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I’m worried. Really worried.

About how self promotion has become not only expected but required. The more the better. I recently heard a small-press publicist say their writers should invest more than their advance on promotion. Two years ago it was suggested that I start blogging, attend conferences, get involved in more online groups and online events, give talks at libraries, travel to small towns and speak, consider making a book trailer, have online contests, maybe a writing competition, join more organizations, enter my books in more contests, do a monthly newsletter, put together a mailing list, visit more bookstores. I’m sure I’ve left out a few things. The argument for all of this is that publishers have no idea if any of it helps, but it certainly can’t hurt.


The few who agree with me about the futility of self promotion usually say it takes away from a writer’s writing time.

That wasn't my problem.

It took away my leisure time. I’m exhausted, and I’m afraid it’s going to take me a very long time to recover.

It wouldn’t be so bad if my efforts had mattered, but we are all just kids at our individual Kool-Aid stands, holding up our signs, begging people to stop and buy. And on every corner is another Kool-Aid stand serving up another version of cherry-flavored anxiety.

Our family and neighbors shuffle over. But mainly we just stand around and drink our own stuff and go check out the other stands to see what flavors they’re selling that day. And while we stand there delivery trucks go by taking Kool-Aid to stores all over the country.

The national decline in reading isn’t our fault, and we can’t fix the problem by opening a Kool-Aid stand.

I’m giving myself permission to write. Just write. And maybe enjoy life a little bit while I’m at it.

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I don't mind going to conventions. In fact, I enjoy them, and I've been attending them almost as long as some of the current writers have been alive. I don't mind going to a library and talking to a reading club. I don't even mind going to an independent bookstore and doing a signing. But that's about it. I hate everything else. I'm the world's worst self-promoter, and I just can't do it. It's probably way too late for me, anyhow.
I don't mind going to conventions. In fact, I enjoy them

Bill Crider, social butterfly


but really, you're ahead of the game because you haven't poured time and energy into futile projects.
I was following this thread word for word until it got a little long, so apologies if I repeat what someone's already said. I understand what Ann's saying here at the outset - basically, that she feels she put too much effort into too much promotion with questionable results - but I wonder if book promotion and writing have to be as mutually exclusive as some here seem to think. Using Ann as an example, she feels she did too much; okay, then next book, she'll know better how to pace herself, and she can eliminate some of the efforts she made that she feels didn't pay off. It's not like we're born knowing this stuff. It's all a learning process. Just as we had to learn how to write a salable novel, we have to learn how best to promote our work.

As necessary as book promotion by the author is (and I believe it is - a book is a product and people can't buy it unless they know it exists, and if the author isn't invested in their work enough to promote it, why should others), I seriously doubt anyone in the process - publisher, publicist, editor, agent - would suggest the author promote their book to the point of exhaustion, or so heavily that they're unable to write the next. In fact, I've often heard the opposite: that the best thing an author can do for a just-released book is write another that's even more fantastic.

Word of mouth is was ultimately sells books. People talk about books they read and loved. Writing the best next book you possibly can is the best way you can promote your current work.

I think taking a look at the example of best-selling authors like Lee Child is a good way to get a sense of how to balance writing and promotion. He has a regular schedule. Roughly, since this is from memory: he writes from September to January or so, spends February though May promoting the previous year's release, takes a few months off during the summer to recharge, then begins writing again the next September. It's worked for him for roughly 11 years. Clearly and obviously, he loves what he does.

Because they write more slowly, or because of other variables other authors might require a different schedule, but regardless, like a long-distance runner, I believe the successful writers are the ones who have learned how to balance promotion and writing and found their own pace in order to stay in the game and stay sane.

Oy... Read through all the replies... and I'm not sure where to start. First, schedules: Along with Lee Child, Jerry Healy has a schedule that I find inspirational. He writes in the morning, works out or plays tennis mid-day, then does promotion in the afternoon. Sounds do-able, doesn't it (Assuming that pesky day job doesn't get in the way...)?

As far as self-promotion itself is concerned, I've been thinking about it for a long time too, and I keep coming back to one basic fact over which we have no control... publisher support. If a publisher supports a book with co-op... if they hunt down foreign rights (I;m thinking of Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself.. where the foreign rights repaid a good chunk of his advance).. if they support their author with pre-publication bookseller dinners, and other events, that book is going to do well, regardless of its quality. (Not to lump Marcus in that category... I thought his book was awesome).. But that;s the ugly truth. The rest of us are just playing catch-up... me included. It's harsh, it's unfair, but it's reality. And no amount of booksignings, blog posts, chap books, or other efforts that take away from our writing time are going to matter much... at least in the short-term.

Long term, though, I think there is something to just "surviving" -- I'm seeing some recognition simply because I'm still around and writing. Is it enough to propel me upward in sales #s Who knows? I wouldn't put money on it, though.
Libby - I'm not into mysteries, and I've never read your work (sorry!), but to me, your name is still instantly recognizable. When I first saw you here at Crimespace, I thought, "Cool! It's Libby Hellman!" Clearly, something's working. :)

Re publisher support - I hear what you're saying about co-op etc. making a difference. I'm not expecting any from my publisher because my book's coming out in mass market paperback. What my publisher IS good at, however, is designing a great package and getting the book into grocery stores and drugs stores as well as bookstores. I'm anticipating most of my sales will be impulse buys by people who've never heard of me or my work. Still, to whatever extent I have time for it, I plan to augment their efforts with my own on the thinking that every sale counts. We'll see how it goes. And congrats to you for still being around and writing. I know a number of authors whose publishers dropped them after one or two books, so that's a huge accomplishment in itself.
:) Thanks, Karen. And I wish you great sales with your book. It's true that mass market is great for impulse buys... I've done a number of signings in the chains, and have found people will take a chance on a paperback by an author they've never read. Even a trade book. Someone once told me the cut-off amount for an impulse buy is $20.00...
I would say that nothing can really match publisher support, period.

I see some things from a different perspective. Since you brought up Marcus, I can make a point about where things have fallen down: Canadian distribution. I have made a point of checking for new releases this year by several authors I know, both in Alberta (in two major cities) and also in BC when I was spending time in Vancouver. Not one chain bookstore (Indigo/Chapters) is carrying Marcus's book.

Or Toni McGee Causey's, Rob Gregory Browne's, Marc Lecard's. This might sound like a St. Martin's trend (because debuts by Sean Chercover, Phil Hawley Jr and Gregg Olsen have been well stocked) but I can get the Ken Bruen St. Martin's titles in Chapters/Indigo and others, so they clearly distribute here.

I went to a session with an independent bookstore owner from this area speaking about how books get on the shelves. He specifically said that when the publishers send out their promotional people, they'll actually take their own catalogue and say, "You can skip this one, this one and this one, but you have to carry this one." How on earth can an author compete if the promotional staff from the publisher itself are telling bookstore owners their title isn't a priority to carry?

And as far as I'm concerned, this all goes back to something I said earlier, about not being concerned with what's of interest to your readership, just moving certain titles. The publishers concern themselves with moving the titles that they've invested a lot of money in, while independent bookstore owners concern themselves with their clientele. More than anyone, they know the interests of their consumers and that is their priority when stocking books.

The very simple truth is that, with internet sales (depending on source) accounting for only 10-15% of all sales, if you can't get your book stocked in stores you have a real uphill battle.

Look at what Anne has referenced herself - a small but reputable US publisher telling authors to invest more than their advance in promotion. Here's the real question: why?

a) they know the authors know better than any marketing person how to promote?
b) they aren't going to promote the book themselves?
c) they want to make more money with a smaller investment and less work on their part?
d) for the hell of it?

The reality is, even if you feel you did too much and the results were questionable with one book, how do you adequately assess which promotion wasn't a sound investment and which was? One thing I was told by an author was that after I'd reviewed their book in Spinetingler their sales spiked. They believed there was a clear link, but I never noted any specific spikes after reviews appeared for my book. Now, maybe the sales stayed level when otherwise they would have dropped off, so there was a spike, it just wasn't visible. But how do you know that?

And with all the issues around review space, you can hardly guarantee getting sufficient reviews for new titles. And getting reviews, again, goes to the publisher pushing those books. I have had reviewers seek out titles they were interested in and be unable to get review copies but be sent something else instead, that was getting heavy marketing push.

The Kool-Aid stand really is the best analogy for it, because we're amateurs. And while I'm clearly willing to do a certain level of promotion, I am aware that some people have compromised their writing by spending too much time promoting.

End of the day, I didn't start writing so that I could spend all my time selling. The proof for me much of this is wasted energy is how well the British authors sell, when they do minimal promotion. In fact, most of them are so bad they don't even offer review copies themselves. Of course, I see that differently too, since we have more access to British titles here. Stuart MacBride is well stocked, books turned face out or on promo tables, and he doesn't do anything to get that.

Meanwhile, I know Canadian authors whose work I can't even buy locally. End of the day, publisher support. It may be possible for authors to make some in-roads, but short of being rich and not having a day job on top of it, there's no way we have the time and resources needed to compete with the titles that are getting in-house promotion.
there's no way we have the time and resources needed to compete with the titles that are getting in-house promotion.

yep, and i worry that as a group we are hurting ourselves by our very willingness to self promote. i worry that it gives publishers a reason to do less. or do nothing.

the other problem with selling from our front yard is that publishers already have a system in place and have the ability to promote and push our books in ways we can never begin to duplicate.
Long term, though, I think there is something to just "surviving"

excellent point, Libby. and i think it even takes time for the backed writers to become known to readers.
Karen, I totally agree about having a schedule and pacing ourselves. i pace myself through the year, but tend to do a really bad job on a daily basis. (like saying i'll exercise, relax, eat right tomorrow.)
but i don't think we can ever know what works and what doesn't. or if anything works. and i used to hear that a writer's best path to success was to concentrate on writing an even better book next time around, but i don't hear that anymore. and it often isn't true, because what happens to the next book is very often planned long before the book is turned in.
When the process of self-promoting gets to be pain, which it can very quickly, it's time to get back to the writing. I don't want to sound too Zen, but the only real reward for writing is the writing itself. You can fail as a self-promoter, but you really can't fail as a writer if you are enjoying yourself.


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