Adios, au revoir, aufwiedersehen, ta ta

This will be my last entry for a while. I am going off-line to concentrate on a story I want to write, without distraction so ‘Adios’ for a while, and enjoy your summer. Before I go, I want to tell you something. I read today another article on the sorry state of affairs relating to authors’ incomes and it got me thinking – again – about the notion of being a writer and what that means.

The article here states that authors’ earnings are falling dramatically and that publishers are not taking chances with new voices. This message is nothing new. Then on the other side of the coin is the other story, that self-published authors can potentially make six figure incomes if they just follow simple (read complicated) marketing strategies that will launch their beloved series into the stratosphere.

Again, there is nothing new about this story. I’ve heard it so often it just makes me yawn; not out of cynicism really but out of boredom with the whole message; self-publish, get rich, traditionally publish, and stay poor.

But what does being a writer really mean? Does being a writer mean that you make a living out of your writing? Yes and no.

Writing is an art-form, it requires intense practice and experience. So making a living out of being a writer might just mean you’re a whizz kid internet marketeer and that your novels/stories suck. So, in essence you’re not a writer, you’re just good and absorbing and applying the billions of pieces of information on internet marketing out there in the cyber-world, maybe you’ve got more money than you know what to do with and you can afford to enter the psychedelic world that is self-publishing.

Maybe you think your murder mystery or your detective series will be the next big thing and that your writing will keep people turning the page and buying.

If any things apply to you, I say all the best to you. You have my admiration. 

But for me, writing is about something else. Writing for me is about telling a story YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO TELL. It’s not about churning out formulaic genre-pieces quickly, then jumping on the marketing wheel like some sort of mental patient, foaming at the mouth.

For me, writing is about the passion to tell a story, to go down to the subterranean depths of a story and take your readers there, living in that world. It’s about knowing that it doesn’t matter who reads your story or if anyone gives a shit, that story must come out, must be told, because the world needs that story, and you’re the one to write it.

I’ve said this many times; that writing a story is 70 per cent thinking and note-taking, 20 per cent writing, and 10 per cent editing, redrafting, many times over. If you have the time to do your internet marketing successfully, how do you have the time to create the best story you can write, the story that must be told? Perhaps this is the difference between mass market fiction and literary fiction, I don’t know. 

That might sound arrogant, but it isn’t really. Writing the story that simply must be told is nothing to do with wanting to make money from writing, it’s simply about writing a story that must be told, a story of humanity.

I don’t make any money from my writing at the moment, so does that mean I am not a writer? Probably. So what am I? How I make my money is not so glamorous, it’s a pain actually, but there you have it. In writing, I just want to take a story that the world must hear and tell it in the written form.

The marketing and the brain-screw of internet marketing is actually not for the writer to do. Now, we have been told, we have to market our work – fair enough – a little bit – but not spend our lives doing it. It’s for someone else, someone who’s skilled in the methods.

People have told me they make money from their writing, enough money to live on. I am doubtful but no one out there is prepared to be honest and bust the lie that I feel exists when it comes to self-publishing. I am always happy to be wrong. I don’t care either way, but I want to start a conversation about quality stories and who writes them, and why artists, creatives, and writers are always the ones who get dumped on. We know who is getting rich out of our content, and it’s not us. I hate to mention names but I will; I once read a Lee Child novel, and I was shocked at how bad the writing was.

His style, sentences with two words, a lame plot, unbelievable characters, this I found incredibly depressing. Lee Child is considered a top writer, successful beyond belief, but can he write? In my opinion, he writes genre fiction, badly. But then that’s just my opinion and my opinion does not matter. I suppose it’s about taste. Writing well takes talent and experience, and it’s not something that can be conjured up overnight or even over a few weeks with the help of that god-awful piece of software Grammerly to help you with your sentence structure.

Were writers ever supposed to make money and be rich? Probably not, and if it came to them, it often did so very late in their lives. Perhaps that is OK, or perhaps that’s the way it has always been. Look at history, George Orwell (Eric Blair), Virginia Woolf, D.H Lawrence, Anais Nin, to name a few and you’ll find the truth of the above.

Take care. Sending love. Jo x

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Fonts, ink, paper & love

My love affair with books has been life-long and beautiful. Books – all manner of them – offer me a safe, non-judgemental haven where I can inhabit other worlds, away from the noise and judgement of this life. In books I feel comforted, safe and protected. Handling a book, opening a book gives me such joy, that I need to feed my addiction many times daily.

Independent bookshops are places of profound safety and spirituality for me, like a church or a religious establishment, to me there is something religious about words on a page, bound in paper or cardboard or leather.

I have many favourite independent books in the world but for this post I want to celebrate the life of Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland.

Barter Books is a sublime independent bookshop, the self-acclaimed birthplace of the KEEP CALM CARRY ON popular culture craze that reached a peak a few years ago.

Books and especially second-hand books are for me a tactile delight. I love the softness of pages, the scent, the little notations that people in history have left in them. I get goosebumps every time I spy a gorgeous tome from the past, with a first-edition cover and a publishing date from decades ago. I collect second-hand books and first editions. The weight of them, their presence, the words within them are my guiding light, always eight-dimensional in every respect, offering many slices of history – who owned the book, who published the book, who wrote the book, who handled the book, who sat with it on a tram or a train or on a ship and held it on their lap, what eyes ran across the pages sparking thoughts of escape, thoughts of love, thoughts of sadness.

Barter Books in Northumberland is a book museum and religiously adores these purveyors of all wisdom that is human. Shakespeare and Company in Paris is another favourite of mine, but there are so many, too many to visit.