“What? You mean I spent a year writing my book, six months revising it, and three years getting it published, and you tell me that was the easy part?”
Yup. [NOTE: Of all the authors I’ve talked to over the years, most have stated that the average time to find a publisher is six years. And that’s the average. One mid-list SciFi writer who is now well established told me it took him ten years to place his first novel. So don’t get discouraged after your first dozen rejection slips. This is a long and ego-bruising process.]
It’s time for the harsh reality. Your novel is a product. In the publishing industry, it’s one product competing with thousands of others just like it. If you’re really lucky beyond your wildest dreams, you’ll hit a homerun your first time at bat J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter or, to a lesser extent, Brian Keene did with The Rising. For the vast majority of us, we have to work at building our reputation. You have to make the readers aware that your book is out on the market, convince them to purchase a copy, and hope that they like it enough to come back for more. Up until now you’ve spent all your time writing that first book. Now you have to spend just as much time marketing it if you ever hope to see your second book published. Trust me on this one – I’m speaking from experience.
[DISCLAIMER: What I’m about to say next is a generalization about the industry and does not hold true for each and every publisher. My publisher, Shadowfire Press, understands that it takes several years and several books for an author to come into his/her own, and is very nurturing in that process. However, I know of other publishers that I will not name that see their authors as resources to be exploited for their own gain. That is why, as I stressed in a previous blog, an author must be careful about who he/she contracts with and not feel as though they must take the first offer that comes along.]
All the authors, publishers, and literary agents I’ve talked to stress that publishing is an industry. As in any industry, if you can’t turn a profit for the company, the company will let you go and find someone who can make them money. Publishers spend a certain amount to get your book into print in the anticipation that it will be popular and turn a profit. The industry closely tracks book sales, and that information is readily available. So if the book doesn’t sell well, for whatever reason, and if it the publisher is not able to at least break even, then good luck getting them or anyone else to take a chance on your second book. (The good news is the rise of e-publishing. Since the initial outlay to publish an e-book is so much less since the company does not have to worry about printing and shipping costs, the chances of your book turning a profit are much greater. Conversely, your royalty on an e-book should be greater than with a hardcover or paperback.)
Compounding the problem is the vast number of books on the market today. Gone are the days when a publishing house had a small but reliable cache of authors and would devote its time and resources to making them successful. Today, most publishers dedicate their limited public relations budget to those books or authors they deem most marketable, letting the rest of us fend for ourselves. Even those publishing houses that look after their authors include clauses in their contracts that require the author to take upon themselves much of the responsibility for marketing the book. It’s a fact of life of the publishing industry today.
Years ago the author’s mantra used to be “Write or Die.” Today it’s “Market or Die.”
The good news is, marketing yourself and your book is neither costly nor difficult, only time consuming.
Since you have a product to sell, you need a place to sell it. So let’s begin by setting up a website and a blog. Keep it simple. The goal is to provide a forum to discuss your writing and what you’ve written, so everything that goes on it should be geared to that end. My blog layout contains the basics: a photo and brief bio of myself, links to my web presence and where to purchase my books, links to other websites I frequent, and banners to vampire-related websites that have also provided links to my blog. Check out several blogs and websites for authors you like to see what they have done, then create your own. If the idea of creating one intimidates you, don’t let it. There are several sites out there that allow the technologically-impaired to easily set up and manage a blog or homepage. Once you spend the time to create your blog and homepage, keep up with them. Try to post at least three days a week. If a potential fan clicks on your site and sees that it hasn’t been updated since the Red Sox won the last World Series, they won’t bother following you. It takes half a day at most to set one up and only a few hours a week to maintain it. (And before anyone who has visited my website comments, I admit I’m horrible when it comes to updating my webpage, but I hope to do better, especially now that I chastised you for not doing so.)
Keep the content interesting. Post updates about your writing, when you sign a contract or get published, any conventions or book signings you’re attending, etc. And be sure to vary the content. If your blog is only about you and your writing, you’ll bore readers. Include postings that are fun or informative. I post the weekly Sunday Bunnies and news about upcoming genre-related books, movies, or TV shows. Just try to avoid content that will be controversial or divisive (like politics and religion). If you give your honest opinion of a President or other leading political figure, don’t be surprised if you alienate half your readers.
NEXT BLOG: Marketing Your Book and Yourself, Part II
[This blog was originally posted on Dawn's Reading Nook (here) on 22 May 2010.]