Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Rose Peddler

I swear I don't know where these things come from! Really, I don't. But I was thinking this morning about my constant running around trying to find new readers for my books--which I always have found somewhat embarrassing--"unseemly," as they say used to say in gentler times. It's very similar to those people who come up to your table in a nice restaurant with a basket of roses, asking if you'd like to buy one. The roses themselves are beautiful, and you know the seller is just trying to make a living. But still you can't escape the feeling of being approached as an unwanted/unnecessary intrusion on your privacy at best, and somewhat intimidating at worst--if you're on a date and you don't buy a rose, you're cheap. It evokes a "Hey, if I wanted to buy a rose from you, I'd have approached you" reaction.

Every author is, in effect, a rose peddler. Big-name authors, at the very top of the writers food chain, do not have to come up to you and ask if you want to buy their book: they have agents and powerful publishing houses to do most of the work for them. An occasional book-signing tour or a speaking engagement here and there...usually paid for by the publisher...with pre-programmed buyers forming lines around the block, and they can get back to writing their next book. But for 99 out of every 100 writers, there are no agents, there are no long lines.

Writing books is a wonderful experience. However, for the average writer, trying to get people to buy them is like chewing tinfoil.

The hard, cold fact is that out of the 150,000 novels published each year, 100,000 will sell less than 100 copies. It’s been estimated that, if the writer were to receive $1.00 for every book sold, he’d have to sell between 25,000 and 50,000 books per year in order to make a living at writing. (And yes, yes, yes, I know there are women writers. But this politically correct and excruciatingly cumbersome “he/she,” "him/her" political correctness drives me to absolute distraction! No offense, ladies.)

The internet is full of "writers-and-readers" groups, which consist almost totally of second, third, and lower tier writers commiserating with one another over how hard it is to find readers. And the relatively few readers who belong to such groups usually sit in the background or, when pressed for their opinion on a topic, invariably say "Oh, I'm just a reader," having no idea that without them...without readers...the writer is nothing. Readers apparently never stop to realize that it is they who hold the fate of writers in their hands. They can "make" a writer by reading him, or break him by ignoring or simply being unaware of him. It's up to the writer to make readers aware that he exists, and to convince them to take a chance and read the book.

There are far more excellent writers and wonderful books out there than there are large publishers to produce or promote them. A writer's chance for success is, unfortunately, too often in direct ratio to the size and clout of his publisher. And the sad fact is that a vast number of books published by smaller houses, once published, just sit there because the writer is more concerned with being able to say, "Oh, yes, I'm a published author" than to do anything to get out there and find people to read the book. I've seen countless posts on writer sites where one of the members will proudly state that he took copies of his book to the church picnic and sold three copies! That's wonderful, but hardly makes a dent in the expense the publisher went through to put the book out in the first place.

So I, and many, many other writers like me, must constantly be doing our little buck-and-wing dances while waving our self-promotional flags and doing whatever we can to call attention to ourselves
and our books. Necessity ain't always pretty, kid.

But just as there is pleasure in smelling a rose, there is pleasure in reading a book, no matter who convinces you to read it.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, the recently-released Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).


C. Zampa said...

I've done many uncomfortable necessities...especially for me, the peddle my literary wares (my ONE, Roger.

And I agree with you 100% I just feel there are limits that peddler should go.

If I am in a restaurant and the rose peddler happens upon my table, I am in a public place and so is he.

Now if that same peddler suddenly happens in my living room uninvited, in my private home, then he is...intruding.

And, by they way, I LOVED your thoughts about the guy seeming cheap if he doesn't buy the rose for the date. You know, in my dating days, that never occurred to me when people came along to sell flowers or take photos...but you're right. The poor fellow WOULD sort of be a louse if he didn't shell out the money. LOL...

As usual, I loved your post, and loved the title so much.

Kage Alan said...

I love traveling and doing signings, yet I'm scared to death when I get up in front of a group. It terrifies me, but the trick is to look like it doesn't. I'm also an extremely harsh critic of myself and set very high expectations. If I can't amuse an audience, especially since I write comedy, then how can I expect them to want to read my work?

The signings have never been worth it financially, but they are worth their weight in gold in other ways.

If I could spend 1/3 as much time writing as I do on promoting, I'd get a hell of a lot more done. Just the nature of the beast.