Six impossible things

Pre-promotion or not?

I was at a book signing recently and admitted to the person in line behind me that I was about a quarter of the way through writing my book. I should note here, she is also a writer. She immediately asked me what writing conferences I had attended, if I was on Facebook, if I had a blog, etc., and began overwhelming me with all the things I was not doing to sell myself that I ‘should be doing’ in her opinion….

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of pre-promoting yourself in the manner this person suggested?

First off, let me point out that when I was getting started, computers were room-sized boxes of blinking lights that required lots of esoteric knowledge before you could persuade them to add two numbers together. The Internet didn’t exist at all. I wrote my first novel on a typewriter. Consequently, I don’t exactly have much experience in “pre-promotion” of the sort you describe.

This does not, however, stop me from having opinions. Quite strong opinions, in fact.

I will begin with a question: What, exactly, is it that you hope to sell? Yourself? Or your books?

While you think about that, I will point out that every writing career is different. Not only that, but the way into a writing career is different for every writer. If you want some control over it (you will never have total control, but you can have some), it is worth thinking about different possibilities. You can then decide what you want to do, what you don’t want to do but are willing to put up with, and what you will never do under any circumstances whatsoever. This large-picture thinking gives you a framework for making specific small-picture decisions, like whether and when to start a blog or attend a conference.

But fundamentally, the only thing that every writer has to do is write.

There is no one best route to the top. Furthermore, “the top” has almost as many definitions as there are writers, and every definition has a multitude of different ways to reach it. The successful writers I know are successful by their own definitions, not someone else’s, and have gotten to that success by routes that suit them, not somebody else.

Back to that first question. I can name several writers for whom their writing is in large degree secondary; what they are selling is themselves. They make as much (and in some cases a lot more) money from their blogs, courses, speeches, workshops, movie rights, radio programs, podcasts, and so on, as they do from their actual writing. There is nothing wrong with this. They are all having a blast doing stuff they love doing. Most of them took to social media like dolphins take to water. They are in their element. Their definition of “the top” has to do with personal appearances and being out there in public and well-known and respected, whether or not their books are bestsellers (some are; others have only modest sales).

For this sort of writer, diving into social media straight off is very likely to be important and useful. Someone who can develop a strong following, whether on Twitter, a blog, Facebook, or any of the other outlets, will theoretically have a ready-made audience when they finally finish a book, and they can use those initial sales as a stepping stone to all the appearances and so on that they love doing so much.

There may also be some use to “pre-promoting” yourself if you are planning to skip the world of traditional publishing and go straight to self-published ebooks. To make this worth doing, though, you have to catch a large audience and maintain it until you finish your book. Given how quickly Internet buzz comes and goes, this is often best left until a week before the book goes live, even if one is planning to self-publish.

In both cases, far too many would-be writers end up promising far more than they can deliver. I know a couple of folks who have been writing about their writing for a couple of decades now, without ever producing an actual story. Their social media accounts don’t attract as much attention as they expected, because they don’t have anything to talk about but themselves (and frankly, they aren’t all that interesting). And their desperate struggles to “build an audience” soak up whatever time and energy they might have used to actually write fiction.

If what you want is to write and/or to sell your books rather than yourself, then there’s not a lot of point in doing social media until you have something to sell. There may be some value in playing around with some outlets enough to get comfortable with them, so you don’t have a learning curve when the time comes that you want to use them professionally. One does not have to do this sort of experimentation by promoting oneself as a writer, however. There are plenty of forums where you can go and just talk about your favorite books as part of the crowd. Ditto sites (and blogs like this one) where you can talk writing techniques and problems with other people. Better yet, find some groups that talk about your mutual passion for gardening, or chess, or your favorite TV show.

Publishers these days do expect writers to have some web presence, and to do some web-based promotion of their books. However, they are deeply unlikely to be impressed by empty posturing. If you have a popular web site and a lot of Twitter followers, it may be a plus for some publishers, but it won’t sell your book to them or even move it up the slush pile. Unless, that is, your popular web site and Twitter feed have multiple hundreds of thousands of hits or followers, which is essentially saying “unless you have made yourself a nationally recognized Internet celebrity.”

Conferences…well, that’s kind of a different question. I’ll talk more on that next week, since this is getting kind of long already.

10 Comments
  1. I started my blog a couple of years ago – because I liked the idea of blogging, and still do.

    I posted Pride’s Children live as I polished it, not missing a Tuesday in over two years – because I liked the idea, and still do.

    I have a tiny following – that’s fine with me. I have a Twitter account I don’t use – Twitter isn’t how I interact with the world. I’m on Wattpad, and have picked up a small number of very good reader/writers there (especially guys – and since I designed the novel to appeal to both genders, it is very nice to have them tell me I’m succeeding).

    But all this is organic to the writing: I dumped my fear – of success, of failure, of being ‘in public’ – a little at a time by just doing it when I was ready, and I think it will be hugely helpful as I publish the first book (soon!) and go back to writing – the same way.

    It suits me – I enjoy it – and I can’t wait to get back to blogging more often. I realized that book production by a newbie is relatively uninteresting to almost anyone else, so I haven’t been writing much about it.

    My choice. My timing. My comfort level.

    What’s not to like?

  2. You might, however, want to scout a bit to find location where you CAN promote in the future. Rather than research it all at once.

  3. If you’re a person who always finishes what you start it should be fine…

    If you’re me, OTOH, not so much.

  4. I both agree and not … for promotion purposes, doing all those things before you have a book is a little bit like putting the cart before the horse. But yes, publishers do expect you to have SOME sort of presence.

    However, being active in the online writing community (blogging, Twitter, etc.) has been SUPER helpful for me in finding critique partners and connecting with other like minded people. Writing and publishing is hard, and it helps to find people along the way who can cheer you on and help you hone your craft. While it’s not necessary in selling your book, I do recommend trying to connect with other writers simply because it can make the solitary business of writing a little more enjoyable.

  5. PG is how I got here & LOL, only to find out you were in MN this week. Strange doings, this world.

    Don’t know if it’s just me, but could not follow your blog due to some gibberish re not having a style associated with this blog.

    re the whole bleepin’ never finishing a book and yet, being an expert. Outta the park.

    • We are currently working on a redo for the blog that will, we hope, fix most of the old issues. We are, however, having new issues with the redo that keep delaying it. Eventually it should all shake out.

      Oh, and I’m in MN very frequently, seeing as how I live here. 🙂

  6. I have a blog with a pretty regular amount of hits. Sometimes it goes very low. Some times huge jumps. But I feel kind of whorish about it. If it goes low, I post and it goes back up. I seldom talk about my books, but the links are there. I have twitter and I am vociferously opinionated about politics in particular, but take on lots of different subjects. Thus my twitter following, though modest, grows with no tending. It also brings me blog hits. A few of my books have sold well in short spurts, but lately I have few sales. When there is a bump up, I know what causes it. For the last year, mostly for emotional personal disasters, I have not touched my fiction. I am hoping this will pass. I know what kind of promotion works and I am pretty good at manipulating it, but I HATE IT. I can only put my heart into it when I want someone to read my stories. It is a game.

  7. I started out the same as you with the room-sized idea of computers etc, etc and typed my first book on a typewriter. But those days are not only dead, they are fossilized. Talk about changes at the speed of, well not light, but certainly sound.
    The biggest changes IMHO is that you and your book are one in the same. And the old idea that all a writer has to do is write, well the idea may not be a dinosaur yet, but it certainly is the steam engine.
    Authors with nothing to sell ‘yet’ use social media to build an audience of readers and network with other authors. Any publisher, or indi published author, will tell you that.
    Patg

    • Well, no, “any publisher” won’t tell you that. I met several just this past weekend who emphatically didn’t. If you meant “any indie publisher,” that’s different – they very well may tell you that. I still think they are at least partly wrong, mainly because “one size fits all” advice…doesn’t, but also because I don’t think you can effectively build an audience of readers if they don’t have anything to read. Networking and skills building, on the other hand, are certainly things that can be done online, but there are other ways of handling them that are frequently more effective than online for a particular author. The networking piece, in particular, is often managed very poorly by the as-yet-unsold, and often does little good until one actually has something written.

  8. I have a blog with a pretty regular amount of hits. Sometimes it goes very low. Some times huge jumps. But I feel kind of whorish about it. If it goes low, I post and it goes back up. I seldom talk about my books, but the links are there. I have twitter and I am vociferously opinionated about politics in particular, but take on lots of different subjects. Thus my twitter following, though modest, grows with no tending. It also brings me blog hits. A few of my books have sold well in short spurts, but lately I have few sales. When there is a bump up, I know what causes it. For the last year, mostly for emotional personal disasters, I have not touched my fiction. I am hoping this will pass. I know what kind of promotion works and I am pretty good at manipulating it, but I HATE IT. I can only put my heart into it when I want someone to read my stories. It is a game.

    Your subscribe link seems dead.

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