Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Writer's Nightmare

So here we are , Week 1 post-release of Firedancer. I am faithfully refraining from checking its stats every hour (though I must say they were quite fine for awhile, at least) because rankings on Amazon will drive you crazy if you let them. But the promotion work continues, which is, for every writer I know, the thing they like least about this business.

For the happy extrovert who loves people, the fact that most book publishers not only expect, but demand, that authors do all or most of their own promotion is not a problem. They like people, they like the events, they don't mind blowing their own horns. I had to laugh at Worldcon, however, as a group of us authors were standing around catching up on all the news, when the subject turned (as it always does) to the state of the industry and the dreaded P word.

"I'm shy," was the refrain. "I hate this." "I'm a writer, not a marketer." "How are the publishers going to get new books if nobody has time to write?" And, "There are only x number of days in my lifetime to write the stories I can tell. Why should I have to waste them doing what I'm not good at?"

Over and over, I heard the same thing. Successful authors will snort and tell you to get over it; this is the state of the world and you need to just grit your teeth and do it. Yes. This is true.

It does not, however, make it more fun, or magically bestow the gift of self-promotion upon people who would far rather be holed up in a cubbyhole somewhere with a blank page and a pen.

The industry has always set the rules; it is a dreary fact of life. The current rule is "Thou shalt be thy own marketer. Don't look at us; we're broke." Authors are expected to arrange their own book or blog tours, show up at cons and book signings on their own dime, and in many cases, design and print their own marketing materials and generally carry the entire load of getting the word out. The house might help you with getting reviews and certainly will help with distribution, but marketing? That's your problem.

And we all hate it.

The advantage of an ebook, however, is that it has an infinite shelf life. Print books must be heavily promoted up front, with huge demands on the author's time, in order to stave off the dreaded strip and return death as the book stores heave out your book to make way for one that may or may not sell better. The ebook, however, is parked on Amazon pretty much forever, which gives you a chance to build a continuing campaign that does not demand you drop all your current projects (even those contracted, with deadlines) to promote the book that just came out. You do have to promote your book up front, but you can also build an audience over time if you are still learning the ropes, and adjust your marketing as you learn what works. Ebook publication provides some balance for the poor author who just wants to write, but needs that last book to sell.

The ebook, however, also has its drawbacks. You won't find it on the supermarket shelves, or in Costco or Walmart. It's much more difficult to arrange signings without a physical object in hand to sell and sign. And many people just don't want ebooks. But you still have to do the marketing.

And that still means being your own promoter, on the internet instead of tramping all over the country. It's still hard, you have to ask favors of friends, break all the taboos about screaming "Look at me!" your mother told you constituted bad manners, and generally be what you're not--the front man.

We're introverts. We admit it. But, like Mom shoving Junior out the door to check out the grass instead of the video games, we'll heave a martyred sigh and go do it. Because if we don't, no one will.

The thought of your book never being found or read is a powerful motivator. So don't hit me when I yack, yack, yack about Firedancer and all its brethren. I'm a writer. And I want to keep writing.

So lead me (reluctantly) to the promotion....

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