by Laura Anne Gilman
There is no one set and true career path that suits all writers.
Let me repeat that: there is no one set and true career path for writers. That’s even more true now than it was five years ago, when options were limited as to how you could be published (traditional or vanity).
However, the one thing that remains – unless you’re a “gonna write a book and get rich-and famous” delusionist– is the desire to have that career last. Not only that people are still reading the books that you wrote five years ago, but are also waiting for the ones that you’re going to write next year. That money – your paycheck – continues to come in, no matter what various revenue streams you’re tapping.
This is called playing the long game. Not the desire to become a Big Name Author (although we never say no if fame comes calling, there’s very little writer-control over that) but to be a consistent producer. In Hollywood terms, to be a character actor rather than the “It Face” of the year.* To earn longevity.
The short-game focuses in on a particular book, a particular contract. Or, as (I believe) award-winning writer Joe Haldeman said, “I don’t have a career, I have a book at a time.” This is a good, focused plan – while you’re writing. But in today’s market, particularly, that sort of short focus alone is going to hurt you.
Playing the long game means looking at your career both in close-up (this book right now) and distance (backlist + books yet to be written).
In the Long Ago Days, you could count on readers flocking to the bookstore and seeing everything that was new on the shelf. Today? Not so much. Too many titles, too many outlets, and not everyone’s carrying the same inventory – and people only have so much time to shop.
Playing the long game means that you need to consider not only the Day-of-Release, but the other 364 days of the year, too. That doesn’t mean promote! every day, but rather than throwing all of your energy (and resources) into one hard push, think more about keeping the signal going in the background. Some people pre-order. Some put books on their wishlist. Some forget, and need to be reminded later that yes, they did want to read that book.
Talk about your new book, but don’t fetishize it. Don’t demand other people fetishize it, either. And keep the simmer on, year-round – not just on the new book, but on everything.
Because playing the long game means that you need to think about every book and story you write as being “live.” Not every reader finds a book when it first comes out. In fact, the odds are good that someone who finds you in a bookstore, or on a recommendation, may not know that you’ve ever written a book before (or short stories, or graphic novels, or…)
The long game requires that you maintain that backlist, so new readers can find it easily. In ebooks, that means clickable links. In print editions, listing everything that’s available, and/or excerpts at the back. On your website, making sure there’s enough info to intrigue the random browser – and an easily clickable way to buy the book.
Playing the long game means keeping yourself – and your books – relevant and interesting to new readers. Yes, this means getting out into at least one social network, and making yourself available to fans. It also means maintaining a website with updated and useful (and easily-found) information. It also requires that you know when to shut up and sit down, and let reader word-of-mouth do its thing.
And the long game requires that you keep writing, keeping to whatever game plan you’ve decided works for you. Write to sell, write to satisfy. Write to win. Because the real prize for a working writer … is to keep working.
*of COURSE we all want to be the It Voice. But – as any publisher or reputable publicist will tell you – hitting it big has only a small percentage to do with how hard you’re pushed, and everything to do with how hard you hit. And the only people who control the hit are the readers. Sometimes they flock to the Next New Thing. Sometimes they create the Next New Thing. All you can do is give them Your Thing, and go back to work.
Coming up in Week 32: A launch, a launch, my kingdom for a launch?
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy. Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future”, was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.