My dear Mum, Madge Williams, was a gifted talker and story teller. She’d recall an event in her life, often something in her recent past, but not always, and part way through, her words and thoughts would remind her of something else and we’d be off at a tangent. I think Mum knew that if she stuck to the original story, the side story would become forgotten, and that wouldn’t do as she always had a lot of important things to say. A lot of our family meals were like this, particularly dinner time or lunch. We all like to talk in our family, but Mum had a need to be central to a discussion. And, that was okay; she was good at it and we loved her for all the things that made her who she was.
Before long of course, we’d have all finished our meals and Mum was still going. She knew why she was always the last to finish her plate and it gave her the chance to savour her food and the moment, being in the company of friends and loved ones. Never one to eat quickly was our Mum and the dinner table was the perfect setting for her to get people’s attention and she liked that time of day. At the end of the story, she’d have told you five others, finally remembering the point of the original tale. My blog today is a bit like that, but it has a point and it bears to writing and where I am at the moment, wanting to sell my work. So please bear with me. You’ll get the point, and understand the title of the post, but only when you get to the end.
Anyway, to the subject of the post before I leave everyone.
Today, I want to write about being famous, being in the public eye, even though I have little experience here, only observations. I am still learning my craft and can only hope that as I improve, so will the number of people who like what I do as a writer and, in exchange, I get the affirmation all writers strive to get. Money too in the longer term, but affirmation will do in the interim.
When I think of famous people, I generally think of artists, people who make their living through the visual arts – painters, sculptors, actors, television personalities, models, photographers, journalists, even sports stars. I don’t immediately think of writers. Many writers are famous people, even if they are in the rarefied 1 per cent of published writers, but a lot of them are pretty much invisible to most of us. They might pose for a photograph for their book or author site, but their images are rarely shown on television and magazines. There are exceptions, but writers tend to lie low, leaving their written work to do the talking.
So what are the chief characteristics of an artist? Are writers artists and do writers need to be visible and in the public eye to qualify, or is our writing sufficient to place us in the group we call artists?
The written word, when read, often paints a picture for us. I know when I read a story, my imagination creates images in my head as I read. The better the writer, the clearer the image. Hence, writers are encourage to “show, don’t tell”. When I researched this, there were plenty of people who argue otherwise, that writers aren’t artists. But I firmly believe that, given the visualisation that readers experience when they read a scene, hell yes, writers are artists.
Apart from artists, there are other famous people, those we describe as being in public life, and political figures come to mind. You could even argue that our politicians are artists, as they are often in acting mode when they are working, many of them quite different in public from the private person they portray to their friends and loved ones. A recent commentator I heard on the ABC said that Australia’s former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, talked about going home and pulling up he draw bridge, implying that her private life was hidden from view, as it should be. But, it also paints an image of a person who could lower her defences when she was in her own home, someone who could be their true self, out of the public eye.
Whether you are Prime Minister or not, I suspect we all change from our true self when we are working. We put on a suit or a nice outfit, men shave, women put on makeup. And, I reckon we all try to put on an act in public to be someone we are not. Indeed many of us, me included, attempt to be more extroverted when we are actually introverts.
For politicians, they need the public to vote for them, need to be out there in the public eye, getting publicity so that voters can make an informed choice about which candidate best aligns with their set of values and priorities. The ones who do this well are polished performers. But, whether you agree or not that we are all actors, there is one common theme among all people who seek fame, or get fame even when they think they don’t want it; we need the public to like our work, to like us or to identify with us, in order to earn good money from what we do.
So, why do people seek publicity and agree to expose themselves and their private life for us to consume? I would argue they do it for power and affirmation, but many are also motivated by money. Being in public life can pay, especially if you are unique, unusual, remarkable even. My perfect example of the remarkable person is Paris Hilton. Paris was born within a super wealthy family and was often referred to as an heiress, sometimes a socialite, but the former term emphasised her wealth and we like to read about the wealthy.
Yet Paris, love her or hate her, had her own money by the age of 21 and used her remarkableness, her beauty no doubt, and her talent – you’ve got to give her that – to build a career, an empire of things that people wanted to buy, including her life. Whether what we’ve been buying (and I have no experience here) was her image, her perfume or her story, her strategy has been to get her face and her life into the media and to stay there. According to one source, revenues from her Company have earned her more than $1bn since 2005. So for some, fame certainly does pay.
Nonetheless, for the remarkable people, the beautiful and talented, such business strategies necessarily involve the press, the paparazzi, stalking your every move, hunting for that picture or that bi-line because the public wants to know what you do; we have a fascination with the private and public lives of such people. Your image and your life, particularly if it involves scandal or scuttlebutt, becomes a commodity, which can be bought and sold. And many famous people need this constant exposure to remain relevant in the eyes of their fans and the public.
Writers are a bit different. Most of the successful writers can walk down the street without being recognised. I’ve seen Lee Child’s photo, but unless Lee is constantly being filmed and photographed, his image, his face is largely unknown to most of us. He can be famous and still live under the radar, just like the rest of us. Successful actors and singers can’t enjoy the same level of anonymity as their image is part of the deal, part of what they must sell in order to do their craft and earn their living.
We can see this dynamic, this reality, in film, television and music. If you want your work, your art, to sell and, hence, to be purchased, then there is a quid pro quo. Film stars are a good example. They know that they can’t just do the movie and then return home, out of the public eye, if they want their work to sell well. There are exceptions of course, but such people are usually referred to as reclusive and reclusive actors don’t generally do as well as those who strive to be in the public eye.
While many writers want to write and publish their work for the pure satisfaction of having it read, most of us want to be paid for the work and time we expend in getting our books into public land, being published. I have spoken to a few writers about this; indeed I participated in a private debate with a number of fellow authors just recently. Some of them just want to write. “Publicity, sales of my book, are the publisher’s responsibility” was one view. I also see this in Author Facebook sites, where they are just destinations to like, rather than public sites of the author where you can post a comment. We all fear criticism, but I’m not going to change my Facebook site to one where only I can make comments. You just have to be prepared to take the good with the bad, in my view at least.
For me, sales of my novels are a partnership with my Publisher and Literary Agent; a Publicist if I can afford one. Sure, I have a website and am on social media, but I’m not a celebrity and these are really passive sales techniques. My Publisher will spend some real money on marketing, but not to the extent that the big publishing houses do with their exclusive sales channels and contracts with the big bricks and mortar bookstores. So, I have to work twice as hard. Real selling involves getting your novel into the minds of potential readers, people you don’t know who are willing to shell out their hard earned in the expectation that they will be entertained for a few hours. This requires me morph from writing to selling; getting publicity through the media, identifying and seducing sponsors, encouraging readers to post their reviews where others will see them, spending my own money on road shows and book signings. Exposing myself in ways that simply aren’t comfortable for many of us, including me.
I now write for a living, but I must also be a salesman if I am to achieve fame and longevity in this business.
This isn’t Field of Dreams, “write it and they will come.” This is real life and they will only come if I make a sale.
Thanks for reading. I hope you read one of my books and are entertained, Chris
Effective management of performance is naturally difficult as requires the manager to confront and this is something that is outside our normal comfort zone. It is made more so in indigenous organisations where people are often related and try to influence through their relationships with other members of staff.
Walk the Talk
If you don’t model what it means to attend and be productive, be respectful and courteous and treat people with care and sensitivity, then you just cannot expect people to do what you don’t.
Chris’ Four Golden Rules for Performance Management
3. Never make it personal
Performance management needs to be an ongoing dialogue. If you are not having a regular discussion with your direct reports, then you are not being an effective manager. Immediacy means that you can never let things slide as, when you do this, the thing you want to correct simply persists and other people will see that you have let something that should have been dealt with remain unaddressed. It can even result in the perception that the person’s work performance is acceptable.
Moreover, when you do get around to addressing it, perhaps during the performance management discussion, the employee becomes defensive “why didn’t you tell me earlier?” When someone does this and it is legitimate, it puts you on the back foot when the discussion is supposed to be about them.
The required correction is much more likely to happen when you address it shortly after it occurs as your attention to the issue becomes associated with what they did and when it happened. That said, you need the right time and place. See Timing.
The employment contract is fairly simple. Human beings just make it complex. Employees should have in their minds something like this:
“We have hired you because you have the skills, knowledge and experience that we value and we need people to do things which contribute towards our goals and objectives. In return for turning up and doing this, we pay you a good salary to use your abilities and expending effort and skill in a role which we have clearly defined and you have accepted.”
Sound about right? This is the psychological, often unsaid and unwritten, contract. With this go a whole lot of expectations and these are the things that need to be crystal clear, written down, understood and accepted by the employee – a binding contract which covers, for example:
a. a code of conduct;
b. values and our culture;
c. specific duties for each person;
d. specific objectives and goals and the timeframe for their achievement;
e. how we will operate in a team; and
f. how we will work with clients and stakeholders.
These expectations need to be written and tailored for everyone, understood by the employee and they have need to agree and accept them. Taken together, they clearly set out what each employee is required to do and how they should behave to each other and to clients. The whole package defines success and if it is ill-defined you are much less likely to be a successful organisation.
Never Make it Personal
This is always about work and should never be about them as a person. The issue is about whether they are meeting the expectations that you have of them and which they have agreed to. It should never be personal as you want to improve a person’s:
a. Performance in completing tasks or their duties;
b. Behaviour toward others; and/or
c. Their attendance – turning up and being ready to earn (ie deserve) their salary. This is why we call them earnings.
A performance discussion should never seek to change a person’s personality or appearance, unless this is an issue which affects their work performance.
· Be calm, never react or raise your voice;
· Expect denial and anger. Wait until they are calm;
· Use your ears, there is a reason you have two of them and one mouth. They are twice as important; and
· Use active listening, reflecting back on what the person has said to encourage them to say more.
Remember, you want to get to the underlying issues and work with the employee to:
· Define what the job requires and what the employee is doing wrong when viewed against the employment contract they have agreed and accepted;
· Accept that they need to improve; and
· Agree to the changes they need to make to meet the required standards of performance;
Timing Time and place are very important. Factoring in immediacy, you need to choose your moment. You need to be prepared and you need to avoid shame and, where possible, that you have even had the conversation. Sometimes this is necessary, for example, when the issue has not been corrected and you want to use shame and the team dynamic. But calling out “Hey you. In my office now!” simply doesn’t work in a modern workplace. Most effective discussions are done over coffee or in an office or meeting space if you don’t have one. It’s also better not to sit at your desk, to use more of your referent power than your coercive or legitimate powers.
NEVER BE AFRAID TO WARN THE EMPLOYEE OF THE CONSEQUENCES IF THE PERFORMANCE REMAINS UNCORRECTED.
Ever bought a book and not liked it? Perhaps assigning it a mental two stars out of five, or worse, putting it down after only a few pages. I know I have. And I am sure you have started one of those books where you invest hours of your time, reading over half way and then you decide to cut your losses. It feels bad when you do that, doesn’t it? All that investment of your leisure time, often money to buy the book, and it feels like such as waste. I don’t know about you, but I don’t even skip to the last few pages when that happens.
Whatever the outcome, whether we get to the last page or not, book lovers know why they choose to read; that books take you somewhere else and you get to experience in your mind things that would never happen in your real life. Escapism at its very best, your mind at a level that movies, television and gaming can never take you And, that’s not to blow raspberries at the latter, the reading experience is just different, that’s all.
How many of you, outside of those who have put down a big work of writing, ever stop to think about the process undertaken by authors; what’s really involved to actually get your book into a bookstore?
Well I reckon that writing is a hard slog. Only the very few get to earn a living out of it. Bit like any profession where you deploy your artistic talent, even where such talent is weak and not your real strength. I believe it’s not even the 80:20 rule, more like the 99:1 rule. Authors all start out wanting to be in that 1 per cent, to be one of those authors who can afford a publicist and researchers on staff, that gaze out from their office at a beautiful vista and where the only hard choices are choosing between which public events they participate in and for how much.
I’ve been writing since 2011. Should have done it thirty years ago, but I didn’t have the discipline then. I know, I tried and then forgot all about it for many years. One day, I decided to give it another go, a last attempt and I got serious, spending two months before I wrote the first word. As the first 5,000 words went down and then another, it was like little steps and I could see an ending for the first time ever. Yes, it happened and despite all this and the rejections and setbacks, we all have them, I persevered and still hold onto the view that my novels can bring me fame and fortune.
I think they’re good enough, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? You be the judge in due course.
But I digress. Writing is a tough gig. You forgo a lot to set out a coherent 80,000 words, attending to grammar, suspense, plot and realism, always thinking about the reader and how you can entertain them with your writing. There are hours spent on Google, or if you have the means real research in the field, talking to people so that your story will have that touch of realism, of having been there. Oh what I would give for such an opportunity.
Writing is a lonely, solitary task. There are some writers who collaborate and share the load, but for most authors, we sit at our computer for hours at a time, alone with our own thoughts. If it’s a first novel, you don’t even have an agent and other people who can support your efforts. Days stretch into weeks and months. Years can go by if you don’t have discipline. And if this happens, then you really should know you have lost the plot.
Translate those hours for me if you will. I can write a thousand words in a couple of hours, but some of those thousands may take eight or more hours. Add in the research, the character and plot development, the thinking about it when you are trying to go to sleep. My back of the envelope calculations suggest that my novels have taken perhaps 400 hours each to write. And, that’s before you even think about the time involved in getting an agent and a publisher, creating a website, editing the work and making it sufficiently professional and, thus, persuasive enough, for someone to spend real money on it. Oh yes, and read it to the end.
Back to that 99:1 rule. Most authors make next to nothing from their work, and that’s particularly the case for people who self-publish. Yes, Matthew Reilly self-published and look at him, but he’s the exception, we know that. Hard work isn’t enough, you need to be persistent and you also need some luck. The fact is that most self-published authors, and even some with publishers, will only sell hundreds, perhaps a few thousand copies of their work. We’ll call on all our friends and family and many more we don’t even know that well urging them to buy. And, many will because they want to help and see you do well, not always because they want to read your work.
So 400 hours, plus another 200 for the agent, publisher, website and time spent on social media. Oh, yes and 200 for research, character and plot development. You do better than most and add up all your income, 365 days after it was published, and it amounts to $10,000. Hey, I’m being generous here, most of us will never give up our day job to do this. Divide by 800.
That’s $12.50 for every hour of work.
Next time you read a novel and feel a little critical of the writing or the story, think of the sheer work and effort that has gone into its creation; the author’s hopes and dreams.
Hey, I’m still dreaming and hoping that people will like my work.
Chris, August 2014
Hello again dear friends. Right on time, 10 days after birth, and the pups have opened their eyes.
Pictured are Denzel (the first out and named after a best friend, now deceased) and Boof, big brown head, who we believe sabotaged Mum's natural birthing processes.
Their Mum, Sami, is eating for 7, literally, eating around four times her usual intake, with no sign of weight gain. In fact, she's skin and bone, all her food going toward milk production. Pups are all healthy and gaining weight quickly. By this time next week, I reckon they could be walking as some are already standing on wobbly legs as they test their surroundings and start to explore.
Stay tuned for more pictures of the girls.
The first snake I have ever picked up. I was pretty sure it was a python, a non-venomous constrictor, but I still took care to trap its head (I’m certain they have teeth!!) before grasping it firmly behind its head.
Diamond Jim (pictured), our young male foxie and father to six pups with Sami, alerted us to the danger, barking continuously in a way that said danger. We have five chooks, only one of them earning by the way, and three roost in a tree in our back yard and that was where we first spotted this snake as he headed up the trunk.
Armed with a broom, I managed to wrestle him (the snake, not Jim) to the ground before picking him up and casting him over the neighbour’s fence at the back. First mistake. Two hours later, after we had gone to bed, I woke to Jim’s danger woofs and, sure enough, snake had returned. Frankly, he was too small to pose a real threat to the chooks, probably looking for eggs, but not the kind of critter you want in your back yard, particularly when he shows the ability to climb and, even, threaten our puppies should the snake smell them. (Snakes have very good sense of smell, by the way, using their tongues to taste the air.)
Anyways, I’m in dressed only in jocks, but I tackle that snake again like I’m Bindi Irwin and remember to take a selfie, before heading across the road to relocate him to a neighbour’s block. We’ll see if he’s back tonight. Might give him an egg if he returns…
For those friends who know I am about to publish my first novel through Zharmae, Brace for Impact, I am only weeks away, just waiting on an artist to complete the book cover. Fingers, toes and everything else are crossed that I will have a product when the Tropical Writers’ Festival happens in mid-September. Things happen in their own good time though and I wrote the first novel 2 years ago. So, waiting has been something I have become used to. As soon as the artwork is done and I have a date, watch this space as my marketing plans hopefully take off.
My goal in my marketing plan was a million sales. “Don’t you think that’s just a bit ambitious?” noted my good friend and agent, Jeanie Loiacano, when she reviewed my plan.
Nah. The novel’s good enough, just need to execute a good plan to get it in readers’ minds. No point aiming low, IMHO.
All the best to everyone who reads this. Share….
We all have set backs in our lives. I signed up with a US based publisher in May 2012 and, as an unknown, I sat in a queue waiting for my book to happen.
The owner of this business has had her own personal setback. So I am back in the starting blocks.
The good news is that I am now writing the final scenes to Rendition and now have a portfolio of works to offer. Yes two is a plural.
I'm also not going to settle for second best this time.
Some things happen for a reason.
Given this is a debut author site and no-one outside of those who know me knows it exists, I am not expecting a huge readership of this, my first post.
Nonetheless, what I am hoping from my writing is that my books generate a following and that what I write in this blog becomes something of interest to my readers and to people they know.
As an economist, I am very interested in what is going on in the world, particularly stories which are not picked up or are blandly reported by the mainstream media.
If you follow me, you will learn that the world is full of conspiracy theories.
Chris June 2012