A couple of weeks back I wrote a blog about Marketing. In it, I gave out some pretty stringent Dutch Uncle advice as to why you must pay most particular care to this part of your writing career. If you have tons of money to promote your writing project, and I’m talking about tons, then you can skip this week’s blog and just simply buy your way into success—much the same as many politicians are doing these days.
However, if you are not one of those blessed with an aristocratic family fortune, then perhaps you should stick it out with the peons and work your way though this blog.
In the 1950s most people in the United States could keep their front doors unlocked when they were home. They could write a letter to just about anyone and the chances of it getting read or acted upon was at least within the realm of achievable. I can remember my Aunt Nanny Lou writing a fan letter to a very popular film star of her day named Barbara Stanwyck. My aunt was very pleased to receive not only a short answer but a nice handkerchief. Then there is the story I heard about the popular film star Gloria Swanson who upon receiving a letter from an unhappy child ended up adopting her. This story I heard first hand from the young lady she adopted. Then Vicki Lawrence who was so popular on the Carol Burnett show had simply written a letter to CBS stating that she would make the perfect kid sister for Carol on her show. The rest is history.
Then we come to how all of the above anecdotal information pertains to would-be writers. In the past, only a few dedicated people with almost a calling turned to writing. It was not an easy profession. In the time of Dickens everything had to be written by hand and submitted that way. Then even with the advent of the typewriter, people had to make carbon copies, erase errors and re-type ad-infinitum.
In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, writing still was a tough row to hoe and your only helpers were white out and an eraser. Many times writers had to pay professional typists to get their manuscripts in proper order for submission. Then you contacted an agent or a publisher via a self-addressed, stamped envelope. At least out of ten such mailings, someone would read your letter and invite you to submit your manuscript. Then if your work were good enough, an agent would offer to represent you or a publisher would buy your work. While this process was all happening, you had to have some way to eat and a place to sleep. Not to worry. There were tons of jobs for people like you—part-time and full-time. In other words, you had a fighting chance of getting your toe in the door of the writing world without humongous stress.
Ah, those were the idyllic days. Now, let’s fast forward to nowadays. Well, things have changed. Instead of just you and a few others dreaming of becoming authors, an explosion has hit the writing scene. Due to the fact that Microsoft Word is now practically the only way people write, you have millions entering the writing game seeking fame and fortune.
Computers are so highly developed these days, they can be used as an invaluable partner in your writing career. In the stone age when I used a typewriter, I had to re-type pages and pages if I changed a name or did any rewriting. Now with a computer, it’s just a couple of clicks and the job is done. You have spell check, grammar check and it doesn’t stop there. A friend of mine alerted me the other day to an Internet course selling for only $49 that will guide you through every step of writing your novel. In fact, this program is as close to being “write by numbers” as “paint by numbers” was some years back. At that time you could become Rembrandt for just a few dollars. Apparently the same thing has happened these days with the writing game. For only $49 you can become a Hemmingway.
After you’ve written your novel these days, no matter if it is good, bad or indifferent, you don’t need to worry about a publisher. There are tons of them out there who will publish your book for a fee. The catch is they will do no marketing for you. That’s up to you. Suddenly you panic because you have no idea what marketing is or how to apply it.
Boy, have things changed n the last 50 plus years. The simplicity of life no longer exists. Trust is a factor that has flown out the window. Being nice no longer exists for you when you’re on the outside looking in – unless you pay for “nice.” Receiving anybody’s attention has become a quality that comes with a price tag these days.
All I have written so far here is to prime you up to the fact that “access” to other people these days has turned commercial. No longer can you hope in an “over the transom” manner to connect with people in the entertainment business. A week doesn’t go by that someone, thinking they are being helpful, will tell me how I might become rich and famous overnight. “It’s simple,” they will say. “Get your work to Oprah .” Yeah, can’t you just see how easy access would be to Oprah? Like ring her doorbell? Ridiculous.
It’s a total waste of time to send letters to producers, editors, and publishers. As far as agents go, you can send them emails but due to the fact that everyone and his dog are writers these days, you are in a slush pile of many hundreds of emails. They even tell you that it will take around two to three months to hear back—and that is only if they are interested in you. Most agents let you know right up front that they are not interested in you unless you come recommended by someone.
Submitting cold emails (cold meaning without a recommendation) to an agent is called LOTTERY MARKETING. Just as with the lottery, millions lose but one person wins. That’s about your odds when you write to an agent these days. Even so, this form of marketing gives you a remote chance of getting a favorable reply—so in a curious way, it slips under the acceptable form of marketing—but barely.
So what is ERSATZ MARKETING? This is what I call the “fool’s gold” of marketing practices. You PAY MONEY for everything connected with ACCESS. In my recent blog about MARKETING, I recommended a book by Writers Digest called “Guide To Literary Agents.” It lists all the agents and that is where you will play your game of LOTTERY marketing— if you so desire. However, notice. Under each agent’s listing are the names of the workshops they will be attending or hosting—or hustling. That means, gentle readers, that they are hawking for you to pay to come and meet them for a price. You might get ten minutes of their time for your hundred or two-hundred bucks. The prevalent idea today is that workshops are the most wonderful way ever to gain access to an agent. You pay them and access is yours, the deluded say with a chipper grin. The real problem here is that thousands of people attend these writer workshops. They’re held at grand resorts, on cruise ships and you name it. The name of the game is we get your money and you get nothing but a handshake and a smile. Perhaps you could call this the GOLDEN HANDSHAKE LOTTERY method of marketing. It’s fool’s gold as far as I’m concerned.
Then you have contests and the registration Internet sites. These guys are making a ton of money these days off of your desire for some sort of access and recognition. It’s essentially another form of LOTTERY MARKETING. These guys are selling supposed access to the industry powerful—and they’re getting rich off of your dreams. And you? Well, 99 and 44/100 of you get absolutely nothing but maybe a boilerplate critique of your work.
Also there’s POD LOTTERY. Pod cast people are even into the game these days. For a measly two-hundred or so bucks of your money, they’ll interview you for ten or fifteen minutes. Look at the money they are raking in. Bottom line—who’s listening to these phony pods? You, your relatives and your friends but certainly not Mr. DeThrill of Colossal Studios.
I could go on and on but I don’t have to. I think you see the picture I’m trying to paint of ERSATZ MARKETING. My best advice is to go back and re-read my blog of two weeks ago about MARKETING and see what you should do to overcome this rash of national greed. At least my blog doesn’t cost you anything.
If you pay over five to ten dollars for any service connected with the writing profession, the chances are you’re getting played for a sucker. So you won’t think I’m a complete curmudgeon, you can find good writing workshops for free or at a very low fee if you will just look for them. I noticed this week The New School, a university in New York City, was having a great workshop and it was only $5 to attend. So, look for these types of places and give those other bums a kick in the pants. My very best to you in your writing adventures.