Writing to Sell

Are you a novelist, short story writer or essayist? Do you do it for love or money? Both?

The bar for publishing is lower than ever. All you need is internet access and a few instructions from WordPress or Blogspot. But making a living at writing? Not so easy. Nowadays even J.K. Rowling would have a hard time breaking into the business.

It isn’t enough to write. Writers who want to get paid need to produce work that people are willing to pay for, and, usually, to be willing to advertise themselves, their work, and their publisher, be it indie or traditional big name companies.  See this cautionary tale by best selling author Claire Cook, Why I Left My Mighty Agency and New York Publishers (for now), featured this week in Jane Friedman’s blog for writers.

Marketing isn’t for everyone. Ken Kesey found writing to advertise so demeaning that after publishing two epic novels, Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he quit.


Ken Kesey, photo by Ken Lanker. Source: Further Down The Road Foundation

“Look at Esquire or look at PlayboyYou can read the ads and see that they are aimed at a certain audience, at a certain people, to sell a certain product. You can read the short stories in [these] magazines the same way. Those things are designed to fit a certain length, to hit a certain audience and to push a certain philosophy. And although it isn’t soap or Mennen Skin Bracer, it’s still an ad man writing a very complex commercial to sell you something.”                                                               —Lecture by Ken Kesey in 1965. Source: Oregon Quarterly


Not deterred? Do you write because you can’t help yourself, even if it means marketing yourself or a publisher?

OK then. How to improve the chances of making money?


I’m guessing this guy won’t mind if I post a photo of his van.


This week’s edition of Wattpad offers an entertaining set of guidelines from Hugh Howey, whose indie sci-fi book Wool made it to the best seller list. Here’s a summary:

1. Write well. You produce a sloppy novel, you’re toast.

2. Help readers find you by writing within a genre. Ideally it is a genre you enjoy writing in.

3. Set up Twitter and Facebook accounts, or other social media of your choice, and start a blog, if you haven’t already.

4. Learn to write blurbs. Engage people with just a few words. E-mails, blog posts, twitter and Facebook are the venues for this. Be able to summarize your plot line or subject matter in a pithy sentence or two.

5. As soon as you finish writing one book, start the next one, even if the first one is the most amazing piece of authorship ever. The next one will be better.

6. Focus on getting published. Don’t worry about being discovered — not until you have a dozen works of whatever, articles, novellas, short fiction. Readers who like one thing you write will move to other things you’ve written. This is much better than brow beating people to read your latest creation.

7. Give your stuff away for free. Don’t ask people to buy it. Invite them to read it. If you’re good, they’ll want more.

8. Exhaust potential formats for your completed masterpiece. Release an audio version. Use CreateSpace. Publish printed copies.

9. Be nice. Support other authors, bloggers, Twitter feeders and Facebookers. Promote them. Thank them. No cheating. Being nice just because you want to be rewarded for it won’t work. You will be rewarded, if you are genuine.

10. Work hard. Keep writing, tweeting, blogging, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you have no followers, even when you’ve gotten a hundred rejections. Edit several times, then have someone else edit.

11. Have fun.


What’s your advice for writing to sell? Who inspires you? 

Books on the Nightstand: The end of the world as we know it

I’m on a post-apocalypse novel jag.  Maybe it’s because of the weather. Maybe it’s the drumbeat of news about our impending doom from climate change, or pandemic, or what have you. I should be sitting vigils with the Keystone Pipeline protestors, or volunteering to sign people up for flu vaccinations, but baby it’s cold out there.  


So, instead of making myself useful, I’m curled up with books about what happens after the collapse of civilization.

Here’s what’s on my nightstand:


The Dog Stars, Peter Heller. Evocative, terse, compelling. I could keep going with the adjectives. This is a gorgeous book.  My husband checked it out of the library, and barely spoke to me for three days while he plowed through it.  I couldn’t put it down, either. The author, Peter Heller, is a contributor to NPR, Outside MagazineMen’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. He writes like the outdoorsman he is, with spare, almost cryptic prose. Even though the style would ordinarily drive me crazy — no quotation marks, and full of incomplete sentences — somehow, it works. The characters feel utterly genuine. Protagonist Hig flies a small plane across desolate landscapes, hunts, fishes and mourns the loss of trout.  Most people, including his wife, have died from a flu-like plague. His companions are a dog and a gun-toting survivalist who keeps the riffraff, i.e. everyone else, at bay. Everything is more or less limping along in an acceptable balance of survival of the fittest, except that Hig is haunted by a mysterious radio transmission that he is dying to check out.  Where Cornack McCarthy’s The Road  is bleak, Heller’s book balances futility with hope in a way that pulls you almost gently, insidiously, and wonderfully into the story.



Wool, Hugh Howey. Wool is a book for every indie writer’s heart, not just because it was self-published and went on to become a New York Times best seller. It’s gripping. Might as well give up on the chores you’re already putting off and let yourself be sucked in.  Picture a devastated, toxic landscape and a community of people living in an underground shelter, a “silo”, hundreds of stories deep. They’ve adapted pretty well, what with grow lights and a pretty good source of energy. The biggest taboo? To ask to go ‘outside.’ The citizens are loosely guided by a mayor, but it quickly becomes clear that she is not in charge. But who is?

As soon as I finished the book, I went right out and got the second in the series.



The Seneca Scourge, Carrie Rubin. Rubin is another indie author and one of my favorite bloggers. She is self-effacing, kind, supportive — and funny.  I’m sure she won’t mind if I slip in a link to her Elf on a Shelf post from the holidays. Anyway, in this, Rubin’s first novel, a young infectious disease specialist who finds herself on more or less permanent call during a modern-day plague, discovers a potential remedy, and what appears to be a conspiracy to keep the cure secret. Rubin’s background as an MD makes the story all too plausible, and she spins the story out of the medical thriller genre with a twist of — stop here if you don’t want any spoilers — science fiction. Suffice it to say, I got my first flu shot in 15 years after this one, and now give dirty looks to people who cough on planes.  Fire up the tea pot, get out your fleece, put up your feet and settle down to Rubin’s fast-paced thriller.  I’m looking forward to her soon-to-be published second book.

What are you reading these days?

Why ride a touring bike? Week 15, skinny tires and the Orphan Master’s Son

Here’s my trusty Giant Iguana bicycle, purchased in the early 1990’s.

It’s sensible and reliable, serves well for trips to the grocery store, visiting friends and going to the gym.  Since it weighs about 100 pounds, it really should count as exercise by itself.  Think of it as a mini van.

A real giant iguana

Here’s my other bike.  It’s for “touring”.  We bought it in 199-something from a friend for a song when our children were small and I had illusions about keeping up with them. Think of it as a Fiat Spider.

Note that it’s hanging from the ceiling to save space. The Man of the House rigged this up. He’s very handy.

The “Head Badge” (bike talk for logo) on my bike. A Vintage Bicycle site dates this 1990-96

This bike’s sole purpose is to race around.  Compared to the Giant Iguana, it is light as air.  It requires special shoes, which I like because they make my feet look small, although they are hard to walk in.

Riding this bicycle also requires special clothes.

Would you wear these pants? No, that’s not Kotex in the middle. It’s padding. After a few miles you’re grateful for it.

Note the gloves, fingerless so you can shift gears, and nice if you fall off because they protect your hands from scraping on the pavement, a.k.a., as my yoga teacher says, from bicycle stigmata.

There really should be protection for knees, too, because the special shoes “clip in”, meaning they snap onto the pedals.  Disconnecting in an emergency usually takes longer than it takes to hit the ground.  Knee pads, however, aren’t de rigueur.  Look:

Tour de France.  Thank you Boston.com for the photo

Perhaps road raspberries are a badge of honor?  Or perhaps, if you crash the rest of you is so messed up your knees don’t matter?

Photo credit Atomic Gator

I’m reading a novel about North Korea, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson — really good by the way — which puts racy bikes into perspective.  When fishermen in the book come across brand new Air Jordan Nikes floating in the ocean, they can’t figure out what they’re for.  For exercise, one of them suggests.  Imperialists drive everywhere and have so much food that they have to exercise or they get fat.  Some even do it for fun.

It is fun.

Clearly though, there are simpler, cheaper, safer ways to exercise and have fun, even on a bicycle. So why ride a touring bike?  And honestly, a fify-mmph woman riding a touring bike is maybe a little … ? OK, maybe downright foolish.  Why, in fact, would anyone get on something with tires as wide across as dimes, balance on the white line on country roads while hay trucks suck you into their wake, pickup truck drivers give you the finger, and Buick drivers honk and brush your shoulder with their mirrors?

I think it makes more sense for an old person to ride one of these risky business machines than a young one.  Squish your private parts on that hard seat for a couple hours and for sure you’re going to jeopardize the next generation, and besides, if you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t want to do things that might cut your time on earth short.  Of course, none of us wants to do anything that would make us a burden to our children.

Let’s just say, people who ride this way are optimists.

And beside, it’s —  anyone want to fill in here?  I have my reasons, but this post is getting long, so I’ll pull a Charles Dickens Serial: To Be Continued.

If you ride a lightweight bike, and clip in and all the rest, why do you do it? If you don’t, feel free to try to talk sense into me, but be forewarned, I’m in pretty deep.

This is part of an ongoing series from my other blog, Week 15 of 104 rides in 52 weeks. Some readers are having trouble with Blogspot, so I’m in the process of combining the two. Last week rode/commuted 7 times.  Grand total since April 15 start date:  42 (12 rides in the bank).

BOOKS on the Nightstand

What’s on your bookshelf/kindle/Ipod this month?

Here are my February/March reads:

Nonfiction:  Nomi Prins “It Takes A Pillage.” Prins, who worked for investment banking firms for ten years (Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers), is a rollicking muckraker now. If you want insider information about the run-up to, as she calls it, the Second Great Depression, this is pretty good. It’s practically an encyclopedia of who did what and when. She is a self-proclaimed liberal who believes in wealth distribution, which sounds bad if you’re a Republican, but her 5-point plan for reforming the banking system has even conservatives nodding their heads in agreement that she’s got it about right.

Her new book is an historical novel based on the first Great Depression:

 (It’s on my reading list.)


Escapist Fiction:  Justin Cronin’s “The Passage”, an absorbing page-turner, if you have the time (800 pages). How to describe it?  A “Twilight” book for adults? Inspired by his daughter’s request that he write about a girl who saves the world, Cronin’s book has the feel of legend, in a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi adventure setting. It’s not as dark as a Cormack McCarthy novel, but the first 100 pages were bleak enough that I almost put it down.  Glad I didn’t.

What’s your book of the month?  I love feedback and suggestions and am always looking for a good read.