Sunday, April 23, 2006

Self-Promote or Die

Julia Spencer-Fleming sent me a link to a blog written by Tor editor Anna Louise, all about how books do or don't make money:

http://alg.livejournal.com/tag/demystifying+publishing

The Reader's Digest Condensed Version: Publishing books costs a lot of money, and it isn't easy to make a profit.

JA's Interpretation: Better get cracking on that self-promotion, or risk never working in this town again.

I know I sound like a broken record, but I really don't understand why some authors think that simply writing a good book is all a writer needs to do, and the rest will be taken care of by the publisher. That's shortsighted at best, suicidal at worst.

But here's an interesting by-product of self-promotion that rarely gets talked about: It goes on in your absence.

I haven't been my usual gung-ho self this past week, have neglected the blog and website, and haven't done any appearances since April 7. But looking at the number of hits my blog and website have been getting, looking at my Amazon rankings fluctuate, and looking at the number of emails I continue to get, you couldn't tell I've been MIA.

People still seem to be dropping by, still seek me out, and still buy my books, even without me playing the cheerleader. I even had some spikes in sales and website hits while being incommunicado.

While I'm sure this would eventually drop off, it's reassuring to think that I can take occassional breaks and not worry about losing everything I've tried to build up. This may sound obvious, but I haven't been on vacation in several years because I'm so paranoid about missing opportunities to promote myself.

Maybe I'll take a vacation this year---after my 500 bookstore tour...

36 comments:

Sandra Ruttan said...

I've debated this article elsewhere, the one obvious question I have is whether there are any stats that bear out promotion investment and return figures - the promo budget is appallingly low on this. Basically, you can't afford to do much at all with a writer for that - certainly no bookstore tours. I'd love to see what the potential returns would be if you doubled or tripled that amount, because I bet that potential returns could be quadrupled in sales. In short, a lot of us buy books we've heard about.

You do hit a point where there's enough talk and knowledge of you out there to be able to sustain interest.

And something you've never talked about, but I've discussed with my cousin (a country music artist) is market saturation and how by repeatedly being in the same place you lose demand because people figure they can see you any old time. That's true on their touring circuit, but I wonder if there's a valid comparison in the book buz.

You're allowed to take a few days off, go sharpen the pitchfork.

JA Konrath said...

Sandra--

The question I always ask concerning promo budget is: What makes you buy books?

Did you ever buy a book from an author you heard speak on the radio?

Did you every buy a book because you saw a big ad for it in a newspaper or magazine?

Did you ever go to a booksigning for an author you've never heard of?

Did you ever buy a book because you got a postcard in the mail, or a free bookmark?

Did you every buy a book because you read a review?

Did you every buy a book after meeting an author at a conference?

I haven't seen any evidence that promo dollars automatically equals sales.

I do a lot of self-promotion, but my technique isn't to stand on a box and yell "ME! ME! ME!"

I concentrate on offering things, not selling things. Publishing advice, contests, freebies, give-aways, lectures, entertainment. This gets me attention, and hopefully has a trickle-down effect on sales.

A publisher fronting an author tour, paying for big full page ads, and sending out a zillion ARCs is no guarantee the book will recoup that extra cost in additional sales. In fact, it can hurt a book's profit margin considerably.

Advertising and marketing are no guarantee of anything. Sure, they help. But beware diminishing returns, because they could turn a book that breaks even into a financial disaster.

Ask any author about events they've done, and if advertising helped boost attendance.

Ask any author about book ads they've run, and if they saw the corresponding spike in sales.

Ask any author about radio and TV.

The only direct link I've noticed is book reviews and appearances. Both sell books, but in the latter case, the author has to be the one who hustles.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Being in this biz is like being in constant 'fight or flight' mode. Reading your blog sometimes gets my heart racing, but I think it's just panic.

Library placement. The ones sitting on top of the displays under the 'new books' section. Those are the ones I read. If I really like it, I'll seek out others by the author on the regular fiction shelves. Then, when people want to know what author I like, or what I've been reading. I'll point to the book. Later on, if I'm in a bookstore, wondering what to read, I seek out that author.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'll answer all honestly.
Did you ever buy a book from an author you heard speak on the radio? Yes. Pucks, Pablum and Pingos by Mark Kearney and Randy Ray.

Did you every buy a book because you saw a big ad for it in a newspaper or magazine?
I don't think so, not exclusively because of an add, although I do skim the adds in Crimespree.

Did you ever go to a booksigning for an author you've never heard of? Yes, Natalee Caple. But it helps that there was an advertisement...

Did you ever buy a book because you got a postcard in the mail, or a free bookmark? No. Didn't buy one for getting a free drink coaster either (ducks).

Did you ever buy a book because you read a review? Yes, a long long time ago, in a galaxy far away... Snow Falling on Cedars.

Did you every buy a book after meeting an author at a conference? Yes, and I buy books for people before conferences. I'm stocking up on my pre-Harrogate reading list with Kate Atkinson, Natasha Cooper, Allan Guthrie, Denise Mina, John Harvey, Margaret Murphy...all of whom I'm purchasing because they'll be there. Last year I purchased books by people I saw or met there as well. Doing the same for Bouchercon. Just got The Wheelman. I'll order in books by those who aren't over here yet, and pick up others I can't get in time when I'm in England. FOR ME, it's absolutely worth it for publishers to send authors to conferences.

and, the first:
The question I always ask concerning promo budget is: What makes you buy books?
Well, you have to hear of the book to buy it. #1 source of book purchases these days is off of conference lists, and referrals from other authors. I love Ian Rankin, so I read who he refers and start reading Val McDermid and love her and she sings the praises of Stuart MacBride, so I buy his book... That's what works for me. Internet presence is huge, but obviously not everything. You said yourself you're doing a 500-bookstore tour. How much money does it cost to do that promotion? Will you see an increase in sales? Is the investment worth it? Because I doubt you're doing that tour for less than $2000 unless you're sleeping on park benches.

But hey, I am an oddity. Author interviews have far more clout with me than anything. Even an author I'm thinking of buying, I'll read an interview with them (this is why I do super-indepth interviews in Spinetingler) or listen to a radio interview or something and then I either buy or don't buy.

Simon Kernick went to the top of my pre-Harrogate reading list last year because of one thing he said on his website. It wasn't hit-you-over-the-head sales - he's not like that. But God, he's funny and personable and with such a good impression off the website, I had a good read on him as a writer and wasn't disappointed, not by any of his books or by meeting him.

A good impression, obvious intelligence, something that makes the person read as someone I'd like to chat with... that bumps people to the top of the list.


Even self promotion costs money. I'm going to Harrogate and Bouchercon on my own dime. But the connections I made at Harrogate last year were worth it, and a lot of my current "success" can be tracked back to that trip. So the investment has had return, but the investment in traveling, connecting, even joining writer's organizations, paying for website hosting - it's nothing to spend several thousand. And I think - depending on what you're investing in - it's worth it.

JA Konrath said...

Sandra's Totals:

1 book bought from hearing author on radio.

0 books bought looking at ads.

1 booksigning of unknown author attended.

0 books bought because of promotional freebies (bookmarks, pastcards, coasters.)

1 book bought based on a review.

According to these figures, is it worth it for a publisher to pay for ads, tours, promo items, and a publicist to get them booked on radio? Would more money spent by the publisher gaurantee better results?

Conversely, you buy a lot of books based on internet browsing and conferences and word of mouth.

Where should the publisher be spending promo dollars? Do you really think a bigger promo budget will lead to enough sales to justify the expense?

chidder said...

Regarding gaining momentum with your self-promotion -- even in your absence -- what's great is, if you've done your job and laid your groundwork well (which you have, Joe), others will take the baton and pass it on to others and, in essence, do you job for you.

In my blog, I take every opportunity to reference other writers and their work and, if they've got one, their websites. Just yesterday, I took the opportunity to quote your sage words in my blog and pointed my readers in the direction of A Newbie's Guide to Publishing.

Ultimately, however, none of this matters unless the writing in question is deserving of all this attention (as demonstrated by countless dead writers without publicists or websites whose books continue to sell year after year). Then word of mouth really starts working for you. The "trick," as you continue to remind us, is getting the work read in the first place.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

JA, I agreed with you. I liken it to planting a seed that bears some fruit, in the hopes that those who pick the fruit will go plant the seeds elsewhere. Before you know it, you can't keep up with it!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sweetie, if I gave you absolute totals, we'd be here all day. I'd have to go through all my shelves and tally back where the book came from. I literally just pulled an example out for each.

But if it makes you feel better to oversimplify, that's okay. Noticed you didn't mention how much your bookstore tour is costing, though.

And how about books that get picked up because they're on special displays, end shelves or whatnot? Costs publishers big bucks to put books there. I've bought as many books off of radio or websites - and radio is something you can often do local that has a wide audience (especially if via internet) so you can sometimes get a lot of bang for your buck.

In Canada, we have a network called BookTV. I love BookTV. I can watch interviews with authors all the time, shows on mystery writers, discussions about trends in literature...

I actually go to signings and launches now all the time for people I don't know, because they're part of the CWC.

And you aren't factoring in how much it costs to go to those conferences. Costs a few grand to send the average author to a conference, depending on location. Is it worth it? How many conferences will you be going to this year?

The point is, people like you and me, we put our own money in, and work damn hard to see those returns. Not everybody can - some need to have the day job to eat. SOME - don't put me down as saying all - publishers moan about not making any money and yet they seem to think just printing the book is enough. I'm an anomaly for watching author referrals as much as I do - I was skinned alive on DorothyL for stating I don't read reviews, for example. But I pay attention because I'm looking for people to interview. My tbr and tbp lists are so long it isn't even funny. Someone needs an edge to jump the cue - a lot of the people I've bumped have been at conferences.

I'm not saying all publishers should spend tons of money on promotion, but I would like to see what the comparative returns are, based on investment. Because if adding to that promotion budget doesn't do anything, I shouldn't waste my money either, right?

You talk about investing back your advance Joe - it's a bit contradictory to say that authors should put all their money into promotion and then say publishers shouldn't waste the cash. I think BOTH should invest.

Even getting those precious Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus reviews require sending out ARC's and those cost money in printing and postage...

zdaddyo said...

As a book consumer, I'll buy books based on Author, back cover, front cover. I go to the section I'm interested in first, then browse. That is for fiction. For work related books, I use the internet to figure out what I want usually based on publisher (my work books are computer related). I very, very rarely buy books based on interviews or ads and I've never gone to meet an author. Whether or not I'm usual or not, I don't really know. Just to let you know, I don't buy crime/mystery novels (except one by L'Amour). I tend to buy SciFi/Fantasy.

zdaddyo said...

One last thing is that word of mouth is important. If someone says "this book was fantastic" it will be much higher on my list of buys.

Dakota Knight said...

Has this situation ever happened to you?

Someone you've met but don't know very well, or even someone you do says, "Hi, how are you?"

"I'm fine, and yourself?"

"Great. So what have you been up to?"

"I'm writing, my book just came out?"

"Really? Do you have one on you?"

Some authors I've spoken to say they've sold a lot of books this way, even just talking to people they don't know. I think you have to self-promote and be on your game at all times. It doesn't seem fair, but in the end, you have to decide how much you want to put into yourself.

As for marketing, different techniques work in different markets. Study the market you're trying to sell your book in and work from there.

As for going to 500 stores, I think you could do it on less money than you think.

1) Get a bus or train pass or drive your own car

2) Go to cities where you know people who won't mind if you stay with them for a day or two

3) Go to cities where you can go to multiple locations.

Good Luck, J.A.!!!

Eileen said...

The reasons people pick up books is as varied as they are. Cover art, recommendations, radio, reviews, books signings etc. The more an author can promote the better. Done in tandem with a push from a publishing house- even better.

Jim Michael Hansen said...

Joe: It's intereting that you noted that self-promotion goes on in your absence. About 2 weeks ago, I spoke with a Barne & Noble bookclue that had selected Night Laws as their monthly read. I recommeded that they picked up one of your books for their next read. The morale: when you help others promote, they help you. Sometimes you don't even know it's going on.

Jeri said...

Your promotion goes on in your absence because you've built the groundwork that carries a lot of momentum.

Sort of like the way muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you're in really good shape, you can take a week off from the gym and not suddenly blimp out.

And we all get more work done when you don't blog, by the way.

Guyot's Ghost said...

I'm all for self-promotion.

The problem is, though, nobody knows what works.

Book reviews certainly work, but the writer doesn't pay for those. I know this from personal experience, because David Montgomery keeps returning my checks.

Personal appearances can work, but only if people show up in the first place. Which they almost never do unless you're already famous.

One could pull a Konrath and do a hard sell on each individual bookstore customer, but I simply don't have the personality for that. Few writers do, quite frankly. Most writers couldn't even convince their mother to buy their book.

And if this hard sale method is so effective, why not take it a step further and go door-to-door? You could say, "Hi, I'm Joe Konrath, I live ten houses away from you. Would you like to buy my book?"

I think Konrath could sell hundreds of books using that method. Assuming, of course, he lives in a good neighborhood. Which he probably doesn't, since he spends his entire advance on self-promotion.

I think the solution is to write the best book that you can. Which is the same thing that writers have always done.

The equation is simple:

Good book -> publisher enthusiasm -> big marketing budget -> good reviews -> the bestseller list.

Todd Wheeler said...

Libraries and word of mouth are key for me. I was just looking for a new SF writer to see what the current state of affairs in that genre are. There was Tobias Buckell standing up on the bookshelf. And I bet he didn't even send anything cool to the acquisitions librarian.

I'd say self-promotion works in a trickle down way (even if it didn't work for Reagan). I came across this blog from another blog. I've since recommended it to 5 other hopeful writers. I also got Bloody Mary out of the library and if you're anywhere near the Northeast this summer I will find you at a bookstore near me. This all makes me...a virus?

Mike MacLean said...

The Guyot guy makes a good point. I’m trying to envision myself doing a hard sell at a bookstore. In my imagination, the scenario ends in one of three ways…

1. Awkward silence
2. Swearing
3. A kick in the nads

That being said, maybe some of the value of self-promotion comes from the reputation the author builds with his publisher. If JA and author ‘X’ both sold about the same number of novels, and JA busted his butt on a promotional tour, who will the publishers want to support more?

Julia said...

Ok, I'll answer:

The question I always ask concerning promo budget is: What makes you buy books?

Someone whose judgement I trust recommened it.

Did you ever buy a book from an author you heard speak on the radio?

Radio, no. I did buy a couple of books when I saw the author interviewed on TV.

Did you every buy a book because you saw a big ad for it in a newspaper or magazine?

No

Did you ever go to a booksigning for an author you've never heard of?

Yes, but that author was doing a free, mini-workshop on writing, in addition to promoting her book.


Did you ever buy a book because you got a postcard in the mail, or a free bookmark?

No

Did you every buy a book because you read a review?

Yes, many times.

Did you every buy a book after meeting an author at a conference?

Yes, I like reading books authored by people I've met. Particularly if they told how they wrote the book.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Funny you mention that the hits on your website have continued despite your absence. Oddly enough, when I was away on the Author's at Sea cruise for a week, the visits to my blog actually doubled and have been steadily climbing ever since.

Maybe it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I will say this, however, Joe. When I log onto your blog and see that you don't have a new entry, I'm disappointed -- as I'm sure are many others.

So maybe you should forget about that vacation, pal.

JA Konrath said...

Good book -> publisher enthusiasm -> big marketing budget -> good reviews -> the bestseller list.

Really? Wow! Thanks for clearing that up.

Now I finally realize that every book that has gone out of print deserves to, because it sucks.

And every midlist author who has never made a bestseller list also sucks.

And all the books on the NYT list are there because they are good books, with lots of publisher enthusiasm, big promo budgets, and great reviews.

And the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus just ran a train on the Toothy Fairy.

Your equation sounds a lot like justification, and a way for authors to relinquish responsibility for their careers. Here are the many things wrong with it:

1. All published books are good books. At least, two people think so the author and the publisher.) Since good is subjective, there's no foolproof way to write something 'good.'

2. Publisher enthusiasm is important, but not required, nor is it any guarantees. I know many midlist authors with very large promo budgets who haven't made the List, and so so you. I also know authors who have had big budgets and flopped. So do you.

3. I just looked through PW, Booklist, LJ, and Kirkus, and counted hundreds of great reviews, but not all of those books became bestsellers. And, lookee here, some poorly reviewed books did make the List. Who could have predicted that?

Book reviews certainly work, but the writer doesn't pay for those.

Has the author compiled a list of reviewers, and sent out the ARCs themself? I know several authors who have done this (big authors at big houses.)

Personal appearances can work, but only if people show up in the first place. Which they almost never do unless you're already famous.

Not if you're sitting behind a table, looking like a whipped puppy, no they don't. But getting up and meeting people does work.

One could pull a Konrath and do a hard sell on each individual bookstore customer

If shaking hands and asking "Do you like thrillers?" is a hard sell, then I'm guilty as charged. Terrible thing, having enough faith in your own work to recommend it to people.

And if this hard sale method is so effective, why not take it a step further and go door-to-door? You could say, "Hi, I'm Joe Konrath, I live ten houses away from you. Would you like to buy my book?"

Door to door is not a forum conducive to decent sales. Too many people don't read. Too many people don't like cold calls. A bookstore, library, or conference is attended by readers, who are there because of books. That's where self-promotion should be concentrated.

Most writers couldn't even convince their mother to buy their book.

Then most writers should learn.

I think Konrath could sell hundreds of books using that method. Assuming, of course, he lives in a good neighborhood. Which he probably doesn't, since he spends his entire advance on self-promotion.

You sound sarcastic here. Did I do something to irritate you, Paul?

And yes, I live in a townhouse in a so-so neighborhood. But I'm investing in myself, and that is more important than a big house. Perhaps instead I should simply take the money and run, and then lament why I'm not selling a lot of books?

Or perhaps if my books were better written, they'd sell themselves?

BTW, I'm behind in my email---does anyone want to help me answer the 35 fan letters that have come in over the last ten days? Standard stuff, people telling me how much they love my work.

Hmmmm... maybe I don't suck so bad after all. Maybe the thing I need to do is get as many people to read me as possible, because once they read me they'll buy more books.

I think the solution is to write the best book that you can. Which is the same thing that writers have always done.

I started to post the names of a few authors who write great books, authors well respected in the mystery and thriller community, authors who are my friends and your friends, authors who have never made the NYT list even though they meet all of your criteria, authors who live in much nicer houses than I do, but I got to 17 and decided against posting their names.

You're welcome to disagree with me, Paul, but when did disagreement become resentment?

Jude Hardin said...

I can't believe you said that, Joe.

The tooth fairy is not that kind of girl.

She's prety stupid, though. My son one fooled her with a piece of peanut...

JA Konrath said...

The tooth fairy is not that kind of girl.

I hate to break this to you Jude---the Tooth Fairy isn't a girl.

Jude Hardin said...

Damn. Fooled again.

No more tequila for me.

Jude Hardin said...

On self-promotion:

Word of mouth is the only promo that works in a real way, but I think it's worthwhile to spend some time (and money) at the cons, in bookstores, libraries etc. to get the right yaps flapping. I applaud your efforts, Joe.

Here's a little word of mouth to any of you who like literary fiction with hard-edged humor and an inside look at a brutal crime family: read THE ROOFER by Erica Orloff. Best spine I've cracked in a long time.

Stacey Cochran said...

And if this hard sale method is so effective, why not take it a step further and go door-to-door? You could say, "Hi, I'm Joe Konrath, I live ten houses away from you. Would you like to buy my book?"

I've actually done this.

I didn't say I was Joe Konrath, of course. But I have gone door-to-door. I sold one book in my neighborhood this way.

Another similar thing I've done is go to shopping areas and hand out flyers for my book.

I actually got thrown out of one place back in February.

I've handed out flyers at pizza joints, pediatricians' offices, grocery stores, a Subway, Jack in the Box, convenient stores. I've placed flyers on car windows outside Barnes & Nobles, Toys R Us, a local high school during a basketball game. Had one guy get downright hostile with me at Toys R' Us.

That was interesting.

Stacey

Sandra Ruttan said...

And if this hard sale method is so effective, why not take it a step further and go door-to-door? You could say, "Hi, I'm Joe Konrath, I live ten houses away from you. Would you like to buy my book?"

I've actually done this.

I didn't say I was Joe Konrath, of course.


Stacey, I think if you did say you were Joe Konrath, it might have been very good. Really generated some interest. The kind that got them dialing for the police. Which in turn, if you pick you neighborhood correctly, would bring out the media.

What better promotion for a mystery writer than being led away by the police with a copy of their hardcover in hand and everyone talking about them?

Isn't it Joe who says there's no such thing as bad publicity?

C'mon Joe. You should try this. Just tell people you're Tess Gerritsen. If you can manage a dress and heels it'll really generate some talk.

Jude Hardin said...

Don't give him any ideas, Sandra.

If he comes to my door wearing a dress and heels and saying he's Tess, I might very well invite him in for a cocktail or two.

It'll be the Tooth Fairy thing all over again.

Stacey Cochran said...

I actually got thrown out of one place back in February.

I should clarify. They didn't physically throw me out. What actually happened was I was standing out in front of a plaza mall type place where there were six shops together. The manager/owner came out of one of the shops and asked me "What are you selling?"

I told him the flyer was for a book I had published. He took one, and I thought everything was going to go alright. But then he said, "You can't stand out here and hand these out."

I asked him why. And he said something like, "Because you can't."

Rather than put up much more of fight, I quietly moved on to another shopping area. While walking away, another shop worker came out and started talking smack, though.

At this point, bypassers had begun to grow curious over what the fuss was about, and I started to get into it with this second guy.

I was like "The book is for kids."

And he was like "I don't give a shit."

I remember saying that I had gotten approval from the Chamber of Commerce, and that shut him up.

Still, I moved on, adrenaline pretty much making my heart feel like it was about to explode.

Afterwards, one of the bypassers (a couple in their twenties) came over and said, "Man, they can't do that to you." They asked for my flyer, and I told them they could buy my book at Amazon.com, but I don't think they ever did because I like watched my Amazon ranking for the next couple weeks and it didn't move up.

Stacey

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Joe...after 500 bookstores, I think you'll have earned a vacation!

Mark Terry said...

"Self-promote or die."

Well, I'm glad you have a balanced approach to things.

JA Konrath said...

t's empowering. Here's the thing: the joy of seeing your book in print is powerful. But even more powerful is sittign at a table, waiting to sign copies, and no one comes over to you.

This business provides plenty of opportunities to feel like a complete, total, utter failure.

Getting a rejection letter is hard, but it isn't face-to-face. Sitting next to a popular author in the book signing room at a conference, and watching her get a big line while no one comes up to you, is soul-crushing.

Self-promotion is active, not reactive. It's empowering. It is doing something rather than biting the pillow and taking it. You might still fail, but you have the scars to show you fought like hell, and you can take pride in that.

I admire Stacey. He's got more guts than most people, let alone most writers.

I once sat next to a semi-popular sci-fi writer at a signing table. I had a line (Funny thing, I almost always have a line. Wonder why?) He did not, even though he'd been in the biz for 30 years and had published a dozen well-received books.

His disgust for the situation was apparent, and vocal. He grumbled about his lack of success, how new writers got all the promotional money, how it wasn't fair that some people had lines and he didn't.

Here is our basic conversation:

Me: Did you do anything to promote you appearance here?

Him: What do you mean?

Me: Well, did you put it on your website?

Him: I don't have a website.

Me: How do you get in touch with your fans? Your blog? A newsletter?

Him: I don't have either.

Me: Do you do a lot of promotion?

Him: No. My publisher doesn't tour me. They rarely even buy ads. They don't do anything.

Me: My publisher didn't tour me for my last book, but I visited a hundred bookstores, a dozen conferences, and many libraries.

Him: That's insane. That's not your job. It's your publishers job to sell your books.

Me: (have to pause the conversation to sign books for three fans) But don't you think that you have a responsibility to help your publisher sell books?

Him: I'm here, aren't I? I could be home writing.

(Then someone came up to him with a hardcover of one of his early novels. This person was obviously excited to meet him. This is what Mr. Sci-Fi said, no joke)

Him: No personalization. I don't do that. You're lucky I'm signing this at all, because I hate autographing books.

(The fan looked like he'd been shot in the stomach. I thought about saying something, but I had more people in my line.)

True story.

Bernita said...

That boggles, Joe.
Truly.

Anonymous said...

I don't defend the conduct of that SF writer. But it just proves the point that many writers don't have the personality to self-promote.

Is that such a bad thing? Not all writers are former stand-up comedians like JA Konrath. I don't think having a reserved personality should doom your career as a writer.

Used to be a time in the publishing industry when writers just wrote. Publishing companies did the editing and the marketing. It was a true team effort.

But not anymore. These days, it's all dumped on the writers. Authors are expected to market their own books. Books aren't seriously edited anymore, so writers have to self-edit. Or pay thousands of dollars for a book doctor.

Authors are expected to have "platforms" these days. Why should we publish your book? Are you famous already? Or good looking enough? Telegenic? Or outgoing? You need the right "look" these days to be a writer. It's all show biz now with the major presses.

The writing is, sadly, now an afterthought.

Jason said...

Dear Anonoymous (BTW, I loved PRIMARY COLORS. Terrific book, great job),

First off, don't tell me editors don't edit anymore. I'm an editor (just happily added novelist to my title as well), and I take that incredibly seriously and give all of my authors my soul when it comes to their books. Saying "editors don't edit" is a generalization, like saying, "there are no good movies anymore." The bad might outweigh the good, but just like in publishing the coal can't outweigh the gems. Some editors don't edit, the same way some authors, truthfully, don't like to be edited. Every week my colleagues and I sit in edit meetings and discuss books we LOVE. Yes photogenic help get pictures in the paper. Yes it helps to have a platform. But publishing runs on passion, not precision. Is Khaled Hosseini really that good looking a guy? And last I checked Joan Didion wasn't on the cover of this month's Maxim.

The fact is the majority of bestselling authors publish a book a year, often more, and deliver their manuscripts perilously close to publication date, leaving very little time for the editor to do more than a cursory job before shipping it off to the printer. This keeps authors on track, keeps their backlist selling, and is an unfortunate price to pay to feed the machine and keep their loyal readers sated. Also, as J.A. and others have said, being edited is a tough task. It's a blow to your confidence to see someone else chop up a book you KNEW was perfect, and if all things were equal you might choose to skip that part and just typeset the darn thing. And when an author reaches a certain level of success (i.e. when they can start calling the shots rather than their publisher), this happens more often than not. I also agree with Joe that self promotion is a necessary component of being an author. Once you cash your first check and are officially writing for an audience rather than yourself, you accept this. But the most important thing for an author is having readers, and any author who doesn't go to extra lengths to gain more readers is doing themselves a disservice. That isn't to say the burden should be taken off publishers entirely, but what's going to draw readers to your autograph line (rather than the guy/girl at the next table) is having more readers. To quote a wise man, "You can have the greatest product in the world, but if nobody knows about it, nobody's going to buy it." Bookmarks don't draw readers. Neither do huge ads, big budgets, or radio spots. All those do is draw ATTENTION to a book. Whether or not someone reads it, enjoys it, recommends it to a friend, and buys the next one is entirely up to you, the author. That's the difference between a CONSUMER and a READER. And any author who desires a long term career (who doesn't?) should make gaining readers their primary goal.
Jason

Anonymous said...

"The fact is the majority of bestselling authors publish a book a year, often more, and deliver their manuscripts perilously close to publication date, leaving very little time for the editor to do more than a cursory job before shipping it off to the printer."

Thanks for proving my point Jason.

Anonymous said...

Rarity from the Hollow" (science fiction / fantasy) is now for sale at www.fatcatpress.com. It's received several blubs, including one by Piers Anthony. A percentage of any profits will prevent child abuse in West Virginia where I work as a Therapist in a children's mental health program. A satirical essay about its self-promotion will be in Wingspan Quarterly by the end of the month (6-06). Jag Lall, English comic book artist, did the cover (surrealistic). Can I use your site to self-promote?

Robert Eggleton