A is for Alphabet, Author, and Alpaca.

The alpaca is a glamorous member of the camel family and anything with a triple A in it has to be good at something. And I happened to meet a fellow author within days of coming across the alpaca, but I’ll start with the alphabet.

I’ve been in a shady place with all 26 letters for a good while. It all stems from that nonsense called Publishing One’s Book and entrusting it to an actual publisher. Well, that didn’t work, did it? Neither did the two name-worthy agents back in the old traditional days. Both agents said those immortal words: I’d love to represent you.

And the publisher said those other immortal words: I want to publish you.

11256845_1010782965672680_7187820645503081881_oIt’s been a week of lows for a few of my author pals too. The reasons are all valid and as writers we’ve all been there at some point. Sometimes a random, scathing comment can be the straw that broke the alpaca’s back. Unjust reviews, reviews of the editing or formatting of the book rather than the story, editors who’ve charged a lot of money and not completed the job, paying out for marketing and not selling a single copy, people who expect books for free… no sales. It’s a tough industry and sometimes those who should be supporting independent authors, let them down in ways we find hard to swallow on a permanent basis.

Someone told me that the only technically perfect book she’d ever read was edited and proofread by someone who charged £2,000 for the job. When royalties come in at 35p per 99p Kindle book and maybe a quid for a paperback which has cost several hundreds of pounds to produce to a readable standard, then I think we can all work out an appropriate response to that! 

This is not misguided moaning, an excuse for sloppy work or a mass wringing of hands. It may be more serious: I may have reached a stage of indifference. I started this venture for fun. Now, I’m unsure if I want to write novels anymore, and not only because sales and visibility are phenomenally difficult – with or without a publisher – but because funding the process is exhaustive, and not just in monetary terms, but emotionally and mentally too. Maybe – and this is the killer of all things creative – I’m just plain bored with it all?

I used to write for pleasure. Is it right to write for pain? Not for me. I publish myself through choice and this is perhaps the epitome of freedom for an author or any artist, but it’s a double-edged sword because I now know that none of the routes are golden. So many authors still presume the interest of an agent or a publisher is the mark of excellence or the end goal. It may work out for some, but there is still a hard line of prejudice in the commercial world as to what will sell or what is currently trending. The sad part about this is that the quality of writing seems to be the least important ingredient.

I write complex, multi-layered character family-drama. I write my stories because they are the kind of books I like to read myself. There’s a piece of me in each and every one, and I think this is what makes the process so enjoyable. 

DSC_0005I guess I’ve hit rock bottom a few times over the previous six years and I managed it again in spectacular form a few days ago when I managed to propel myself down a full flight of iron steps. The close proximity of the Llangollen canal and the fear of breaking bones was especially unpleasant. My backpack, stuffed with miscellaneous rubbish, saved me from serious injury. Apparently, I’m not the first person to pitch down those steps and I guess as a metaphor we’re on the right track here because I did manage to walk away mostly unscathed, apart from a large bruising around the saddle area. I hobbled on, fortified by the lure of meeting Shani Struthers in a wine bar…

Sometimes, when the chips are down a curveball comes rushing in and we have to listen to what the universe is trying to say to us as individuals. There was something whispering in my ear that day. Could something as simple as removing the pressure to perform, bring its own reward? I used to really, really love writing. This was before I began the process of commercial publishing, sales, marketing and all that jazz that seems to be expected of us. If we remove these stumbling blocks is it enough to engage with a smattering of genuine readers who deeply connect to your material? If you can honestly answer yes, then I think I can promise amazing results and instant satisfaction by writing exactly what you want to write whilst spending the majority of your money on food and drink!

Alphabetti Spaghetti might be the answer… Bottoms up!

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16 thoughts on “A is for Alphabet, Author, and Alpaca.

  1. A great post, Jan, and as you know, so much that I agree with. It was wonderful to meet up with you last week (the first of many times I hope) and I for one hope that you continue to write. I love your writing (again, as you know) and, having read a lot of the mega hyped No.1 books lately I can safely say your skill as a story teller is far superior. I’ve been wondering lately whether I can say ‘yes’ to the question you ask – right now I think I can but it is tough and it’s so competitive – which I hate. Nonetheless, lets stick in there for a while longer. At least we’ve got each other to moan to, lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so brilliant and kind of you and I loved meeting you too, I think the support from fellow authors and indeed my editor, is the only reason I’ve lasted so long!

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  2. There are any number of disillusioned authors out there now from both the traditional and indie fields Jan.Usually the marketing is the biggest bugbear and of course you’re expected to do it in both cases. Why not team up with your pals and rota a week each of tweeting and or facebooking all the novels you’v got on offer collectively. It only puts the pressure on you for a week instead of constantly.
    You know friends/followers will be happy to re-tweet for you which has to help a bit.
    I’m sorry Llangollen nearly claimed another victim, believe me it’s nothing personal.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you David. I think the problem is far deeper for me than Twitter or Facebook could solve. I’ve been an active member of both mediums for some six years now, running both groups, and teams. But thank you for commenting. I’ve forgiven Llangollen!

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  3. I hear what your saying Jan and have experienced similar doubts and discouragement to you. I hope you do keep writing. I love your books. I’m in the fortunate position of not having to earn my living from writing. I love writing, love being with my characters, and like you write the sort of books I want to read, so for now in spite of the cost I will carry on. I have a few loyal readers and I’m grateful for their support and the support of other indie authors like you. I do feel for you. I do hope that maybe after a bit of a break you come back to your desk and give us fans of your writing a new book to look forward to. Take care.

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    1. Thank you Anne. I’m also in the fortunate position of not needing to earn a living any more but one has to be aware of the financial costs of putting out ten titles which are not really selling or covering their costs in ebook form or print.
      I think the financial costs are only a small part of my problem, I’m thinking It’s more of an emotional, mental problem where I’ve lost the motivation.

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      1. Yes, there’s no doubt it’s costly. And it’s only worth it if you’re enjoying it. Ten titles is a great achievement. It’s possibly the case that it’s time for you to replenish the well. A career break, a brain break. Time to do and be. All the best whatever you decide and keep in touch.

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  4. Thanks for the honest post, Jan. Sorry to hear of your painful landing too.

    As with most art-forms, sad to say, quality is rarely assured success. Case in point, yesterday I attended the second in a four-part “Refining Your Novel” workshop given by one of Australia’s most successful authors, Toni Jordan. She was generous with her reality checks during the course, keen to dispel the myths surrounding huge advances and all-expenses-paid publicity tours!

    She’s lived the highs and lows of a traditionally-published author too; for example, selling the movie rights to her first two novels on the promise of significant sums, only to have other more lucrative titles gazzump her year after year. Also, because her fourth novel is a change in direction, her scaredy-cat German publisher deserted her, and there went a hefty slice of her projected income.

    I write primarily for therapy, trying to make sense of a world I struggle to comprehend. My books’ sales proceeds… meagre as they will surely remain… go to two Australian charities helping disadvantaged kids with their education. Whenever I speak to the CEO of one of these organisations, he asks me how sales are going, to which I always respond with the same lame excuse: I’ve been too busy at work to do any promotion.

    Perhaps my books are rubbish and will never sell? I hope not, and a scattering of complimentary reviews encourage me otherwise. The novel market is saturated these days, so the chances of an unknown author getting noticed is pretty slim, particularly if you’re not writing in American English. Again, Toni Jordan advises biting the bullet and re-writing using US spelling, simply to give readers fewer reasons to reject your style outright. I don’t know if I’m prepared to do this, and would be interested to hear from other British English authors on this topic.

    I paid over GBP4,000 (can never remember the ACSII code for a pound sign on my Aussie keyboard!) for a US / UK marketing campaign a while ago. They secured me some nocturnal interviews with newspapers and radio stations, and I wrote oodles of mindless posts for book bloggers. My sales “spiked” for a few days into double-digits, and then faded back towards flatline again!!

    During this experience, journalists only seemed interested in the sleaze of my own backstory, rather than the books I was hoping to expose to the larger international markets. To cap it all, nothing ever got past their editors into print or on air. I wonder whether some of these little radio stations actually have any listeners anyway… 😉

    You’re right to maintain focus on why you’re writing, IMHO, to try to regain the pleasure of crafting your beautiful stories. Growing up, my sister and I both pictured ourselves as chart-topping pop stars, blessed with a similar amount of musical talent. I, being the pessimistic depressive, pursued a career in IT which has taken me all over the world and provides for all my material needs. Nicki chased the dream, albeit with moderate expectations, and has now been a breadline professional singer for over 30 years. I have never met a happier person…

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    1. Thank you for such a detailed response Lorraine. You’re absolutely right to focus on the pleasurable aspect of writing and why we started doing it in the first instance. Hopefully, it will come back to me.

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  5. Jan, such a timely post from my POV. I reached a personal standard last year with my eighth book which I thought was my best ever. The ninth is whipping me to a pulp as I strive to make it as good AND keep marketing the others! I actually asked myself, as I walked along a deserted beach with my dog – ‘What if I leave it all behind?’ But then I have never ever thought my life should be easy and I reminded myself that I have often said one should go into this exercise with no expectations of rankings, reviews, sales and income. If the most we get out of it is a sense of achievement and some damned good friends, then that’s more than many get from life. Let’s just soldier on. Oh, and moan a lot… 😉 Cheers from far south!

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  6. Thank you, Prue. Author buddies are the best! I never had grand expectations, but I would like to cover my costs from time to time… My expectations have always been realistic even when I had agents and traditional publishers handling the job for me. Twenty years of trying all the routes out there is pretty exhausting. But as you quite rightly point out, and as I say towards the end of the piece, writing for me again and forgetting the rest of it – is maybe the route to writing contentment.

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  7. Dear Jan, I’ve just seen this and hope you have recovered from your fall. Also very sorry to hear that writing isn’t making you happy at the moment. When the going gets tough, I have to remind myself why I started – fundamentally because I find writing such fun when it’s going well. Maybe you do need to take a break from the marketing side for a while or even for good and let yourself relax a bit more?. I think marketing is hard and frequently discouraging for most of us. Best, Harriet

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