Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Some thoughts on marketing

I'd like to take a look at marketing from a writer's perspective in the next few posts. I don't have any special insights into this and nothing I say is particularly original. Certainly, there will be nothing prescriptive in any conclusions I may reach. Rather I'm going to try and apply what I've learned in business to what is essentially my hobby.

Marketing of course is about more than just selling. It really covers the whole of the business transaction from creation of product to selling it in the market place. In my own business I believe that this process starts with the product itself. If the product isn't world-class and absolutely fit for purpose you won't even get to first base.

Which immediately gives me a problem. I already know that my product - my novel A Half Life of One - isn't as good as it needs to be. Too many adverbs and adjectives, flabby sentence stucture, too dark a tone, lack of colour, underdevelopment of subsidiary characters, and a weak ending mean I've failed to develope a world-class product fit to compete in a crowded market place. I know about these shortcomings because of the feedback I've had from some of the people who have read the book. The rest I can see for myself because after an interval of six months I'm able to look at the book with fresh eyes.

The question is what to do next to rectify this fundamental flaw. I think I have four main options:

1 Abandon the book and start a new one applying the lessons I've learnt.
2 Hire a professional editor to revise the book for me.
3 Do yet another re-write (the twentieth maybe).
4 Accept that I'm never going to be a writer and be satisfied with making loads of money in business. (Gee, that's a tough one. I hadn't thought of that before).

Actually, about a month ago I decided to adopt option number 2. I approached a well-known editor whose work I admire and asked him to look at A Half Life on my blog and give me a price for a full edit. This is what he said:

Hi, Bill

Sorry I've taken so long to get back to you. I skimmed through much of your posted material, and definitely saw some nice writing there (also saw some "head-hopping"--shifts of point of view--that I have a bias against even though you see it all the time).

I suspect that my input could be useful--there were things such as that long, run-on first sentence and the huge paragraph that followed--where I could help tighten things or break them up for greater readability.

But I think I'll pass, mostly for a personal reason--not long back I went through 5 years of unemployment, and your character's story kept bringing up painful memories.That means, in a sense, that it's successful.

Sorry, but for that purely idiosyncratic, personal reason, I don't think I'm the person to edit your narrative.I wish you the best of luck with it, though.

Now, I'm not sure if the guy was being kind to me in a sort of backhanded way, or if he was just being diplomatic and really saying "You're book is so bad you'd just be wasting your money, pal."
Either way, it kind of scared me off trying to hire another editor. I mean, if you can't even pay someone to read your book isn't that God's way of telling you something about your writing abilities?

Whatever, if this was my own business I was operating (which I guess it is) I would absolutely insist that we got the product right before we attempted to launch it upon an unsuspecting world. So I'm going to choose option (2) and try again to find myself a good professional editor. If anybody out there has experience of one, please let me know.

Continuing with the marketing theme in my next post I'll look in detail at how I tried to promote A Half Life by dreaming up The International Blookreader Award. I'll also let you know how one of the winners of that award is going to use his prizemoney to promote his own book.


  1. Bill, Ok here come 2 cents from the Story Blook.

    I see by reading your post that you have identified six issues with your novel. Presumably you got these from feedback and from looking at your novel with 'fresh eyes' as you mentioned.

    Too many adverbs and adjectives,
    flabby sentence structure
    too dark a tone
    lack of colour
    underdevelopment of subsidiary characters
    weak ending

    Would it be possible to prioritize them and maybe work on them individually? Which is the most glaring deficiency or which could use the most work? Maybe work on that. Then re-read or have someone re-read it. If that doesn't fix it, identify the next most important thing and fix that, and so on.

    I know that sounds like a lot of work, but OY, even those little stories I write seem to take a lot out of me so I know it's work.

    BTW, Hard to say why he refused it. Could be a lot of reasons, and unless you know the individual rather well, you just don't know. "5 years of unemployment.." is not the mark of a highly successful copy editor so who knows what's really going on there.

    In any case, I'm glad you are going to try again. In samples you need at least 30 randoms to make a true random sample so I don't think you should toss the idea just because one guy said no.

    Have you tried eLance? (

  2. Now Pundy, I'm going to take you by the shoulders and slap you with a wet fish!
    I am not experienced or knowledgeble enough to give you advice on what you should do but what I will ask you is... DO YOU BELIEVE IN THIS BOOK?
    Not once through your post did I hear the words I like, I love, I feel passionately about this book. If you truly believe that you have written something that will catch the eye then have faith in it and for goodness sake get yourself a copy of 'The Artists Way' by Julia Cameron. If you don't believe in it then no one will.
    And apart from that I'm sending you a warm hug because you sound a bit down

  3. Ah, Minx, what can I say. Well, firstly I feel better for the hug, thanks. Yeterday a cake, today a hug. What next?

    I do believe in the book. Passionately. I actually think it's a work of genius. Seriously. That's why I'm banging on about it. But the simple fact is it's not as good as it should be. And that's killing me. You can laugh at me here but my ambition in life is to write a book as good as The Great Gatsby. And I'm nowhere near it. That doesn't mean to say I'm going to stop trying. That's what that post is all about.

    Am I a bit down? Yes. Don't worry about it though. I don't. Now there's a paradox. Once I've got marketing out of the way I'm going to have a look at depression amongst writers. So you'll hear more about this subject.

    Anyway, thanks for your concern - but don't worry about me. I'm just trying to tell it like it is.

  4. You gave me goosebumps when I read about your ambition. This was a word that didn't enter my life until about five years ago. Now I have a great huge dollop of it!
    As for depressive(ing) writers, if you want a real life subject then I'm your woman! Been through the mill but am now making bread!

  5. Minx, you're a good woman. Here's what we need to do. Let's find the truth and tell it. That's all that matters. That's everything.

  6. Hello again.
    It's late; I've had a beverage. What shall we do.
    As everyone else has so keenly highlighted - your own belief in your book is what will carry it forward, notwithstanding your niggles. For what now seems a short two years I wrote a column that garnered me weekly appraisal: positive and negative. Now that I'm writing a longer piece I find it tremendously difficult to maintain self-confidence in what I'm doing, save for the one day out of seven in the week when I can actually kick back and read it with a smile.
    I suppose what I mean is that self-criticism is no bad thing. Perhaps if you - as you've already highlighted - re-read it 'cold' then you might find that editing it yourself is much more a productive exploit. It's clear that you recognise the story's faults, so why NOT attend to them? Just because it's published 'online' doesn't mean it remains uneditable.
    To abruptly abandon something you deem a work of genius would be incalculably silly.

  7. Matthew, you are wise beyond your years (remember, I know how old you are). You're right of course. But listen, to be the best you have to raise the bar. Set high standards. Shoot for the moon. I guess I think I will re-write the damn thing myself. I know what's needed. Yes, that's what I think I will do.

    Okay, I've raised the bar - now you return to the bar.

    Cor, young people. What are they like.

  8. Mostly, violent and drunk. But you know. I can only presume however, that when you re-write you don't just scrap everything - instead having a play about with the sentences and characters that fall into your categories of doom.

    Also, shooting the moon wouldn't be particularly clever.

    And don't mistake an apparent verbosity for wisdom - I can just see what you mean. Great that you can be so honest mind, because I'm incapable of telling myself to CUT THAT STUPID PARAGRAPH OUT and so on.

    Writing is stupidly demoralising sometimes isn't it?

  9. No, Matthew, it's not stupidly demoralising. It's fucking demoralising.

    Apart from that you're right.

  10. But when you get it right, however transient and oh-I'm-squiffy-but-for-tonight-it's-wonderful there is no better feeling :)

  11. Matthew, you're right again, there is no better feeling. And the good news is that it ISN'T transient. Write something good - even if it's only a sentence - and it will stay with you forever. Honestly. I don't know much but that is true.

    Right, now can I go to bed - it's way past my bedtime already and my Horlicks will be cold. Cor, you young folk, what are you like...

  12. Take it easy champ.

  13. And you. Night, night.

  14. Viktor Janis12:10 am

    Have you read "On writing" by Stephen King, Pundy? Some time ago I edited the Czech translation of it and found it extremely illuminating. At the very least it could help you with your war on adjectives.

  15. Shoot the critic! Actually he(she/it) is useful. So don't get the gun just yet.

    Now that you've got a lot of words to play with you can let him out. Mine always starts shouting the second I start writing which is pain in the arse when I have only fifteen days until my disseration is due in.

    Anyway my suggestion is to print it all out and take a red pen and slowly go through it and see what you want to change. just go through it and make notes.

    Oh and enjoy scribbling. Just have the six issues in mind.

  16. Viktor - no I haven't read the Stephen King book although I've heard other good reports about it. I'll get hold of a copy - thanks.

    Gav - printing the book out is a very good idea. Up to now I've been editing it on the computer which somehow doesn't work the same way, does it. Thanks for the suggestion - I'll give it a go.

  17. Thanks for the advice story blook. I think the weak ending is probably the most important issue -and actually I think it was you who first identified this fault. I've an idea how to fix it so I'll probably do that first. Thanks