Oh writers, how I love and loathe you in equal measure. You may think that’s a strange kind of thing to feel about others in your profession but here’s my beef. Writers all have differing opinions but as is so often the case, each believes that their set of beliefs about writing is the superior and sometimes the only way to be a successful writer. The problem with this view is that it works on the false assumption that all people write in the same way, have the same goals or share the same values.
Not so long ago I stumbled across a writing thread where the original poster asked who is a writer? Unsurprisingly Mr Angry from Wales went on one of his usual rants that writers are only true writers if they’ve been published through a traditional publishing house. Others said writers are only writers once they are published. Another couple of writers related writing to profit, others took the view that if you write you are a writer. There was no absolute answer surprise, surprise and no real conclusion or agreement. What did strike me though was the absoluteness of some of the views posters expressed. They fundamentally believed that their view was right, which is understandable, after all what’s the point of forming an opinion that you don’t believe to be true – unless you are happy to tell yourself a lie even if you are only deceiving yourself. But the problem lies when that belief closes you off to other possible approaches and ideas without even considering them with clinical application to the facts before you.
The problem is that there are many writers out there that are either not confident enough, open enough or experienced enough to take each view with an equal pince of scepticism and balance. These converts often blather the party line and dismiss all other views without even considering the pro’s and cons of competing approaches. So often I come across writers who seem to want to be told that X is the answer. It appears they want to be given an easy answer without having to consider that there are several competing approaches each of which have advantages and disadvantages. These differing approaches do not have to be mutually exclusive, it is possible to mix and match approaches to writing dependent on the circumstances and the individual novel you are working on!!
For example, I’m a fervent supporter of self publishing as a method by which writers can produce quality writing and see a larger quantity of the royalties. However I also accept that there are limitations and cons to self publishing and that traditional publishing allows access to a larger audience. So while I might choose to self publish my first, second and third book through self publishing if I was offered an acceptable contract to traditionally publish I certainly wouldn’t turn it down if the circumstances were right. You have to take each book you write and decide the best way to publish it based on the book’s genre and content, industry expectations and circumstances, your current position as an author, your personal circumstances and 101 other factors that are relevant to that book and you at the time. To dogmatically cling to one method of publishing or writing seems counter intuitive, because in a quickly changing world we can not afford to cling to old ideas just because they worked for us in the past.
Flexibility is key in the industry at the moment. Now I know I said not more than three weeks ago that consistency was key – click here to read consistency in all things – but we must be flexible as authors too. We are in the middle of a major overhaul of the entire print, literature and book retailing business. There are few things that have not been dramatically changed in the last ten years and I think we are currently in the calm of the eye of the storm, but there’s some heavy turbulence ahead of us. There will of course always be some winners and some losers in this whirlwind market we find ourselves in but the winners will be able to adapt and learn new methods to thrive in the emerging and long term stable market. I think we will see several shifts within the market before we reach an equilibrium (what ever that may be for the literature industry).
We must be willing to be flexible as authors, marketers, publishers and writers. I was talking to another author just today and she was discussing how even marketing for authors has changed. Old methods like mass email marketing that use to be considered a cornerstone of marketing is now seen by potential audiences as spam and more than likely that email will end up being deleted. So what next, how do we adapt our marketing to the current modern market? Well, that is a post all on its own, but it has to be a varied and flexible campaign if you want to reach people and grow your audience. One thing is for sure, there is no magic formula that will work for every writer, for every book. Anyone who tells you there is, is feeding you a oversimplified myth. The audience, genre, length and content of your book will influence your decision as will your budget, location and the amount of time you have to dedicate to marketing.
Writing is not a one size fits all project, using show don’t tell, including a prologue, opening with dialogue, adjectival use and whether you decide to write in first person or third person omniscient will depend on the many factors that I have mentioned and of course your personal style. No one can tell you with absolute certainty that you should ‘show don’t tell’ 100% off the time, because while it may be worthy advice it is not universal advice. All you can do as a writer is make sure you understand the theory, the benefits and the shortcomings of differing approaches and use that awareness to decide what is right for you and your writing and avoid the pitfalls that an approach may have. Awareness is also key to successful writing, to making sure your writing is on the right path.