When I first started writing, the “Holy Grail” was to get the Big Publishing Contract. Just a modest seven-figure advance would do the trick. Then your life would be instantly transformed and you became a pipe-smoking, tweed coat-wearing “author” who occasionally interrupted a busy schedule of lunches with agents and publishers to bash out the next best-seller. Hmm… didn’t happen a lot, and it certainly didn’t happen to me – although the advances I received were exciting and I did enjoy numerous lunches with editors (without my agent, which sometimes got me into trouble!). So I’m not complaining. I was expected to be what you’d call a mid-list author – someone economically worth publishing, but I’d never be on a best-seller list (well, you never know…). There was a million of us, filling the bookstore shelves all over the world. And we were still successful as such, because even mid-list authors had to sell a reasonable amount of books to make the whole thing financially worthwhile for the publishers.
The new holy grail for writers now is very different. It’s “To Make A Living” and it involves a lot of hard work involving self-promotion and a lot of hours spent on the internet – just like now. A lot of writers dream about selling enough books to make it their full-time job and hell – some of them aren’t helping the system by pumping out a dozen 20K words “books” a year in a shotgun attempt to do that. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.
There’s another holy grail (yes, there’s two). Very different to Making A Living.
I’ve been playing music in bands and duos for many years, and I’ve done my share of playing to near-empty (and even empty) rooms, seemingly wasting my time and energy on a handful of punters. However, as a lot of gigging musicians will tell you, sometimes those small audiences are the best. You create a personal connection from the stage, share a joke over the microphone, and maybe a drink when you’re having a break. You often feel – and get – a damned sight more appreciation from a small audience who are actually listening, rather than playing for a room full of drunks who hardly know where the music is coming from.
See where I’m going here?
Today’s online, ebook, self-publishing allows you write whatever you want and, as long as you write it well, you can enjoy a small, appreciative audience who will support and encourage you with more sincerity than a bunch of faceless Facebook Likes. From there, things can only grow as long as your writing grows, too.
We’re talking about how you write. I’m suggesting you don’t write to attract a Big Publishing Contract, and you don’t write with the ambition To Make A Living. You write to satisfy yourself first (you have to impress the hell out of yourself, that’s very important) then you write to satisfy a potentially small, but very discerning audience. It can be anything you want – any genre you want, right? That’s not an issue any more. Just don’t be tempted into designing and shaping your writing for a large audience – to get lots of sales. You don’t have to sell any amount of books to stay in the game now. Aim for a small, loyal following first. Achieve that and everything else should look after itself.