I had imagined that being a successful author was easier a century ago. More people read books, there were fewer competing entertainments. A work was printed in a finite edition, and except for the most popular offerings, eventually went out of print, it did not linger in cyber space for all eternity. You browsed book stores, and joined lending libraries. There were mentions in the press, and word of mouth. It was a small world, compared to today.
Publishers promoted their books. Almost every piece I have from that period has one, sometimes several pages, of enthusiastic blurbs for works by the same author, or works in a similar vein.
If you have a use for laugh-your-ass-off reviews, find them in front and back matter for ancient publications on guttenberg.org. FOR INSTANCE: Percival Pollard (an American literary critic, novelist and short story writer) in Town Topics (a quarterly New York-based magazine of fiction, humor, and light verse, published in the late 19th and early 20th century) wrote (of a schlock romance by a now-overlooked contemporary of the wildly successful Elinor Glyn): “Be as sad and as sane as you like, for all the other days of your life, but steal one mad day, I adjure you, to sit and read this stunning . . . ”
Arthur C. Benson, in ‘From a College Window’, has a few words for hopeful writers. A modest level of success was a high hurdle even way back then. He says:
“I have been sometimes consulted by young aspirants in literature as to the best mode of embarking on the profession of letters; and if my inquirer has confessed that he will be obliged to earn his living, I have always replied, dully but faithfully, that the best way to realize his ambition is to enter some other profession without delay.
“Writing is indeed the most delightful thing in the world, if one has not to depend upon it for a livelihood. One must not hope for much monetary reward. A novelist or journalist of the first rank may earn a handsome income; but to achieve conspicuous mundane success in literature, a certain degree of good fortune is almost more important than genius, or even than talent. It is necessary to have a vogue, to create or satisfy a special demand, to hit the taste of the age.
“The literary writer pure and simple, can hardly hope to earn a living wage, unless he is content to do, and indeed fortunate enough to obtain, a good deal of hack work as well. He must be ready to write reviews and introductions; to pour out occasional articles, to compile, to edit, to select. He will have little of the tranquility, the serenity, the leisure, upon the enjoyment of which the quality of the best work depends. Unless a man has private resources, he can hardly afford to turn his attention to belles lettres.”
Benson had a considerable reputation in scholarly circles. His books of essays sold like hotcakes, apparently. All the works I see touted in back matter are advertised as being in the third to tenth editions. He wrote biographies. He wrote poetry. He wrote lyrics.
And (so it appears from some of his titles) he wrote fiction. I’d like to see what his fiction consisted of. It will certainly include a moral. That a sinner must repent and/or be severely punished was a given for the era. And Benson was the pious son of an Archbishop of Canterbury. Morality was the core of his being.
No, it’s never been easy, on any level.
A compelling story is the tip of the iceberg. We must be as relentless in promoting our work as we were in writing it.
I have created a series of posters. If summer art fairs make a come-back, I have a fine backdrop for a retail effort. (I am going to print-publish. The story pairs with a paper doll, to be cut out and played with.)
To release a work in installments is frequently cited as a useful strategy. The more your name is out and about, the better your chance of being noticed. I am considering that also.
The big problem would be the extra ISBN numbers I’d need, and the publishing fees for three-four-five pieces. The big plus would be–I’d have room for more illustration, by which I mean, of course, additional outfits. I would dearly love to get the Bird of Paradise costume into my (as currently laid out) already packed sixty pages.
Sixty pages is a monster of a paper doll book, which is what Maisie pretends to be. I expect the paper doll to be the major factor, at least at first, in grabbing attention and generating sales.
You will find the beginning of a Maisie website here