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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.

Wrong.

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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As usual, Sandra is absolutely right and says it so well. I have complained about this for years and, after suffering through miserable book tours and mailings, I have stopped. Yes, of course we are being hunted to extinction by publishers. Wonderful image. Publishers sign far too many authors they have no intention of supporting. They merely toss the book out there to see if it will swim. Usually it doesn't. Who buys a book he/she knows nothing about? We compete for smaller and smaller reader pools not only with huge numbers of debut publications, but also with the select few who are heavily promoted by our publishers. You might say, our own publishers stab us in the back when they push other authors. Self-promotion does not work. Perhaps very expensive national campaigns might work, but out advances will not permit those.
The result is that those who have unique voices switch to writing best-selling formula or quit. And editors ask for fresh voices!

Readers don't really know the difference. The few who do, keep quiet or drop the author a lovely fan letter. These letters merely let us know that we are doing the right thing and someone appreciates it, but they don't promote more sales. Any progress along those lines is too slow for the publisher.

Book stores and libraries can help but mostly don't. I have consistent and helpful support only from Poisoned Pen who recommend my books and list them among their best sellers. I wish more stores (or libraries) would do this.
we are being hunted to extinction

that is a a powerful comment. i can't quit thinking about it.

and what a great post, I.J. every word rings painfully true.
The prospect of burning out makes me stressed already!

My 15 year-old daughter had all the benefits of a part-time Mommy-writer: homeschooling, soccer, softball, basketball, piano lessons, being read to every night. Since I sold my first novel, I spend most of my day on the computer. In the fall, I'll be promoting the novel full time, starting with Bouchercon. My son, who is almost eight, will want to do things after school--but who will be here to drive him to soccer and read all the Harry Potter books to him? it's not quite real to me yet, and I'm worried.

Apparently, one of Meryl Streep's sons plays high school baseball, and she refuses to schedule her work during one of his games. You go, Meryl!

I think we all have to look closely at expectations and decide which belong to us and the publisher, and which ones we're making up. As writers, many things loom large in our imaginations. There has to be a reasonable medium--a place where we can satisfy ourselves and our potential readers. Really, how much control do we have? And the brain has to have play time to create (as Angie said). Anyone ever hear of that goose and golden egg story?

I'd like to hear some guys weigh in on this, as well--particularly about family matters....
I think what's important is the personal touch. How can YOU reach out to YOUR readers? I don't read some promo blogs anymore because the advice on there - guerrilla promoting - isn't me. I would like to think there is some style of marketing out there that does fit "me." Obviously some things will be par for the course, as Sandra said - book signings, etc. But even those can be personalized. Beyond them, what else?

I think if there is a way to promote according to your true self, then it will fit fairly easily into the rest of your life. It will feel right, for the family as well as yourself.

But I'm not there yet, so I may as well be talking out of my ass. Still - if the more extroverted writers among us have found ways to promote that "fit" them, why can't the rest of us?
Guerilla marketing isn't effective. It's no different than the advert I got the other day telling me my penis is too small, but they can help. I've seen plenty of authors in bookstores at a table, selling their stuff, and I've never bought a single book from one of them. That isn't the kind of promotion that works for me as a consumer.

What people fail to consider is that if every author did all the same things - the same number of signings, the same mass emailings, the same promo blogs, none of it would be effective at all. The reality is, very little of what's done is effective.

Today, I got a really nice email from someone who bought, read and liked my book. They took the time to write. What was interesting was their candid admission - they bought my book precisely because I don't talk about it all the time.

Of course, I've already done my own big rant on pressure promotion today, so I'll stop, but I love the aspect of the personal touch. You know what? If you have a website, a blog, perhaps do live chats and podcasts, you can reach a chunk of your readers. And when people like your work they'll recommend it and more people will learn about it. There is nothing as effective as word of mouth. I pay attention to referrals from the authors I enjoy.
laura, good point about expectations. your post reminded me that self promotion started with writers, and publishers gradually opened up to it. even now it could be that publishers think writers want to be as involved as possible. and we really don't have much control. a lot of writers don't like to hear that. but i feel it kind of lets me off the hook, because nothing i do will have much impact.
Anne, This is perhaps one of the most insightful post on this topic I have ever read. The profound futility of blatant self-promotion has never been stated so clearly.

I am aware of people who spend weeks even months on the road to hand-sell and tour to get the word out there. And what do they have at the end of the day? The majority of the time, almost nothing. Even if a person could sell 50 books at each event or signing, is that success? That's twenty events to sell a thousand, one hundred to sell 5000.

But how much is your time worth? Traveling to events, staying in hotels, sitting in near empty bookstores. True believers will tell you that's how you get the word out. But who is hearing you?

I have heard of people who fail to deliver their next book, miss deadlines, struggle to even write a few pages because of their promotion duties. So all that hard work promoting and building the fan base and what do they get? Their readers, the people who bought the book, putting up reviews on Amazon or their blog talking about how weak this book is, how much better the first one was.

It seems too often that people lose sight of the idea that all promotion is to build an audience for the NEXT book. I remember a comment I read once about an author who was giving their first chapter out and how the reader hated it. The reader said if the author was not letting people see the first chapter, then they would have to buy the book to discover they didn't like it. But really who wants people to buy their book and then think about what a waste of money it is.

A reader who loves your work becomes an advocate for you. They tell other people, recommend it to their friends. The funny thing is that all most of them want is another book, a well written engaging work that they can read and reread.

I have never bought a book because the author said it was good. But I have bought lots of books because a friend or someone I respect recommended it. Fr example, Ali Karim recommended "Shutter Island" by Dennis Lehane to my wife today, so I went out and bought it.

Success in this industry can not come from being a master hand seller, but from writing books people want to read. I hear people saying that the industry only wants to publish bestsellers. My question back is why are so many books published then? There are only 35 spots on the NYT bestseller list. Every publisher should only publish five books and just market the hell out of them. Evidence shows that a hard publisher push will increase sales dramatically, so it is possible to 'create' best sellers. But yet thousands of book are published, so there is more going on than just finding best sellers.

Any well-written book will find a publisher eventually. But there can never be any guarantee that you can make a living from it. If you do this because you enjoy the craft, then it will be always enjoyable. Then any success will be far more rewarding.

Supporting the book by going to conventions, reading and events are worthwhile if you come to it with the right attitude. Interacting with other authors and readers can be a highly rewarding experience. Looking at every person like a mark in three card monty game robs any enjoyment that you and the people you encounter can have from the interaction.

I like to think of Ian Rankin, who early in his career and still living in France would drive around at night screaming, he was so worried about if he was ever going to make it. It finally came on book 8 in the UK and book 13 in the US. But that success never came as the result of weeks on the road of hand-selling. It came from writing books, not promoting them.
best wishes to all you writers out there in resisting the pressure to devote ridiculous amounts of your precious free time to marketing.

As a reader, I'm not tempted to buy books by signing. Good word of mouth on lists like these, and good reviews in the press are far more likely to influence me. And yes, I do occasionally check out what's available on amazon from posters on here :)
I think it depends on the signing/author. The only signing I ever went to was one by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Now, I'd already read her other 5 books, so I knew I'd get this one. The question for me was whether to buy it hardcover or wait for paperback. I chose hardcover because she was so personable during her talk that I wanted to "give back" and buy it right then. If she'd been boring or rude, I probably would've waited. And if I'd never read anything else by her, I wouldn't have bought it at all.

For me the issue is that I can't get to most signings, as they are in the evenings and I am a critical part of bedtime in these years! So I rely heavily on word of mouth, other authors' recommendations. But I will always buy first from those who are "nice." I think that even edges out whether I've read anything by that author before.
The best signing I ever saw Michael Connolly at the local McNally Robinson (a small chain in Canada with a store in NYC). It was held in the small café on the top floor. There was space for less than 100 people, so it felt very personal. He did a reading, answered some questions and then did the signing. We already had the book (Echo Park) and got it signed. It was very enjoyable.

Now the interesting thing is that this bookstore does author events like that all the time. I have gone to two debut author book launches there.

The issue with authors sitting at table near the front of the store is the same one that I have with the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts who stand out the exit of major stores. If I stop and talk to them, I feel obligated to buy something. So I don't stop. A lot of people are like that.

But that also means that I never found out anything about the author either. His/her time was wasted because they made no impression on me and all of the others who did not stop. No impression means no sales.
Just have to warn you, Kev and Sandra - if you buy every book Ali likes, you're going to be SO BROKE!

But you'll have plenty to read.
Ha! True. I really respect the fact that Ali takes his time to promote books he's passionate about. The Shutter Island recommendation came about because I admitted I hadn't read any Lehane.

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