Book Promotion Tip of the Week #11: Don’t Give Up

Mary W. Walters Militant Writer(With a special P.S. for fiction writers)

This can be a very discouraging undertaking, this book promotion business.

Most of us didn’t set out to be book publishers, business managers, and self promoters – we set out to be writers. We wanted to communicate with readers, to tell a story, to express our dreams, hopes and nightmares. But however well or poorly we have done in the writing of our books, these days it is only the beginning. Even getting what we’ve written published is only the beginning. It’s the promotion that is the long, long haul and it can wear down the most determined and self-reliant among us, and devastate those of us who are lacking in confidence already.

For some of us, the writing is what sustains us: it is what we are meant to do. It is what gives the rest of our lives meaning. (I am one of those.) But a work of art (or wanna-be art) is only complete when it reaches its audience, as far as I’m concerned. And nowadays whether we are self- or traditionally published, the need to promote ourselves and our work eats up way too much of our writing time (such as it is in the first place, for most of us). And when it doesn’t eat up the time, it eats up our morale.

The Courage to Write

It has long been my conviction (like for 20 years or so) that it is necessary to have a whole lot of self-confidence in order to write a book. It takes gumption to complete any book, and as much courage as vision to complete it with any élan. When our self-confidence is eroded, we run into writer’s blocks, procrastination and all the other impediments that (in addition to our jobs and families and friends) can prevent us from writing well – or indeed from writing at all.

The problem, we are discovering as we put on all these new hats (publisher, publicity person, agent, bookseller), is that it also requires courage to promote a book or to promote oneself, and that our courage is threatened at every turn. Every time we check the sales stats on our books, or peek at the visitor-counters on our websites, our morale is likely to take a hit. Those hits affect not only our desire to keep promoting our books, but also whatever confidence we might have had stored up for writing the next book.

Some people probably decide to give up on promotion, but they are shooting themselves in their heads to spite their faces (or however the expression goes).  (Those who publicly announce that they are “giving up” or that they have been defeated are really only taking a new promotional tack. Check out this bit of self-promotion written under the guise of “being a failure” that recently appeared on the Salon website. Clever marketing.) To stop promoting means to disappear completely off the promo circuit, and the only result of that is  . . .  nothing. You sell even fewer books. And no one really cares but you. (The result is similar – or even worse, if that is possible – when you allow yourself to whine in public.)

Keep on Truckin’

In short, the only options are to a) move forward, and b) to sink without a trace. Which leaves only option a. And the only way to move forward is to “keep on keepin’ on.”

It helps to stay in touch with other writers who are doing the same thing we are, in places like this and other sites where people go to commiserate and encourage and share tips, rather than to promote themselves. (One might argue that I established this blog to promote myself, but I assure you that the strategy is not working. I have noticed no sales resulting from the blog, not even any clicks through to my books despite the 50,000 hits The Militant Writer has received, and therefore I claim innocence – albeit inadvertent – in the blog-as-marketing department.)

Ironically perhaps, I think it helps to be a writer in this strange new digital world of book sales – by disposition, writers are better equipped than most to take on solitary uphill battles where we slip backwards more often than we move forwards, where no one cares but us if we get anywhere, where giving up is really not an option: we do what we must do. It could therefore be argued that those who give up on book promotion are not real writers. :) (I am prepared to hear arguments that contradict this point of view. In fact, one of this blog’s regular readers, Kim Velk aka Woolfoot, is going to write a guest post on that very subject one of these days.)

It also helps to get enough sleep. Sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of evaporating self-confidence as well as care, and everything looks more do-able in the morning.

A Special Note to Fiction Writers

I have followed down link after link of tips on book promotion, as I am sure you have as well, only to find myself reading lists of strategies that relate primarily to non-fiction. Certainly some of the suggestions can be applied to fiction as well, but most non-fiction (with the exception of some creative non-fiction) is easier to promote than is most fiction: there is no doubt of it. Whether it is how-to, biography, history, memoir, even philosophy or psychology or economics, non-fiction always has an obvious hook that is more likely to interest the media – both social and traditional – than is a “made-up story.”

Because of this, perhaps, I was particularly disappointed to have wasted an hour of my life on a webinar entitled  “Create a Marketing Plan to Sell More Books” put on by CreateSpace, of all companies. (For the uninitiated, CreateSpace is the publisher of choice of most of us self-published authors who choose to create a paperback version of our books. You’d think they’d know that most of their customers are small-time authors, primarily of fiction.)

I was going to save you an hour of your life by telling you all the reasons why there is no point in listening to the replay of the webinar if you are a) a fiction writer and/or b) on a small or nonexistent promotional budget. However, another blogger saved ME another hour of MY time by writing a most eloquent explanation of why Brian Jud’s message is irrelevant to most of us. (Hint: Jud has been selling non-fiction, how-to books for decades and has built up a critical mass and a bank account to support the promotional tactics he suggests: most of them are far beyond the resources of most of us and irrelevant to any book with a literary bent. Take this suggestion of his for example: you should hire an accountant and a lawyer before you go to the bank to apply for a loan for the funding of your next book. All I can say to that is Hah!) Thank you, Ellen Larson, aka The Constant Pen and author of the sci-fi mystery In Retrospect, for an excellent summary and critique.

As Ellen does on hers, I have been making an effort, based on my own self-interests, to make the tips I present here on this blog specifically relevant to fiction writers—even if the majority are also relevant to writers of non-fiction – and I will continue to do that. If anyone finds other sites that are specifically directed at promoting novels and short stories, please let us know. Thank you.

24 responses

  1. Much of what you say makes sense. But you omit something important. Almost all of the new, ill-fitting hats writers are obliged to wear require them to master a huge new body of information that is unrelated to being a writer. I’m talking about technology. Much of this information is familiar only to the young. This means that unless an older writer lives with young people, or has the resources to hire them, efforts at self-promotion are stalled before they can start. In the days of legacy publishing, bad books certainly did see the light of day. But I am seeing much more bad fiction succeeding commercially, and this is because young writers have mastered how to “game the system” through social media. They have grown up with it, feel comfortable with it, and are able exploit it. Lip service is still always paid to success depending on “writing a good book,” but the endless stream of bogus “best sellers” being hyped in all directions on the Internet has made the admonition to write well sound more and more hollow.

    • Excellent, excellent point, Barry, and one that I had not thought of as I am over sixty but have been fortunate to be on-line since the beginning of time due to the nature of my work (which requires a lot of procrastination. ;) ) (In fact, I was editing and writing text for some of the early, early websites.) Your point raises the interesting scenario of those who have been around long enough to become good writers being overwhelmed in the marketplace by those who know how to game the system (and how to write novels that can also become games).

      I have faith in two things: 1) the inundation of crap novels will gradually slow and stop — or at least sort itself into a separate pile from the better writing — because writing is hard work and a lot of the dabblers will not be able to sustain it because they don’t LOVE writing the way real writers do, and 2) I know a lot of discerning young readers who will also demand good writing and may some day also turn into good writers (and in some cases are doing so already).

      But that doesn’t lessen the impact of your comment, which is a brilliant observation. I hope my generation can all at least learn to read off a tablet….

  2. Thank you for your reply. I appreciate it.
    And I wish I could share your optimism about how “the inundation of crap novels will gradually slow and stop”–but I can’t. Look at how standards in the use of language have slipped at, say, The New York Times. Think of the implications of a 140-character maximum in the current front-runner among social media. Contemplate the influence of hand-held devices on self-expression. People–especially the young–are certainly doing a great deal of writing and talking–but how much of it is thoughtful? Respectful of language? From Ebay to Amazon, everything and everyone is for sale, and the means of selling have exploded. For me, this means the tail–marketing– is more and more wagging the dog–content.

  3. Great article. It’s so true that it’s easier to sell non-fiction instead of fiction. I like your advice of staying connected with other writers who are in the same boat. I love hearing about other people’s journeys.

    Sorry you wasted an hour on that webinar. Sometimes it seems like a waste to buy how-to books as well. I bought “The Self-publishing complete guide” and almost everything only covered non-fiction. I was disappointed.

    Good luck with your publishing journey!

    Keep smiling,

  4. Hey Mary – The reason I became a regular reader here is that everything you say is right! And here you are, right again. I am looking forward to writing those guest posts.

  5. In 1991, when her first novel, “Troubling Love,” was about to be published, Italian author Elena Ferrante let her publisher know that she would do nothing for the book because she had already done enough by writing it.
    She went on to say: “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.”

    I’m quoting from a January New Yorker article about the famously reclusive and publicity-shy writer, but I could be remembering my own impossibly naïve (and arrogant) attitude toward marketing when I first took up serious pen and paper twenty-some years ago. I honest-to goodness believed the writing would be enough and now that I know better, I am more daunted by the prospect of selling myself than I was by completing a coherent work of fiction.

    On that subject, Ferrante claims that an author who does publicity has accepted, “at least in theory, that the entire person, with all his experiences and his affections, is placed for sale along with the book.” Our language betrays us: nowadays, you triumphantly sell a novel to a publisher; thirty years ago, a publisher simply accepted that novel.

    This can indeed be a very discouraging undertaking, this book promotion business. Especially if one hasn’t kept up with technology and ever-evolving publishing practices because one was busy writing and rewriting books. How easy it would be to give up in the face of these changes and challenges. But what an enormous waste it would be to throw away time and effort already invested.

    Thanks, Mary, for the wise reminder to “keep on keepin’ on.”

    • I am so impressed with the intelligence, thoughtfulness and eloquence of my readers/commenters. It is clear to me that several of those who respond here are among those writers who need to find their audiences — or the audiences will lose.

      Thank you, Mary. So many good points in here — I love this (among many of your statements) “Our language betrays us: nowadays, you triumphantly sell a novel to a publisher; thirty years ago, a publisher simply accepted that novel.”

  6. Thank you so much for posting this article! I find the promoting part time consuming and despair when book sales or hits on my blog are low, really low. I feel better knowing I’m not alone and that it is a steep, steep climb to finding a dedicated band of readers. I also read somewhere blogging doesn’t necessarily help garner interest or faithful readers/purchasers. I’ve read and linked and subscribed to various ‘helpful’ gurus. I guess the aim to take try the strategies and keep what works.
    Thanks again Mary

    • Thanks. Cav12. The ship may be going down (traditional publishing, where “they” did all the work, and we did all the writing), but at least we’re in life rafts. The only problem is that if we wamt to get anywhere, now WE have to paddle. And to extend that metaphor way too far, we don’t even know which paddle to use or where we’re going or if there is any point in geting there. :) Being in a lifeboat flotilla helps.

      I’ll stop now.

  7. Michaell

    here is the writer friend who has a lot of good publishing tips. You may not have time to read all, but if you subscribe to this, you can choose to read by whether the topic looks pertinent to your needs.

    I like her a lot.


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