If an unknown writer is able to get his book published by any means possible, he is still left with the toughest job of all—selling his book. Not complaining, just conundrums I have noticed.
In virtually all the stories and books about marketing I have read, all the seminars I have attended, all the people I have asked, this same advice is repeated:
Write a good book. Who knew? Well, let me just throw out this terrible manuscript and write a good one. Why didn’t you say so first? But doesn’t every author think his manuscript is good? Otherwise, why would he write it?
Do a lot of social media. Know how many sites there are to promote books in cyberspace in addition to FB, Twitter, Goodreads, etc? Neither do it, but there are many. How do we select or do we try to use all? Reminds me of the days when clients wanted me to pick stocks. Which industry or segment, big or small, foreign or domestic, etc?
The most important question about internet and social media marketing—does it work? Answer: A small fraction of the time. And I don’t accept a few lucky break-outs, flukes, momentary jumps in sales or sales by authors who are already well-known as evidence. I want empirical evidence. Yes, there are many authors who put in hundreds of hours and make it work, and a few that put in a fraction of that and go “viral”, but is that time a good investment when one considers the odds?
Before social media, 95% of the money in writing was made by 5% of the authors. After social media, it remains about the same. And working social media takes a tremendous amount of time—time I would rather use writing. And yes, I have colleagues who seem able to do both. I don’t seem to be able to.
Build a platform. I built a platform in the business world by being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time at the birth of a new age in the financial services industry.That led to four books and many presentations and seminars. Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. I try to apply those same principles to building my platform as a novelist. But how does one build a platform as a novelist? The answer seems to be—sell a lot of novels. The cart before the horse.
Get a good agent. When I meet an agent, I ask how they signed their best-selling authors. Invariably, they tell about authors who broke all the standard advice for soliciting agents. So why do they keep giving advice they seldom follow?
When I ask successful authors how they found their agents, in almost every case, they found them by a fluke or more often, through a recommendation from a better-known author.
One prominent sage gave this advice to writers of fiction in a blog post:
“Find a way to make your novel relevant by writing about issues readers care about or current hot topics.” My questions for her:
What are the issues readers care about in fiction? Today, they seem to be vampires, zombies, and Mommy Porn.
It usually takes two years to complete a book and publish it. How do writers know what will be the hot topics in two years?
What is an example of relevant fiction?
She didn’t answer.
Why write when faced with such conundrums? I write so that I can make the best use of the time I have left and possibly add value to my readers’ lives.
And I will never give up reading articles and books or listening to good speakers who try to reveal the answers. But I am pretty much resigned to the fact that nobody has come up with a good plan for selling fiction—yet .
Some of you may be wondering if I’m stuck on stupid. Why not write “relevant” fiction that has blockbuster potential? Yes, I have asked myself that question. The answer is I only enjoy writing the type of book I like to read and I write for my small reader base. I write because I enjoy it and I wouldn’t enjoy writing about vampires.
I used to say that I write about how ordinary people react to extraordinary events. But I have learned that’s not quite accurate. I mostly write more about how ordinary people react to ordinary problems and events. I may be naïve, but I think a lot of readers will be both entertained and informed by how my characters handle situations they may have experienced themselves. Because I write based on real events, solutions are real, too.
I may hit on that fluke yet, the elusive spark that ignites a fire. But I’m not gonna rely on it. I’ll keep writing for the folks who read my stuff. I am grateful for you.
Wait. I think the solution just came to me. Find a celebrity, a movie star, a TV host, even a famous author who will put his name in big letters as the co-author of a book I have written. My name would be in tiny letters under his. People do that a lot. If only I knew such a person.