Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Reruns: The Pain of Promotion

This expanded article originally posted on October 9, 2013.

Not long ago I read a novel by an author I'd not read before, selected it late one night from the sales 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. It was surprisingly good, a refreshing find, completely out of the box for CBA. 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.

The author, first name Annette, did a remarkable job of writing a male protagonist (a topic we discussed on this blog in August 2013). 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 graciously 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 really 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.

"Wasn't my only thing, or even my main thing."  That line really struck me. Because aside from my relationship with my family and God, writing IS my main thing and has been for 28 years. Aside from unforeseen circumstances, I have no intention of stopping. But I completely get what she's saying. Debbie wrote a great post on the truth about introverts. Many writers are introverts --- and shy to boot, as Lori Benton pointed out in the comments to Debbie's post. That certainly describes me. So when Annette said she couldn't bear self-promotion, I could relate so well. And yet, as she points out, someone unwilling to self-promote these days won't get far as an author.

The environment we find ourselves in as writers is somewhat a dichotomy. On one hand, publishing opportunities are greater --- and less costly --- than ever before, if one is willing to go the independent route. Because many authors, even those who have been multi-published traditionally, are choosing to go independent, the stigma of self-publishing is diminishing.

On the other hand, going independent means the full weight of promotion falls on 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 into a tsunami is the goal, but how do you do that?

We learned from Latayne's post last week that Lisa Samson, an author all of us here respect and admire, has thrown in the towel, primarily because of the demands of marketing. She's not the only author to give up on writing, at least in the traditional sense of publishing. The burden of marketing is a huge factor in the decisions, but it isn't the only factor. Authors with really good sales numbers are finding it difficult to get contracts these days, or if they do get contracts, to get the type of advances they're used to and need to get by.

That makes the ground beneath my feet unstable indeed, because I don't have the sales numbers, I don't have the industry contacts anymore. I don't have the following of a Lisa Samson. But what I still have is the desire and tenacity to press on ... in spite of another recent series of frustrations and setbacks. And so I press on. Especially for the next novel I plan to release, because of all the stories I've written, this is the one I most believe in; the one I so want to succeed. I have no idea what kind of success it will be met with, but my daughter Deanne helped put things in perspective when she said, "If you sell your books to 100 or 1,000,000 people, continue to write. Do your best to market and earn money, but keep writing.  God didn't give you the passion and the talent...and the story for you to quit because of someone else's version of success. You are successful because you've completed the task. And your writing is stellar."

I appreciate her encouragement so much.

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 in your writing, or perhaps deter you from going independent? What, if anything, would make you put down your pen for good?


Megan Sayer said...

Wow Sharon, Deanne's advice is spot on. I think I need to write that down somewhere on a wall myself. Thanks for sharing it.
And please, keep writing! :)

Sharon K. Souza said...

Ah, thanks, Megan. You're sweet. And yes, you do!