What do a raging author and a patriotic washing liquid advert have in common? Yep, another of my weird intuitive leaps.
I read a post in a forum on a well known site yesterday that sent me off the deep end when it comes to anger. It was about self-published authors, how we spam every site we taint and how we all write grammatically incorrect, badly spelled drivel. Said post complained that all our book reviews are written by family and friends and are not a true representation of our writing. It further went on to demand from the people responding whether they thought we should be banned altogether or merely censured by the sites selling our ‘rubbish’. I found it so grossly offensive that I spent a good half hour drafting a response, only to delete it in disgust without posting it when I had time to calm down and reflect on the issue.
I accept that I am less pushy than a lot of self-published authors but a lot of these criticisms hit painfully close to the mark. The truth is, when I see a request for a book recommendation with a strong female lead or a new take on the paranormal genre, I want to respond with a link to my own works and it’s hard to resist that temptation. It’s not spam, it’s not shameless self-advertising, it’s a genuine response to someone looking for something to read. So why have I not done it? For precisely the predicted response, as evidenced by said offensive post. I don’t tweet links to my books more than once a day because I have seen how irritating it is to have my timeline filled with endless retweets of links and I don’t want to inflict that on others. While this does me no favours on the marketing front I like to believe my followers appreciate it. Yet here we are, those of us that take a hit on sales to be considerate, tarred with the same brush as those who do shamelessly sell themselves by ramming their books down everyone’s throat. Regardless, when self-promotion is our only marketing tool we cannot be blamed for using it to its maximum potential. We have no other option, no big-budget marketing plan.
The comment about reviews also hit home. When you are publishing your book for the first time it’s natural that the first people to read it are those close to you, simply because they are the people in your immediate sphere of influence. They pass it to their friends who pass it to their friends and eventually word spreads. It therefore follows that the first reviews on your site are going to be written by acquaintances. I have never requested anyone to write me a positive review without having first read and enjoyed the book. The most I have been guilty of is receiving an email from the sister of a childhood friend who loved my book and I asked her to leave a review containing her thoughts on Amazon. She gave me 5* and it made my day. The assumption that I didn’t earn those 5*, that she gave it a positive review just because she knows someone with whom I have a passing childhood acquaintance, hurts.
The insinuation that self-published works are, by definition, drivel that is unworthy of traditional publishing is what truly sent me into a fury. I’m not claiming to be the best writer in the world but I know that I’m good. One of my novels made the final of an international competition. I have read many self-published books that were extraordinarily good. You only have to look at the success of writers like Amanda Hocking and E L James to see that traditional publishers sometimes get it wrong and self-published authors are given a second chance with a contract. I’m not saying they’re the best written books of a generation (in the case of fifty shades many of the parodies are better written) but they’re what the public wants to read. You only have to look at the number of rejections J K Rowling received to wonder how many equally gifted but less persistent writers gave up on their dreams at the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth or even fiftieth rejection. It seems to me that on many occasions it’s the publishers that are getting the second chance, not the authors. They are turning books down that are then going on to sell millions and they’re having to push the boats out to get the authors back, offering multimillion dollar deals. The concept that a bookselling site should have the ability to restrict access to an important platform like this based on misguided and ill-informed opinions breaks my heart.
So why, you ask, did I not post said response? It was all in that last point…that there are great writers out there proving the critics (and publishing houses) wrong. If people like me have to justify ourselves then we’ve already lost the battle. Better to let our writing speak for itself, let the global success stories change the opinions of these critics.
That’s where the advert for the washing liquid came in. It was about the medals people will win at the Olympics, about the Gold, Silver and Bronze. The tagline is that it’s not the colours you go home with, it’s the colours you arrive in. It’s the pride in your nation, what you are striving for, what you represent that matters. It really struck a chord with me. It’s not about how many people buy my books and how many people hate self-published authors. It’s the fact that we’re out there, that we’re brave enough to launch our works into a public forum and that we believe in ourselves enough to follow the dream. Not all of us are going to get medals, have bestsellers, but it’s not about that. It’s about storytelling at its grass-roots.
So colour me with hope, colour each launch of one of my books in shades of a new day dawning, colour my storytelling with magic…because it’s not the colour of money that’s important. It’s the colours I set out with.