The legendary country and western harmony group The Statler Brothers wrote a song about writing songs. It begins with a list of reasons one writes songs and at the end, in an ode to love, they croon to an unmentioned flame, “And some I write for you.”
The reality is though that most songs are written because the writer wants to write them. They may end up being songs about war, or conservation or a lover. The same goes for blogs. While most I write for you, I have to cop to the fact that, on occasion, I write them because I want you to know what I’m telling you. I write them then for me. Sometimes though I write some for an even more selfish reason. I need help. This is one of those.
One of the first things one learns in journalism is that the essentials, the most important facts, the answers to the questions “who, what why, when, and where?” should go in the first paragraph, certainly the first and second even if the reasons are ones most professors of journalism will not accept. When one is writing something more literary than a newspaper article it is often more interesting to sprinkle the reasons throughout as one waltzes towards the end. At the end, one recaps and makes sure those pesky little questions have been answered.
Most parents will tell you that if you want something ask for it upfront then follow up with the rationale. “I want a bike.” After that comes the irrefutable reasoning you will offer to make your case. In writing this I am now presented with the famous Yogi Berra conundrum,” When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” Hmmmmm. I’m going with Journalism 101. I’m going to tell you what I want and they why. Ok, here goes.
I want you to buy my latest book. In fact, I’d like you to buy it, read it, (two different things…) and then if you like it, write a review about it, long or short, and post the review on Amazon. Then I’d like you to think about all those who you might give a copy to as a gift for birthdays, the holidays, the hell of it. “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn,” a coming of age story that covers the first 17 years of my life. It is mostly a comedy and like most comedy has some pretty sad and disheartening moments, which are actually quite funny. (I add that in case you’ve forgotten.)
Here’s why I need you to help me. Some authors write to make money and become famous. Except in rare instances, the writers of memoirs don’t write for money. They write for a love of history, theirs or someone else’s. That’s me. I feel for an average guy I’ve had a lot of very odd things happen to me. It dawned on me that you, the reader might have as well. I actually tested that out in a little pre-publication survey and was proven right. In a memoir, 15 is more important than where you were when you were 15, what religion you practiced, in many cases what color you were or country you came from. Fifteen is fifteen. Fifteen produces the stories.
So if I’m not writing for money, why then? Well, there’s entertainment, there’s the love of the written word, and there are some pretty bizarro stories to share. Truthfully, one must add ego. ‘nothing better than someone reading your book and going out of their way to tell you it was great, they loved it. There is however another important reason to have the book sell. In my case, it’s that there’s a sequel. Next year comes my tour de force through college and grad school entitled, “Don’t Step on the Chicken.” I may have to dedicate another blog to explain that.)
Books sell books. If someone buys a book and likes it, the statistics indicate that the reader will look for the next effort of that same author. That remains the same but its the industry that has changed. Look around the neighborhood you grew up in or have lived in for a long time. You can point out where all the book stores used to be. If you are lucky there’s still a Barnes and Noble and luckier still if there’s an independent who through dint of magic and hard work and a dedicated clientele has survived. Unless you live in a very large city that’s gonna be about it. Thus there are far fewer places for authors’ wares to be displayed, for authors to be invited to do signings, etc. Additionally, unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson there are few if any advances paid to get the author through the year or more of the agony of writing, editing, rewriting, re-editing and more of the same. I did that nine (as in 9) times.
You may not be counting but our determined author is writing a book, writing a blog, in my case a weekly blog, and is managing a website or paying someone to do that but providing the information to be placed. Writing and selling a book is not for the lazy, disorganized, or weak of finger.
Nor are there any longer “runs” of books sent out by publishers to book stores far and wide as used to be the case. Now it is a POD industry–print on demand. As a Barnes and Noble manager answered my question about how I get copies of my book on one of her tables, “tell everyone one you know to call or come in and request a copy. The main office will see from our reports all those requests and then they will say, ‘There’s a market for that book, stock it.’ “Then we order a bunch and display them. (That’s a hint.) So to the job description let’s add sheepherder as I look for potential readers and herd them towards the corral of the bookstore.
There’s one more piece of magic. The review. For those millions of people who have an Amazon account, and maybe a Kindle as well, you know how to buy a book from Amazon. But did you know that unless it’s a spectacular number, the copies sold have an equal in the importance column? It’s the review. It can be a sentence. It can be three paragraphs. No matter. What matters is that the reader took the time to say something good about the book. The book is ranked by reviews. The more reviews, the higher the ranking. The higher the ranking the more exposure Amazon gives it. Books sell books. So do reviews. Now the writer cum sheepherder is also the lamplighter calling out to his/her readers, “It’s 10 pm, don’t forget to write that review! It’s 10 pm. Don’t forget to write that review.”
Finally, if one’s book does well then one’s sequel is going to be a lot easier to find a publisher for. Now you’re on your way to being hot. Then, as country singer Jerry Reed wrote, “When you’re hot you’re hot.” He’s right, at least from my perspective (So please, help!)
Bill Gralnick can be found here most every Sunday spewing forth ideas and even invectives on the world condition. This isn’t one of those columns. If you’re curious about the “norm” check out his website at http://www.williamgralnickauthor.com
And remember, as Bill says, “Read! It’s good for both of us.”