You might think, based on the title of this post, that it would be about exercise. Good guess, but no. It’s about being a writer in the twenty-first century.
In a bygone era (before the advent of the internet, self-publishing, and social media), writers wrote books, submitted them to agents, who, if they were lucky, would take them on as clients. Agents would find homes for books with publishers, who would publish said books and promote them. While this does still happen, the landscape has changed greatly.
I read a post recently by Kacen Callender, a terrific author I truly admire. In it, they discussed the reality that publishing houses decide which books will become best sellers (because they will promote them) and which will not. They don’t tend to promote new or mid-list authors. Kind of a bummer, unless you’re already Stephen King.
That’s assuming your book even gets picked up, which has always been unlikely, given the number of books written (and the volume only grows). Realistically, most books don’t find agents, let alone publishers. Enter self-publishing. At one time this was considered a joke and was referred to as vanity publishing. Writers would pay a company to publish their book for them and then try to sell it on their own, one copy at a time to anyone they could con into it.
Now self-publishing is big business and giving traditional publishers a run for their money. Literally. Those who self-publish must, of necessity, be their own publicist, unless they hire someone to do it for them. It is rare to make back the money spent. Even traditionally published authors are expected to promote themselves and their books. The medium for most of this is social media. Here’s where the wheel spinning comes in.
Everyone and their dog is promoting their work. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms are inundated with messages from writers trying to interest people in reading, and preferably paying for, the stories they write. It has become white noise. People tune it out and no longer even notice most of what is posted.
Writers are left with the choice of not being noticed at all, or frantically spinning their wheels on social media, trying to break through the ennui that has set in around marketing. We aren’t allowed to just be writers. We aren’t permitted to focus on our real work—writing.
Writers have turned to other platforms to try to monetize their writing. Patreon is a good example, but most of those who do well there come in with a pre-existing audience. Medium is another platform, though few people make any real money there. There’s Substack as well. One has to build an audience before it makes sense to even consider trying to monetize here. I’m certainly not there yet!
But Substack has a good idea. It’s similar to Patreon, but delivered in a newsletter format. If people like and appreciate a writer’s work, why should traditional publishing be the gatekeeper who decides if they get to see it or not? These platforms provide an opportunity for readers and writers to connect and for readers to directly support writers they like through small monthly payments. It’s a writer’s way of crowdfunding.
No one pays a lot (the lowest level a writer can charge if they monetize their blog is $5 per month). But if lots of people support a writer, they can focus on the business of writing, rather than spinning their wheels on social media, knowing it’s actually futile.
I’m not in a position to monetize my newsletter and likely won’t be for a long time, if ever. But I wanted to put a bug in your ear. If you see a monetized newsletter that you like, consider supporting the author. We work hard putting out stories for you. It takes time and a measure of talent. If you derive pleasure from the product of our work, what is that worth to you?
I’m not suggesting you support every writer you come across. I support a few here and on Patreon because I truly appreciate their work and want them to keep on writing. Just as I support a Kickstarter project here and there. It’s supporting the arts. It’s helping an artist stop spinning their wheels, so they can sit down and create. One of the best things about being a reader in the twenty-first century is that you can directly support an author of your choice. You get to be a patron for literally pennies a day.
Jimmy Doom is one of my favorite writers on Substack. Jimmy has successfully monetized his newsletter, “Jimmy Doom’s Roulette Weal.” (No, that’s not misspelled.) He’s an actor and a prolific writer who puts out fiction for his subscribers literally every day. Check him out, or browse around and see what else might strike your fancy. Help a writer stop spinning their wheels.