About that ‘promoting your book’ thing
April 9, 2011 § 33 Comments
In response to the ‘traditional or self-publishing’ arguments that are going around lately, I have been hearing quite a few writers saying that they want a publisher because they don’t want to have to spend their writing time doing all the editing, cover design and promoting. It sounds a reasonable enough argument, except that it appears to be based on some unrealistic expectations.
I’m going to skip over the issue of merely getting a publisher in the first place, because we all know how absurdly difficult that is. Instead I want to attack the fallacy of thinking we can get around having to take responsibility for the success of our own books.
Thousands of books are published every week. Many of them sell fewer than 1000 copies. As a result, many first-time authors never get a second book in print. If traditional publishing is so damn good at marketing books, why does this happen? Were all these authors just writing bad books? Maybe, but probably not. In truth, most authors (especially newly published authors) get very little real help with promoting their book – and very little time on the bookstore shelves in which to do it. So book after book sinks without trace into the oceans of words that make it into print every day.
Point in a nutshell: if we want to make a living off writing, we will have to promote our work somehow. End of story. It doesn’t matter how the book was published. This is a daunting prospect, yes. It’s rational enough to be a little bit afraid of it – or simply to prefer to skip over it if possible. But I don’t think we can get away with that.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that hard. Even (or perhaps, especially) if you’re self-publishing and going it alone: there’s no need to try to push a book to make a killing in its first couple of months. The book isn’t going to be pulled off the shelves if it doesn’t immediately perform well. There’s time. What’s necessary is to get the process of ‘Word of Mouth’ started, and help it along a bit.
It is my theory that people love to share, and a lot of people love to help. If readers enjoy our books they will be delighted to help spread the word. Other writers know how hard it is to get noticed, and they’ll usually be happy to help another author whose work they have faith in. What we need to do is get in touch with those people. This is called Being Sociable and it means doing stuff like blogging. Conceivably twittering (tweeting?). Possibly facebooking. Certainly a website, of some kind. Not necessarily all of these things.
Now, I know there are loads of people who say ‘You MUST commit oodles of time to your blog! You MUST blog at least five times a week or NO ONE WILL EVER READ IT!’ And some people also say things like ‘The best way to promote a product via Twitter is to post links to your stuff eighteen times a day!’ And: ‘It is IMPERATIVE to update your facebook fan page at least once a day, or you might as well not bother!!’ Etc.
Hideous prospect, really, because we’d spend half our lives doing social media only to make our potential readers heartily sick of hearing our names. But, you know, Lots of People talk rubbish. That’s a fact. An important point about promotion is simply this: it’s not necessary to market the hell out of your book, because there’s such a thing as overkill (AKA ‘spam’), and also because it doesn’t take that much work to do enough to get the ball rolling (AKA ‘word of mouth’).
From the past few months of blogging and tweeting I’ve learned that it isn’t that hard to get started. Keeping a blog isn’t climbing a mountain; if we’re writers, we write most days anyway. So write a post a week, maybe two. Sure, it’ll take longer than it (probably) would if you were producing eleven posts a day, but it builds up over time. As for twitter, it really isn’t that hard either. Promise. A few tweets a day will go a long way.
If the notion of spending months building up an online presence seems agonisingly slow, I recommend a recent post by M. Louisa Locke, a successful self-published historical mystery author. She writes about the timelines involved in launching a book yourself (along with some methods that work). The crucial point is that, with self-publishing, you have all the time in the world; your book isn’t going to wander off the bookshelves. Find the post here.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch also wrote an excellent post recently about promotion in the indie book world. The central point of this post is: only a minimal online presence is really necessary, because the best way to promote your first book is to write the next one. Find the post here.
In closing, let me point out one final, important fact: anybody can do this. It is not rocket science. It will not take up all of our writing time. A little bit of effort put in regularly can yield good results.