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? 


  • I like the Be Nice and Have Fun pieces of advice. Boy, that man with the van sure is willing to do anything to sell his novels. Sad that it has to come to that.

    I am currently enjoying just having a silly blog and getting to know so many wonderful people. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like those parts too. The work hard part? Maybe not so much.

      Silly!?! Serious comedic material Ms. Brickhouse. I mean serious. Hope you’re healing up and back to entertaining us soon.


  • These are wonderful tips. Trying to succeed in writing is no easy feat, especially if one’s definition of succeeding means actually selling books. I’m focused on #6 now–trying to get more product out there. It’s difficult to peddle only one book. Unfortunately writing more books and trying to find publishing homes for them takes time. And it’s so hard to be patient. Argghh.


    • I read this too fast the first time and thought you wrote it’s hard to be A patient. Which you also know something about. Your product looks good by the way.

      It was daunting to see “12 published pieces.” I don’t think he meant blog posts.

      Sending patience your way if you send some mine. You probably don’t need the other kind of patients.


  • This is all sound advice. It certainly helps to write for the love of it, and not have the single-minded, fixed goal of getting published. But I have to admit it’s spurred me on when I’ve received wonderful feedback. I like this advice from Jenn McLeod. ‘Believe. Be brave. Be businesslike. Be committed. Be kind to yourself. Be generous to others. I once heard someone say: No author ever hurt their career by being generous to another author. Live by that and karma will take care of you.’ Keep trying. 🙂


    • That’s a nice series of ‘Be’s’ to post on a wall. Looked Jenn McLeod up. I wonder, does she pronounce her name “McCloud” like my friends who spell their name the same way?

      Hate to put myself in karma’s arms, but if that’s the way it has to be, ah well.


  • I think the more avenues people have to get their work out there, the harder it is to get noticed. Today authors just don’t compete with a handful of other authors, they have to compete with millions via every social media outlet. The same goes for the music industry. The more technology we have, the less opportunity there is to shine.

    I say …. be nice, have fun and do what you love.


    • Ironically, you can say the opposite, too. The more avenues, the easier it is to get noticed, if serendipity aligns with Mars, and you happen to say what everyone else is feeling at just the right moment. OK, not counting on that. So yes. Focus on fun. La la la.


  • HI Julia! After reading that summary, I am exhausted. lol. And I guess to some it could be discouraging. I think in the end you have to love the art, love what you do. The other stuff? Can’t worry about it. 🙂


Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s