Promote Your Work? Why?

My guest today is Edward Talbot, author of the thriller New World Orders, available as a free audiobook online. This post was originally a discussion for the “Help Support Independent Publishers!” group on Facebook, but I thought it important enough to index here. I especially found the questions at the end of the article astute, so when planning your marketing strategy, keep them in mind. Talbot wrote: 

When you’re talking about independent publishers, changes in the publishing industry, how can new authors get noticed, and a number of other topics, a lot of the discussion turns to publicity and promotion. We’ve had some excellent discussions in this group already. In the twenty-first century, an author is adding a nearly insurmountable burden when he or she doesn’t pay close attention this this side of the business.

We’ve all read or heard the words of wisdom. Treat writing as a business. Create a web site. Create a blog. Do contests and giveaways. Books signings and talk radio go without saying. All these are valuable suggestions. But to my mind, the most important thing that can be missed is a sense of exactly what you are aiming for.

We want to sell books, of course. But exactly how does a book-signing, for example, sell books? Well, the book store advertises the signing, you show up, and a bunch of people buy signed copies. Of course, you might blow most of a day to sell several dozen copies on which you make 10% of the cover price. The hope is that the buyers tell their friends, and also come back for your next release. The question I would ask is whether there are better uses of your time?

I want to note that I am NOT suggesting book signings are a bad thing. Not at all. They may not be better uses of your time. If your only response to my post is to defend book signings, then relax, I like ’em too. I could have used talk radio, blogging or contests as examples instead. These are all valuables tools. But I am trying to make two points

1. There is never time to do enough promotion and publicity. I mean that literally. You could cut your sleep to an hour a night and that would still be the case. There’s always one more set of letters or emails to send, one more audience to try to connect with. For that reason, it is imperative that you target your efforts and look closely at everything you do. I work full-time at a reasonably high-powered job. I exercise regularly. I have a wife and a child. I’m rarely going to stop writing to focus solely on promotion, because the next deadline will always be out there once I’m published. I suspect that having these commitments is the rule, not the exception. I can’t afford not to take a critical look at every single thing I do for my writing business. I use the word business partially in jest because right now it’s a bunch of red numbers. But I think of it as a business.

2. It’s important to model after people who have been successful, but there is a difference between model and copy. Tiger Woods would say he’s modeled himself after any number of people. But he has also forged his own unique approach. We as writers need to do the same thing. Don’t just do what everyone else does because that’s what worked for them. Apply a critical eye. Trust yourself (and your agent and publisher if you have them) to figure it out. And try new things, but analyze them honestly.

Before I ask the specific questions, I’d like to make a couple of brief mentions that I think are appropriate for the topic. First, my fellow podcaster J.C. Hutchins wrote a blog post last week called “Spontaneous Human Promotion.” If you want to hear thoughts on this topic from someone who used promotional creativity to go from an unpublished, unagented author to awaiting the launch of the first in a multi-book deal with a major publisher, check out his post at:

http://jchutchins.net/site/2009/01/29/spontaneous-human-promotion/

Second, I’d just like to share one of my favorite quotes that I think applies to most of us at one point or another. I treasure a good quote, whether it’s from a song, a book, or just conjured out of the air in a conversation. They’re like gems that never lose their lustre. Most of us really believe we’ve written something good, and it can be very difficult to take it when it seems that few others share the opinion. It makes promotion particularly difficult, right at a point that you need it the most. And it makes it very easy to start blaming the publisher, agent, the industry as a whole, etc. I try to remember Don Henley’s words:

“Have you noticed that an angry man can only get so far? Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be with the way things are.”

Comment on anything I’ve written, but here are three questions to discuss specifically:

1. Name at least one thing you do to promote yourself that is not common. Tell us how it has worked and why you think it works.

2. Tell us as least one common promotion technique that you don’t use because you’ve realized it simply is not effective for you. And tell us exactly why it is not effective for you.

3. If you are either published, or have at least one novel-length work you are trying to get published, on average, how many hours a week do you spend on things that build and/or support your audience but don’t directly generate income? I know if you aren’t published, you might ask yourself what you could possibly be doing to build an audience. Maybe nothing. But while you’re doing nothing, other authors are thinking outside the box and building their fan bases. Who knows, you may come up with something no one’s tried yet. There’s only one way to find out.

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7 Responses to “Promote Your Work? Why?”

  1. Tim Says:

    I’ll take a stab at answering those three questions.

    1) There isn’t much that I do that is uncommon or different in self promotion. However, I have a radio background (ten years, ten long years) and have seemed to master the gift of gab. When describing something, or promoting something, whether that be my own work, or work that I do as a production manager for a weekly newspaper, I use straight talk. For the most part, a person wants as much information as quickly as possible in as easy to understand language as possible. It’s a throwback to when I first learned news reads. In radio, you present it as fast as possible, because people tend to have short attention spans. Now, when you deal with topic matter that the listener is taking an interest in, you still need the hook, but you don’t have as much to worry about with keeping their attention. Still keeping things short is good. It even encourages questions.

    2) As stated before, I’m a production manager for a weekly newspaper. The newspaper happens to belong to a very large chain of newspapers across Western Canada, which includes the agricultural giant The Western Producer. As an employee of said newspaper, I have been told that I can use that engine as a way to promote myself. At little to no cost to myself (hell, I can even build the ad if I wanted to). Some may find that to be a gold mine. But I have to take a step back and look at it. What target audience am I trying to hit with Black Mask & Pale Rider? For the most part, the readers of weekly newspapers (a sad, but very realistic truth) are 55+. And the audience for weekly newspapers (again, another sad reality) is quite literally dying off. I’m trying to target 20+ to 30+. Does this mean that trying to utilize this will help or hurt? I really don’t know, but I do know that right now I’ll use it as a last resort if need be, but I won’t prioritize it.

    3) I have to honestly say that I spend about 40 to 50 hours per week. Mix that in with work, play, sleep and eating, my week is pretty much taken up. Those hours include not only writing the book, but plotting it, researching for the book, AND researching for self promotion (thus why I’m here). I read James Melzer’s blog, Mur Lafferty’s blog and the blog of several others. Why? Because they are authors. They went through (or are going through) things that I will be tackling. I want to learn from their experiences, and hopefully take the good things and use them. I steel myself for the bad things, and smile a lot when the good things come along.

    Wow! This in itself is a blog post. And now a shameless plug. Tweet me @TimHoltorf and check out progress of Black Mask & Pale Rider at taholtorf.wordpress.com. There, that’s some self promotion I haven’t done before. In a blog post comment.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Tim, usually I edit out shameless plugs, but you earned it. Thanks for your “blog post.”

      Promotion does take up a lot of time — I just read that for social networking to be effective, one needs to spend 20 hours a week for three to six months before you notice any effect.

  2. Dr. Tom Bibey Says:

    Somewhere I read that Mark Twain never promoted his books and yet he always promoted them. In everything he did he knew he was the only Mark Twain so all he had to do was be himself.

    I am no Mark Twain (who is) but I live every minute of each day just like my book says I do, and therefore I don’t ever promo it per se except to tell my people of the progress I have made.

    They all say they want to buy the book because they want in on the secret. If someone doesn’t want to buy it, it doesn’t bother me at all for them to be left out.

    You have to be yourself, and unique. As far as I know I am the only physician bluegrass fiction writer on the Internet. I ain’t as good as Twain, but if you are the only one of anything on this beast, you can’t help but attract some attention.

    Look for the Country Doc with the mandolin coming to a book store near you in 2010.

    Dr. Tom Bibey

    drtombibey.wordpress.com

  3. Pat Bertram Says:

    Tom, you just defined promotion — or at least my definition of it. Too many people think that promotion means sending emails to strangers telling them they have to read their book, or constantly pushing the book down people’s throats. If you give them something first — most notably a bit of yourself — you can mention the book in context and never come across as a self-promoter. I’ve been blogging about copy-editing my books, so in a way it’s promotion, but mostly it’s just sharing my woes (and what I learn).

  4. Edward G. Talbot Says:

    Great comments! Promotion is everything and anything. Make sure you are constantly questioning what you’re doing and trying new things and you’re on the road to promotional success.

  5. Pat Bertram Says:

    Ed, great discussion topic. You’ve brought up some interesting points — the most important two being that authors have to promote themselves and that there never is enough time.

    To answer your questions:

    1. I’m not sure that I’m doing anything uncommon, but because my books are not yet published and because I get tired of promoting books that are still only available for pre-order, my promotional campaign so far has been mostly promoting other authors. Has it worked? I don’t know since only sales will tell, but I’ve helped get the word out about some worthy writers.

    2. One common technique that I have not yet used and may not use is to email people. I know how touchy I get when people email me to plug their book, and I don’t want to start published life surrounded by cranky people.

    3. Income? You mean we’re supposed to make money at this? 🙂 I don’t know how much time I spend trying to build an audience. I don’t really consider what I do anything other than having fun. I do know I started blogging and joining writing discussion groups a year before my novels were accepted for publication, so I got a bit of a head start.

  6. Judi Says:

    What have I done that’s different? Well, let’s see. I’m the only person, aside from Dale, who was crazy enough to enter into 3 online contests and make the finals. It took hundreds of hours of my life, took away from writing time, worsened my eyesight and my back.

    What did I gain from doing this? Coverage in Romantic Times Magazine, THE magazine for romance readers. Coverage on their blog. Some fame at their convention. My name and photo known to romance readers. A huge email list. This carried over to the First Chapters contest on Gather.com. Which gained me more name recognition and actual fans. Who convinced me to do the First Chapters Romance Contest. I made the Top 5 from all the promotion, got my book read by the romance buyer for a national chain who then pitched it to editors for me and I sold a trilogy.

    Did it work for me? Was it worth it? Hell yes. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    2. What haven’t I done well? At this point, there aren’t any quantifiables b/c the book isn’t out. As of now, I’ve got a promotion going on that may link me with some huge internet sites, it already hit some online sweepstakes sites which got me a ton of hits. I bring in a lot of comments on the group blogs I participate in, I do a blog tour with 24 other authors… So far everything seems to be getting my name out. We’ll see when it comes to the royalty statements.

    3. I do a lot of online stuff, but try to limit it to when I’m watching television. To a time when I wouldn’t be writing anyway. I’m at the point where if I don’t have my laptop, I feel as if I’ve left an arm somewhere. But that’s okay, b/c I am enjoying it. Yes, my house isn’t as tidy as I’d like it and maybe we eat more take out pizza than we should, but the kids love not having to clean and the pizza! Well, let’s just say they’re very happy to answer the door!

    Yes, it’s a lot of work, but then nothing good ever comes easy, you have to spend money to make money, etc. etc. etc. The bottom line is, I want to succeed. I don’t want to have three books out; I want a career. And I’m going to do everything I can think of to ensure it. So, while it might be a huge chunk of time in the beginning, I’m hoping it pays off in the end.


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