On Self-Promotion, New Books, and Neurotic Writers

Guest Blogger Jim C. Hines

Hello, all! My name is Jim, and I'll be your guest blogger for today. Huge thanks to Lorraine for the invitation.

I asked Lorraine a bit about her readers, and if there were any guidelines for what I wrote about. She told me to avoid religion and politics, and no blatant commercials.

No commercials. But . . . but my second book just came out three days ago! I've spent the past week doing nothing but book promo and networking and running around to bookstores and-- Well, that's not completely true. I have done all of those things, but mostly I've been clicking "Refresh" so I could watch my Amazon rankings.

I understand where Lorraine is coming from. Authors can get pretty obnoxious when it comes to self-promotion. Wander over to the Amazon discussion forums and count how often a conversation is interrupted by a drive-by author:

"Hey, a conversation about global warming! Did you know the protagonist of my novel BOB'S INTESTINES: QUEST FOR REGULARITY owns a globe? You should all buy it and give me five-star reviews!"

I like to think I'm not that bad. But I can understand the desperation behind the need to promote.

I turned in the manuscript for this book last year, and I've been slowly losing my mind ever since. Once it's turned in, the fate of your book is out of your control. You wake up at two in the morning covered in sweat, heart pounding, after a nightmare about your humorous fantasy being released with a bad picture of Fabio on a neon green cover. You pray that the publisher remembers to send out your Advance Review Copies, or that they give you a publicity budget this time around. You read horror stories from other authors about printer mix-ups that swap their chapter twelve with chapter twelve of BOB II: BURRITO'S REVENGE.

Finally, that glorious day arrives. Someone calls to say, "Hey, Jim! I saw GOBLIN HERO in the bookstore." To which you reply, "Huh? My book doesn't come out for two weeks." And then you rudely hang up on your friend and race to the nearest bookstore. Then you go to another one, because this store doesn't actually have copies yet. The next store does, but they're still boxed up in the back room. Finally you find a store that has a single copy of your book on the shelf.

Now the real helplessness sets in. Will people buy that lonely little book? Will you be the next J. K. Rowling, or will your book disappear from the shelves in three months? Will your editor look at your sales figures and make that clucking sound with his tongue that means you're being dumped? Why does this store only have one copy of your book, anyway?

The worst part is that it will be months or years before you know how your book is doing. We obsess over Amazon rankings because it's one of the only real-time indicators of your book's success. Unfortunately, for most of us, Amazon is a tiny fraction of the overall sales. I won't see a royalty statement for months, and that statement probably won't show returns, which means it will be another six months before I have any clue how many books have sold and how many have been stripped and sent back to the publisher.

So how do we deal with the fear and the helplessness? Well, many of us do interviews and booksignings and give out goblin tattoos and bookmarks and run contests. I never know how well these strategies work, but they can't hurt. (Unless I cross the line into obnoxious territory, of course.) More importantly, they give me a sense of control. It rained at my last booksigning, and I only sold a few copies, but at least I know I sold those books.

Some say the best way to succeed is to write better stories. And I agree that's probably the best use of an author's time and energy. In fact, once I finish this blog entry, I'll be heading back to plot out my next novel.

Just as soon as I check on my Amazon ranking.

Goblinhero Jim C. Hines is the author of the goblin trilogy, from DAW Books. GOBLIN QUEST introduced the nearsighted goblin runt Jig. The second book, GOBLIN HERO, came out on May 1 of this year. And the final (for now) book in the trilogy, GOBLIN WAR, should be out in early 2008 . . . assuming Jim gets his revisions turned in on time. Late 2008 or early 2009 should see the publication of THE STEPSISTER SCHEME, the first book in a new series of butt-kicking fairy tale princesses.
When not obsessing over at Amazon.com, Jim maintains a web site at http://www.jimchines.com and hangs out on LiveJournal at http://jimhines.livejournal.com.

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