I find myself in limbo. I have a full-time job (although I do work for myself and therefore have more flexibility in my working pattern than do traditional employees) and my main hobby during my free time is writing historical fiction. But writing is no longer the solitary and focussed activity it once was. The advent of self-publishing (which is gradually renaming itself “independent publishing” – I suppose to remove the suggestion of vanity and self-indulgence) means that those of us who fail to find an agent and traditional publisher can still publish our books, but this leads inevitably to a vary crowded marketplace. Even taking as a tiny and unscientific sample the “indie authors” whom I “know” through my own membership of the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors, hundreds of books a day are being published. It’s marvellous, in that there is going to be the perfect book for every reader, but as an author, how do we elbow our way to the front and shout, “Here it is, your perfect book – it’s the one I’ve written!”?
And this is really the nub of my post today: how can the hobbyist author – as opposed to the full-time professional – find time to do what is necessary to stay afloat and visible in the publishing world? Before you get out your notepad, I should confess that I don’t have the answer – or at least, nothing more revolutionary than “you just have to find the time – as with most human endeavour, effort in will lead to results out”. For myself, I concentrate on my monthly Sam Plank update distributed via Mailchimp to my mailing list of (I’ve just checked) 43 subscribers. It works for me because (a) I’m doing the research anyway and it’s fun to distil some of it into an update, and (b) all the received wisdom about book marketing says that a mailing list of loyal readers is more important than anything. But I know I’m dabbling in an amateur fashion, and when I see what full-time authors can do – probably ably supported by publicists and publishers – I am green with envy and mournful with inadequacy.
In my darker, more envious moments I remind myself of two things. One: when I retire from full-time work (hah!) I will be able to do all this publishing and promotion properly. And two: if I have an hour or two to devote to the author side of my life, I should spend it on writing and not on worrying about publicity and marketing. After all, I could have the slickest sales campaign in the world, glitzy enough to make John Grisham weep into his inkwell, and it would be worth nothing without having the words between the covers, ready to sell. So that’s my moan for today, and I’m off to write a scene where poor Wilson has to tell a mother that her son has died. Cheery.