Let’s face it; there are just too many people in the world, all vying for attention, whether for personal gratification, professional goals, sales, or just to remain relevant. These days, with a global attention span that barely exists (aside from endless repetition of social media posts) we find ourselves struggling for identity. Sure, the big names among us can sit back and enjoy the recognition having passed through the swamp and up into the blue sky where the air is cleaner and there are fewer fish.
And in this quest, whether political, literary, artistic, lack of relevance is akin to a death sentence; obscurity after a time of prominence. How terrible. It’s like being rich and having lost all your money so that you are now no better than the average person, even though you got used to that “other” life.
I read an interesting article about how reading is a dying artform in this modern world, an excellent article that spoke of life as a reflection of achievement through learning; from a past time of having to push past limitations, now bubble-wrapped and protected so that lesson is never learned.
Standards have decreased insanely. Writers are too lazy to learn grammatical form; mistake “there, their, and they’re” without a blink. Writers ignore rules of structure. You can look up almost anything on the Internet. Certainly you can learn that quotation marks and punctuation work a certain way; not in a fictional manner.
I cringe when I read a submission that might include: “I meen it when Ive said their being to picky.”
For authors, who generally write alone, relevance is readership, not about the spotlight. And in an age of limited vocabulary, non-readers, many, who may become familiar with an author’s work, may do so from an audiobook, or a film based on the book, with the author recognition small and somewhere down from the star credits.
Relevance is not a disease. It also does not have to be fueled externally. The quest for knowledge is always relevant, regardless of recognition. Scientists know this well. Writers also know that their satisfaction is relevant, even if the book never sees the light of day.
For new writers, the fishbowl is bursting with goldfish. Each has a story, a life, a snippet of something potentially grand. But how to be seen, to be selected, to have that chance to be noticed, elevated above the others in the tank—that is the trick. Good work will always be found, writers used to be told. Not true. And the reason no one looks hard at the bowl is because for every one masterpiece, ten-thousand pieces of junk are to be found. Everyone has been told they can write. In the same way, everyone has been told that they can be lawyers, doctors and rocket-scientists. No one is told they should be brick-layers, sanitation workers or laborers. And yet relevance can be found in any occupation.
For new writers, read up on the struggles of old writers. But forget their “how-to” books. What worked for them might not work for you. And that is good because you are not trying t0 be them. You are forging your own way, and with that comes the expectation of developing a solid vocabulary, decent use of grammatical form, and a distinct style of telling a story with words, something that flows from you, not forced. Yes, by all means emulate other writers as a learning tool, a way to gather some tricks, but not for your mainstay writing.
Frank Herbert wrote “Dune,” a masterful science fiction novel that was wonderful and intricate. Now, long after his death, there are ongoing books that, in my opinion, are the teets of a book cow, squeezing out every cup of royalty for the sake of affiliation with Herbert’s original. The same is true for film. At one time a sequel was considered bad form, Now sequels, no matter how terrible, can still eke out lots of money. We’ve learned the terms remake, reboot, reshoot, with no stigma attached.
New writers should be writing for themselves, not the potential of success, not wealth. And while financial independence is nice, a paid career in writing, that should not be your motivation. Create the best work for the sake of your pride, your enjoyment and self-fulfillment. If more comes, that is great. You are no less a writer; you are no better a writer. A writer does one thing: A writer writes. If you write, you are a writer. But approach it with pride and resolve to learn and improve.
Give your work to strangers, not friends or family, and ask them to be brutal. You don’t need someone to tell you that it is terrific. You need someone to tell you why someone who pays money for your work will hate it. You already know there must be something good in there because you chose to write it. And you must know that there is something good in you as a writer because you chose to do it. Now you need to refine it. And yourself.
Refine your work, edit it and polish it. And then you need to be the one to bring it to everyone’s attention. Be creative. Be your own marketer. Tell everyone. Give away copies for reviews. Beg if you have to. Like the pond full of fish, life is a numbers game. A small percentage of people will notice. Salespeople know this. One half of one percent will buy anything. So for every 200 people you reach, one will buy on the average. So if you want 1000 sales, you had better reach 200,000 people. The population of Boise, Idaho is estimated at 223,000. If I reached the entire city. I could make about 1000 sales. How can I reach the whole city? Not all will like my subject matter. Not all will like my genre. Not all will like my style.
Authors with a series of books do better than authors with only one title. Authors who interact with their followers get more attention. Check out a popular author on Facebook and see their posts and how many comments follow. Does the author reply to ANY of them. Newer authors do. Those with established following and established incomes tend not to. They are cultivating their base with the least effort. You will find they have thousands of followers on Twitter, but only follow a handful of other people. That is not interaction; it is milking.
So you can see that you need a vast arsenal of tactics to get noticed. And of you are lucky, and you have a solid story that is well received, you will start getting reviews that will entice others to buy your work. At some point the returns will be much higher than your basic odds. But how you do that is up to you. There is no one secret. Social media only works so far. Mailing lists are excellent because these people are interested in you. But you need more than that.
And that is the million dollar trick.