The reality of writing


What is the ultimate conundrum?

When it comes to the book we writers have spent many months working on, sooner or later we are all presented with the same uncertainty. Bearing in mind that this business is extremely fickle,will it sell?

Daily I see countless writers both new and old, endlessly blogging about spending not only a considerable amount of time and effort, but also their hard earned money, on a book they wrote that simply isn’t selling, in the vain hope that what they’re doing will increase its chances in today’s over saturated market.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it until the day I die. If your book doesn’t work, no amount of money spent on changing its cover or having it edited by someone who professes to be a professional (by the by there is no such beast), together with purchasing a number of copies of the new version from your publisher to give away in a book store or at writer’s convention in the vain hope of promoting it to an already jaded reading public (especially in the US), will not make one iota of difference in the end. All you’re doing is flogging a dead horse!

Despite what so many still foolishly believe, the fact that you have availed yourself of the services of an editor and maybe even a publicist, or perhaps you have spent money having it’s cover, it’s hook and link added to one of the countless number of book advertising web pages who demand payment for doing so. Or maybe you even shelled out yet more money by employing a reviewer to help kickstart your book’s chances. Even then, using all of these options still doesn’t guarantee sales. No marketing strategy ever does, no matter how slick it may be.

Face it – there is no magic formula for literary success. It’s always down to luck!

In the end, the only thing that does matter when it comes to sales, is whether or not the story in question actually works. By that I mean – appeals. It’s immaterial that you and your immediate family circle and close friends loved it. After all, you and they are too close to be objective.

So, what might the discerning reader be looking for? I can’t speak for others, but when I am perusing the millions of books currently available, first of all I narrow down my search to the genre that has appealed to me my entire life – pure science fiction or its derivatives.

Next, I totally ignore the often gawdy covers, if I want to look at pictures I’ll go to an art gallery or buy a daily newspaper, thanks very much!

Instead I read each book’s hook. If what I’m reading intrigues me, bearing in mind that as a successful science fiction writer, I am extremely hard to please these days, then and only then will I read the first few pages. If I feel that the story appears to show promise, I’ll buy a copy. If not, I’ll move on to the next one.

One thing I never do is wait until the author offers it for free!!!

Oh, and before you ask – no I don’t take any notice of book reviews, no matter whether they are good, bad or indifferent. I prefer to make up my own mind about a book thank you very much!

The other thing to remember is that having enjoyed reading a specific work, when I see another by the same author, I will always seriously consider it, just so long as it’s as good as the previous one. In other words whether or not the author shows consistency!

What do I mean when I say does a book work? There is nothing mysterious or complicated about it. If a story has been carefully thought out. If it gradually builds towards a climax, with the odd red herring thrown in for good measure. If the characters and their relationships with one another are believable. Then and only then do I consider that any given book works.

There are a few other things to remember. In this business, to succeed you have to gain a reputation as a storyteller – not an easy thing to achieve. To do that first you must have written several books, preferably honing your skills with each one. Normally your first few won’t do it for you. Secondly, you will find that even though your book or books are read as a result of those free giveaway promotions by tightwads looking for a free copy, doesn’t mean that your book will actually sell in the thousands. More than likely the chances of selling more than a dozen copies per year is slight, no matter how much time, effort and money you may have put into promoting them.

Only one of the eleven I’ve written to-date, became a best seller. Because of it, I earned the elusive epithet of consumate storyteller from a handful of the more prominent writers around the world like Robert Bauval and Bob Van Laerhoven. Men who despite their own success are always willing to acknowledge the product of someone else’s hard work. Gaining their respect means far more than anything else…

Never once have I pinned my hopes on whether or not any of my covers appeal like so many tend to do these days.

What ultimately matters is what’s contained within a book’s pages, and whether or not the story actually works. Remember, in this game you are only as good as your last book. Having said that, I continue to enjoy regular monthly royalty payments from my publisher as some of mine still continue to be bought and read. It’s all thanks to that one best seller a few years ago…