that putting something away and not looking at it for awhile can enable me to look at it with fresh eyes a few weeks, months or years down the line. I often see the problems more clearly, which enables me to find the solutions. Or I may simply love the idea and make a fresh start – avoiding the mistakes I made the first time around.

This is my process. One thing I have learned in my years of writing is that everyone has a different process – and that process can change considerably from project to project. But knowing my own process helps me come to terms with the fact that my stories often still suck when I’m several steps in. This used to make me tear my hair out and stress and want to throw in the towel. Now I just smile and say, “Oh well, it’s part of the process. I’ll have another look at that in a few months.”

It makes me glad I’ve always got lots of irons in the fire.

Stage 2 of the Self-Publishing Journey

It’s done, it’s done, it’s finally done!!

It was of course harder and not as hard as I expected.

Not as hard because I discovered IngramSpark! I was looking for a good way to release a POD book where independent bookstores would be happy  to order it (which makes Amazon an underdog). A service called Lightning Source seemed like a good idea. It’s run by Ingram, one of  the biggest – if not the biggest – book distribution companies in the world. And they refered me to Ingram Spark – which seems to have been created solely to serve self-publishers. For one low setup fee (around $60), they are doing the POD as well as making the ebook available through kindle, kobo, ibook etc…

Harder because going through Ingramspark required me to create the original epub – a process which totally baffled me at first because it’s so different from laying out a print book.

Not as hard because I discovered that an ebook was essentially just a zip file containing html versions of each story – bound together by some meta-data and a table of contents. A basic epub turns out to be one of the simplest digital documents I’ve ever encountered. Of course, I didn’t figure this out until after three days of hairpulling and loud cursing.

Harder because I kept making stupid mistakes with the cover image – originally submitting it with the wrong colour profiles from photoshop, twice downloading the wrong size of cover image, once omitting the upc code. I really had no excuse because these were rookie mistakes and I’ve been laying out and publishing magazines for years. I simply should have known better. (Ingram Spark will create you a cover from images you supply – for a reasonable fee.)

Today, I found my book, available for pre-order from Amazon (Kindle) and Chapters/Indigo (Kobo). The POD isn’t available yet – probably because of all the dumb mistakes I made with the file. But I can rest easy knowing it’s on its way.

I had enough information to set up an author page on Goodreads. I’ve spent most of this week soliciting reviews and sending out press releases – with some success.

So the journey so far has been great. Now I just need to go sell my 20 copies to family and friends (which is apparently all the sales that most ebooks ever make) and my job here will be…begun.  It won’t stop until I’m a household name I tell ya. Kids will go to school, salute the flag, give their requisite DLSproule quotation…and….

I know, I know. Delusions of grandeur are no better than settling for selling copies to your sibs. But clearly – having your book available to the general public really IS JUST the beginning. My feet are in the blocks! There goes the starter’s gun…

and now I get to market my book – without being rude or pushy of course. I can give you the link, but I can’t MAKE you push the button…the red candylike button…

Button

 

The Winnah and New Title Holdah – Cover Three

Thanks to everyone who voted through Facebook, E-Mail, Wattpad and this site. Here are the results:

Cover 3 – 8 votes

Cover 4 – 5 votes

Cover 2 – 4 votes

Cover 1 – 1/2 vote (someone mentioned it as their second choice).

The winner of the contest – for which I did a random draw from everyone who entered was PhonerionBallznevsky aka Mike Marsbergen from Wattpad. Sorry Mike – it doesn’t have the cover you picked (he picked #4). Please let me know whether you’d prefer a hardcopy or e-book. If you want a hardcopy, e-mail me at gothique@rogers.com with your mailing address. It will be coming out on Oct 31. So you should get the book pdq after publication.

Thank you everyone for your advice – in helping pick the new cover. A little background for anyone interested. this cover illo was actually created as an illustration for the title story of Gemma Files marvellous story collection, Kissing Carrion, published in 2003 by Prime Books. They went with a different cover I submitted, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this one. Even though I don’t have a story to go with it, it is atmospherically a fine cover for my collection and I should probably thank the original publisher for not choosing it!

PsychedeliaGothique#3

Help Me Choose a Cover

I thought I was all ready to go on the cover. But a couple of people I trust raised some red flags about the cover I had picked out. So I thought I’d do this democratically.  If you saw these four covers on the bookshelves – which one would you reach for? Just click on the illos to enlarge them.

Please comment – telling me whether you prefer cover #1, #2, #3 or #4. If I don’t get at least five votes, I’ll stick with the current cover. Any cover that wins by 2 or more votes will be used (unless it doesn’t work for some technical reason). This is all my own artwork and cover design – so they’re all free. If you think I should buy a cover illo from a pro – tell me that too. (I won’t do it this time but might do it for the next book).

One person who votes will receive a free copy of the book in either hardcover or your choice of electronic formats. You will all receive my gratitude.

PsychedeliaGothiqueCover1&2PsychedeliaGothique3&4Rev

Wattpad is a terrific promotional tool

SONY DSCWattpad is much more than that actually. It’s a brilliant writer’s resource period. I’m finding it fun, exciting and useful. It’s sort of the 21st century version of writing in a bookstore window! Only you have to attract your own crowd.

After 22 years of being under construction (this is a huge anomaly since my usual writing time for a story is between six hours and  two weeks) I’ve finally completed a version of my novelette, “Masks of Flesh” that actually does it justice. And I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that without Wattpad. When I first posted the story, I decided to serialize it. And the response to the first two parts was gratifying. People loved it and found it extremely creepy and disturbing. There was quite a bit of enthusiasm generated for the ending. But when I was doing the final read-through before posting the ending, I had a disheartening realization – everything that people had loved about the first two sections was missing in the last section. It was talky instead of creepy; it lacked tension – and then when I finally reached the conclusion, I ripped through it and wrapped it up in a page. So it was truncated and anti-climactic.

That forced me to rewrite the entire ending. I got rid of 80% of the talky reams of exposition and stretched out the climax to two pages. When I posted it, I was quite happy. The feedback was still good – I had successfully upped the creepy factor and lowered the boring factor. But everybody thought the actual ending was still far too abrupt. So I rewrote it again – stretching the ending out by yet another page. And since I wanted a sense of how well the newest version was working, instead of just pasting the new text over top of the old in the existing version, I deleted the final chapter from Wattpad and posted the whole thing over again…which is kind of crazy – because it also clears your all your old statistics – dropping everything back to zero reads, zero votes and zero comments.

It has recovered completely – and is one of the only stories I have seen on all of Wattpad with a read to vote ratio of over 10% (in fact it is close to 20%) – and it has even more comments than votes!

Wattpad is also a great way to let people read your fiction for FREE – so they can decide if your book is worth buying. It’s great for books that are under construction and a great way to showcase stories that will be in a collection (with your publisher’s permission of course).

I’m pleased with my new tagline for my epic fantasy novel…

Out of the Nether follows Jaynie and Malcolm in a struggle that will take them beyond death itself!

In Chapter 11 – “To the Sea of Souls,” Dhammallion gets a glimpse into the Nether – and the power that awaits him there. In Chapter 12 – “Brothers,” Jaynie finds more to live for with the support of her new stepbrother, Malcolm who has returned to Cliffside for the birth of their baby brother, Calum.
In Chapter 13 – “The Campaign in the North,” Jaynie begins discovering her abilities and encounters the mesmerizing Laird Auldearne, who promises to seek her out upon his return from battle.

House of the Empty Stare is now rolling out on Wattpad. If you think it has something to do with the WB Yeats poem, “The Empty House of the Stare”, you may be right. If you think it’s a reference to the human body as a “bonehouse” – as used in Beowulf – you too may be right. But consider that if if it’s an EMPTY stare, then there’s nobody at home in the bone house. Ohhh, spooky! PS If you think I’m full of sh*t, you may have stumbled upon the ultimate truth…but I don’t know it yet, so please let me go my self-delusional way.

Two stories that will be in my upcoming collection Psychedelia Gothique have come down from Wattpad and a different one has gone up – I’ll probably leave this one there for a few weeks. “Corrosive Agents” is  a coming of age “everyone-in-the-world-is-an-alien” story set in the prairies in the 1960s.

It will be one of the stories in Psychedelia Gothique – my short story collection that will be coming out for Halloween in all the E-pub and POD variations at Amazon, Kobo et al. I’m pleased to announce that it will have a foreword from David Nickle (@ The Devil’s Exercise Yard) http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/

I thought I had selected a final cover for my collection – but have had some feedback the makes me doubt my choice. So watch for my Pick the Cover Contest. Help me decide which cover to use and win a book!

I’ll post that here later this week.

My Self-Publishing Adventure – Stage 2

The stories for my  Psychedelia Gothique story collection have been finalized. Despite all the assurances on various POD websites that I needn’t concern myself with sending in anything more complex than a .doc or an .rtf file, I have taken the time to create a cover in Photoshop and lay out the contents of my collection in InDesign. Pretty much no matter where or how you choose to publish, pdf files are considered either acceptable or preferred to word processor files in any format – and both InDesign and Photoshop allow easy and accurate export to pdf format.

PsychedeliaGothiqueJn27I’m actually not worrying at this point about which POD publisher to go with on the final product. Amazon’s CreateSpace is terrific and free, but I am concerned that traditional independent booksellers would be loathe to order from Amazon. Lightning Source is owned by Ingram – the world’s largest book distribution company. It would be my automatic first choice if not for their set-up fee of $75-$150 per title. Then, there are straight POD services like Lulu that will allow you to print and order a couple of books for just the printing and shipping costs. I went with Lulu to create to prototype – and once I have all the kinks worked out and am ready to go to final printing, I will likely switch to Lightning Source.

For the E-Book version, I plan to go with Amazon and Kobo individually and also produce a version on Smashwords for distribution through all the other services.

In traditional publishing, copy-editing would probably be done before the layout, but for the sake of conservation of energy, my copy-editor is actually going to be working from the Print-on-Demand prototype I have already ordered.

I will make her changes in the InDesign manuscript and will create a variation of the same manuscript for export as an E-Pub. This may introduce complications I’m not currently aware of, but for the moment seems to make a great deal of sense. The most likely complication would be that the set-up for the POD and E-Pub versions should be different, but if that’s the case, I figure that I can create an E-Pub file in InDesign – and then simply copy and paste the material in from the POD version. At worst I may have to change some formatting to ensure that the document reflows for viewing on different devices.

I actually expect to make mistakes, but hopefully learn most of the tricks by trial and error.

My research into publicity for the book is really just about to start and I will report on that with each new discovery I make.

Motivations for Blogging

You’d think that after months of study and intensive experimentation, the mysteries of the internet and social media would gradually begin to unfold and make sense. And to some degree, that does happen. I have learned that there are definitely things a blogger or tweeter can do to improve their traffic, increase their following or increase the level of interaction with other bloggers and other folks on twitter (although – unless you are a genius or are extremely focused – probably not all at the same time).  Tangible rewards from blogging and tweeting are something that will only be realized by a few of the participants.

The Best Odds

If your main goal is simply finding some like-minded people/friends with whom you can exchange ideas and encouragement, you are most likely to be completely happy with your blogging experience. It may not be measurable or profitable but it can be rewarding and fun. Good for you! Keep blogging. Visit me sometime and I’ll look in on you when I get a chance. As for tweeting, it can be a good way to expand your network – but as it grows bigger, the networking opportunities can diminish or disappear because of the speed at which everything whizzes past decreases the odds of meaningful contact or interchange. Even if you work to keep your network manageable – most of your contacts won’t – so your brillant tweet may well be seen by precisely no-one. Which is why experienced Twitter users start using hash tags and why casual @users are often put off by “#encoded  #telegraph-like #messages full of @(#lists #links & #symbols) http://tmblr.co/ZbjBHwf2UFS9 @etc.” (That’s a pretty much random link BTW).

If having strangers actually read your blog post is your ultimate goal as a blogger, then you may do quite well, depending on your patience and your willingness to engage with your audience. At least in the early stages of blogging, if your followers get nothing back from you, they are not likely to keep coming back to your blog unless you are very entertaining, useful, engaging, fun and focused on the blog itself rather than whatever ulterior motive you may have for publishing the blog. If you do all of those things, consistently, prolifically and for an extended period of time, you may well earn an enthusiastic and dedicated following. (I had a hard time coming to terms with the realization that very few readers actually read beyond the first paragraph, but have gradually come to acknowledge that “likes” and “follows” are equally unlikely to have really ingested whatever it is that you’re putting on the page. Maybe that’s one of the new realities of writing – anything beyond 50 words is a waste of breath and a waste of time).

If you are aggressive, clever and lucky, you may even be able to make a bit of money out of your blog or unlock some opportunities that will benefit you by adding to your credibility or self-esteem. 99% of bloggers will give up long before that ever happens – simply because the faint promise of eventual reward does not provide adequate compensation for the amount of effort and time required to succeed. Some of us jump to this conclusion after our initial 10 blog posts fail to attract more than a handful of followers or comments. For others the number may be 50 or 100.

numbersSpeaking of Numbers

In blogging and social media, I have found numbers to be both the most predictable and least sensible or meaningful thing. If you set yourself a goal of writing 50 word blasts on a particular subject – and you keep to a regular schedule of 3 blog posts per day, you will improve your metrics and they will keep improving no matter what kind of drivel you are posting. Half or even three quarters of your posts can be  totally unoriginal/reposts of material from other blogs/sources. Its the prolificacy and regularity that count in this approach. Obviously if your posts can be entertaining, useful, engaging and fun, the end result will be exponentially better than if your content is blase or your blog is badly written…but in the quest for numbers (at least to the limits that most of us will ever reach) quantity is far more important than quality. If you are blogging on contract for clients, you need to show them numbers and numbers are attainable simply by putting your nose to the grindstone, keeping to a schedule and cranking out the verbiage.

Another key to this approach is following everyone you cross paths with. regardless of relevance, a certain percentage will follow you back. If the numbers are similar to sales calls, you will probably have a 15-20% success rate. But be warned – they won’t be real followers anymore than you are real followers of theirs. If your content is good, you may convert some into real followers but a large number will probably drift away as they realize that you don’t really care about them or what they have to say. Making comments on other blogs is a sign of engagement on your part – and will definitely increase your success rate – but it will take infinitely more time.

Your credibility rises simply with the size of your audience and as you go along you may even be able to slow down and start worrying more about quality. Certainly, there are countless wildcards in this process. Your topic, your tags, your target audience and the methods by which you are targeting them, your complementary media…every one of these things plays a role in reaching your goals. Specific approaches work better or worse depending on your audience.  Numbers are actually quite controllable.  What is much less controllable is how much those numbers mean.  You can buy traffic. I have seen evidence that buying traffic increases credibility which increases the attraction of real traffic. Different platforms, different trackers, different audience sources can also all drastically affect your numbers. Some trackers count impressions on every page refresh and some count each visitor as a single “impression.” Some traffic sources are dismissed or otherwise not counted by some trackers. Others give you a hundred impressions every time you visit or make changes to your own content. Some count spam, some purport not to but are easy to fool, others are so strict they count real visitors as spam. If you look too closely or take those numbers too seriously you may be very disappointed. Or you may not care – as long as you’ve got the numbers, who gives a damn where they came from?

So there you go. If you want engagement with a small like-minded group of people – it is easily attainable. If you want sheer numbers, they too are attainable.

If you want to engage large numbers of people and make lots of money, I have heard rumours that it is doable – by one out of a million people. Good luck with that. Oh, and don’t forget to buy a lottery ticket. Your odds are probably better, and it’s a lot less work.

Finding an Audience

When I started this blog, I thought briefly about putting fiction here.

There are a few bloggers out there – Eric Alagan springs to mind – who put fiction on their website. That’s not all he does. He invites other bloggers to join him in writing challenges. It’s a wonderfully fun and engaging blog. I found it inspiring enough that I tried to emulate it for awhile, but  realized very quickly that I do not have that level of charm and playfulness that Eric displays on his blog. Although I can appreciate what he does, I cannot get followers using his method.

Most other writers who put their fiction on their blogs get very little traffic. It’s a good way to discourage readership from what I can see.

Which is where I come back to my ongoing experiment with Wattpad.

They let me present my fiction and do it my way. And people have actually been coming to read it.

For the first week, I was very frustrated that no one was paying attention to my stories. Fewer than 10 hits in an entire week. Even worse than my blog. I was visiting other sites – hunting down stories that spoke to me and responding to them. My new Wattpad friend, Derryl Ritchie is currently serializing a story that is getting accolades from everybody who reads it – think British Californication. Instead of just reading my rave about how funny it is, you can check it out for yourself at http://www.wattpad.com/20253971-things-to-do-before-you-marry-synopsis.

At any rate, Derryl appreciated my ability/tendancy to give short incisive critiques and was thrilled to have somebody saying “your work can get even better!” Out of appreciation, he went to my site and was as impressed with my fiction as I was with his. He voted and raved and before I knew it, my 10 reads turned into 200 and my zero votes have grown to 30. Wattpad also has a rankings system. The opening of my novel, currently serialized in seven parts, has now broken into the top 50 on the site in the adventure category and at #57 in fantasy.

For me, this is a revelation. There is no better incentive to write than having an audience that shares my excitement about a story and can’t wait to read the next installment. So that’s how-the-Dickens Dickens did it!
For the past few days, Derryl and I have been talking about writing and the other day he commented on what hard work writing is. It’s true. If you want to write really well, you have to work really hard. It is painstaking if I’m in the wrong frame of mind. But as long as I remember why I’m doing it, it becomes fun again. When it’s fun, then it flows easily. Having other people love it along the way validates my own excitement.
I just wish I could dedicate more time to it…but then I realize that no one can.For the past ten years, I’ve edited a non-fiction magazine. We pay our writers ten cents a word – and 95% of freelance non-fiction writers turn up their nose at that. The best paying fiction markets on the planet pay a bit more than half that and there are hundreds of people fighting for slots in the better known magazines. Most people come away with their dreams dashed.
It has grown almost impossible to make a career out of fiction writing. Even the most successful of my writer friends have other (or several other) jobs on the side and are still barely making ends meet financially. I’ve talked to one person who actually got wealthy from fiction writing and I haven’t talked to him for awhile, so I have no idea if he still gets million dollar advances or juicy speaker fees. Hopefully he saved up when he was atop the gravy train.I know two or three other fiction writers who survive from writing alone – but it is more than a full time job and they need to supplement their writing incomes with extra gigs editing, teaching, public speaking, etc.
My point is, if you’re serious about writing – you have to do it for the love of it. Profit? That way lies madness. Though hope is eternal with a new publishing paradigm still struggling to be born.

If you don’t write out of  love, or to fulfil a personal need – you’re kidding yourself or wasting your own time.