The Pitfalls of Writing and Pursuing Success

James North-Blog Post PhotoOver the past several years I have come to realize that writing with the aim of getting a book published and into print is no longer a journey of patience and persistence but a march along a footpath laden with landmines. This experience by a growing number of aspiring authors was no doubt a major factor in the explosion of eBook publishing—an explosion noticeably buoyed by low- or no-cost marketing via social media. The eBook and social media platforms have given thousands of aspiring authors the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. They have also generated a wider variety of books and even new genres. In all probability, independent or indie authors/publishers, still seen as a growing alternative to traditional publishing, will continue to produce exciting and very good books. However, in order to become successful, indie authors/publishers must work very hard to get their books before thousands of potential readers, particularly if they want to earn and keep a larger percentage of royalties. And yes, for some authors there remains the hope of discovery by an influential literary agent and landing a lucrative deal with a major publishing house.

The arrival of the eBook was in effect a gauntlet thrown down by ePublishers and the indie author—a development that for a time shook the traditional publishing world to its very foundation. With fewer restrictions on opportunities, new genres and sub-genres appeared and will almost certainly continue to do so, breaking new ground and sowing seed which the traditional publishing world will harvest, without of course having to invest in or risk exploration/failure. Trends started by indie authors/publishers will continue to push the publishing envelope. Genres like Climate Fiction (CLI-FI) and Mythopoeia are but a few examples of growing trends. Because of ePublishing aspiring authors no longer sit waiting for rejection letters to be deposited in their mailboxes (in some cases email inboxes), raising the proverbial question, “Will my stories ever be read and accepted?” These authors are venturing out in increasing numbers, standing on their own two feet. Unfortunately, they are finding that success remains, inescapably, part of a filtration process. Whether it be pitching to a literary agent, a traditional publisher with/without a literary agent or pitching to potential readers who now have a more extensive menu of books from which to choose, breaking into the system is still fraught with challenges.

Nevertheless, for the “committed writer” in pursuit of success beyond seeing his/her book(s) on the pages of online bookstores, going it alone is nothing short of a paradox.  In other words, new and near unfettered opportunities for aspiring writers to join the ranks of “successful published authors” do not come without costs. The drive for success, frequently defined as rising sales numbers and book awards, garnered by the use of social media and paid marketing, can be time-consuming and expensive. Ironically, this drive presents what might be the penultimate if not the ultimate challenge—one that carries with it an equal, if not greater cost for the writer than time and money spent on branding and marketing. That challenge and often a source of frustration is the disruption of the creative process. While the optimal and often prescribed solution is “effective time management,” we all know that the uncontrollable challenges of everyday life can lay waste to the best of plans.

Adding to the bevy of pitfalls is the imperative of making your voice heard above an ever increasing number of social media users, many of whom are also writers, stealthily looking to tap into your followers and fans, while unwittingly creating what might be construed as a “mutual admiration society.” An ironic aspect of determining a writer’s potential for success is the use of eBook rankings by literary agents and publishers. This speaks volumes about the pragmatic, risk-averse tendencies of agents and publishers nowadays. Their philosophy/strategy is quite clear: “The cream will rise to the top.” While few if any writers expect to be catapulted upward and onward, I have discovered through my own toil that efforts to begin the climb toward the top are much more difficult than they appear, more difficult because an unfortunate result of that pursuit is a skewed relationship between marketing and productivity, with a larger percentage of time being devoted to the former, to the detriment of the latter.

While I too believe that marketing is important for branding and getting the word out about what I as a writer produce, I also believe that finding a balance between the two or achieving some ratio that will allow time to produce, with the aim of improving on each manuscript, is the way forward. Consequently, for me, success is staying true to what I write, developing my skills and growing readership a few dozen (well maybe a few hundred) readers at a time. Remember, individuals will always decide what they want to read, hence the importance and long-term viability of trend-setting by indie authors/publishers. Reaching potential readers, however, is increasingly becoming a much bigger challenge than indie authors/publishers may have expected. Therefore, in the end, how your success is defined is up to you, the writer. Where the future of publishing is concerned, these challenges and the characteristics of the publishing industry discussed above are why I believe the relationship between traditional publishers and indie authors/publishers will evolve from one that is antagonistic into one that is increasingly more symbiotic.

Clearly not all observers of the publishing industry share this view. In my discussions with fellow writers, quite a few have used my views on trend-setting, genre creation and rising stars in indie author/publishing to turn my assertion on its head. They argue instead that the relationship between traditional publishers and indie authors/publishers is becoming more parasitic, with large publishing houses reaping most of the benefits. I contend that the jury is still out on the issue; in the meantime, there are opportunities for growth on both sides, but the cost to authors will grow exponentially with the number of authors searching for success.

Writing Comedy and Horror by Sarah England

Sarah EnglandAs a fiction writer I seem to gravitate towards either the supernatural, or comedy. It’s a bizarre whizzing from one end of literary genre to the other – like an out of control typewriter. However, with a 20 year + background in nursing and medical sales, I suppose it’s inevitable that gallows humour creeps in. I’m a Northern lass (UK) too – and there’s an in-built armour of self-deprecation pertinent to the environment in which I grew up: no one is allowed to take themselves too seriously.

So when I began to write fiction, around 10 years ago now, many of my short stories were humorous. I guess I’m also the kind of person who trips up steps into revolving doors, goes out of the house with a Velcro roller still stuck in the back of her hair, says exactly the worst thing at the most inopportune moment, and generally endures a lot of toe-curling, squirmy  situations. So I have a lot of real-life experience – lucky me – only natural then, to make it an art form.

My dad took the proverbial micky out of me since I was old enough to crawl. One incident highlights the point – my parents took me pony riding, the horse sneezed and I flew off. Bawling my eyes out I quickly realised they weren’t coming to my rescue because they were rolling around laughing too much. Oh how that hurt! It sort of went on from there. I’d love to have been an actress really, but I had to earn a living and so nursing it was, and from there medical sales, where I eventually specialised in mental health, which came in handy with a family like mine.

After writing short stories for magazines over many years, my first comedy novel, Expected was published last year by Crooked Cat, and I’m happy to say it’s made most people laugh their socks off. I will do a sequel for my hapless heroine, Sam Sweet, but I’m also writing serials for magazines now, and I have a very dark supernatural thriller to finish. I’m not sure where the fascination for all things spooky comes from…but rest assured this is as scary as it gets… Meantime there’s a collection of dark thrillers in 3am and Wide Awake published by Alfie Dog Fiction, and both books are available on Amazon.

More information is available on my blog:

About the Author:

Sarah England originally trained as a nurse in Sheffield, England, before going on to work as a medical representative specialising in mental health. Since then she has had around 150 short stories published in national magazines and various anthologies; most recently a 3 part murder-mystery serial in Woman’s Weekly. Sarah’s 3am and Wide Awake – a collection of 25 dark tales, mostly supernatural stories, or medically themed thrillers, was published in May 2013 by Alfie Dog Fiction; and Expected, a comedy novel with Crooked Cat Publishing, was released on 28 June, 2013. She is now working on a supernatural thriller, and continues to write serials and short stories for magazines.

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