I’ve been in publishing a long time – which doesn’t make me an expert, simply says I’ve tried lots of things. Some worked; some didn’t. Here’s a rundown.
I began as one of many women writing genre fiction, and given that the publishers in that field did zero publicity, the buzz at conferences was, “Yes or no, do you self-market or not?” We’re talking pre-Internet days, when my mailing list consisted of people who sent letters to my publisher, who maybe ( or maybe not) forwarded them to me. I did distribute bookmarks when I could, but honestly? I reached paltry few people – and besides, I was writing 7-8 books and had little time to go out looking for more.
I also had little knowledge of marketing, but my gut told me that several thousand dollars on a tiny ad in a magazine would be several thousand dollars wasted. My gut told me that the investment had to be way more than that in order to have an effect – but I didn’t have that kind of money to spend!
Come mainstream publishing. Once I began working with well-known New York publishing houses, they did place occasional ads for my books. But I wasn’t a big enough author to warrant a big enough ad budget, and I had to ask for everything I got. Which leads to …
Lesson #1: The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease
I did learn to ask. It wasn’t easy. I was low on the author totem pole, and being a middle child anyway, it’s hard for me to make waves. That’s actually the subject of my WIP, the middle child who avoids conflict until that becomes self-destructive – but ack, I digress. Back then, I learned that rather than demanding my publisher do blah-blah-blah, if I asked in a sensible, thoughtful way, as in, “If we want to grow my audience, and if my target demographic is the serious reader, wouldn’t even a small ad in The New York Times Book Review help spread the word?”
This whole process got easier, of course, once I had an agent to do the asking. And she wasn’t my first agent. My first didn’t want to make waves himself (maybe he was a middle child, too?). Either that, or he was simply lazy. Whatever, I realized I needed a fighter, subsequently found her, and she’s been a dream, so much so that my publisher started talking about sending me on tour.
The Author Tour. It’s every writer’s dream, yes? Mind you, it’s grueling and lonely and it takes time from writing. But it does familiarize readers with your name. Touring can be weeks on end, or a single week, or a single appearance at a booksellers convention. Publishers love planning the author tour. It’s nowhere near as expensive as an ad in People magazine or The New York Times Book Review, and the cost of creating swag and mailing it out is easily the cost of a week’s worth of hotel rooms. Hell, given that the advance publicity for a signing is good publicity, some publishers don’t even care if no one shows up for the actual event.
I do. I used to go everywhere they wanted to send me, and I told myself that it didn’t matter if only a handful of people came. I remember one event at a bookstore (it’ll remain unnamed) at a mall in Thousand Oaks, California, on the opposite coast from my home, where no one, NOT ONE person came. It was so humiliating, so demoralizing, that even the bookseller stayed as far out of sight as possible.
I learned from that. The next time my publisher planned a tour, we agreed (I insisted, after pouring it on about the demoralizing part) that they wouldn’t book anything unless the bookseller promised that he or she could get 75 people there.
Halfway through the tour, when only 20-25 people attended each event, we canceled the second week. Which leads to:
Lesson #2: Prioritize
I decided that racing around the country talking with a few people here or there just wasn’t as important as my sitting at home at my desk writing the very best book possible for my readers.
Now, in fairness, if I had been willing to tour for three months a year, and if I just went along for the publicity of the event, rather than the attendance, it probably would have grown my audience in time. But I know me. And yes, it is about prioritizing. Not only is it more important that I produce a good book. But if I’m demoralized, I can’t produce any book at all!
Author tours aren’t as common now, at least, not physical ones. Now they’re virtual tours – blog tours, live chats, site takeovers. For my last two books, Sweet Salt Air and Blueprints, my publisher has set up impressive blog tours that are easy to do and reach a whole lot of readers. That said, I am the key player in these. Which leads to:
Lesson #3: The Buck Stops Here
No matter how high on the publishing food chain you get, there is no sitting back and letting others do the work.
You know your books. You know the audience you have. You know the audience you want. You know where you want to go. Think about all these things and about what image you want for yourself.
For instance, while I have help in some social media (Rachel is my wonderful right hand in all things social and Street Team, which works out so well), my Instagram postings are all me. I have a concept of how I want my whole page to look and what I want individual postings to convey. They’re consistent with the feel of my books, so one helps the other.
As for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and so on, I still do check them to make sure they feel right. If it’s my name on the page, I need to pay heed. That means no rest for the weary. I’m involved at some level, even a small oversight one, in everything that’s done.
Being a writer is like motherhood in that regard. The buck always stops here.
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