Monday, January 31, 2011

The Business of Writing! The Art of Selling!

"A young up and coming writer sits at a cafe in Paris. Judging from the restless way he's sitting, he's dying to get back to his work! can you name a single one of the other writers and artists he's sitting with?"

Back in 1922 a young writer who decided to move to Paris in order to pursue his muse was shocked to learn that many of the writers and artists who lived inside the famous city weren't really writers and artists at all. They were simply posseurs. Or posers.
People who sat about the cafes and pontificated upon the world of the arts, what was wrong with it, how they were going to somehow make a difference and turn everything that existed up until that moment onto its head. They would smoke and drink and drink and smoke, and talk and dress all in black and grow goatees and mustaches and they most certainly looked like writers and artists, but in the end they were a bunch of do nothing nobodies. Yet it was these same posseurs who came to hate the new eager young writer. In him they recognized something they lacked. He possessed drive. He possessed energy. He possessed ambition. And most of all, he possessed a talent that would only come to fruition from both hard work inside his writing studio and hard work selling himself as an adventurer and fearless sportsman to the general public. He was the real deal and for a long time, arguably "the most interesting man in the world." That young writer's name was Ernest Hemingway.

Just recently I attended a party hosted by a quote-"Artist"--unquote. Many artists were in attendance. Since I'm not an entirely anonymous writer and thriller author living in Albany, New York, I found myself the brunt of some backhanded jokes about my promotional "postings" for my recent bestsellers on the social networks. It was all supposed to be in good fun and I smiled and sucked it up. Ha Ha! The artists I'm referring too dress like artists. Long unwashed hair, chin beards, Salvation Army clothing. Some do yoga; some work in academia. One or two are extremely talented. A few others are talentless. They don't do gluten, and never, ever, do they utter a single non-PC word or phrase, unless of course, it's directed at someone not accepted inside their tight circle or someone they don't really like, such as a writer who not only spends his days writing but actively promoting his published work as though it were not an art necessarily, but a business.

But the truth is, writing is a business. Successfully selling your writing is an art.

My dad is going on 60 years in the commercial construction business. He is tremendously successful. He didn't get wealthy because he sat around talking about building. He didn't pretend to be a successful businessman by hanging around conferences, and country clubs, and ritzy bars buying expensive cocktails for pretty girls. He achieved success by working day and night, seven days a week. Often, he was scorned by other extended family members as being "all about his work." He was called "selfish" and "self-centered" by some of the very same people he put through school and later on, took care of financially. He wasn't so selfish then was he? I might not have followed in my dad's precise footsteps but I have learned an awful lot from him about running a business. His golden rule above all others? Work for yourself. Be your own boss, even if it means returning bottles and cans for the five cent refund for a while.

It's true, writing and the business of writing takes up a lot of time. Most of our time, that is if you are to pursue it to the best of your ability. And in my case, it can cost you dearly. I've been married twice and divorced twice. I still have difficulty maintaining a lasting relationship. I live in an apartment since I simply cannot keep up with a house. I travel often on assignment or out of pure wanderlust, because to sit in one place for too long is death for a writer. In a word, I am always working.

But the work is paying off in book sales that have quadrupled over the past year, and promise to quadruple again over the next six months. I am now lecturing to International Journalism students at the state university and in 2011 alone I will finish two new novels and write a good draft of another. I can't tell you how many articles, blogs, and digital shorts I will write but it will be a lot.

In the end, it's the work ethic that pays off. The follow-through, and finishing what you start. Just ask Ernest Hemingway. He is probably the best known of the Paris "Lost Generation." he is still a bestseller, nearly fifty years after his death. The posseurs who frequented the cafes and showed scorn for a "sell out" like Papa are long forgotten. They remain nobody. My dad, continues to run his business and works a 70 hours week at 75 years old. he is wealthy but he doesn't act like it. I also work everyday, whether I'm traveling or not. In the new era of writers having to promote themselves through social media, blogs, virtual tours, appearances, book trailers, and more, there is no end to what has to be done. Plus you have to carve out precious time to write and read. Tough to maintain a family life at the same time, yet my kids aren't complaining. They too want to be writers.

Oh, and as for those artists I mentioned before...They need to work day jobs in order to support themselves. I don't have day job. A real one, that is. I work for myself. I'm a writer.


  1. Right on Vin. I say there are people who talk and people who do.

  2. Excellent post, Vin! Some "creative types" have a self-defeating tendency to look upon their work as something sacred, or "above commercial considerations"... which is crap. As far as I'm concerned, you're doing it the right way. And let's be honest: if your work wasn't as good as it is, all the hustling in the world would be pointless, it still wouldn't sell.
    I hope you never let any of those misguided barbs snag you up, man.

  3. I would have to agree Vincent, a successful writer needs to work both sides of the brain. There are some extraordinary writers out there who will never receive the attention they deserve because they're either relying on someone else to do that for them, or they don't feel comfortable pushing their work.
    Let's face it, your name is your brand. Get it out there and more people recognize it when shopping for a book.
    Of course, the most important factor is having a really good book. Without that, everything else is irrelevant.

  4. I agree with you all...The genesis of it all is the writing. The writing has to great or all the selling savvy and effort in the world isn't going to help.

  5. I agree Vin, successful writers need to be promoters as well - always have been (Twain was a huge promoter of his own work).

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  7. I agree with Aaron, Gary and Heath. I do get so tired of those self righteous types. I like how everyone pointed out that you have to have a great product to sell. It's the truth. If your book is crap... no amount of hard work and marketing will see to a long success. Let's face it...cleavage can only do so much.
    Am I right?

  8. Excellent post - you hit the nail squarely on the head.

    Writers write, but we also have to promote and push and prod and sell. Nobody else is going to do it for us. As writers we want our words in front of a large audience - but you can't wait for somebody to find your books.... you have to make it happen. Build demand. Create a buzz. Grow an audience. And sell (and as a refugee from the business world and former corporate warrior, it's a hell of a lot more fun selling your own brand than some other product that has little intrinsic value).

    Vin- you remain a constant source of inspiration.

  9. Well said - glad I came over from LinkedIn to take a look.

    According to the Hemingway's Paris blog, the photo was taken at a cafe in Pamplona before the Festival of San Fermin.

    The people with him are Lady Duff Twyson (Brett Ashley's model), Hadley (his wife), Pat Guthrie (Mike Campbell), Don Stewart (Bill Gorton) and Harold Loeb (Robert Cohn).

  10. To put it in vernacular terms, you're always going to run into assholes - there's no point in hanging out with them.