Monthly Archives: October 2020

Getting Serious about Writing (wk11&12): There is no ‘normal’ any more

Our world has changed. If we’re honest with ourselves it will probably never return to normal. Even if this virus disappeared tomorrow we’ve all had a rare chance to take stock and rethink the way we live. That sort of objective look at our lives can’t be unseen.

Businesses and other organisations are considering closing offices and allowing staff to work from home in the long term. Schools, colleges, and universities are implementing strategies for distance learning. The nature of how we do business, how we learn, how we communicate, how we socialise, it’s all different.

For some, these changes will be costly and difficult, for others their lives will improve. For most of us, we’ll have experienced a mixed bag so far.

What is different for a Self-Published Author?

Over the past few months, my experiences have been mixed. Financial issues which are probably pretty common have risen and fallen back. The work I do when I’m not being a ‘proper writer’ has changed a lot too. Behaviours are different. The rhythm of the year is different. I’m different.

For a long time, I’ve been aware of just how much my life outside of writing has changed but I kept thinking that my writing itself hadn’t really been affected.

Being stuck inside in front of the computer is hardly a change from the ‘normal’ day of a writer. However, my motivations for writing have been changing in subtle ways and a bit of self-reflection has led me to understand that I really am the sort of writer who writes for an audience.

I used to look down on this approach a little. After all, your ‘authentic’ story can’t be pulled every-which-way by your concerns about how someone ‘might’ react. However, while I still see the importance of story integrity I have to confess that it can be hard to motivate writing when you can’t at least imagine some reader at the end of all of it.

I write most of my books for kids and I know that school author visits and workshops (the way I normally connect with my audience) are going to be deeply affected by what’s going on. In short, I’m currently working on a book with the niggling worry that the only person who will ever read it will be me. This is a big step backwards from the ‘proper writer’ I have come to see myself as.

What do you do when you can’t see your audience?

Photo by Alan Cabello on Pexels.com

So what do I do? My first effort to reconnect with my audience was a website where children can share their stories with the world. A place to vent and communicate with one another. They can write what they like (though any content for older readers should be tagged as such).

I launched this initiative after about two or three weeks of solid work back in March. The site isn’t perfect but I can make more improvements once I see it in use and understand what needs to be fixed. It’s free to use and all it takes is joining as a contributor (I made it sign-in only in an effort to increase security and safety).

I publicised it on my social media platforms. I told teachers about it, in the hopes that they might share it with their classes during virtual lessons. I messaged parents I know to see if their kids might be interested. I did a lot to tell the world it was there. Other than my kids, one person signed up.

The tougher side of Self-Publishing

free creative writing course for kids celebrating stories literacy scottish curriculum for excellenceI’m going to stop here and point out that this isn’t a ‘poor me’ post. This is an effort to highlight the reality of life as a self-published author. All you can do is play to your own strengths but sometimes you have to realise when something isn’t working.

Take two: I went back to a writing course for children which I had put together back at the start of the year. It’s the product of a month of work and is linked in as many ways as I can to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (the curriculum utilised in Scottish state schools).

This course was originally designed for use in classrooms but I took another pass at it and tried to change it to cater to virtual learning environments too.

Another fortnight went into these updates, and finally, it was ready to launch as a weekly series of e-mails. E-mails would appear in a teacher’s inbox and contain both the teacher’s guide (highlighting outcomes and other curriculum features covered) and class printouts for the kids (for use in class or at home).

I launched this back in August. Sharing it on social media and directly with teachers. To date, no one has signed up.

Keeping track of the things you have control over

Photo by Roman Koval on Pexels.com

Again this is not a ‘poor me’ moment, this is the raw edge of self-publishing. If no one is enjoying what you are doing you don’t have the buffer of an agent, or a publicist, or even a PA between you and this fact. You instantly know that it didn’t work. You need to be able to rally when this happens.

This week I will be contacting teachers and schools to offer free (virtual) book talks with their classrooms. Scottish book week is coming up in November and I normally book in at least a couple of in-person talks in the week.

Will the virtual alternative be well received? Will I be able to book virtual events like this (having never really done anything like it before)? I have no idea. It might fail. I might get no response to this as well. Or it might all go brilliantly. The reception is not in my hands.

What do I do if this effort too goes pear-shaped? For starters, I don’t blame the teachers/schools. Their world is in considerably more of a mess than mine is at present so it would be churlish for me to get annoyed at them for the failure.

Instead, I have to step back and look at each initiative as a product. This is where I fall back on my retail background:

  • Does this product (school talks/ 10-week free writing course/ story-sharing website) satisfy a need?
  • Is it a good in itself or does it bring about a good in a way which can’t otherwise be achieved? (e.g. food may be a good in itself, exercise is only good in that is leads to improved health)
  • Is the timing of the release of this product offering someone a way of making life easier for themselves or a significant other?

The checklist could go on for miles but the point is that each free initiative I have offered so far can’t win purely on the fact that it’s free. It needs to serve a purpose or bring about some good that my target audience needs/wants.

If no one goes for it then something about it didn’t catch. I have to drop it or rework it until it better serves its purpose. The problem could be as simple as the fact that our teachers are currently wildly overworked.

Perhaps nothing I’m offering helps with that. Instead, a 10-week writing course might be perceived by teachers as more work, rather than as fulfilling it’s intended purpose (an effort to lighten the load for teachers planning a week’s lessons).

Find the solutions within

Being self-published (sometimes) is a million miles away from sitting at the desk and writing. This can be disheartening at times but my personality type deals with this sort of thing analytically. I find my way forward by analysing factors, amending variables, and trying again.

Your own strengths may be very different. If you are more expressive perhaps a more active social media/YouTube presence might benefit the sales of your books. If you have a more PR/advertising mind you may have the fortitude to fire through several dozen calls in a day, drumming up interest in what you do (I personally find phone calls to be one of the most daunting of all the PR type jobs).

There might be no such thing as ‘normal’ life anymore but none of us is ‘normal’ anyway. Play to your strengths and push on. It’s a strange new world and the next big idea you have might well be the thing that gets your book(s) noticed.

I hope this week’s post hasn’t been too much of a downer. On a more positive note, my newest book is now back on. I had a blip for a few weeks there but the sleeves are rolled up again and I’m getting back into it. I had a deadline in mind for this book but missing a deadline shouldn’t be a reason not to finish what I started. This book will get out into the world.

In the meantime please feel free to visit my author page on amazon to see the books which already made it out into the world (it never hurts to throw in a quick wee plug).

Hope you’re all doing great and, as always, thanks for reading (those reader stats make it all the easier for me to sit back down and get back into it. I really do appreciate you stopping by).

Comments below are more than welcome,

All the best, John