So I’ve exposed myself to a couple of bits of media recently that have pushed me to a new perspective on writers marketing their work… again. Yes, I know, it seems like every other day I’m “adjusting” my opinion on this. And that’s highly irritating to me. In fact, it’s another variable in this formula; I’ve realized that my wishy-washiness is probably a sign of not knowing for myself what I’m talking about in the “Do Good Books Sell Themselves or Not?” debate. So, I’ve come to a kind of resolution, which I’ll get to in a bit.
The first media that help shift me this time was this blog post by Russel Blake. Especially his first two of eight points:
1) Books Sell Themselves. No, sweetie, they don’t, at all, and never did. That’s why trad pubs spend massively on promotions. Because they know that visibility sells books, not invisible cosmic forces or author brilliance. It’s a highly competitive market with millions of choices, and it’s a retail market, and in retail, visibility is key. Which means constant promotion. Which most authors hate. But it’s reality, so get used to the idea. A companion to this aphorism is the next one…
This myth is the one that’s always been frustrating to me, and yet somehow has managed to infiltrate my own thinking over and over. After all, I’ve found my new favorite indie writers on Amazon, not through some clickthrough advertisement or spam mail or tweet, so the cream must be rising above the crap, right? That thinking breaks all kinds of logical rules, though, such as incomplete comparison (did those authors promote themselves into Amazon visibility, which led to me finding them?) as well as rules of salesmanship (don’t assume that everyone buys the same way you do). If you think about it, everything else besides books is sold through active and passive marketing and sales efforts. Is it really true that books are some kind of exception?
No way. Book contracts are a way of promoting your work, as that will get it in front of bookstore shoppers. Endlessly tweeting about your book does the same, except in a sleazy and annoying and inefficient fashion. The question is not whether promotion leads to sales, but what kind of promotion will be most effective.
2) Just write the next one.
Sure, if you want to have two undiscovered gems instead of one. Look, writing the next one’s important, but not if it’s used to justify not promoting the last one, which is often the case. You have to both market the last one AND write the next one. Sorry. You do.
This one follows #1 logically, both for those that believe it and for refuting it. Emily Dickinson had drawers full of her work, and only a dozen or so were published during her life. How come people weren’t flocking to her drawer to get that wonderful rhyming goodness before then? Because they HAD NO IDEA IT WAS THERE!!! If you believe that you need to submit your work to a publisher or a storefront like Amazon in order to sell your work, then you believe in promoting your work. To say that promotion stops with the product (writing, editing, cover, blurb, sales copy on product page) ignores the fact that you didn’t take all that work and lock it in a drawer. Put your work in every place that will promote it enough to be worth your time, whether that’s a digital storefront or an advertisement site.
The second media that helped swing my vacillating pendulum is the recent episode of The Self Publishing Podcast, titled “Selling Your First 1000 Copies” with guest Tim Grahl. These guys are successful full-time writers that are doing a million things at once, from serials to novels to promo to podcasting and on and on. Tim said several things that made me nod my head or lock up in one of those thoughtful “OH!” moments.
One was the importance of separating yourself from certain decisions. He referenced Tim Ferriss’ method of choosing a book title (basically a series of double-blind testing of several possible titles), which resonated with me as I’m planning to retitle my first book. Back to point, some decisions can’t be made by us ourselves. “What cover will best grab sales?” is a different question from “What cover best encapsulates the story?” or “What cover satisfies my own personal aesthetics?” Also, as Tim Grahl said, we’re often far too close to our own projects to make a good decision. My takeaway is that any part of your product that involves other people making a purchase decision ought to be tested until you find the best alternative, not the one that you choose from a biased perspective.
Another point to the episode was to promo Tim Grahl’s new book, Your First 1000 Copies (who’d a-thunk it?) It was $3.99 as an ebook last I checked, and $1.99 as an audiobook (!!!) Go get it, because I doubt those prices will hold.
So I come away convinced of the need to do more promo work. What’s that going to mean? Paid ads? We’ll see. The first thing I’m going to do is read Tim Grahl’s book, then make more specific decisions. One thing he said that sounded very reasonable and occurred to me before was the need to be putting out material that draws people in, so that they go from not knowing you to knowing you. So more free fiction is going to be a part of the plan, I wager.
P.S. I’d appreciate a summary of KKR’s recent series of blog posts so I can decide whether to go back and read them. It’s a long series, which leads me to think she says more than “write the next book” this time.