Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why I Self-Promote

I think that many authors get discouraged because they work their butts off self-promoting, and don't see immediate benefits. How could they? The hardest working author in the world could maybe handsell ten thousand copies of a book in a year. That's an impressive number, but ultimately insignificant if he has 500k books in print.

When I say, "You should self promote," some authors immediately go into defensive mode. Their arguements usually come down to:

"It's the publisher's job to sell books, not mine."

Or

"You can be successful without self-promoting."

Or

"I'd rather focus on writing a good book."

Or

"Prove to me that self-promotion makes you successful."

Or

"I tried and it didn't work."

Or a combination of the above. Justification for our actions (or non actions) is essential for our self-esteem.

But that justification should be well thought out. All options should be carefully considered before a path is chosen. And that path should be subject to change, as more evidence comes into play.

I've spent a good deal of time contemplating the publishing business. Along with contemplating, I've experimented. I made some observations, and drew some conclusions, based on my experience (which I tried to make as broad as possible.)

I've found that:

1. Publishing, as a business model, is a poor one.

2. No one in publishing really knows what they're doing, because you can't learn from unreproduceable phenomenon.

3. Taste is subjective. A "good" book means different things to different people.

4. People would rather defend their actions than analyze them.

5. Luck plays an overwhelming part in success. This is scary, because it is beyond our control. So most publishers, and authors, would rather erroneously attribute success to their hard work and efforts, talent, and business savvy.

6. There are no guarantees, except for one: The more you self promote, the more books you'll sell, and the more you'll increase your luck.

So, what can an author do to better their career?

1. I can't change the publishing world, even though it's broken. That's beyond my control.

2. I can't learn from unreproduceable phenomenon any more than my publisher can, and I don't have the resources to run controlled tests, surveys, focus groups, and scientifically analyze the system to learn what works and what doesn't. It's beyond my control.

3. I can write the best book I can, but that's no guarantee of anything. Many good books fail. A lot of crap sells really well. Taste is subjective, and there is no objective scale that can rate books based on their merit.

4. I can learn from my actions and be open to new ideas, but can't expect anyone else to have that same attitude.

5. I can recognize that success comes down to luck, as scary as that is.

6. I can do what I can to improve my luck. That means writing good books (which is subjective) and spreading the word about my books, which is objective.

So basically, what I've learned in the past five years is that the only real control an author has is how many books they can sell by self-promotion. That's the only way we can empower ourselves.

Beware a sense of entitlement. Beware believing that hard work and/or talent is more important than luck. Beware believing that your success or failure is a direct result of anything you've done. These beliefs don't lead to anything healthy.

There's no fairness. No dues that must be paid. No deserving success.

There's only getting lucky, and what you can do to maximize your luck.

That's why I spend so much time self-promoting.