On Margarine, Icing, & Authors
Q. So what do margarine, icing, and authors have in common?
(No, dearest readers, it doesn't have a darned thing to do with leaving an oily residue or supplying the world with empty calories. But thanks a bunch, you snarkoholics who leapt to those unkind conclusions.)
A. We can all be spread too thin.
Authors, who are mostly competitive by nature (How do you think we got to be published?), have a tendency to do this to themselves. We convince ourselves that success lurks under the unturned stone and so drive ourselves to exhaustion attempting to do everything, especially when it comes to promoting our books. Early-career authors, especially, tend to find it impossible to say no, even to exploitative "opportunities." You want me to drive five hours to speak (for free, natch) and participate in a group signing at a vacant K-mart? Golly-yes, I'd be honored. What do you mean there's a fifty-dollar table fee? Well... okay. Along with invitations for appearances, online promotional opportunities are multiplying like bacteria in the proverbial petri dish. Some of them cost money; all of them cost time, and the results are rarely measurable.
Long-term survivors of the publishing game learn over time to value time as well as money as an important asset. To avoid burn-out or a breakdown, we start weighing self-promotional activities and picking and choosing those that work for us. Here are a few questions I ask myself whenever I'm asked to participate in an event or activity.
1. What's in it for me? This sounds really crass, I know, but I have books to write and bills to pay. If there's no real benefit, why should I do it?
2. Is this something better handled by my publisher? After all, they're better equipped and better funded to do a lot of the more meaningful types of promotional/placement than I am. And rumor has it they have a vested interest in my books selling well.
3. Is it something I'm good at and/or enjoy? For example, I'm a former teacher, so I'm well-equipped to do educational talks geared to aspiring/published writers. Not only that, I enjoy doing it as a way of giving back to the community that has helped me so much. I do have limits. I don't want to spend my own money on travel, lodging, etc. and I have to watch how much time I spend on this, so it doesn't undermine my obligation to actually write the stuff that keeps me more or less gainfully employed.
4. Has past experience taught me this is a good deal or a bad one? If an organization has treated you poorly in the past, mark it off you list. If you've had a great time, however, go for it.
5. Can I afford the money?
6. Can I afford the time?
7. Does the very thought of participating fill me with dread? If you hate book signings, skip 'em. Readers can smell the desperation, and you'd be better off staying home and writing.
So how do you ration your time spent on promotional activities? How do you know when to say when?