Time again for a “stupid” question

WEDNESDAY, 6 JULY 2011

Why am I not making money with my writing? Why do I hardly ever think about it? And why is it that it can almost be considered a “stupid” question?

One of the main lessons I have learned about marketing and entrepreneurial ventures is the following: to be successful, the entrepreneur identifies a group of people who are either keen to move away from something (like being overweight), or eager to move to a certain point (for example, to improve a golf handicap). A further requirement is that this group of people should be willing to pay to get what they want, or to go where they want to be. The idea is for the entrepreneur to think of a way to assist these people to get away from the bad, or to feed their need; or for the marketer to identify a product that will make it possible, and to then convince the right people to purchase this product.

How do my writing projects fit into this understanding? Who would be my market? What demographic target group will I set my sights on? How aggressive should I market my “product” as the “solution” to their problems or aspirations?

The fact of the matter is that I am uncomfortable thinking of my notes on identity, on the struggle to find sense and possibly meaning in life, and on finding my place in the world as a product. I am okay with ultimately publishing selections of my material in print or electronic form and slapping a price on it. I am not okay with thinking of it as a product, similar to a guide that teaches you how to improve your tennis serve, or how to lose weight (important as these things may be).

But I still need to answer the question. Is there any way I can produce material that has commercial value? Are there topics I can write about that will draw the attention of a larger market? Is it possible that I can write for a market willing to pay for what I produce?

At one point I had the idea of doing something that has nothing to do with literature that will give me rent and food money, and then to spend the rest of my time on the free expression of my experience of reality, free of the contamination that comes with concern about whether or not the agents of commercial value will find acceptable what I write.

To some extent this is what I do by earning my bread and butter as an English teacher.

Still, I think the time is ripe to at least contemplate again whether or not I can make a living as a writer. Can I keep myself alive if my earthly existence depended on what I write?

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