Hello and welcome to Ask Me Editing, the publishing agony aunt column which rhymes Editing and Anything, which is basically poetry.
Q: Getting off this crazy rollercoaster
I'm a writer who's just about to publish their second book. I don't like to seem like a quitter, but is it time to quit? Between recent budget cuts and proposed changes to copyright law, what little chance it seemed like young writers in this country had has been snatched away. What are my options, apart from moving to Berlin?
Look, I’m not going to lie – everything you’re talking about is pretty dire, and stuff that we should be worried about, and should fight when possible. For every writer, this should be something they think very deeply about when it comes time to vote in July. However – while this isn’t exactly a rallying cry –things have been pretty shit for authors in Australia for a while. We’ve been seeing a decrease in advances, there are less bookshops to sell into, the government has been steadily stripping away basic support – this is just another slap at the face-slapping party that is the Australian arts scene. So, unfortunately I can’t particularly give you much in the way of concrete hope to hold on to. There’s not a magical external factor out there that I can cite to stop you from quitting writing.
However, writing has basically always been a shit fight, and what motivates us to continue doing it is a weird blend of stubborn optimism, compulsion, love, narcissism, stupidity and passion.
While it would be great to have ANY sort of dependable financial success to bank on, we just don’t have that. To sound vaguely mystic, the motivation has to come from within.
I also think that with things becoming so shit for young writers in Australia, it’s time to think outside the box. I’ve been saying that most authors need to diversify for years anyway – self publishing and certain digital publishing can curtail a lot of the issues we’re worried about, aiming out into a global audience, rather than simply relying on the Australian market. There’s also a greater chance of actually making money from self publishing, but as I've said before, can be a genre specific phenomenon.
I’m also seeing more authors and artists trying to bypass the need for outside funds directly. There’s a lot to be said for the patron model, especially if you’ve already got a following of people keen for your writing. People are using Patreon and other crowd-funding models to try and support themselves in the all-too-difficult process of trying to write novels. There are options, but none of them are easy or foolproof.
Q: There are no shit ideas, just shit attitudes
What if all my ideas are shit?
When I thought up this column, I had this idea that it would focus on stuff I’ve learnt as a digital marketer or my experience working in publishing, or that I would outsource anything I wasn’t qualified for to actual experts. But I’ve realised that a whole bunch of questions are kinda relying on me answering as a writer, and that worries me, because what the hell do I know?
But, I think this is a concern that all writers have at some point, and is best answered by this quote from Jane the Virgin:
But why should you actually believe in yourself? I suppose one answer is that literally nobody else in the world can write what you write. It doesn’t matter if someone has literally the exact same idea as you - time-travelling sex vampires sent back to kill Hitler for example – you have to be confident that you would write that idea in a way that is unique to you, and therefore worthwhile.
There is an inherent worth in creating art that is truthful to you.
And I’m not just talking memoir or confessional poetry – any form of writing that you believe in is a representation of yourself. So, I don’t think that ideas can be shit – I just think that they require confidence to support them and talent and experience to realise them. Look, when I was around 21 years old, I pitched a movie script about a spy who retires to become a performance poet to Rian Johnson (aka the writer and director of Brick, Looper and the next Star Wars) and even though remembering that makes me want to throw myself into the sun from embarrassment, I have to believe that something in that pitch was worthwhile, simply because I wanted to write it.
Q: Nobody needs Twitter
Hello, I am an ‘older’ author, who has had several books published in print. I’ve recently been advised that I need Twitter in order to successfully market my book, but I am extremely wary of downloading it, because it seems to be a horrible place.
Twitter can be a powerful tool for digital marketing – not so much because there’s people sitting there and clamouring to buy books, but rather as a great way to build an audience and engage with communities. That said, nobody actually NEEDS it. It’s not like there’s no way in hell you can be an author without Twitter. You need to work out whether you have the potential to engage with the right kind of people on Twitter – this can be done by identifying ‘comparison authors’ to you, who are currently successful on Twitter. You also need to judge whether you have the time to both learn and use Twitter – as a medium it’s something that requires both time and un-cynical engagement to be at all useful. You can’t just half-arse and hope that somehow your book will sell from an un-maintained and empty profile. It’s a commitment! But one that can be a great tool for an author.
Patrick Lenton is your NEW PROFESSIONAL AGONY UNCLE. If he doesn't know it, he'll go and find out. ASK HIM ANYTHING! Send your questions to Patrick care of firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to us, and he'll respond with FREE professional advice.
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Patrick Lenton is an author, works for Momentum books and runs Town Crier, a social media and digital marketing consultancy for authors.