Welcome to another fun-packed repository of useful tips and ideas. In this article, I share a few thoughts on guest writers and what it really takes to make a living as a self-published author. Spoiler alert: I am a long way from achieving that. However, all is not doom and gloom. But first, this wouldn’t be a proper Al Morton post if there weren’t at least a few wry observations on what’s been happening in the news. So, strap in tight as we plunge down the pothole of Brexit Britain to explore the mysterious world of flagpoles, giant boats, and beasts.
This week, the enlightened British press have been sharing with us how to rescue a stuck Japanese supertanker without the aid of Godzilla and what to do if your blonde girlfriend keeps asking for money after you’ve already paid to attend her penetrating IT courses. As an aside, I did read that one of a certain minister’s assignations described sex with him as ‘having a heavy wardrobe fall on top of you with the key still in the lock’. Ouch!
I am also going to touch on the new Tory plan to fly the Union Flag over food banks, homeless shelters, and fishing-community job centres. Well, who doesn’t love flags…
Before I get to the main theme, I wanted to mention a mystery that has recently been solved. Have you ever wondered why every image of Priti Patel always shows her with a raised eyebrow? At one stage I thought this was an attempt to present herself as less shallow but thanks to her latest expenses claim, all is revealed. It would seem that raising a well-curated eyebrow, cost the taxpayer an eye-watering £77,000. MPs are now worrying that a full Brazilian bikini wax could bankrupt the country.
On a more serious note, it is time for a change. I have been blogging for the last 20 years. At first, the intention was to connect with people trading the financial markets, then later, guitarists and writers. After a while, you reach a point where you ask, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I remind myself that I have a book and a second ready to go, so it makes sense to publicise my work. However, the handful of people who read the blog have already bought the book. I hope they enjoyed it and will be interested in the second, One Canada Square when it is finally published. The wider demographic of my readers tends to be people who prefer to acquire their books from charity shops. There is nothing wrong with this but it does present a challenge to an aspiring writer as it is impossible to compete on price.
In my mind’s eye, I am writing because I have a story to tell and have no need for financial recompense. The first is true but the latter is not. We all have to survive and this year the issue has been brought sharply into focus. This is partly due to the pandemic but also down to the changing way we consume media. Not unlike the California gold rush, where the real money was made by those who sold the picks and shovels, we now have Google, Apple, and Amazon providing the tools and profiting from our collective desire to mine gold. In this overcrowded market, content providers including myself, are left with little choice but to give our work away. We want people to read our stories, listen to our music, and laugh at our inane jokes. However, if nobody knows about us, we may as well not exist. It’s the old tree-falling-in-the-forest argument: ‘If there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?’
The uncomfortable truth is that the majority of writers are not seeing a return on their work. However, self-publishing websites are one step ahead. They know the grim truth about publishing and have quit pretending to be writers in favour of lying to actual writers. The reason: pay-per-click advertising. They need you to believe in the dream, in the same way that the world’s most wealthy individuals want you to believe that you are just one step away from joining them for cocktails on their superyachts. But ask yourself this: do you come from a line of multi-millionaires? Did you go to the right school? Do you truly believe that most lottery tickets will pay out ‘bigly’? I’m happy if you do, as I know an estate agent who wants a chat with you about a Spanish building plot. In truth, education, opportunity, and privilege all play a part in qualifying to have your books published by a mainstream publisher. You don’t even need to be a writer. I doubt that Trump ever read his book The Art of the Deal. Your agent will see to all of that, maybe a ghostwriter, or an Oxford graduate with a degree in English literature. I hope this doesn’t sound as if I am whining. It is merely a recognition of how things are.
There is a well-known quotation: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Fun fact: Albert Einstein never said that. The saying dates back to the 19th century and was later quoted in a Narcotics Anonymous leaflet.
So with this in mind, I return to my original question. What is the real reason for writing this blog, or writing anything for that matter? Is it ego? Possibly, but that would be true for most artists. Is it a desire to perfect communication skills? Maybe, but there is another more compelling reason: as a writer, you are your brand. Your personality and views are of interest to people who enjoy your work. Let me ask another question. Why don’t I have guest writers on my blog??? Everyone does; I saw it on a YouTube video. The presenters of cunningly titled shows such as How to Sell More Books on Amazon, claim this is what we should all be doing. It must be true… Here is what I think (and do feel free to chime in): Guest writers and people who like to make videos of themselves talking on YouTube, are cashing in on wasting your time!
Now you may be catching a bit of attitude here. No guest writers? Really? I am going to answer this question with another question (I should have been a politician): How is your guest writer going to help people who are interested in your brand?
‘Oh, but Alastair, other writers help so much!’
That, I doubt and here’s why: they are your competition, not your best friend. I do consider a few writers to be friends but I would still not be asking them to contribute to this blog. They are busy writing their own material and self-publicising. I find it frustrating when I go to an author’s website only to discover it is stuffed with content by people other than the author. It suggests there may be disappointment ahead. Just as with a restaurant that serves up different food to that advertised on the menu, people will vote with their feet.
I am going to wrap this up by saying that I am still pressing ahead with the books. There will always be the odd article on this blog, plus daft guitar stories. However, it is time to try and reach out further. This is why I am also working on podcasts. Sadly the days of blogging are in decline, in the same way as the age of steam and traditional jazz have become a thing of the past. I recognise the symptoms from my time in the music business. I mean, who makes money as a musician these days? Not even the record companies and yet iTunes and Spotify are thriving. However, podcasts are an interesting case. They have a more diverse and growing demographic. If you enjoy this blog and book(s) then I urge you to continue but also to listen in. I know that many are not interested in political satire but there is also going to be a new series based on the fictional characters in my writing. Books and blogs will always be with us, just as steam trains and old bearded real-ale-drinking jazz musicians can still be found on preservation railway sites.
Episode 8 can be heard here: ‘Mr Potato Head’ (not a reference to myself nor the British PM). You won’t find it in any charity shop; it is completely FREE. This month, I talk about paying our NHS staff properly, question the wisdom of more nuclear warheads, poke fun at Carrie Symonds’ redecoration plans for No. 10, as well as the fountain of taxpayers’ money that is Boris Johnson. Also, look out for the podcast serialisation of my first book, Permissive Ink. It is being worked on right now. Have a great Easter and don’t forget to ‘like, subscribe, and comment’. It’s always great to receive feedback when you spend so much time shouting into the void.