Man, things have changed. I remember the days when I would pick up a Wilbur Smith novel, read the back cover, and then make the purchase decision. It was neat that I could see his bespectacled, slightly nerdy face on the book cover somewhere, and I was amazed that he always looked younger than I imagined him to be. (Okay, my secret is out – I used to read his books). But I would read the book, make a judgment, and then move on. I stopped reading his stories after his first wife died, and I am convinced that she was his primary inspiration. Since he remarried, his stories have lost their African heartbeat and seem to lean gently towards a high-pitched Asian mysticism. So I stopped reading his stories. It had nothing to do with his neglected Mail Chimp campaign or that he wasn’t on Facebook.
Then I discovered other writers, and my reading world underwent a big bang. That was somewhere in high school, before the advent of the internet and Facebook and Twitter etc. Wilbur Smith didn’t have a .com after his name and he sure as Bulawayo was in Rhodesia did not tweet. After all, he was (still is) a writer. There were book promotions which entailed going to bookstores and meeting people and talking on a radio program or two. But Wilbur Smith the marketing specialist and writing guru/mentor did not exist.
Fast-forward 30 years: writers have morphed into the new creatures that fill our Facebook pages and our email inboxes. These creatures were once writers but have undergone a strange metamorphosis. They can help you write, manage your time, lead others, teach you to blog, have a happy marriage, sell more books, remove a wart painlessly… All at a price, of course. Sadly, these authors are fiction giants who have sold millions of copies of brilliant books. They have entertained me and challenged me, and still live in my house – in crates and on shelves and on a piano and in small heaps on the floor, and will probably leave my house when I leave this world. When the children dump them onto an SPCA fundraising table somewhere.
I thought the .com thingy that writers acquired was so that readers could know a little more about their favourite writers. But the author page now sells writing courses, mentorship programs, Holy Water etc. I get it that the publishing industry is difficult, but if best selling authors have to start moonlighting in order to a) sell their books or b) earn money some other way because selling gazillions of books does not adequately fund their New York Published life style, then why the heck do I want to be a writer, anyway?
It’s a little stale to state that it’s all about money. But perhaps it is. Money is numero uno and drives all sorts of decisions. Think about it: how many teens say they want to study for 7 years to become research scientists with fixed salaries that have to work 15 hours a day for that salary? Surely driving a Bentley and rapping about boodies and boobies for gazillions of dollars and having sweaty boodies and boobies around you all day long is a better career option.
Many youngsters want to go into marketing because that’s where the money is, they’ll tell you. Ask them to explain what marketing is and you’re lucky if they don’t say something that includes a German car and holidays in Dubai.
We are brainwashed (deceived) into believing that money is important. We raise our financial needs by trying to live just like those we admire (how else do dumb endorsements of stupid products work?). If Wilbur Smith can go on safari for the largest portion of the year, the surely I can, too.
We judge the success of an art object by its monetary success. And we forget that art exists just so that it can be beautiful, challenging, emotive, horrifying or whatever else it is intended for. God makes Table Mountain and we string a cable car to take people to the top – at a price. Wanna go to a beach somewhere just so that you can watch the waves beat against the shore and really appreciate nature? Sorry, sucker. Pay up!
If Van Gogh had a choice, would he have opted for money in his life time or lasting fame (which he never experienced)? It’s a pointless question, but it does make a point (how circular is that?). If you want to earn a living from your writing, forget about writing. You will just fall into the trap of trying to maximise your earnings from your writing.
Rather find a job that you can enjoy (sort of, anyway). Make sure that it doesn’t demand too much from you on a creative level (guess why I edit academic papers?). Decide that you want to write for the right reasons:
- you want to say something important in the best possible way
- your time spent writing is the best part of the day
- if 1) and 2) above do not apply, go to 4)
- You were never meant to write, so quit while you’re ahead and while they are still looking for marketers and rappers and pro-golfers and plumbers.
I’ll return to my intended point: writers must please write. Painters must paint. Do what you are supposed to be doing. Don’t maximise your income if it means you must minimise your artistic input and spend time in inane conversation with dull people who have nothing to do but sit on Facebook all day and like your posts. That is time wasted. Of course, this goes against everything you are told. But I am kicking against the system. Because I hate the system. It just doesn’t make sense. I think we are fooled into believing that a better website will sell more books, or stickier email campaigns that will snare an elephant on a trampoline will sell more books, or liking people’s yawn-fodder will sell more books. Crap!
Better writing will sell more books, writing more books will sell more books. When you stop thinking about selling and instead focus on writing, chances are you will improve your craft and you may even finish a book. At the clichéd end of the clichéd day, do what you want to do. You want to write? Knock yourself out. Nothing can stop you. It’s just writing. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s still just writing. You said you wanted to write, so write. Just be the best writer you can be.
However, if you want to be a NY bestselling author, you’re at the wrong blog. Go to the NY bestselling author sites and see what they have to say. They’ll promise you all sorts of free stuff and blah blah. Then they zap you with the real reason they’re your friend: they want to sell you something. And it’s probably not their latest novel, because they’re busy with other things right now, and it don’t include sweating over an empty sheet of paper.
Don’t buy my books, because I won’t buy yours just to return the favour. Don’t read my blogs in the hope that I will read yours and comment. Because I probably won’t. In fact, I’m hoping no one will read my blogs. I’d prefer this to be a place where I can vent without having to consider others and be held accountable. Besides, this blog is already way over the recommended length (500 words) so no one will read it. Oh, woe is me!
If you have read this far, your seriously need a life, or medication for your compulsive need to finish something you started. For the record, this is a blog and not a packet of biscuits. Only packets of biscuits have to be finished.
And writing your current book.