Forget selling. Focus on #writing.

A while back, I read this post, on Chuck Wendig’s blog and it got me thinking.

The basic gist is that there are gatekeepers for every writer. While, with indie publishing, it’s fairly easy to get your book out there, it gets much harder after publication than it is for trad published authors because most of the gates indies must go through turn up after the book is published.ย  So you get things like review sites that won’t touch anything self published; different gate, different place in the process but it’s still there. He explains how completely saturated the market is and links to an article from a fellow who has 150 books each day sent to his review magazine from trad publishers alone – which is why it only accepts trad pubbed books.

The message of Chuck’s article is, basically: there are gatekeepers in any part of the process, self published or trad. Know they are there. Accept they are there. Cease your raging against the machine. Deal with it. Write more books.


Here, let me help.

As messages go, it’s spot on.


As a writer I’d like to think I can accept that nobody owes me jack.

As a human, I find complete stonewalling, or a terse ‘no’ rude. But then I haven’t 150 other people expecting more than a terse ‘no’ to try and deal with every day. If I did, doubtless I would soon be sending out photocopied ‘no’ messages with the best of them.

So, while I do not condone or recommend it, I understand why wannabe writers; self published or aiming at trad, get pissed off and throw a hissy fit. Because while, as a writer, I accept the stonewall as a sanity saving necessity for publishers and agents; as a human it still feels a bit off. And, of course, there’s the frustration. Whatever path you choose in writing and whichever set of gatekeepers you aim to deal with, you need to learn what unlocks them. You need to learn why they are closed to your book and then you have to learn how you can write a book that they will be open to. It may even be as simple as needing to know that the key is on that shelf up there on the left. Point is you need to know. And in the old days, when you sent your book in, chances were, someone’d point you in the right direction. These days the poor buggers don’t have time.

Where to find out these things then? There are courses, there is further education, there is the internet, if you have lots of time at your disposal. But for many of us there is also real life. Or where courses are concerned, things like child care, and no matter how much time you make, those things put stop to much of that before you start.

So, many of us have to learn how to write work that is commercially acceptable – in all respects, not just a good book – with only one word of guidance. An that word is…


That’s OK, I know it’s the deal. As Chuck says in his post. Writing is hard. And it’s the only option they have because I’m one of millions.

But it is disheartening. Especially if, like me, you’re a bit dense and slow to learn from a whole plethora of words let alone one. Yes, it’ll take me a while to learn the things I need to know from the word ‘no’. Indeed, I have to be realistic and accept that it may never happen. So yeh, if you’re a wannabe writer, reading this, thinking, ‘AAARGH!’ I do understand how you might feel frustrated and cynical, or even angry, about that. But try not to. Because you’re a writer and sucking this up is your job.

These people have work to do, the relentless pressure of submissions to read and deadlines to meet and many operate under a constant barrage of interruption in the form of calls from writers. It must be like having their brains stirred with a huge wooden spoon. It’s worth remembering that the terse, ‘no’ or stonewall is probably quite impressive given the provocation some of these people must be under.

It’s not their fault.

It’s not yours.

It just is.

All the sales advice I was ever given talked about establishing dialogue – that’s why the cold callers always ask you how you are today. Then again, there’s little point in doing that if your attempts are going to piss people off.

So what to do? Well, perhaps the way to go is to avoid trying too hard. That surfeit of effort can be misinterpreted as a sense of desperation and that can make people wary or even get their backs up.

So to any writers reading this who are desperate to be heard, here are some pieces of advice that have stood me in good stead dealing with the frustration of learning from ‘no’.

  • Be patient.
  • Write a good book.
  • Avoid the hard sell.
  • Write more good books.
  • Forget about learning to flog books, instead concentrate on learning to write better and harder and with more soul.
  • Self publish and be damned!

You see, the way I look at it, if you get that second bit right, and your books are good enough, then eventually, if you self publish then, when enough people have read them, you won’t need to sell them. That’s right my young Paduan. Your readers will do that for you. This, I believe; passionately, wholeheartedly. Sure I wobble every now and again but I still cling to my deluded belief that cream rises to the surface. I’m going to ignore the words of whichever one of my characters it was who pointed out that scum also rises to the top and often ends up on top of the cream.

So if you’re feeling down, like you’re not getting anywhere, ask yourself, are you spending too much time learning to sell and not enough learning to write? Are you being unrealistic expecting to replicate x, y or z author’s strategy and hit the big time straight away? Because that way madness lies. This isn’t a straight away profession – and maybe that’s where some publishers are going wrong, too. The whole reason there are publishers in the first place is because most authors are a long term investment. They have to write a lot of books before they start to earn.

To my amateur (and probably very gauche) eye, the problem throughout the entire publishing industry seems to be the fact that because a few people have been overnight successes, there is now this daft idea that everyone has to be and that anything else is failure. Surely, historically, it has taken time and work(s) for authors to make money. They’ve needed someone who is prepared to believe in them, and pay enough money up front to prevent them dying of starvation while they art their arse off. Someone who’ll foot the bills (while the author writes enough books to get enough momentum) in return for a share in the profits, when they start to earn it back. A venture capitalist, in other words.

To be honest, I haven’t run across many venture capitalists, but the few I have are strikingly pragmatic. They take risks and spread their resources knowing that many of the businesses they invest in – however great the idea – will fail. Perhaps I’m wrong but I have this notion that there was once a time when, instead of giving a huge advance to one or two authors, or spending 90% on the marketing budget on a handful of big names, publishing houses spent a little less on several authors and hedged their bets. It’s like the football clubs who train up young players. It’s win-win for everyone when you sell them to Real Madrid.

Yes, success comes straight away for some of us, but for the rest of us, it takes as long as it takes. And that may be a very long time. Overnight stardom is the exception, not the rule. In a world of screaming noise, sometimes silence stands out.

Write those books, youngling. Create them with love, craft them with care and set them gently on the waters. They may float away to a far off place but if they are good and honest they will not sink.

As Mr Wendig says, ‘art harder motherfucker!’

Oh and did I mention patience?


Filed under General Wittering

40 responses to “Forget selling. Focus on #writing.

  1. Jemima Pett

    I couldn’t agree more, MT! The other thing – are you writing to sell loads, in which case you’re fighting to get yourself among all those commercially oriented books. If you are writing to be true to yourself you will get SOME satisfaction just from seeing your book out there.

    BTW I noticed my second book rose 1 million, seven thousand places up the ranking list last week. I must have sold one. Success!

    PS I don’t accept books for review, I review the ones I want to, and they are mainly indies. There’s a really good book I’m reviewing on Sat week (15th)… you might want to watch out for it ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. I love the line ‘self publish and be damned’. I do think, in many ways, that we are luckier than authors in time past in that we do have some power, we can self publish at a reasonable cost.
    I do wish people would read more though!

  3. Nice one MTM. Sometimes it is all too easy to think “WHY won’t they publish my book” we forget that there are so many other trying to get published. If a book has a place it will find it.

    • I agree. I’m fast beginning to believe that the only things that really work well are personal appearances, a snadge of marketing, and writing other books!

  4. As a writer, I know how it feels to send out thirty book review requests only to receive one lukewarm response. As a reviewer, I also know what it’s like to be bombarded by so many requests, you couldn’t hope to read them all. I understand why bloggers don’t always respond to requests, but it still hurts when someone doesn’t even bother to send a quick, “no.” I’ve taken the approach “all or none.” Right now, I’m not accepting any review requests. If (when?) I do, I would never exclude a certain segment of authors. I might exclude certain genres (because I don’t read them) but I would never cut self-pubbed authors out of the equation. As a writer, it’s incredibly hurtful when I see bloggers who do this.

    I’ve also cut WAY back on promotion. For a while, I promoted more than I wrote. That’s never a good approach for a writer to take. We must always write (or edit) before doing other writerly stuff.

    Sorry to ramble. This is an excellent post, MT.

    • Thanks. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I hope I’d approach it the way you do. One of the reason I don’t review books on my blog (although I do on Goodreads and Amazon) is because I don’t want to get into the minefield of reviewing… I have so little time and only read a few books a year so there’s just no point. And yes, I agree the sites that exclude are unwittingly hurtful. And thanks for the reblog, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰



  5. Reblogged this on Tricia Drammeh and commented:
    “Forget about learning to flog books, instead concentrate on learning to write better and harder and with more soul.” Inspiration with a healthy dose of reality. This is a terrific post by M T McGuire!

  6. Nicely put. ๐Ÿ™‚ My current advice to authors is to “play the long game.” Focusing on writing and being patient are worth stressing.

  7. Reblogged this on chrismcmullen and commented:
    Definitely worth a read. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yeh, a few overnight successes and suddenly we’re all expecting to hit the big time in minutes. The gruffalo is huge here. It came out when I was about 14. I am 46 now. That’s long game although so many people seem to think it’s overnight! And thanks so much for the reblog me dear!



  8. Reblogged this on Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing and commented:
    “Write those books, youngling. Create them with love, craft them with care and set them gently on the waters. They may float away to a far off place but if they are good and honest they will not sink.”
    Sage advice from M T McGuire who was previously featured on Reading Recommendations.

    • Thanks, MT, for this post, as it was timely.

      I choose not to “review” books on my blog, Reading Recommendations, but rather “recommend” authors I’ve discovered, bringing them to the attention of other readers. I don’t ask readers to review my books (unless I’m contacting an actual review blog or someone who has expressed an interest in reading to review), so I appreciate other authors not asking me to review theirs. I will list everything I read on Goodreads as having been read and will rate them there, but I am no longer posting any reviews to Amazon or other sales sites. The worst of it is when a request comes through with no consideration of reciprocation. “Hey,” I want to say to those authors, “I’ve published a couple of books, too, you know, that could use a few more reviews. How about you reading and reviewing MY books?” But I don’t do that. It would be nice, though, if just some of these desperate authors began promoting their fellow authors instead of constantly obsessing about their own sales numbers. And if, as you point out in this post, they got back to writing more books, and improving their writing, in the process … because there’s always room for improvement in everything we write, right?

      And, speaking of which, there’s a WIP that I need to get back to working on again.

      • Very true, all of us need to help each other and we need to understand that it’s not going to happen straight away and I think a lot of us need to be patient, with ourselves and each other.



  9. Excellent post. Not just something for newbies to ponder, but a timely reminder for us not-so-newbies, too.

  10. Good Post, M T. I sent out a good number of review requests when I first became serious about writingโ€”well, serious in the sense that I regarded it as a serious hobby. I enjoy writing, but I don’t like marketing and promotion. I learned first hand that most review requests go unanswered (the same as most queries to agents and publishers). Hundreds of downloads from a Kindle free promotion yield few (if any) customer reviews. It’s frustrating. It’s also no fun. What is fun (for me) is writing, so that’s what I do. Now, I may request one or two reviews from people who have said they’d be interested in providing one for my newest book (either directly or in a previous review), but I’m out of the intense marketing thing. I’m not a salesman. I don’t want to be one. And obviously, I’m not much good at it anyway. My goal now simply is to make my next book better than my last book. Sometimes it is difficult to continue without the recognition that reviews provide, but I do. I suppose we all do, hoping (perhaps unreasonably) that the next book will be one that gets noticed.

  11. Reblogged this on YOURS IN STORYTELLING… and commented:
    Writers write, right”?

  12. what a fantastic post! Love it!

  13. I LOVE this! Brilliant, what more is there to say?! ๐Ÿ˜€

  14. Great article, I think adjusting our expectations is key to being able to continue. If you know this is a long game, and mentally prepare for it, you have much higher chances of enduring and reaching success. Just keep writing!

    I knew that blogging would be slow and sometimes difficult when I started so I made a goal to write in my blog for 1 year. The average blog lasts 6-8 months, and I bet a lot of that has to do with, you guessed it…. expectations.

    • Amen to that. I write slower than glaciers move, as I said on your blog. But I haven’t given up, because I can’t and now suddenly, I realise I have a 4 book series out. Which feels pretty damn good!



  15. Pingback: Posts I loved this week. | Taylor Grace

  16. Excellent article and a good way to look at the stops along the way as gatekeepeers – less frustrating for me.

  17. Kev

    Great article MT. I love your approach. Now where’s that gatekeeper I hired? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  18. Reblogged this on The Writing Chimp and commented:
    As someone getting closer to the publishing moment, it is good the read articles and remind ourselves to everything in perspective.

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