The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 237
Happy New Year
I’m not sure, exactly, why I feel this way, but New Years has always seemed like a silly holiday to me. Back in my drinking days, it was just an excuse to drink and watch tons of football, as if I really needed an excuse for those two activities. Now that I don’t drink, and I’ve severely limited my consumption of football, this holiday, especially when it falls in the middle of the week, just messes up my work schedule and nothing more.
Still, people seem to love it. They make their resolutions (which they promptly break within weeks), they reflect back with teary-eyed nostalgia on “better times,” and they vow to do better in the coming months.
All a bit silly to me, but that’s just me.
So I will wish you a brilliant, love-filled Happy New Year. May this coming year be everything you want it to be. May you lose those nagging twenty pounds, may you be the man you’ve always wanted to be, may your business be wildly successful, and may you finally fit into that old pair of jeans from college.
And may you live each day in peace and love!
From Mr. Happy: “There's a question: How does one know if they're a "horrible writer"?”
It’s a fascinating question, Mr. Happy. It really is. For the longest time I surmised that some people who self-publish “crap” just didn’t care about quality. The era of digital books and self-publishing have made it possible for anyone to publish a book, which is a nice thing for sure. But it also opens the doors for some seriously bad books to flood the marketplace because, hey, on Amazon and Kindle, no editing is required. The old accounting phrase “garbage in, garbage out” applies today in self-publishing . . . and online with blogs and even on lofty sites like HP.
But your question raises an interesting point: what if bad writers don’t know they are bad writers? What if they have never had access to a good editor, or even a friend or relative who will be brutally honest with them about their writing? How would they know? And some people don’t want a brutally honest appraisal of their work, so they continue to blithely self-publish, flooding the literary world with more and more blah, blah, and more blah.
And maybe that’s okay. If writing is a means of expression for them, if it is a means of sharing emotions for them, then who really cares if they are horrible writers or not?
I had an uncle once, Uncle Mike, who came back from World War 2 “shell-shocked.” We now call it PSTD, but shell-shocked was the euphemism back in the late 40’s. Anyway, he came home from the war and appeared normal to all, but he soon began drinking heavily and making a mess of his life. The thing was, though, he didn’t know there was anything wrong with himself. He got up every morning unaware that he was deeply affected by warfare, and it took a family intervention to get him the help he needed.
I think, for some writers, without that intervention, it will always be garbage in, garbage out, and a blissful unawareness of reality.
Building a Reader Base
From Chitraganda Sharan: “My question for the next mailbag is, What are some of the ideas, to build a reader base, other than the social media groups?”
I wasn’t sure if you meant an online reader base, Sharan, or a reader base for published books. I’m going to assume you meant online since you are a writer for HP.
There are so many ways to answer this question. Building a reader base takes time. It takes determination. It takes a good product. It takes guerilla marketing. It takes book signings and organization-joining and continued writing and a refusal to quit. Quite frankly, this question requires a book to answer.
My specific answer would be this: work on your writing. Give it a unique voice, or at the very least give it a unique approach to topics. Make it interesting. Interesting sells. People will return over and over again if they like your product and message.
And after you have an interesting product you need to become an active member of the online community. You need to follow the blogs of others religiously. You need to join writers’ clubs and groups. You need to play the online game, become good at the online game, and then conquer the online game.
But it all takes time and it all takes determination!
Let me put it another way: it has taken me eight years to reach the point where people are looking forward to, and asking about, my new novel.
From Mary: “Thanks for answering my question. I will be interested to see your update in February about the KDP changes. I am still unclear, are books only offered on Kindle and not as a paperback or hard copy? Makes it difficult on coloring books.”
I should have been more specific with my original answer, Mary. No, the elimination of CreateSpace in no way affects the way you can self-publish with KDP. You can still publish in paperback, hard copy, or digital. Nothing has changed on that front. I suspect all of this happened as a corporate way to trim employee fat and save money, but the services offered have not changed.
Improving Travel Articles
From Patricia: “Thank you for your comment, Bill. It seems that behind every building there lies a story. I would be grateful for any advice you might have on how I can improve my articles.”
This was an interesting question because I actually think Patricia’s articles are quite good and her blog quite interesting. I am impressed by your desire, Patricia, to improve an already good product.
Travel writing is a tough gig, in my opinion, because there are so many travel writers online. Having said that, there are only two ways I know of to make your writing stand out from the crowd: either develop a unique style of writing, or pinpoint a specific approach to travel writing which is not currently being done. Both approaches will take time and effort.
I’ve actually written about this before. In an earlier article I talked about describing things never described before, or becoming an expert on one specific location. Instead of writing about Ireland, concentrate on one particular region of Ireland. Instead of writing about travels in Europe, write about unique B&Bs in Europe, or unique pubs in Europe. Narrow the scope and become an expert at it. Yes, you are shrinking the reading pool by doing so, but you will eventually dominate that shrunken pool, so it will even out over the long run.
I hope that helps, and good luck! I think success is out there, but it will take a commitment to change to make it happen.
And so We Say Hello to 2019
Best of luck with those resolutions. I won’t be making any, which is my norm. My only goal is the same goal I have in July or November, April or August: do all things in love and peace. That is what I wish for you, a loving and peaceful 2019.
May the wind always be at your back in 2019!
If you have any questions for the Mailbag, you can either leave them in the comment section, or email me at email@example.com.
2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”