We Now Pause for This Message from the Ministry of Propaganda




We want you to sell. Sell, sell, sell! Don't come within ten feet of anybody without jumping down their throat with bookmarks, a nutshell synopsis, and the hardest press since the '86 Chicago Bears. Don't be shy! You are your own sales force.

Okay, now. Let's get real.

When I first came to publishing, lo these many years ago (ten, away), I had the naive idea that all I really had to do was write the books. Actually, that turns out to be only a portion of the job, and not even the majority. Much of being a working class novelist is devoted to the biz part: answering copyeditor queries, revising various drafts of various projects, parsing contracts with your agent, replying to reader e-mail (love that part), and attending to the myriad activities that fall squarely under the heading of self-promotion.

Never sit down at a book signing! Get out there and press some flesh. Have your friend run up and down the aisles witnessing. Block the book store's exits if you must!

The latter group can be, if you allow it, completely consuming. I've watched new authors self-combust as they try to do everything, be everywhere, and spend every cent of their advance (or more) buying and distributing tchotchkes, advertising in magazines with a circulation of about 12, hiring publicists, etc.. Convinced success will lie under any unturned stone, these fledging authors spend so much time, effort, and money in this area that they neglect to give their all to work in progress.

And quite naturally, disaster ensues.

Don't forget web presence! You're gonna need the fanciest web site you can swing. And book preview videos! Newsletters with great graphics! A mailing list! And for that extra-special personal touch, be sure and send out birthday greeting to each potential or past customer!

For a while, I've been fairly minimalistic in my self-promotion efforts. Slacker! I do book club or speaking engagement here and there - drawing the line at those that cost me money or too much time away from writing. I do a few book signing per release, choosing those stores with which I've had a positive prior experience. I advertise in Romance Sells, a preview mag (developed by RWA) sent to librarians and booksellers for a reasonable cost. I blog at those reader-oriented sites that ask me. And once in a blue moon, I order myself a sparkling new set of bookmarks.

Bookmarks? Why not postcards? Coffee mugs? Chocolates stamped with your book's likeness? Surely you can't just stop at bookmarks!

Sure you can. It's nice having a little something to send out to readers and booksellers who request things. I also love having something to put into the hands of people who ask about my writing or to hand out at places where I'm speaking. Plus, with the rise of online printers, you can design your own and have them made and delivered very inexpensively. (I paid about $60 for 1000 of the double color-sided, glossy bookmarks you see here from Gotoprint.com.) And all you really need is something with the title and cover of your new book, your name, printed backlist, and a website. That's plenty.

What do you mean that's plenty? As in enough? There's never enough! There never can be?

So what do you do or plan to do to silence the screeching voices (which are, to be fair, mostly in your own head) from the Ministry of Propaganda? How do you manage to keep your focus on the writing?

Comments

Joni Rodgers said…
One of the reasons I love ghostwriting is that it takes my least favorite part of the book process -- promotion -- completely out of my responsibility bin. I hand off the finished ms and become a cheerleader while my client becomes the linebacker. (I can't believe I just used a football metaphor...or is a linebacker in basketball?)

Anyway. I've learned over the years what does and doesn't sell books for me, and I think that's something every author has to figure out for her/himself. It's going to be different for everyone. In general, however, I spend no more than 10% of my net from the advance on promotion. Sweat equity is unlimited, but one has to be selective about where it's invested. I do my own web page using Blue Voda because it's a meditative little art project I enjoy. Sure, my web presence could be slicker, but I don't think the difference in actual sales or bookings would be worth what it would cost to have it done.

As far as focussing on writing instead of promotion -- that's easy. I love writing. Hate the other stuff.
I follow the 10% rule, too, Joni - and try to apply that rule to time as well as money.

And I think you do a great job with your website. Too many bells and whistles distract rather than enhance.
Suzan Harden said…
Speaking solely as a reader, a darn fine book is the way to catch my eye. Seriously. The gimmicks are useless if I don't feel compelled to buy an extra copy of your book to give to a relative or a friend and say, "You HAVE to read this!"
Dorothy Hagan said…
This brings up a very big fear of mine. Basically, I suck at sales. Always have. I couldn't sell real estate, insurance, my manuscripts. Now as I work on novel Number Four, I continually ask myself, what makes you think you can sell this one? The idea of promotion almost does me in.
I think the trick is, Dorothy, to write a book that's so exciting to your editor that your publishing house sees it as a probably mega-seller and does all this for you!

Failing that, you just have to find your comfort level and go with it. And avoid giving in to the pressure toward hysterical self-promotion. Because Suzan's right; it's the book and only the book that really matters in the end.
Dorothy Hagan said…
Thanks, Colleen. You always help me keep perspective. I really do believe my current project will be worthy of much promotion one of these days.

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