Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The author game

It’s become clear to me — and probably to most authors — that being the best wordsmith you can be is no longer enough if you hope to be successful*. If you don’t make yourself aware of how publicity works, how to do it yourself — or who to hire if you wish to (majorly) pay — you probably aren’t going to sell many books.

This is a completely different skill set to acquire. I don’t know if there are any courses for aspiring authors to learn the arcane art of promotion, but seriously, it might not be a bad idea for authors who want to get ahead to think of taking one of those two-year diploma courses in publicity that community colleges run. It would be money well-spent, to my mind.

Just off the top of my head, here are a few things you need to know: website design; the ins and outs of blogging, tweeting and facebooking; how to write effective advertising/promotional copy; how to contact the people you need to contact; how to acquire up-to-date media lists; how to pitch your book to producers and the like; what to wear for a TV appearance (trust me, that’s important!); how to design your own promotional materials (bios, press releases, bookmarks, posters, articles, etc.); how to handle an interview, a reading, a book signing; how to book an effective promotional itinerary... Believe me, I could go on.

The alternative is to pay for any or all of these things and those bills really mount up fast. The average author can’t hope to pay that much.

The real alternative (and what is still done for the big-name authors) is that the publisher does it. That’s no longer the case (if it ever was) for mid-list authors and the poor sods below them. A savvy publisher will do what they can for their lower sales authors and will also patiently help the poor wordsmith through this baffling system as best they can, but the bottom line is: be prepared to spend the time to learn how to do as much for yourself as you can. There are some authors out there who have spent the time, learned the ropes and are really able to help themselves out. The satisfying thing is when those books jump off the shelf just a little bit faster. Then you’re well on your way.

If you aren’t prepared to do this, be prepared for the ax to fall when no one knows how good your books are and subsequently don’t buy them.

*Although there are occasional lucky sods whom publishers fall all over and do everything in their power to make them successful.


peter_may said...

You are absolutely right, Rick. You need all these skills and more. I am very fortunate to have a wife who does most of this for me - websites, press releases, Facebook, tour itineraries etc. It's a full time job and we work as a team. I do the writing and all the "front of house" promotion, she does everything else. I calculate that promotion costs us around $10,000 a year - and that's doing it for ourselves. It is in fact a business. We speculate to accumulate, and it's how I have made my living for most of my adult life. In a way, writing is the very least of it - sadly.

Rick Blechta said...

You're a very lucky man.

My wife is limited to playing flute at book launches and parties -- as long as it's not rock and roll. She still hasn't quite forgiven me for making her play "Nights in White Satin" and "Court of the Crimson King" at the launch of When Hell Freezes Over.

I jest, but when I first approached her to play, her response was to fix me with a baleful eye and say, "I don't play that shit."

Also, NEVER bring up the time she had to play tenor sax for a musical I wrote in university...

Debby Atkinson said...

You are right, Rick, and I find it difficult to do both. I guess I need a wife:-) Peter, I am always impressed with Jan's and your promotional efforts. I wonder how much the increasing sales of eBooks will change our promotion strategies. The times, they are a changin'