So, what's with the post title? I've entered 2014, in case you haven't noticed, in a thoughtful mood.... and when I got to thinking about where I am and where I want to be, that title just about summed up what's been on my mind.
It's all about balance... (stick with it, the hamster and the rose are relevant!)
Okay, so some background to those weird thought processes I call my own (and these are just my own thoughts and views). Last year was great, but a bit of a roller-coaster ride in some ways with its ups and downs. Some 'ups' that felt like 'downs' and vice versa. The human mind can be a fickle thing. What happens when you get a gift that should be the answer to your dreams? Well, sometimes it can just raise questions.... Maybe, sometimes, chasing a dream is easier than actually, well, achieving it. Is that just because we're always just striving so hard for the next goal, so we don't take the time out to appreciate just how much we've achieved? Or is it partly that just as we reach the winning post we find it has moved a smidgen?
Publishing is an ever changing landscape, so the goal posts are forever moving. I was first traditionally published just over eighteen months ago, and entered the self-publishing arena twelve months ago. And one year on much has changed.
What? My gut feeling is that we've crested the wave with e-books and we're waiting to see what happens when the water settles. A year ago I put out a book that soared effortlessly up the rankings - and I know many other authors who experienced the same. The message was, and still is, to promote on Facebook, Twitter, to push out the promo message, drop prices and offer freebies. Twelve months on and there have been subtle changes - it no longer seems the right approach.
Why? There are more e-books out there - not just an increase in the number of self published titles, but also an increase in the number of traditional publishers who have looked to explore the 'digital first' route. And over the period there has been an increase in the number of titles being put out by the digital only publishers that already existed (my feeling on this one though, is that many of these smaller publishers are now either looking to partner with bigger organisations, or slowing their output as they realise the market has become saturated). Last Christmas brought bargains that people snapped up to fill their e-readers, this year there were more bargains and freebies than full priced books (or that's how it felt!) - and e-readers were already cram packed with lots of unread stories (aka irresistible bargains) that had been snapped up over the year.
Now, I'm not saying that there aren't still a lot of people out there who genuinely love to read good books - but my feeling is that the surge of 'new' readers that appeared in the wake of some best sellers, and as a response to the growing popularity of e-readers, has now 'dampened down' to how it was a few years ago.
Lots of people love to read, but there are now many more books on offer - and at much reduced prices. And a lot of those people have become immune to the white noise of constant 'buy me' that has been encouraged. One year, two years ago, the tweeting and FB ads were a novelty - now they're an incessant chatter. Gathering 'likes' on your FB page is no longer a promise of success - with only a small fraction of your followers seeing each post (unless you pay to promote) the times they are a changing - writers are more likely to alienate than win over potential readers if they don't spot the warning signs and adapt.
So, maybe all this is good news. Maybe we've hit the bottom and it's time for a new approach. Will prices go up? Will old fashioned customer loyalty and branding (which never went away, it just got slightly overshadowed) become more important again? Will print books re-gain popularity (POD is losing some of its stigma)? Will the slow and steady writer who produces one, very good story become the norm again, and the drive to churn out as many books as possible in as short a time scale as possible diminish? Can we step out of the hamster wheel, stop chasing our tails - or is that just a sign of the times? The future? Will young readers only be interested when books become as interactive as every other part of their lives?
I'm not one for turning the clock back. Going forward is good, innovation is exciting. Human nature is to be wary of change - but evolution and growth are important. But where is the path leading us in publishing, in writing, in how we get the word out there?
I read an interesting post by Dean Wesley Smith the other day. He says '...To make a career in publishing, you have to be ready for a long haul, often over decades.
Most beginning writers who went indie two years ago didn’t want to do that, didn’t find the “gold” they were promised after a ton of wasted promotion efforts, and have stopped. Nothing unusual at all..... But now it’s not quitting after fifty rejections, it’s quitting after three books up and very few sales.' [This is just a small part of a post that looks at traditional and indie publishing - the rest can be read HERE]
How true. It's easier than ever to get published today, authors have many more routes and opportunities. But in the past, as Dean says, many of these writers would have given up along the way - now these same people will be published before they realise it's not the career for them, that a handful of books might not make them their fortune.
Now, that's good in a lot of ways, but it also means there are more books out there all clamouring to be bought. Good thing, or bad? Lots more opportunities, great for authors. Lots more books to choose from, great for readers... but e-books aren't like print, e-books stay around for ever. So, if you publish a book today you have to work harder to get it noticed than you did twelve months ago... more promo, lower prices, more time marketing, less time writing (you can see where I'm going with this one)....
Dean also mentions control and freedom - two valuable assets that writers have earned and now have to learn how to use...
Which brings me back to balance. (Yep, I got there in the end!) I worked hard in 2013, juggled normal life, a job, family and writing, as many other authors do. I've crammed every spare hour with writing and promotion. I've tweeted, posted, blogged, guested, gone on tour, spread the word for myself and other authors. And now it's time to examine the balance sheet.
I'm a business, and the business is me. Writing is more than just putting words on a page and creating stories - an author has to be prepared to sell that idea. Sell themselves. But, I did get to the end of 2013 feeling a bit like that hamster in its wheel. I was left wondering if I'd stopped gaining ground, if I was running as fast as I could to simply stay in the same place - and now had to start thinking clever. True, I've written a lot of words. But this year I want to write more, worry less, and make every minute count. And enjoy more minutes. Have some down time. Chill. I'd rather be the swan (I prefer swan to duck) that looks serene on the surface but is paddling like hell under the water - but moving, progressing, getting a change of scenery not running on the spot.
A tall order? Maybe. But I'm up for the challenge. I have a lovely editor who has encouraged me to head in a new exciting direction - a direction I've been tempted by, but not dared risk before. It's a bigger story. In the time it takes to write I could publish two or three others, it could fail, it might be a wrong turning. Or it could just turn out not only to be the story I want to write, but the one others want to read. And I've decided now is the time to slow down and write it. To take control.
I have an awesome author friend who has some brilliant ideas for spreading the word about our books - a way we can harness that energy we throw into promotion, direct it more effectively, try something new. So, yes it's time to step off the promo treadmill and explore.
A writer needs time to feed the muse, experience life, smell the roses (ah yes, I remember saying that in a previous post). Inspiration needs a spark, imagination needs space.
This year for me is, I think, about gaining freedom through control. About being more selective in what I do, being more productive with my time and appreciating what I have. I write because I want to, I love to - and maybe the greatest risk is that if the balance isn't right, that desire will flounder. It's a wonderful time to be a writer, the possibilities are out there, accessible to all... you just have to take the time to spot them.
I hope that 2014 is a great year for all of us, and I, for one, intend to take the time to appreciate the good bits as well as moan about the bad! To get back to enjoying my writing, and to make more space for other aspects of my life. What about you?
|Photo courtesy - Bobby Mikul|