'Only connect' by Cally Phillips

(or, Serendipity Part One) 

           Always be learning.  A film (of a play) that was pivotal in my life’s journey is GlenGarry Glen Ross. I still break out in a sweat just writing the title.  Because once upon a time dear reader, I was a salesperson. Don’t ask me how I went from the hallowed portals of academia to the world of sales. I was young. I needed the money. I was a bit too clever for my own good. I used my moral philosophy skills in my first ever job interview to convince them  that philosophy was just like sales  - it was all about convincing people to ‘buy’ what you wanted to ‘sell’ them. And I got the job. As I said, I was desperate. I thought I needed the money.  I was young.  We all make mistakes eh? I thought I’d progress from the heady world of selling radio advertising into advertising proper (perhaps even advertising copywriting) Instead I ended up in financial services.  Well paid, mind you, it was the eighties after all.  Before I ever saw GlenGarry Glen Ross, I had lived it and believe me, it wasn’t a dream.  It was like 5 years in prison. Eventually I HAD to change my life big-style and I did.  If I ever wonder about the path I’ve taken I can just whisper those words to myself ‘always be closing’ and remind myself I am not and will not ever be a salesperson – especially if I have to ‘sell’ myself. 
          Selling yourself is the advice writers are often blithely given.  I’m afraid it always smacks to me of ‘the oldest profession’ when I hear the phrase. I have no intention of selling myself.  If I sell anything I’m selling my WORK.  Anything else, I give away. (Some might say all too liberally – I mean why give my opinion, everyone has one and they don’t need me to give them mine.) Yet I in my opinion (since you ask) I think an important issue is: what value does one place on ones writing?  I made a living out of selling my writing (and writing skills) for 20 years (in some very ingenious and non conventional ways I’ll admit) and so I entered the ebook revolution hoping to find a way I could perpetuate this ‘career’ move.  But it just isn’t like that. Not for me. Not for many non genre ‘indies’ I expect.  One has to take stock, take a deep breath and learn how to ‘deal’ with that uncomfortable truth.  For me, and the likes of me (yes, even hardened, hard bitten, hard boiled or whatever kind of hard you like – former professionals who’ve earned their crust through writing) in the short term this is not a way to make money.  I know some of you are doing it – some with better ‘track records’ or better built ‘fan bases’ and I applaud you, if this is ‘your time’ then please, make the most of it – there is no chagrin or jealousy implied here – if you can do it DO IT because you are the vanguard leaders and hopefully me, and the likes of me, will eventually join you in that happy land when THE MARKET changes or settles or does whatever it will need to do to enable individual writers (be they self or indie publishing) to see the light of day and connect with readers.

        As E.M.Forster put it, the issue is ‘only connect.’  I still hope (even if I don’t always believe) that when we find a way or build a way or a way is found or built to connect directly reader to writer we will start to make progress in the digital revolution.
          One truth (ugly for seller, happy for consumer) I perceive is that when it comes to digital media, FREE is the new black.  And maybe we’ll have to get used to that. You can give it away or you can sell it. The choice is yours. It depends what you want out of it. But you can’t make people buy it. And if you want to get sales you have to do the sales shuffle!  For me, I prefer ‘always be writing’ to ‘always be closing’ but above it all ‘always be learning’ is my main mantra from Mamet.
          To misquote once again: 'It’s the revolution, stupid.'  Economics is god folks.
          Remember that. (That only need be a problem if you believe in God of course).

          I’ve spent the last 18 months wandering the virtual streets of the emergent ebook marketplace and found that these virtual streets are no different from the ‘real’ ones when it comes to writing and publishing. The same rules apply. If you are in fashion, if you have marketing power or hype ability then you get noticed. If not, not. And then it’s a case of not getting depressed, not spitting the dummy and not thinking that ‘good’ has anything to do with ‘sales.’  It’s a case of doing what you believe in to the best of your ability. And then there’s LUCK.  Sure the harder you work the luckier you can be, but equally the more money you have to throw at something in our consumer capitalist world the luckier you can be too. So I’m thinking there may be some relationship between luck and money and that some of us are just destined NEVER to ride the lucky money train.  So we need other things to get us out of bed in the morning. Fortunately, I don’t believe in either luck or money (yes, I said it folks, I don’t believe in money) either as things in their own right or indeed as having any relevance to my life. They are social constructs. I spit on them! I have higher aims.  For me, the most important commodity in my life is TIME.
          Time has to be managed like everything else and priorities have to be made. And my current ‘time out’ from writing is in order to ‘direct’ the online ebook festival for this, its second year.  It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday but it’s a time commitment and a commitment to my ‘principles’ which I’m happy to undertake.  I don’t believe in luck, money or god but I still have an unshakable belief that likeminded people working together for a common goal (even if they be writers) can achieve something. In this instance the goal is to introduce writers to readers and to show the average Joe who hasn’t a Scooby what all this ebook stuff is about (which includes many writers as well as readers) that there’s a lot of writing out there ‘beyond the margins’ of the mainstream marketplace and traditional patterns, which offers all kinds of new, enjoyable and challenging experiences.  I know the virtual streets aren’t paved with gold, I know that the market will always dominate and the big boys will always stand at the front and crowd out the rest of us – but even though I’ve read Orwell and I know that we are doomed from the moment the clock struck thirteen on the opening page, 

I will NOT love Big Brother and I will continue to put my efforts into finding another way, a niche, a resistance – call it what you will – to voice the unvoiced and to have a good time doing it.

Finding readers can seem a bit like looking for life on other planets if you’re not ‘in the mix’ but at least if we put it out there there’s a chance.  GlenGarry GlenRoss gives me the shivers. 

 Nineteen Eighty Four is my acknowledged truth but when I need a bit of cheering up, you can’t do better than Field of Dreams
(if you build it they will come) and when that doesn’t work  there’s always Bronco Billy.

Always be dreaming is so much nicer than always be closing (in my opinion!)

Next month I’ll give you the pre-festival ‘low down’ but you can get in before the event and bookmark the site. We’ll have ‘teasers’ and information on site from the beginning of August – we’re ‘building it’ right now in the hope that you’ll come to the ball game. And it’s FREE for all with an infinite number of best seats in the house.  Hope to see you there. 


Lee said…
Good post, thanks - and no CAPS, finally! ;-)

We all believe in god - sometimes we just call it something different: science, progress, love, self-fulfilment, success, whatever. Even the god of writing.
Lee said…
Well, ok, 'FREE' - but I'll accept that one...

Dan Holloway said…
Marvellous. Keep fighting, keep refusing to accept the market. My only disagreement is on luck - I don't think I could ever accept a world devoid of luck - it's just too harsh a doctrine for a hippy like me - yes, you have to play the hand you're dealt, yes, it is possible to overcome the most terrible structural injustice, yes many cancers are lifestyle based, but I'm afraid I lack the moral backbone to tell people whose lives have taken terrible turns that they were anything but plain unlucky
CallyPhillips said…
Does random chance not do it for you Dan? As a substitute for luck? Life's just that way sometimes. Because for me luck implies that we have some investment in the workings of the universe where (and I hear Bill cheering in the wings now) I don't think humans are that important in the scheme of things. A world devoid of luck is a world which just accepts that 'shit happens' and it's nothing to do with PEOPLE it's just the way life is. Ain't that consistent with hippieness? I guess I'm just trying to say that 'you make your own luck' is a construct and so 'you're unlucky' is also a construct. For me it's down to Daoist wu wei - don't go against 'nature' - just accept that life is that way and don't try to 'control' it by giving it a label of 'luck.' But it's an interesting discussion point Dan - thanks!
Bill Kirton said…
Great post, Cally, covering the important bases and asking the relevant questions. You've anticipated some of what I was going to say by your 'cheering in the wings' reference, which is spot on. The only tiny qualification I'd make is that what most call luck seems to be an ability to spot when a random event or set of circumstances has potential and try to turn it to their advantage - risk-takers, I guess. Whether they succeed or not is also random but at least they've intervened (or is that 'mauvaise foi'? I'm losing the pretend grip I had on Sartre).

As for the divinity of money, the way we all behave about it makes it look like the peak of evolutionary progress (so far). It certainly seems to be more important than people in the present context. Its existence (in one's pocket or bank or whatever) is becoming more important than its function. To me, an ignoramus in the realm of economics, it seems like an abstraction more potent than most material things.

Finally, the first job I had when I graduated was as trainee manager in a factory. I was paid what was for me a huge salary but I only stuck it for 10 months because I realised that I was in that factory for 10-12 hours a day so, however much they gave me, I'd never have time to spend it. That was when I first realised that, as you say, the real currency is time.
Dan Holloway said…
Oh yes, absolutely. Random chance, events outside of agency, is what I mean by luck.
Kathleen Jones said…
Lovely post Cally - full of truths that have to be acknowledged. Unfortunately, Bookworld is part of the consumerist, capitalist universe we seem to have been conned into. Random (as in random house who seem to be taking over the world!)
We just have to keep writing - I'm discovering, through the eco-writing movement, that there's a whole lot of people out there who have a very different view. There are people who want books about ideas, lyrical expositions of what it means to be human, and books that try to change things, challenging the status quo.

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