On Contemplating My Future As a Writer As I Prepare to Pitch My Next Book

Magic bookJust as I was working madly to finish the edit on my next book, two things happened that made me take a long hard look at what I do and why I do it. The first of these was a wonderful thing. I received an email from a reader which said:

I have been busy with my work reading but after having seen so many interesting posts on Facebook I have now decided to make Australian and particularly local women writers the focus of my reading. After having just completed your novel “What is Left Over, After” I am so glad I decided that this would be my reading focus. I got lost in Gaelle’s story, I have not read a novel for such a long time that has left me with such conflicting feelings about a character. I went from feeling frustrated with her to feeling the most unbelievable sympathy and sadness for her. What a powerful story about mothers and mothering and coping with such a loss! I did not know what to expect from the novel but I found the plot so engaging and cleverly constructed.
Thank you for writing this story and for allowing readers the opportunity to come to know an amazing character like Gaelle. I will be reading your other novel and continue to enjoy your blog.

Now I haven’t put this here to blow my own trumpet. It was because it was so uplifting to have a reader respond to my book and the character of Gaelle in exactly the way I had hoped. It told me that everything I had written in a recent post on Why I Write was true. I felt momentarily hopeful that the book I was editing would meet with a similar reception when (if!) it was published.

The next day, fellow writer Annabel Smith posted this piece on exactly how little money many writers make. As I read her piece, I knew just how she was feeling because I went through the same upheaval and disbelief six months ago, after receiving my first royalty statement for If I Should Lose You. I could not believe that so much effort on my behalf had been rewarded with so few book sales, and I really began to wonder if what I was doing was worthwhile. It affected my confidence and motivation hugely for a while, until I sat back down at my desk to write my New York book, which has been a joyful experience and one that has demonstrated to me that, regardless of sales, there is nothing else I would rather do. So I can’t complain, because I’ve chosen to do this, but I can ask some questions.

Some books succeed and sell in huge numbers. And none of us begrudges another author their success; in fact it gives us hope that there can be success. But why do some books rise to the top? I’d love to know what people think; what is the single biggest motivating factor for you to buy a book?

  • Is it because you read a good review in a newspaper?
  • Is it because you heard a lot about it on social media?
  • Is it because of other word of mouth, i.e. friends talking about the book?
  • Is it because of the book cover?
  • Is it because some aspect of the plot caught your attention?
  • Is it because it’s written by an author whose other books you have liked?
  • Is it some other reason I haven’t thought of?

The reason I’m asking is because I read this terrific article on luck during the week and it made me re-assess some things about my own approach to my writing. I questioned whether I always do whatever I can to create my own luck and I came to the conclusion that I could do more. This is particularly important to me right now as I am finishing up the edit on my New York book which, by the way, is now called A Beautiful Catastrophe. I don’t have a contract for this book. I need to get out and shop it around and hope that someone picks it up. I need some luck. So I have to get busy ensuring I’m taking advantage of all the contacts and opportunities that come my way, to give luck a little help to find me.

Because I am really proud of this book, and really excited about it. It’s very different to my first two books. One of the reasons for that was my disappointing royalty statement. I decided that I could no longer afford to write serious literary fiction about, let’s face it, what were some serious and pretty heavy issues in my first two books. This time, I deliberately set out to write a book that is much more commercial. I have, in fact, set out to write a love story. Because when I think about all of my favourite books—The Blind Assassin, Jane Eyre, Possession, Persuasion—they are all love stories. And why shouldn’t I write the kind of book that I love to read?

But here’s hoping there are still readers out there. Of course, one of the possibilities for the kind of sales Annabel is talking about in her blog is that readers are congregating around the big sellers, and buying only those books. Or, people are doing something else with their reading time, possibly browsing the web, when a couple of years ago they might have picked up a book.

So, lots of questions this week, and not many answers. I’d love to know your thoughts on some of the issues I’ve raised here. Oh, and if you can send me some good thoughts over the next few months as I prepare to pitch my book, that would be most appreciated!

27 comments

  1. A friend of mine once told me something I absolutely believe to be true: that luck is where opportunity meets preparation. And so, Natasha, knowing you are prepared, I will wish for you the opportunity for that to become luck. x

  2. Natasha, having watched you in action for a few years now I believe you are doing absolutely everything you can to create your own luck, and combined with your obvious talent it’s just a matter of time before you begin to reap the rewards. x
    You did ask a question about why your readers pick up books. For me, it could be any of the reasons you have listed, I’d say if I hear friends talking about it then perhaps that’s the most likely reason I’ll look for something immediately.
    Looking forward to reading A Beautiful Catastrophe!

  3. Darrell C

    Honestly it’s either the buzz in the media or it’s someone I’ve read or has gotten a nice blurb In their novel from one of my favorite authors…but it really boils down to an attractive plot and well-written characters.

    • Yes, media buzz and word of mouth are so important, aren’t they? Without those, we don’t get to find out about the books with attractive plots and well-written characters. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. I had an important epiphany recently: I write because I enjoy the process, because nothing gives me the same kind of buzz. I love my other career (teaching), but I find it draining. Writing fills my cup (for want of a better phrase!). And I recognize that this is a privileged position- by choosing writing as a hobby, I am less encumbered by financial considerations. Of course, the downside is that writing can never be ‘front and centre’. Maybe one day!

    For what it’s worth, both ‘What is Left Over, After’ and ‘Whisky Charlie Foxtrot’ (Annabel Smith) were two of my literary highlights of 2012/13. It’s a travesty that writers are not well remunerated for such wonderful novels. I’ve lent both to a few friends. Maybe I need to stop this tendency to lend and suggest that they support local bookstores and writers instead! These friends are not the type to review on GoodReads or respond to blog posts, but, I can tell you that they were equally impressed.

    I picked yours because it was a TAG Hungerford Award winner, and Annabel’s because I’d been reading her blog, loved her tone and identified with many of her reviews.

    Looking forward to ‘A Beautiful Catastrophe’!

    • Same here Kristen, I had so much fun writing A Beautiful Catastrophe and loved the process. But it would also be nice if it were to be published! See, I want everything!

      And thank you so much for your feedback about What is Left Over, After. It makes me so grateful and so uplifted when I hear that my words have meant something to somebody. And thank you for spreading the love to your friends too.

  5. marlish glorie

    I agree with all of the above Natasha. You’ve worked damn hard, learned a great deal and lady luck will come your way. Keep the faith, and keep writing because you’re damn good at it. And like many others, I can’t wait to read A Beautiful Catastrophe!

  6. Clare Maiorano

    I don’t know how it works about selling a book. But for me as a BIG consumer/reader of books. I go to Big W or Dymocks look at their displays, read the back cover and decide if the story line would interest me. Also I follow many authors. So if I like one book from an author than I go back for their next book. I really enjoyed your first two books so I am anxiously awaiting your third book. Best of luck in getting it out there.

    • Thank goodness for people like you Clare who buy and read lots of books. Without people like you, authors would be much the worse off. And thanks for your comments about my books – I’m anxiously awaiting the next book too!

  7. As a bookseller- I love selling your books to people, they are rich with things to discuss and characters to love. Also, the cover of If I should Lose you is so sensual and moving. I love it.

    As a reader- Your books are amazing and I cannot wait for A Beautiful Catastrophe. Publishers, if you are reading this, I want you to begin bidding on Natasha’s book! I have spoken.

    Emily

    • xxxxxxxxx – lots of kisses to you for such lovely words. Thank you – I’m feeling more confident as I read everyone’s comments, which is why having a blog is such a wonderful thing.

  8. I can relate to the shock you went through. I made my whole life about becoming an author and when my debut novel was published I thought my life would change drastically. And while my life did change, the renumeration did not follow. I’m now doing a bit of what you’re doing and being strategic about my writing projects and trying to stretch my net wide. I’m thinking of it as the spaghetti approach and just pursuing the muse wherever it takes me. I’ve also accepted the renumeration side of it won’t be there for a while and I’m hoping that a few more books in things will start to change. For now I’m happy that I’ve achieved my dream and I’ve found peace and contentment where I am. By the way, I’m going to follow up on that book How to Make your Own Luck. Sounds interesting. And of course your own novels. Good luck with the pitching.

    • Hi Amra and thanks for visiting and for your comments. I also bought How to Make Your Own Luck as I thought it sounded fascinating. And same to you, best of luck with all your writing projects and may the remuneration catch up to your hard work and enthusiasm soon.

  9. Penny Walker

    If I am looking for something new to try I usually resort to reviews but I also like to browse a real bookshop and look at covers. Sometimes one will grab my attention because of the artwork or the photograph and I’ll turn it over and read the grab on the back and not be grabbed at all. I can spend hours doing this, very wasteful, but it is one of the most enjoyable shopping experiences I think. When the cover artwork and the grab match up and my imagination is piqued, then I’ll buy the book. I am now at the stage of having finished my first draft which began on a cool autumn day at Emma’s house with you and others. I have loved writing my ‘baby’ into existence and now can relate to the anxiety about the whole process of getting it out there. Good luck finding a publisher.

    • Thanks for your comments, Penny. I love the idea of just spending quiet time in a bookshop looking at covers and reading back cover blurbs until you find the book that captures your attention. Perhaps when my kids are a bit older, I’ll have time to do that too! Good luck to you with your book too, I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve finished your first draft.

  10. This comment is going to sound like I have a terribly vested interest, given that I work in social media, but the truth is that if I look at my bookshelves and find the last dozen or so books I’ve bought (and unfortunately I don’t have the spare cash to buy a whole lot and tend to borrow from the library – also because my husband thinks I should have a one book in, one book out rule) then nearly all of them are by authors I’ve come to “know” via social media (especially Twitter). I really think it’s pretty amazing to be able to connect with a writer and have them “talk back” to you, so to speak, and because I “know” them I feel kind of more obliged (in a good way) to buy rather than borrow their books.

    Plus: can’t wait to read your new book. Good luck with getting it out there, will keep everything crossed for you!

    • Hi Amanda and thanks for your comments too. It’s nice to know that social media does have an impact on the reading decisions of some people – I love interacting with readers on social media too and having them ask me questions about my books in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to in pre-social media days. And I’m sure there’s no such thing as a one book in, one book out rule – books are meant to be lovingly collected and treasured!

  11. Natasha, I can’t wait to read the New York Book, having followed a little of its genesis in your writing class. I think you will strike the perfect (and hopefully profitable balance between commerciality and literary brilliance. Which reminds me, I need to do my part and get your interview questions to you!

  12. Louise Allan

    I will attempt to answer your question: I buy books on the cover and the blurb, or because it’s an author I like. Recently, I’ve bought stacks by Australian women writers because I’ve decided I’m going to do 100 reviews of books written by Aussie women for the AWW Challenge (no time limit on that). Good luck pitching your new book — I’ll throw good vibes your way and cross fingers and toes and anything else I can cross to send you luck! I’ll be sure to include it in my 100 reviews, too, as I suspect I’ll still be going when it’s published!

  13. Pingback: To sell more books, you should write about cats | While the kids are sleeping

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