Monday, 13 February 2017

G is for GAMBLE

     The professional author is a compulsive gambler. He/she invests time, effort and emotional capital in the conviction that somewhere there is someone who will want to read what he/she has written. Like all gambling, it's a mug's game. If you're in it for financial reward you'd be better off staking your life savings on a 100:1 outsider in the Grand National. Somewhere along the line you will, like all speculators, need a slice of luck. There may be a few successful authors whose first book soared to the top of the best-seller lists (and fewer still whose second and third books followed suit) but the vast majority of hopeful writers will never see their work in print and those that do get published will not be able to build a lasting reputation. The reason is simple: there are just too many books being written. Paradoxically, the digital age has made the situation worse. As has wisely been observed: 'It has never been easier to get published and never harder to get noticed'. The one fact follows logically on the other. Self-publishing and employing small-time, social-media-savvy new publishers has opened the way for would-be authors to sell their work in the market place. That means that there are thousands more books flooding into the high street and online stores than ever before. And that means that the majority of new titles are going to get lost in the crowd. It's inevitable. Don't be conned by the self-styled media wizards who cash in on the dreams of wanabees by offering foolproof formulae for success. All they can do is advise you on negotiating cyberspace with its myriads of media sites. Embarking on such a journey might get your work talked about by a few hundred people. What is certain is that this activity is highly speculative and immensely time consuming. The idea that you can generate success by spending a few minutes a day at your computer is a modern myth.
     But what is also certain is that we can, to a not inconsiderable extent, make our own luck, or at least shorten the odds. In this A-Z series, based on 50 years of experience as a reasonably successful author, I'm suggesting some of the ways you can buck the trend, how you can put yourself in the path of Lady Luck when she happens to pass by.
     (1) Get to know 'writing people'. By that term I don't mean people who, like you, want to get published. I mean authors, journalists, publishers, agents, everyone and anyone involved in the book bizz. Go to parties, festivals, library events and don't be overawed by celebs; they're just people. Twice in my life I've met, 'by chance', newly-appointed editors who were actually looking for authors to take on. They had not yet become overwhelmed by the slush pile. They were open to having ideas pitched to them. My pitches were successful.
   (2) Make use of the press. National dailies, local weeklies, specialist magazines - they all feed on freelance articles. Check what material they use and offer something relevant. A day spent producing a few hundred words tailored for a particular periodical is time well spent. You might actually get paid for it and you never know where it might lead (See J is for Journalism).
    (3) Share your passion. Whether your 'thing' is political analysis or match-box collecting there are folk out with the same interest. Join their clubs, whether online or in the real world. Run a blog site. But what is more important than your pet theories is what interests other people. Therefore
   (4) Know what people are talking about. Back in the 1960s Frank Chichester's solo voyage round the world was making headlines. I wondered whether anyone had ever written a history of circumnavigation. They hadn't. I did. The resulting book won awards and ran through new editions over the years. In 2007 there was much hand-wringing over economic collapse and other disasters. Were things really that bad? I pondered. The result was Britain's Rottenest Years, a trawl through several centuries of calamities.
   (5) Be at home when Lady Luck calls. My professional career started when I was a teacher (having given up on writing). Thanks to a major syllabus change there was a sudden need for a new text book. Publishers were urgently looking for someone who could write it. I didn't engineer that situation, but boy, did I cash in on it!
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