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Monday, July 13, 2015

"To sell a lot of books, you have to give up on what you believe in."

In order to sell any books, do I have to sell my soul?
I've always been a dedicated writer. I mean always. Just ask my grade school teachers. But I've never sold a lot of books. My freelance editing business is picking up, so paying rent doesn't seem as daunting as it once did, but that glowing orb of idealism hangs around in the background, reminding me that what I'd really like is to get money for my writing.

It's such a cliché! "Every editor is a failed author." But I don't consider myself to have failed. I am, after all, an author, and people who read my work don't tell me to stop (as if I could). It's only the selling where I've fallen grievously short. One of my writing goals this month has been to dedicate serious consideration to what I could do to increase the likelihood that readers will discover my books and then proceed to buy them.

Sound hard? It's harder than you think! I'll just mention in passing, because so many others have said it already, that as soon as one method of book publicity works, every other author tries it and it becomes less and less effective. Normally, I'm not even aware of a particular method until it's run its course. So all you have to do is come up with your own totally new idea.

I've known this for a year or two, but totally new ideas don't just lie around waiting for anyone to pick them up and make millions with them. My husband knows this particular dilemma. When I told him I was hoping to come up with a doable game plan by the end of July, he responded with the title of this post.

"To sell a lot of books, you have to give up on what you believe in."
My husband, like me, is an irrepressible optimist, so the pronouncement was unexpected. He's come to this conclusion after years of watching two things: my anonymity, and a certain famous author doing TV ads and getting richer by the day without doing all his own writing.

I've never read any of that author's work, and he gives away significant chunks of his cash to literacy causes, so I've refrained from judging him in spite of how annoying those ads are. This author also has recently had a TV series made of one of his books, which does nothing to mend the antagonistic relationship humans have with other animals. From these unresearched pieces of evidence and his massive book sales, I gather that this author's writing appeals to the reading masses. Rather than challenging perceptions or cultural norms, this writing plays right into them.

It's only when thinking about commercial writing that I realize my own ideals for the author's profession. My method is to write about what I think is important or fascinating. There is no greater feeling in the world than having someone read my work, "get" it, and enjoy it! So it's not that I'm trying to alienate my potential readers. I'm looking for readers who want a challenge.

I'm a reader who seeks to experience other points of view and other worlds, which may not mesh with her own understanding, and I hope there are many other readers like me "out there." I was told at a young age that writing from my own inspiration would mean someone else would sympathize. It was good advice, but I may have taken it too literally.

Because, so far, there don't seem to be a whole lot of paying customers interested in what I have to say. Returning to the title of this post, my husband thinks the only way to sell a lot of books is to think about what people already believe and write something that confirms that belief—put my own beliefs and/or questions on a shelf and forget about challenging readers, because that's not profitable.

It's cynical, but it has a ring of truth for me. What do you think?

I'm hoping against hope that all of this is moot, that once you have some good writing, it's all about getting noticed. I mean, Suzanne Collins had something she really wanted to say, and it... well, it caught fire! This month, I'll still be working on publicity I can accomplish with my budget and personality. Fingers crossed!