Monday, October 7, 2013

The Pain of Promotion

I recently read a novel by an author I’d not read before, first name Annette. I selected it late one night from the sale pages of when I’d run out of things to read. The first thing that caught my attention was that it was published by NavPress, the house that published my first two novels, so I read the opening pages and was intrigued enough to order it. The novel was surprisingly good, a refreshing find, completely out of the box for CBA, which instantly made me turn back to see the publication date. Aha. It was published in 2006. In my opinion, CBA has tightened its net, so to speak, in the intervening years, and I’m not sure this book would find a home in CBA these days. For more on that, you should read Latayne's excellent post from Friday, regarding Christian Fiction.

Coincidentally, I had an interesting conversation with a longtime employee of the Christian bookstore in my little town (anyone hear Simon & Garfunkel singing?) when I took more of my books in, which they graciously sell. Lynda is very complimentary of my fiction, because she feels it is real, addresses real issues, isn't neatly tied up in the end, and shows the reader she isn't alone in her struggles. But I haven't been able to get a CBA contract since 2008, so there you are.
 Annette did a remarkable job of writing a male protagonist (we discussed writing opposite-sex characters on this blog in August). She wrote real-world characters you could truly identify with, who had goals beyond getting the girl/guy next door, and problems that look a lot like mine. Problems that don’t always have good solutions. I applauded her guts and her ability, and sent her an email saying how much I’d enjoyed the novel. Her response kind of blew me away. She gave me permission to share some of what was contained therein.

Annette is the author of 13 novels, the first published in 1997. It sold roughly 140,000 copies. The others, combined, sold about the same number. Combined or not, I was struck with Serious Envy when I read her sales numbers. I’ve never come close to that, nowhere near, though I never stop working at it.

But it was her next statement that blew me away. She wrote, “As for why I stopped writing …”
Excuse me?!?

Stopped writing?!?
With that kind of success?!?

Yes. Stopped. She had three main reasons:

First, I absolutely cannot bear promoting. I'm quite private, more so as I've gotten older. (I'm 54). I am the only person I know not on Facebook. When I began writing, promotion meant speaking a bit, doing book signings, giving out bookmarks. I did do a blog for a bit, and didn't mind that. But now...I just can't do all that is expected and needed of an author. When I weighed the pain of promoting vs the joy of writing for publication, writing did not come out on top.  I do not see how someone unwilling to promote can publish today.

Second, writing was never a calling for me. I loved it. It came easily and naturally for me, and I had a talent for it. I read a few how-to books and subscribed to Writer's Digest, but I never took a writing class. I attended my first conference after I'd had 7 books out. It wasn't something I longed for or dreamed about. I was a voracious reader, but really never thought being an author was in the realm of reality. It was an amazing surprise.

But my true calling? Hospice nursing. I've been an RN since age 20. It is what I was born to do. It is where I have served, where I have done my best work. It was easy to let writing slip away when it wasn't my only thing, or even my main thing.

“My only thing, or even my main thing.” That line really struck me. Because aside from my relationship with family and God, writing IS my main thing and has been for 27 years. No, it doesn't begin to compare to hospice nursing or any number of other professions that truly help people, but it is my passion. Aside from unforeseen circumstances, I have no intention of stopping. But I completely get what Annette is saying. Debbie also wrote a great post last week on the truth about introverts. Many writers are introverts – and some are shy, to boot, as Lori Benton pointed out. That certainly describes me. So when Annette said she couldn’t bear self-promotion, I could relate so well. And yet, as she spelled out so clearly, someone unwilling to self-promote these days won’t get far as an author.
The environment we find ourselves in as writers today is somewhat of a dichotomy. On one hand, publishing opportunities are greater---and less costly---than ever before, if one is willing to go the independent route. Now that many authors are choosing to go independent, even those who have been multi-published traditionally, the stigma of self-publication has diminished.

On the other hand, going independent means the full weight of promotion falls to the author. And for those of us---which basically is all of us---who dislike self-promotion, it makes the writing life that much harder. Building a readership is like tossing a stone into water and watching the ripple spread out from the initial splash. Turning that ripple-effect into a tsunami is the goal, but how do you do that?
Bloggers and social media participants have formed an impromptu co-op, if you will, helping promote the work of other writers along with their own, but it still creates only a small ripple in a huge pond. And all that promotional work cuts deeply into the author’s writing time. One or the other is going to suffer.

Have you found a way to balance writing with promotion, and have you found a promotional tool that’s been successful for you? Is the fear of promotional responsibilities enough to give you pause as a writer, or perhaps deter you from going independent? What, if anything, would make you put down your pen for good?


Cat Winchester said...

I totally get the self-promotion thing, it totally sucks. I still have a blog but I honestly don't know why people read it. My readers love my characters, whose lives are far more interesting than mine. Me? I'm as dull as ditch-water! Honestly, who wants to know my opinions of stuff? Even if I have an interesting opinion, lots of other people have it too and have pit their points a lot more eloquently than I ever could.

Nonetheless I got the blog, the twitter account, the facebook page (the only reason I joined facebook). I blogged, I tweeted, I shared links, I engaged in that round robin type retweeting and sharing of other writers stuff (not that they often reciprocate). I did it because I was told I had to, that I wouldn't succeed if I didn't, because I felt that I had to sell each copy to each reader.

Then Kindle select came in, where you could offer your book free. Everyone said "don't do it! Don't give it away. you worked hard and ifyou give it away, they'll think it's worthless!" but I joined anyway so my book could be part of the amazon lending library. Then i tried a free promo because I had the days to use. something like 300 were downloaded and about a week later, my sales jumped! Not hugely but there was a definite improvement. I did it again, this time promoting it. I got something like 1000 downloads and a slightly bigger jump.

Then I released a new book and suddenly, it just took off! They were flying off the digital shelf. Why? Because Amazon wants to sell books so those people who read my book got told about my new one in their recommendations. And they bought it.

Amazon collects all this information for a reason, so that they know what you like, and they know what to recommend to you.

Without those free giveaways, I wouldn't have had the readership I did. The amount of promo I've done since them had dropped drastically because even with selling 10,000 copies of a book, I haven't noticed an increase in traffic on my blog, and I only have 500 twitter followers, and most of them are fellow authors.

The truth is, readers just aren't very interested in me. My characters aren't me, they're my babies. It's like how Einstein is on loads of people's Dream Dinner Party list (you know the game, if you could have a dinner party with 6 people, alive or dead, who would you pick). How many people want to invite Einstein's mum?

I just did a series of 5 day promos where I gave way a minimum of 10,000 copies per book and again, and each book has received a boost, most have re-entered the romance chart.

I'm really hoping that again, that will translate into interest in my new release later this month. It's certainly an awful lot more people for Amazon to offer my book to.

So if you hate promo, don't listen to the naysayers and try the Amazon select program.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Cat, I applaud your diligence and thank you for sharing with us. Amazon has created great opportunities for authors who have had a difficult time being published traditionally, and/or for those (myself included) who want to take their career into their own hands. I wish you all the best on all your titles, particularly the one that's about to be released.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I'm not salesperson. But I fake it relatively well.

Fortunately, I've found that having a whole crew of extra supportive friends has been like gold. My friends have spread the word about Paint Chips...and it has made all the difference. In this social media culture, word of mouth is the very best promotional tool. And I've got some of the very best friends around.

That said, their reach can only go just so far. How to reach those outside the ripples? I'm still trying to figure that out. Even as a traditionally published author, I've had to do the lion's share of promoting. It's tough. Extremely tough. And it can get very expensive.

I'm still learning and wondering and looking for ideas!

Thank you for this post, Sharon. It made me feel less alone in the marketing blahs.

Cherry Odelberg said...

I can sell retail - my daytime -"real" job.
I was even told, "nice up sell," by a customer.
But, I cannot self promote. I blog because I love to write. I self-published a children's book because I believed in it, but I didn't have the financial where with all to pay for marketing or to give away.
The other day, I reread the first few pages of The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis). Aslan asks the girl, "What were you doing?" and she answers meekly, "Showing off." Somehow, excessive and aggressive self-promotion sounds like showing off. I was raised not to brag, not to self-promote, and I am an introvert.
But I will not stop writing. I will write and I will play the piano because it is my spiritual food. I will take the opportunities that come along. If no opportunities come along, I will write and make music in the nooks and crannies left over in and around the "real," job.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Susie, it's nice to know we're all in this together, and that we really do help one another. Thank you for being such a big part of Novel Matters.

Cherry, I love your attitude, love that you use the gifts God has given you.

Chris Loehmer Kincaid said...

I can only work on promoting my books for so long and then I have to take a break. I feel like I am leaving my babies out to dry when I do that, I keep thinking - but I have to keep trying to sell them - but I just get too burned out by it all. By far, self-promotion is the toughest part of this writing life. I think we all wish there was an easy way to do this, but there just isn't.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

You hit a nerve! I'm jumping and convulsing in all directions. Procrastination is paying off; the longer I wait the more options for plunging into the frigid waters of publishing I see. Then my convulsing can turn into swimming, right?
Also confirmed is what Cat said, people are not interested in me. I will not promote me. Therefore shall I not be showing off. There is a product that is worth sharing. Maybe I had something to do with the presentation of the story but the characters ran the show and have every right to show off. I really like the idea of the characters having facebook pages of their own. Therefore shall I be writing more fiction as they converse with the world! How much fun would that be!?
All this comes together in my brain as I interact with you lovely people. Thank You!!!!

Bridgette said...

I've only published my first novel, so for me this is just the beginning of the self-promotion. I never realized how hard it was, and how little I sometimes receive in turn. I agree with the article: to be published now, authors need to self-promote. I'm published through a traditional press and I've self-published. Neither are easy. As for ever putting down the pen - not an option. I tried a few years back when every submission was rejected, and I realized that I could not give up writing.

I do have to disagree with writing not truly helping people. It may not be the personal relationship, but writing helps both the writer and the reader. I've corralled ideas as a writer, and I've been touched as a reader. We do truly help people, we just don't always know about it.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Chris, you're so right. Promoting our work is the hardest part of writing.

Bridgette, very good point: we don't always know about it. I try to contact authors whose books I really enjoy, since I know how much that kind of communication means to me.

Cat Winchester said...

Henrietta - thats a really good idea. I did try setting up a twitter account for a character once and it has followers, the problem is, I move on to new stories which occupy my thoughts more. Plus, that character was a historical one, so kind of hard for him to tweet about stuff relevant to today. He still tweets about Victorian Christmas and other holidays but tweeting about Wakes Week (a Victorian factory's yearly holiday) would just confuse most people.

Bridgette - books, even fiction, do help people. It nothing else, it helps you escape for a while, and there are times I've desperately needed an escape. It also teaches you about other cultures and things you would never normally learn about (like maple syrup making! never thought that would be something I learned)

When you read about doing things, you create the same neuro-pathways in the b rain that actually doing them makes, so it really is mind expanding. Not to mention, it staves off dementia and reduced stress levels. Reading is good for you.

My final tip for sales, which I was working on before my books took off, was write another book. The more you have, the more chances of a reader finding you and if they like your book, they'll likely look for your others. I honestly think that putting your time and energy into producing another book, is far more productive than trying to get 250,000 followers on twitter, most of whom will be reciprocal followers and probably wont even read your tweets because you aren't on their "friends" list. It's a long game plan and could take you years before you can keep yourself off writing, but I was never going to quit anyway, it's part of who I am and was for 15 years before I published anything.