Be a Snob or Make Money Writing?

Writing for Amused Now

Photo by matryosha

In 2012 I wrote my first novel, Bushido. The gritty tale about a down on his luck Yakuza general that is forced to take up arms against his old boss (and a thousand other Japanese miscreants) immediately caught the attention of Kathy Ullman at Bantam Dell books and went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

Or at least that’s how, up until last year, I wanted the story to go in general terms. Maybe I’ll do without a hundred or so baddies (there is such thing as overkill, you know?)

But I digress. I mean the story of my book being published.

Don’t you get the feeling that nowadays everyone considers him/herself an artist? With the advent of cheap DSLR cameras and mobile phones with shiny photo filters, waterfalls of information on how-to-this and how-not-to-that, accessible bundles of raffia, and well, not a lot of thrilling opportunities at your average nine to five; it’s no wonder that throngs of hopeful thespians, playwrights, scribes, and doodlers spend whatever reserves of time and energy they can tap into and seek that elusive pair: fame and wealth.

Or perhaps they’ve always been among us, hiding behind glasses of absinthe and crammed inside dimly lit studios. The difference is, most certainly, that thanks to the wonders of the Internet we can see them now.

I am not ashamed to admit that, at first, I was a snob. Big time. When, a couple of years ago, I started to see my Twitter feed flooded by these so-called authors who would peddle their homespun words as if they were peas in a market, I thought to myself, “what a disgraceful way of treating the written word,” and “I will never stoop that low.”

But then an apple fell from the proverbial tree and hit me in the head with a vengeance. Because these low-stooping, pea-selling hawkers were actually making money doing what they loved. Sure, plenty of them self-pubbers had the literacy level of a bowl of alphabet soup, hired mobs of cheap typists to write bogus book reviews, and in no time became as obnoxious as water in your ears after swimming. But hey, did I mention they were making money?

Their trick is quite simple and has everything to do with what I said before: being seen.

Traditional publishing is slow for new writers. At one point, with one novel, you’re lucky if you get the much divided attention of five or so potential agents who will most likely decline your seduction attempts. By contrast, making good use of these nifty new electronic resources gets an indie or fresh author tons of exposure and can lead to sales almost immediately.

Now, embracing more openly the resources at my disposal and while my big masterpiece is ready, here is what I do:

  • Participate in all kinds of online contests, from amateurish to professional. This brings down several birds with one stone: I beef up my skill and confidence levels, I get valuable feedback, and network with fellow aspiring writers.
  • Learn a little every day. See what works for others that might work for me. And, of course, I keep my eyes wide open for what absolutely does not work for anyone.
  • Maintain the candle lit for traditional publishing in the form of short story submissions to magazines. While the monies ain’t great, short stories are easier to craft and send out to the world to see. Something sticking to one publication or another is more likely, which helps with name building and pizza (just ask Ray B. or Stephen K.).
  • From time to time, put things up on the blog for my fans (like, five of them as of now) to read at their leisure.

Do the traditional and self-published paths yield the same results for a writer? Definitely no, at least not yet. But the gap is closing and wider doors are opening instead. As in everything, there’s the easy way, the hard way, and the smart way. And not taking advantage of every tool in the shed is everything but smart.

Happy art making!

Juan Pablo Hurtado is a computer engineer, filmmaker, and writer living in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Happy art making!