Charm, Persuasion, Uncertainty and Bloody-Mindedness

11 Mar

First of all, before anything else, and apropos of nothing, this comic by the lovely Kate Beaton had me laughing and giggling and snorting for … I don’t even know how long; it made me laugh so much that TIME LOST ALL MEANING. I think I actually got up and did a little dance at one point, it all got a bit blurry there towards the end. “And the wingspan of an albatross!”, I am going to be saying that for days.

The title of this post comes, of course, from the wonderful, the marvellous, the sublime and superlative Terry Pratchett, without question my most favourite writer in the whole entire world. The line in full is “The universe, they said, depended for its operation on the balance of four forces which they identified as charm, persuasion, uncertainty and bloody-mindedness.”

Shall I put off getting to the meat of this post a bit longer? Well why not, eh? Why not indeed. I’ve been told that potential readers like to know a writer before they’ll read their books, so I’ve decided to include one small snippet of a tantalising fact about myself in each post. Today’s BJK White Factoid:

I like vanilla ice cream more than I like chocolate ice cream, and I like goody goody gum drops ice cream more than either.

(Far out, that started to sound like the beginning of some hideously complex maths/logic problem, didn’t it? “Ben likes vanilla more than he likes strawberry, but he likes cookies and cream more than either of these. Given this information, how tall is Imhotep?”) (Ah, there’s another factoid for you; I am the only person in the world who still says ‘far out’, and probably far too much, at that.)

But anyway. But anyway! This post is about success. Not dressing for success or eating for success or even how to achieve success, but rather the belief, as an as-yet unsuccessful person, that I will eventually, somehow, somewhen, in some manner, find success. It’s about faith; belief without proof.

I believe, I truly believe, that I will be a success if I just keep writing. If I keep plugging away and working on books, outlining then writing then editing and editing and editing and then proofing and proofing and proofing until they’re as good as I can possibly get them before sending them out into the electronic ether and starting work on the next one–that if I just keep doing this, then eventually I will find enough people who feel the same way about my books as I do to establish a ‘platform’. Platform, in this case, refers to a solid fanbase, a core of readers who enjoy your books so much that they tell all their friends about them and post on Facebook and write TVTropes pages and so on and so forth–the kind of wonderful fans that most writers dream of having. Once you have a big enough platform, essentially all you have to do is write the next book and tell your fans what you’re doing.

Once you’ve got that, you can relax. You’ve reached the top of the hill; it’s easy street from then on in. Because once you’ve established this mythical ‘platform’ you’re no longer shouting into a great hostile void, hoping for anyone to hear your cries of ‘er, I wrote this; maybe you’d like it?’, uncertain of what people might say or do or throw at you in response. Instead, you’re doing what is commonly referred to as ‘engaging with fans’, which is just another way of saying ‘chatting with people who like you and your writing and who are basically just lovely’.

Dragging myself back to the main point of this post (that is, my faith that I will eventually reach this point), I come to the central question, the question I ask myself at least, oh, once a week or so; is what I write actually any good? Could it be that it’s just rubbish? Is it possible that I’m (gasp shock horror) a bad writer?

(Saying those two words–“bad writer!”–to an author will have much the same effect as saying “bad dog!” to a canine. This information may be useful in the event that you are attacked by a rabid author.)

(Also yes I know that was actually three questions.)

What I write next is going to seem more than a little narcissistic. Perhaps even a little onanistic (oo-er). Here we go then. Deep breath, because this is difficult. Another deep breath, because we could all do with a little more oxygen. Perhaps a small snack for energy, some nourishing crackers or a sliced apple (get on with it -Ed.)

All right then. Here we go. One final deep breath and just get it out:

I love my own writing.

I downloaded the sample chapter for Miya Black, Pirate Princess last week, just to see how much of the book was in there. I always cringe a little bit about this particular book, because it was pretty much the first ‘saleable’ novel I ever wrote, and to me it’s filled with flaws and sentences that just don’t flow well enough and the story could be tightened and it could be nipped and it could be tucked and it’s just SO imperfect and the beginning in particular is just really loose and meandering and silly, I mean it doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the series at all, it’s more like a children’s book and–

And it sucked me in. My own book sucked me right in, to the point where I felt jarred when the sample ended–it’s been over a year since I last read it, you see, and I’ve been working on so many other things since then, and my memory isn’t all that good to begin with, and I do tend to remember just the bad parts of my own work–and yes, the beginning could be tighter and I’ve improved a lot as a writer since then and I do still cringe at some of the clumsier sentences but still. Later that same day I got out the print version, just to flick through, and I ended up reading the entire last quarter of the book, straight through. There are some great fight scenes near the end, duels in the rain, rival against rival, brother against brother, unstoppably determined princess against unbreakably strong pirate–basically, it was just EXACTLY my kind of book.

“Well of COURSE it was, you nonny!” I hear you cry. “You wrote the blessed thing!”

(Incidentally if your reaction was anything remotely like this then I think you’re brilliant.)

But that’s just it! I did write the blessed thing, and I wrote it as best I could (back then, about two years ago), and I put in everything I wanted to put in and nothing I didn’t. There was no editor to say “Readers don’t like female heroes, make Miya a boy” (although I did receive that exact advice from someone experienced in publishing) or “Your fight scenes are too intense, your characters get hurt too much, lighten them up a little, make them more slapstick” or even “Good god this sentence is appallingly constructed, redo the whole thing” although actually that last one might have been useful. It is entirely my book, from start to finish.

Once again I’ve completely lost my point. Once again I’ll just pull one out of nowhere; I believe I will achieve success because my books are great. I think so, and so surely other people must think so. I mean, there are a lot of people out there in the world. Maybe a hundred people wouldn’t enjoy my books. Maybe a thousand wouldn’t. Maybe a million wouldn’t! Wait, that’s really negative. Let’s approach this from a different angle; there are literally millions of potential readers out there. Even if only 0.1% of those potential readers would enjoy my books, that’s still ten thousand people. If I think about this way–“If I showed my book to a thousand random people, would at least one of them want to read it?”–then the answer has to be “Well I would certainly HOPE so, who are these other nine-hundred and ninety nine people who don’t want to read my book, the cheek of them, after I’ve gone to all this trouble collecting a thousand random people and gathering them all here together, I shall write a letter to my local MP complaining of this very problem oobly oobly oobly.”

But getting serious for a moment, the assumption that one person in one thousand would like at least one of my books is not, I think, unreasonable. Thinking in these terms, the problem is soon reduced to “So how do I find this person-in-a-haystack?”. And the answer to that is, of course, expose my books to a thousand people. And then a thousand more, and a thousand more after that.

And, whoops! I’ve gone off on another tangent. Let’s end this thing properly, with another patented As If From Nowheretm point: Marketing is, to me, exposure. It’s not ‘selling’, it’s not forcing my books on people and shouting “BUY THIS! BUY IT! DON’T ASK QUESTIONS JUST BUY THE BLOODY BOOK!”. That’s the last thing I want; I want for my books to be read by people who want to read them, who would enjoy them. Not ‘selling to’; ‘informing of’.

I just have to find enough people, and eventually, someday, somehow, I’ll be a success.

Next: Something Actually About What I’m Doing To Promote Myself (thousands of words to get to the point; no wonder I’m not a success)

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Posted by on March 11, 2011 in Of Writing


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