There’s been a great deal of discussion lately about how writers, (and publishers), can market their books in the same way as mass-market commercial products, all of it leading to disappointment as inevitably as the purchase of a lottery ticket.
Most recently there has been the “sock-puppetry” controversy, the most startling element of which is that major publishers have been revealed to be writing glowing Amazon reviews for their own books under false names; (a) is this really surprising? and (b) is this really what publishers mean when they tell authors that their “marketing skills” are one of the reasons why they can do a better job of publishing than we can?
I’m wondering if it would be helpful to put forward an analogy for writing that looks less like the marketing plans of Mr. Heinz, Mr. Coca Cola or Mr. Simon Cowell.
Imagine that instead of deciding to write a book you decided to create a garden. You might have visited a few stately gardens, either in the flesh or in the company of on-screen gardeners such as Monty Don. These inspiring public gardens are mighty commercial ventures, bringing joy to millions – they are, in other words the “blockbusters” of the gardening world. I doubt that you would imagine for a moment that your efforts would ever be seen, (or paid for), by the same numbers of people, but I also doubt that that will put you off for even a single heartbeat.
I suspect that once you have decided to create a garden you will happily labour for many years, investing time, money and back-ache into the project to the point of obsession, with no financial motivation beyond a vague idea that you might be enhancing the value of your property or saving on your bills at the green grocer, (both of which are probably delusions). You will be delighted to share your garden with friends and family and maybe you will even open it to the public for charity. You might go in for local horticultural prizes, fill the house with cut flowers or sell a bit of produce at your front gate. Mostly, however, you will either be working till you ache or gazing contentedly at your achievements.
I am willing to bet that at no stage will you decide that you have been hard done by because the general public is not beating a path to admire your dahlias or singing the praises of your green-fingered genius, you will simply have enjoyed the process and the result of creating something beautiful.
If, however, you were to decide that you wanted to make a living from gardening, as opposed to doing it simply for pleasure, you would go looking for jobs that require gardening skills, (just as writers who want to earn a full-time living usually have to turn to journalism, ghost writing, copywriting or writing for genres that are popular but not necessarily their own favourites).
Is it possible that writing is really just gardening for the mind?