Talking Story



One of the great things about being a writer today is having choices about how your story gets into the hands of a reader. It’s also one of the toughest and most confusing. When writers ask me what’s the best way to publish a book, I have to tell them that the answer isn’t one-size fits all. It depends on your ambitions, reasons for writing, and how you define success. Someone who sees publishing as business first, art second, is going to make very different choices than someone who writes for writing’s sake. I believe every writer needs an overall plan; I think of it as a business plan, but it doesn’t need to be as formal or in-depth as something you’d create for a bank loan.

The following are questions I encourage every poor soul silly enough to ask me for writing advice to answer for themselves. Take the time to ponder and answer honestly because the your responses will determine the direction you take in everything from a query letter to a final edit. The key here is that there are no right or wrong answers, only honest ones with no judgment intended.

 Questions to Ask Yourself

  •  Why are you seeking publication? Is it to share a message, make money, fame, personal accomplishment, hold a book in your hand, or some other driving force? Why is it important to publish?
  •  When will you be happy as an author? NY Times Bestseller list? 5,000 copies sold? Your book on the shelf in the local library? What defines success to you?
  •  Who are you writing for? Yourself? A small group of like-minded people? Intellectuals? Mass-market thriller readers? Your family and friends? Other writers or literary enthusiasts?
  • What are you willing to do to make your book successful? Extreme rewrites to get almost 200,000 words to 80,000-90,000? Commit to spending hours of valuable writing time building a social network platform instead of writing novels? Attend professional development meetings? Network with other publishing influencers and pundits? Stand in a mall for five hours a week at a cart with your book on it? Sit at a table in a book store every Saturday and talk to people as they come by? Drive to stores with your books in the trunk?
  • How much control do you want to have over your books? How to do feel about changing what you think is the story to what an editor says will sell? Is it really art or business to you?

Something else to remember is that these answers aren’t set in stone; they can change as you and your experience as an author changes. You can even have a different business plan for each work you write. But have a plan.

What are your thoughts? What kinds of things do you consider when you look at something you’ve written?

birdOne of the big stumbling blocks to writing Hawaiian fiction in the “bird,” as I recently heard someone call Pidgin, is finding the audience. Native Hawaiian Pidgin English speakers like to talk story and certainly sing story; read story maybe not so much. At least that’s the argument Hawaiian writers have heard for decades, along with it’s too low-brow, too stylized, and since Pidgin spelling isn’t officially standardized, just too much work for the reader, who, the naysayers claim, would rather be surfing or talking story or doing the laundry–anything–instead of reading or buying books.

Having spent a lot of time over many years trying to find other authors publishing in Pidgin and finding something resembling a desert atoll,  I think it’s less about whether or not Pidgin speakers are book readers, but about traditional publishing models. The Hawaiian writers are there with the stories, and I think the readers are too, but not on the scale that attracts the big print boys. What Pidgin literature exists is generally sanitized and stripped of most of the rhythm and flow of Pidgin and really just tosses in a phrase or two for flavor–trying to hit the largest audience possible and unfortunately missing the heart of Hawaii.

Traditional publishing models believe there is no significant market for this kind of literature and therefore have found it too risky to promote. But eBooks are changing the way books are published and marketed. Niche markets take time to develop, and eBooks have virtually no expiration date–literally. EBooks allow authors to build audiences and demand over time without the immediate need for high returns to pay back the large investments traditional publishers make upfront in printing and promoting a book.

So maybe with eBooks, we’ll all read a little more da kine. Nice, yeah?

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