The Planet-Moon of Being a Writer
When I was ten, my parents gave me a telescope, and I formed an astronomy club. Suburban
had the benefit of many stars. As
my four friends and I met one evening at sunset, ready for the blanket of
stars, the full moon slipped up over the horizon and surprised us. The huge
dish glowed big—bigger than the moon was normally—and it had a reddish glow, so
we were convinced it was Mars. Mars had slipped out of line, and no one but us
knew about it. We hopped on our bikes and rode toward this orb quickly as if we
were getting closer. We pointed skyward. “Mars! It’s definitely Mars!” Minneapolis
This moment hangs as a symbol to me of what it is to be a writer today. One is that there are many misguided things to do that suck up your time, money, and attention. The second is that marketing definitely has its own gravity and is a giant moon in your life.
One of the joys of taking creative writing in college is that you’re focused on the creative process, not on marketing. You are building your planet. In college, commerce may as well be Santa Claus—it doesn’t seem real and, if anything, it will give you presents. Still, today’s writers, if they aim for sales, have to become practical and put aside the “fun, creative part” to promote what they have. What follows are some truths I’ve learned about the planet of creativity in harmony with the moon of marketing.
1) Don’t rush into marketing less-than-polished work. Everyone and her taxi driver are writing books. If you truly think your book has a place in the marketplace, engage your talented friends or hire a professional editor to get your book to be the best.
2) Book publishing is intimidating. That’s why agents and big publishers still exist—because if you’re talented, and you want to stay focused more on the writing than on the marketing, this traditional route still works. To get in agent requires writing a query letter—which has to be some of the best writing of your life. After all, you’re proving your worth in a page.
3) If you go the self-published route, know in advance that you have to become a master of marketing. You can hire services or people to help you with the self-publishing process, but beware of services that promise you the moon. You can spend thousands of dollars to little effect. If you didn’t seriously take my first point, polishing your work, no one is going to buy your book. An amateurish book design or less-than-stellar book description will hobble your book more.
4) Self-publishing can work. It takes dedication, starting with polishing your book. You learn that self-promotion isn’t singing “Buy my book” in a loud voice on social media, but rather, you do a lot of indirect things, such as joining the community of writers by writing a blog, writing book reviews, advertising, hiring a blog tour operator, and more. It’s all ever-changing, so keep reading about this stuff. The fact you’re reading this is a good sign.
5) The challenge of marketing can be addicting. It’s fun to watch something that you did sell a thousand books in a day. Don’t let it override your main goal, which is to write books with merit.
For more articles on this, I’ve created a list of links on my website, which you can see by clicking here. May your planet and moon circle with success.
Christopher Meeks was born in Minnesota, earned degrees from the University of Denver and USC, and has lived in Los Angeles since 1977. He's teaches English and creative writing at Santa Monica College, and has taught creative writing at CalArts, UCLA Extension, Art Center College of Design, and USC. His fiction has appeared often in Rosebud magazine as well as other literary journals, and his books have won several awards. His short works have been collected into two volumes, "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea" and "Months and Seasons," the latter which appeared on the long list for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. He's had three plays produced, and "Who Lives?: A Drama" is published. His focus is now on longer fiction. His first novel is "The Brightest Moon of the Century," and his second, "Love At Absolute Zero."