Indie Authors: Don’t Give Up On Your Original Voice When Sales Are Bad

https://www.amazon.com/Longbourn-Jo-Baker-ebook/dp/B00CQ1D3BYFive years ago, when I started writing online, I was lucky enough to meet some outstanding writers on Goodreads (I’ve met others since, on Authonomy before it packed up and elsewhere, but here I’m talking about that original base of writer friends).

They were mostly women, varying in age. Some came from my native England, some from the US, and a couple from the Antipodes. Their genre varied, but they all had one thing in common….

They didn’t write formulaic, predictable stories. They broke rules; they used humour; they featured strong female leads (otherwise, I wouldn’t have enjoyed their stories). They were often a bit cross genre, and this was probably one of the reasons why they hadn’t got that elusive contract with an agent or publisher.

They wanted to achieve something original. Yes, they wanted success and sales – who doesn’t? – but above that, they wanted to write with an individual voice and to get readers for the novels that they had loved creating.

In those days, things were a lot easier from the sales point of view. My goodness, back then Amazon hadn’t introduced Amazon Select and Pages Read, both of which have led to a catastrophic fall in sales.

Why, in 2014 my spoof Regency (technically, late Georgian) Romance ‘Ravensdale’ sold thousands – enough for me to take my daughter on holiday to Paris.

It also attracted a good many resentful reviews from readers who disliked their favourite tropes being satirized, however gently, but that is the price of notoriety, and I think most writers, like me, would rather attract sales and public notice than have no controversy, obscurity, and dismal sales.

Incidentally, since the introduction of Amazon’s new sales policies, sales of ‘Ravensdale’ have plummeted. Because it is sinking into obscurity, I have made it free on Smashwords. I have tried to make it free on Amazon, but they ignore me. Here is the Smashwords link for that:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/721130

My own view is, that while it is nice to make money out of writing, that isn’t why I went into it; in fact, that is only the icing on the cake. The reason I went into it, is because I wanted people to read my stuff.

If I – as someone (I hope) at least partially sane – had gone into writing to make a profit out of it, then I’d be writing: ‘The Duke Gets His Breeches Down: Dastardly Duke Series 101’.

That is the way to make high sales and money out of writing.

Most of those writer friends haven’t sold as much as they deserve. But then, if they got their just deserts, they’d be best selling authors.

Sadly, the market doesn’t work like that; the market recognises the price of everything, and the value of nothing, as someone once said.  As often as not, it’s not the talented and original authors who are among the most successful.

Sadly, I think some of them have become discouraged about writing. Some are taking a long break from the whole business of writing and the weary slog of publicity, and finding it a relief. Of course, many of them are very busy; some of them still have children, and a job…The wonder is anyone in that situation produces good work at all.  But I suspect some have been discouraged by mediocre sales, and the lack of a breakthrough.

I personally, think it would be a great loss if they gave up altogether. Rather, I think that if an author is making a pittance from her writing and it has no visibility on the sales ranks on Amazon, she might as well make her books free.

Smashwords will do it happily enough. The problem is Amazon, who seem to turn a deaf ear when it suits them.

However, they have made my first book, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ free. For anyone interested, the new edition, complete with a faster start, is available here https://www.amazon.com/That-Scoundrel-Émile-Dubois-Light-ebook/dp/B00AOA4FN4

and here

By the way, I wouldn’t like to give the impression that all wonderfully original works are doomed to poor sales and lack of public recognition.  Many receive the recognition they deserve (though sometimes it happens after the author is dead).

There is Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn’, for instance. What a brilliant work!

I found it such a refreshing change to read a book set in the UK of the Regency era which is about ordinary people – not the aristocracy (the families of approximately 700 men) or the gentry (approximately 1.5 per cent of the population).

But I will be writing a post about that soon. For now, I would like to say that I wish that all of my original writer friends were back to writing again. I miss them.

‘Ravensdale’ by Lucinda Elliot – Just Awarded the B.R.A.G. medallion for Outstanding Self-Published Fiction

brag-medallion-sticker

I’m celebrating on two accounts.

One, I have won a second award.

I’ve just heard I’ve won a B.R.A.G medallion for ‘Outstanding Self-Published Fiction’ for my historical romance spoof ‘Ravensdale’.

That was a lovely Easter present.

Here’s the B.R.A.G award website, for those writers wishing to enter their own work, but even more for those readers, who are always wanted to review books objectively according to the guidelines of the site.

https://www.bragmedallion.com/about

To have your work bonoured – particularly if it’s regarded as ‘too cross genre’ to attract agents and publishers –gives you a sense that it’s all worthwhile after all.

Goodness knows we self-published authors who strive to write to our best standards, often wonder if it is. There’s nothing like a one star review – or two, or yet more, to make you feel that you’re banging your head against a brick wall.

Here’s the link to amazon for ‘Ravensdale’.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JSPXQV8

A couple of awards put matters into perspective.

The second reason I have to be cheerful is that I’m now up to the final part of the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ – which I think I will call ‘Where Worlds Meet’ (I was thinking of ‘Villains and Vampires’ but that is too close to the title of my last spoof, ‘The Villainous Viscount’ and people might confuse the two).

I expect I am typical, in that I love writing this bit best of all, with home in sight. Writing the end of a full length novel is like running the end of a long distance race – I used to love cross country running at school (that was before I filled out fore and aft and it became a lot less comfortable) – where the lungs are heaving and the legs like jelly, but you know you’ll make it.

I don’t know if I’m typical in this, but I suspect I am –  I don’t particularly enjoy writing the middle of a book.  I suspect that it is where you are likely to give up if at all. The biggest effort seems to be required. You have to develop character, maintain reader interest, build conflict, create obstacles, all that sort of thing, and you are no longer fired with that initial enthusiasm.

I did a post on this a few weeks ago.

here

I believe it is known sometimes as ‘The sagging middle syndrome’ and they aren’t referring to the need for a few workouts.

Then, the middle-coming-up-to-the-end is a bit of a killer, too. There you have to do the above, only higher key.

That was the bit where I decided about six weeks back, looking over my work, ‘No point in kidding yourself, thickhead: you’ve gone in the wrong direction’ (and oh yes, I was known to do that in cross country running, too). So I had to backtrack. I thought I’d have to jettison 15,000 words, and some of it I was really pleased with, but there was too weak a series of links, and insufficient conflict, leading to too fast a denouement.

In fact, I found that I could use some of those paragraphs after all, as the writing was appropriate to later on in the story, but not to where I had put it.

All this is horribly familiar to all writers; just when you think you’re near the home run, there’s a home delay.

12618f13And that is one of the good things about being a self-published writer. You don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck with ‘When will it be ready?’ That, of course, was what happened to Elizabeth Gaskell in the third volume of ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’. She had already been writing it for three and a half years and was being harassed by her publishers. That is why she falls into the easy trap of melodrama and co-incidence (fine in a spoof, not in a work that is intended to be serious).

This is a shame, as it weakens the ending; however, despite those drawbacks, ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ is still one of my favourite novels.

Well, there’s still a long way to go, because this is only the first draft for me. You may be sure that my Beta readers will have many painful suggestions, involving extensive rewrites.

…And that can be like running a long distance race in slow motion, or perhaps, backwards.

Mary Stewart, Romantic Suspense, and Her Quote on ‘The anti-brigade, the dirt brigade, the sicks and the beats’.

 

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“I don’t want any one made troubled or unhappy by anything I’ve written; perhaps ‘depressed’ and ‘hurt’ are better words.” She expressed her disgust with the “anti” trend of the 1950s, “all the ‘anti’ brigade, the dirt brigade, the sicks and the beats.”

This is a quote (or rant) from a writer who created a genre – what I believe is known as ‘romantic mystery’ and who I gather has, like Georgette Heyer, come back into fashion recently.

I read a couple of her books longer ago than I  care to admit, when I was fourteen. I didn’t take to them, though I could see that they were well written with complex literary allusions. Like Heyer, they have many admirers and also like Heyer’s, they struck me as being written very much from a conservative, conventional sort of perspective that drove me wild as a rebellious fourteen year old. Mary Stewart may have imagined her books offended nobody – but here’s one exception at least. Her books made me highly uncomfortable.

Mary Stewart in the above quote seems to be disgusted with people who are ‘dirty’ and while that would include the whole human race in the eighteenth century, and all the underprivileged in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I assume from her phraseology she means the people of the mid twenties century who were supposedly infamous for dirt of body and mind – the dreaded ‘Beatniks’.

I have only ever met one elderly person who admitted to having been a ‘Beat’ in that era. I don’t know what happened to the rest of them – whether they vanished from the face of the earth, or were perhaps indistinguishable from the aging hippies I used to see about.90px-Beatgirl_(3)

The elderly man I met was not impressive, though for a member of ‘the dirt brigade’ his personal hygiene was unremarkable – he wore an old sheepskin coat and went about with a copy of ‘The Lord of The Rings’ in his pocket. He also sometimes carried about a guitar that I suspected he couldn’t play (I am not making any of this up). He didn’t seem to do anything much but smoke dope. I suppose he read that book now and then.

So, I have no reason to have any particular fondness for what I have heard of ‘The Beat Movement’. But I have to admit, I have only regarded them up to now as an aspect of social history and the protest movement of the young in the affluent, Cold War dominated nineteen-fifties and sixties.

Nevertheless, when I came on this quote recently, it ruffled me. It took me a minute or two to work out why (quick on the uptake, eh?)

I don’t like the assumption that any social protest movement is by definition merely ‘anti’. If you are ‘anti’ something, you are generally pro something else. It may be something bizarre or unpopular; it may even be nonsensical; but I have yet to encounter any human being who is only motivated by antipathetic motives. People almost by definition see themselves as being ‘for’ something. And if  you are for something, you will tend to be, however fair-minded you try to be, against something else.

So, what do I know about the Beatniks before I go and look on Wickipedia?

I believe that Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and other famous folk singers who were part of the peace movement were connected with Beats.

The look the Beatniks cultivated, I gather, long hair and beards, was based on the look of Fidel Castro, Che Guevera, and the other guerrillas who had recently won their guerrilla war in Cuba, and whose hair had grown long in the Sierra Maestra. They were obviously icons of complete rebellion, and  that look soon enough became fashionable.  If anyone was anti establishment and terrifying to middle class, middle-aged respectable people, it was Fidel Castro and Che Guevera. Therefore,  for a man to grow long hair and a beard was to align himself against the establishment.

Like them, too, I believe they challenged conventional materialistic values based on property ownership– though from a different ideological perspective. And while the ‘Beat Movement’ of that time may have attracted many individuals like the man in the sheepskin coat, some of the beliefs listed by their proponents seem to me entirely commendable. This is what Wickipedia has to say about some of their ideology: –

‘The Beat philosophy was generally countercultural and anti-materialistic and it stressed the importance of bettering one’s inner self over and above material possessions. Some Beat writers, such as Kerouac, began to delve into Eastern religions such as Taoism or Buddhism. Politics tended to be liberal, with support for causes such as desegregation…’ Now, for instance,  virtually everyone these days not a fascist would believe that segregation was an excellent thing about which to be highly ‘anti’ .

‘Many scholars speculate that a reason that many Beat writers were interested in and wrote about Eastern religions was because they wanted to encourage young people to practice spiritual and sociopolitical action. As a result, these progressive thoughts originating from East Asian religions, influenced the youth culture to challenge capitalist domination and break the dogmas of their generation. The Buddhist idea of achieving inner freedom was popular among the Beatniks. As a result, it motivated this movement to reject traditional gender and racial rules.’

From this, I suspect that Ms Stewart, who assumed that they were ‘anti everything’ only meant that they were anti the sort of standards which she upheld. Now, as I say I haven’t read any of her novels since I was fourteen. I found them too conventional, full of nice girls who hand over the steering wheel to a man and don’t do any Naughty Naughty Tut Tut stuff before marriage.

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Perhaps she had read, and believed, all the bad press Beatniks had.
Some of it is quite fascinatingly lurid; for instance, that gun waving grinning lunatic depicted in the film poster above.

I find this quote, and the bugbear of fear of Beatniks, fascinating. It is obvious that Mary Stewart had a blind spot; she could not see that her notions of the ‘decency’ she goes on to mention in that interview were not the only ones, and that it was  permissible to challenge these without being some sort of rebarbative ‘sick’ with twisted ideas.

At least,  I hope it is…

It’s instructive, because I sometimes can be in danger of falling into the same trap myself, from a wholly different social and political, literary and historical perspective.

Last of all, here’s a cover from one of Mary Stewart’s works.