Guest Post: Laura Solomon - The Long Walk Home

Do authors dream of electric books? Yes, they most certainly do. At least in this day and age, where the e-book has the potential to revolutionise the literary industry. For me the e-book signifies power to the people. A small-timer like me can write their e-book and make it available for all the world to download – either by using a publisher or by doing it themselves. 

The problem then becomes, not how do I get an agent or publisher, but how do I attract readers? How do I compete with the other five million books on Amazon and Kobo? I don’t claim to have the answer to this question. Social media can help with promotion. Online reviews as well as reviews in traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television all contribute as do word of mouth and literary prizes. 

When I view the statistics for my website, I see that the vast majority of the people who have come to the site have found me via Facebook. I’m not into Twitter and I don’t use Facebook to convey details of my every action, as glamorous and exciting as that would be (Woke up, ate breakfast, sat at laptop. Walked to beach. Walked home from beach. Ate lunch. Sat at laptop. Ate dinner. Slept. Repeat ad infinitum.) I do, however, use Facebook to create online book launches, complete with virtual canapés and champers. For me, Facebook and e-books are a way to cut through some of the snobbery that has traditionally been prevalent in the industry. It also speeds things up a lot. No longer do I have to submit a manuscript and wait and wait and wait for an acceptance. Via Facebook I have managed to befriend over two thousand people, most of them writers. Chances are there’s an inverse relationship between Facebook friends and real ones. But, even better, at least four of those writers have been invaluably helpful to me, and I, in turn, have tried to be helpful to them. Ola Rhodes and I swap stories via Facebook and provide comments and advice on each other’s work. Murray Alfredson, in Australia, is currently reading my novel, An Imitation of Life, about an insect-eating giantess and providing valuable editorial tips in time for the release of the second edition. Jan Needle, in the UK, has a new imprint Skinback Books, to which I intend to submit a novella I am currently working on. These new relationships would never have occurred if it were not for the advent of Facebook. And, via good old Facebook, I have re-met Catherine Chidgey, whom I originally met at a writer’s conference in 1998 and she has agreed to work with me on the second edition of my novel, Hilary and David. Some authors love the limelight, but for a Janet Frame-style troglodyte like me who loathes being lured out of her bat-cave, the e-book/Facebook combo suits me down to the ground.

It’s shark on shark action as writers compete for readers. I’m not sure what the success of Fifty Shades of Grey tells us about today’s society. That there are a lot of sexually unsatisfied women who are turning to Mummy porn to fulfill their needs? Maybe today’s women are so busy juggling career, family and all the other demands made of them that all they want at the end of a hard day is to come home from work, sink into a hot lavender-scented bath and lose themselves in a good porno. Maybe it’s women’s revenge. Porn has traditionally been made for and consumed by men. Maybe the tide, the tables, are turning. Women, too, are claiming their right to be titillated.

Myself, I would squirm if I had to write soft porn. I’m a nice middle-class girl, with two and a half degrees who writes what I suppose you would call ‘literary fiction’, although I am against such classifications myself. For me the rise of the e-book is extremely liberating. If I fall out with a publisher, it’s not so disastrous. I can always upload the book to Amazon and Kobo myself, or partner with somebody running an e-book imprint. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t make any money doing all of this. My last royalties cheque came in at the grand sum of twenty quid. I put it towards my new Ferrari. The one I’ll buy when my next royalties cheque (for forty quid) comes through the post. So, why do I continue? I don’t have the answer to that question either. I’ve been writing fiction since my teens. Like most writers, I’ve also worked either full or part-time for a lot of my life to support myself. I’m so full of ideas, you could wire me up like one of P.K.Dick’s precogs and make movies out of my thought-dreams. In fact, I’m sure somebody would have done so by now, if they thought they could make money out of it. And if they thought they could get away with it, without having Amnesty International beating down the door. In fact, I make so little money, that I might as well give the damned books away for free.

Then we have the rise of the blog. I myself am the December guest blogger, so I will try and impart some useful advice to all you wanna-be writers out there. Don’t bother. Do you really want to be a thirty-eight year old loser like me, stuck at home all day, churning out crap that nobody wants to read, let alone pay for? Exactly. Enjoy your life, keep your day job, find a girl (or boy), settle down, have kids, raise a family, mow the lawn, go see a film, go jogging, do anything except write fiction. Because it seems to me that in this day and age, unless you can break into the Mummy porn market, you’re doomed.


madwippitt said…
Fear not! Walking past our local Oxfam shop before Christmas I saw the first (for me) pile of Fifty Shades books, left neatly stacked outside the door waiting for the shop to open. Soon they will be fighting for charity shop shelf space with Dan Brown ...
I comfort myself with the thought that my ebooks will NEVER end up dumped so unceremoniously in the street!
Good luck with the Ferrari!

julia jones said…
I'll look out for you on FB than - quite fancy a virtual canape and have NEVER EVER wanted a Ferrari. Thanks for guest blogging for us
Lee said…
I too have never wanted a Ferrari. And now, after having been driven in one (borrowed!) by my speed-loving son, I realise how difficult it is to clamber in and out of the blasted things when you've got creaky joints.

So I'm quite happy to give away my books, unlike most authors electric, it seems. Amazon forces me to charge a minimum price, and I wouldn't go with them at all if it weren't for the convenience of my readers. (And yes, I blithely ignore any rules they may have about undercutting their prices. I get more readers from other sources anyway, and I tend to think that single-purpose ereaders like the Kindle will not survive in the marketplace.)

There's nothing wrong with soft porn, as long as it's well written. Perhaps I'll give it a bash one of these days, with a scene or two in a Ferrari. Gotta indulge those fantasies or them old joints will get even creakier...

Being doomed aint so bad, Laura! Happy New Year.
Jan Needle said…
hallo laura, and a happy noo year from the old country blah blah blah. liked your piece as always, although your royalties figure was a bit depressing. don't stop, tho, however nice your listed alternatives seem - your stuff's too good. and happy noo year to you too, lee - another darned colonial! one question, tho. when you see a busker playing his tin whistle on a chilly corner, don't you think it's nice to give him a coupla groschen? it could be me. being HAPPY to give your stuff away for free strikes me as somehow spooooooooky. god bless us every one.
Lee said…
Hi Jan, I've been thinking about my 'spookiness', though as a fervent admirer of Philip Roth's work, I ought to know better than use the word. Anyway... why do I give away my fiction?

First of all, though I've sometimes been called a tad unrealistic (hi, Susan!) it's actually because I'm all too realistic when it comes to earning money from fiction: I know it won't happen in my case. The few sales I'd manage wouldn't make any difference to our budget. Maybe I'd be able to buy a few more books myself, but that's about it. We live very modestly, and of course a bit extra would help, but we're more fortunate than many, and royalties wouldn't begin to cover the cost of repairing our front steps (desperately needed) or new insulation (soon to be required by law) or even a new PC. So why bother?

Second, I'm rather indolent, often tired, and have no inclination to waste my dwindling energy on any form of publicity or marketing.

Third, I do charge sufficiently (actually, the top end of the range) for certain writing - translations, for example. And I'm perfetly willing to accept a check for short stories, since they are often easy to submit electronically and don't require any of the other writerly machinations novelists seem to have to undertake - readings, twitterings, whatever.

And fourth, I genuinely like giving things away. Maybe it's just a sop to my conscience, but we've got a roof, heat, running water, enough food to eat, so it's a minor and pretty much harmless way of giving something back.

But don't misunderstand me. I'm only speaking for myself and certainly don't think it's wrong for others to sell their work.

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