In the last week or so, an essay from The New Yorker has made the rounds of various writers’ lists. Entitled Subject: Our Marketing Plan by Ellis Weiner, it is meant to be humorous, and indeed, there is a lot to laugh about in the body of the “Letter”, written from the last of the promotion department (a new intern) to one of several writers on the publishing house’s current promo list. The intern assures the writer that she has some excellent ideas for promotion, and then asks the writer: “Do you blog?”
From this point, the cascade begins, because if you don’t, someone in the house can get you set up (if they haven’t been laid off) and that programmer will set you up at a blog spot via some other hosting thingie, and there’s also streaming into major networking spots and address swappers. Registration length should be “endless” and “under ‘contacts’ just list everyone you’ve ever met.” This paragraph ends with the immortal: “It would be great if you could post at least six hundred words every day until further notice.”
At this point, the earnest writer, trying to sift wheat from chaff, straightens in her chair and says: “Wait a minute.”
Those of you who have joined even one of these groups can see the writing on the wall. Because they get out of hand quickly – you go from people you interact with often to an expanding group of people you know both in and out of town, through extended family members, nieces and nephews, and finally people who went to your high school.
If you want the site for promotion of creative work, you’re also going to have a bunch of total strangers joining your page or blog or text box or whatever the latest flavor of the week is. You’ll need to sift out real fans from people trying to sell your friends and fans weird items and services, including drugs and sex. There will be people trying to monopolize your blog, up to and including becoming vicious just to get attention and disrupt everything (see “troll”). If you’re really unlucky, one or two will become stalkers, trashing your name and works all over the Internet and attending conventions just to shout rudely during panels and readings.
Now, if we use the rule of thumb that the average constructed manuscript page is 250 words, we’re talking 16.8 pages of manuscript per week that is going out over the Internet. Only we’re not sending manuscript, we’re writing about what happened at the store today, interrupting the dialogue you were writing in your head, or posting a picture of the latest lily blooming, or a feral cat stalking your self-propelled lawn sprinkler. You’re expected to keep this up around your 40 hour a week job, your family and SO, your friends, volunteer work, social activities and – oh, yes – the novel or short story you’re supposed to be working on this week.
If you’re lucky, and/or the publisher can get you hooked up in series, your info can be posted in one place and roll downhill to other sites. And of course are you answering any questions or comments received? Then the article goes on to ask for NYT bestselling authors to review your book (you’ll need to sniff them out, contact them and convince them to carve out time in their schedule for your work) and for you to contact Good Morning America and The Daily Show to get booked for appearances. Be sure to keep the office in the loop about what you’ve scheduled!
Back in the dark ages, author self-promotion mostly began because unless you were already an award-winning author, your publisher was unlikely to spend any money at all on book promotion. I remember, back before cheap color duplicating, begging the editors to add an extra hundred or so to the order of the cover flats used by the sales department to be able to send to bookstores and independent book distributors. I remember thanking the sales departments for their efforts on my books (even if I wasn’t sure they did anything at all.)
I remember the catch-22 of trying to set up autographings for myself and Elizabeth Moon, when Kindred Rites and Remnant Population came out, and we could not get called back by larger bookstores to save our lives. We ended up signing with the bookstores that had supported us from the beginning (small genre bookstores and Waldenbooks at the malls) which was fine and wonderful, but did not expand anything at all for us. I especially remember that Barnes & Noble had instructed their bookstores to deal only with the PR people in NYC when setting up book signings. HarperCollins (my then publisher) insisted that this be done for every book they had – including genre (SF, fantasy and horror at HarperPrism).
But when you called NYC, no one called you back. The HarperCollins PR department did not want to bother with any SF/Fantasy writers other than Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, both who were probably happy to have NYC deal with the business, and who also didn’t need the autographings. When you pointed out that this new ruling meant that no B&N could book you without courting major grief, the PR folk had no way to give you a waver. You had to try and convince the general manager at your local B&N to ignore NYC publishers and their own main office. Fortunately, the bookstore managers were desperate for activities and many cheerfully ignored NYC and scheduled anyone they thought might draw a gathering.
If you’re getting confused, you’re not alone. Check out the article. I bring this up not only because of the increasing difficulty of a book/author being noticed on the Internet, much less anywhere else, but because of a disturbing trend I noticed last week.
A good friend of mine reads everything in fantasy, SF and horror YA that comes out – like everything – and 90% of the adult novels in the same genres. She will buy in hardback if she really likes the writer. A big Sharon Shinn fan, she spent over a week trying to buy Shinn’s newest hardcover adult novel. She went to the local Borders, the local Barnes & Nobles, the huge indy, Book People – and not one of them had the book. They had not ever had the book, nor did they intend to get the book. This is a book from an award-winning, popular writer currently always out first in hardcover. All the stores offered to order the book for my friend, but as she pointed out, she could order and get free shipping from Amazon. She was trying to buy locally.
Somehow in my head, this episode of thwarted book-buying and a humorous article that made me wince dovetailed into: “How can we ever get our works to our fans and potential fans? Where will the extra ten hours a day to promote ourselves come from?”
I see three things that immediately pop into my head. Writers banding together to share the monstrous work connected to the maw known as the Internet (i.e. Book View Café). Fans spreading the word on anything they like – the latest from a favorite writer, a new book they heard about from a friend, a new series they found used and just bought the second book new in a desperate attempt to get a third book in that series even published. And the third possibility – deeply focused one-shots, whether remodeling the old web site, or choosing a group of conventions to make a push at, or scheduling an autographing tour – one thing (ONE!) you can carve out of your schedule in an attempt to help the book that just got tossed out into the revolving door of modern publishing, while starting to write the next work and still having a Life somewhere else.
Other ideas? Because when Sharon Shinn can’t get into the bookstore, it makes me a tad nervous about my own WIP/works in progress.
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel is currently working on a new Alfreda book, an adult fantasy mystery series, a YA/manga, and a few other things as well. You can find her latest work at Yard Dog Press. Her bookshelf is here – and with luck will contain several novels before the end of the year. She plans to blog at BVC Fridays until she runs out of topics.