Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The High Cost of Self Promotion

I've done a lot of self promoting.

I've been to all the major mystery writing conferences, many multiple times. I've visited over 1200 bookstores. I've spoken at hundreds of libraries and book fairs.

I never really wanted to do any of it. The conventions were fun, but also a lot of work. I tended to try my best to burn as brightly as possible, and anyone who knows their astrophysics knows what results from that; burn out.

But I refused to get burned out. I believed the only thing keeping me in print was my never-ending effort to get myself in front of people.

Things have changed.

In the last few months, I've turned away over a dozen speaking engagements. Most of them offered to pay all expenses--flight, hotel, food. Some even offered a decent stipend on top of that.

I would have cut off my own legs to have had opportunities like this, back at the start of 2010.

So why am I being all hermit-like now?

Because I believe I've found a better use of my time.

My goal has always been to sell as many books as possible, with the hope of making a decent living at it. In the recent past, I'd identified certain things that I felt I needed to do, in order to reach that goal.

The most expensive, and time consuming, of these things, was travel.

As far as I'm concerned, nothing beats face time. Meeting a bookseller, a fan, a potential fan, is really the best way to promote yourself. A handshake, a smile, a joke, a thank-you--I've personally done this to over twenty thousand people. I felt it was my duty to. If I didn't, I might go out of print. If I went out of print, I'd lose my income, and my dream of writing full-time.

Consider that last observation. I was worried about no longer being able writing full time, so I'd become a full time traveling salesman. A full time ambassador, visiting thirty-nine states to spread goodwill and brand awareness.

But something has changed recently. A big something.

I don't feel the need to stay in print anymore.

In fact, I wish my books were out of print, so I'd have the rights to them back. (by my estimate, I'm losing around $100k per year because publishers have seven of my backlist titles and are pricing them too high for the ebook market and giving me a fraction of the royalties I could earn on my own.)

Since the rise of ebooks, I've been making more money that I ever have being traditionally published. This is steady money, and seems to be growing.

Face time isn't required for me to be able to sell ebooks. So I promised my wife I'd stop traveling everywhere, and do the thing I always said I'd do: write full time.

A funny thing happened. Once I cut down on traveling, I was able to get more writing done.

So far, this year, I've written four novels. By the end of the year, I'll squeeze in one or two more.

I'll be able to earn a lot more on new work, than I would promoting old work. Better yet, rather than trying to seek out publicity, it seems to be coming to me. I've gotten dozens of emails from people who recently read about me in Newsweek. When I spent a summer visiting 500 bookstores, Newsweek didn't call me. But sitting on my butt, doing my little ebook thing, is getting me a lot more exposure for a lot less effort.

Ebooks have given authors a choice. For decades, there was only one game in town--traditional print publishing. I studied that game, learned how to play, and had some modest success. But it was hard work.

Recently, I've been studying the new game in town, ebooks, and I haven't looked back. I can make more money, do less traveling, and spend more time doing the thing I wanted to do in the first place; write.

Now, some of my peers think that refusing speaking engagements is a mistake. I should be grateful people want to see me.

I am grateful. But the math just doesn't work.

I've turned down thirteen speaking gigs. Figure, with travel, each one took an average of four days.

That means I'd have given up over fifty days.

I can write a book in fifty days.

What's better for my career; face time with thousands of people, or a new book that will be potentially earning money forever?

NY Publishing didn't want more than a book a year from me. And a book a year was about my limit, considering all the promo I did.

Now I'm able to focus on the thing I love--the writing.

Out of all the cool things about the ebook revolution, this may be the coolest.