Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Writer, Promote Thyself

or, Lessons from the Little Red Hen

I regularly speak to and work with writers who are actively working on developing their craft. Yet these writers often harbor the misconception that once they have perfected their writing, it will sell itself. They sigh longingly of being on "Oprah" and hitting the bestseller lists. They talk about holding book signings. And they think that the publisher is going to make this happen for them.

When working with newer writers, I tell them to spend as much time studying marketing as they do working on their writing. Many many books on the bestseller lists in recent years have gotten there more on the merits of a marketing campaign than on the beauty of their prose.

The realities of the publishing world, combined with the current climate in the spheres of technology, economics, and entertainment, have created a Perfect Storm of Doldrums ("a state of inactivity") when it comes to a publisher's plans to market a new author's work.

So, what's a novice to do?

Take the advice of that great literary figure -- the mother of inspiration -- the Little Red Hen. Do it yourself.

It behooves every writer to remember the Writer's Golden Rule: No One is More Interested in My Work's Success Than I Am. A new author who expects the publisher to put the entire marketing department to work on his or her book is riding a bullet train to disappointment.

When you consider that over 560,000 (HALF A MILLION, folks!) books were published in the U.S. in 2008, the competitiveness of the marketplace and the need for writers to take responsibility for promoting themselves become clear.

Consider Kelly Corrigan, the recent subject of a Washington Post article on book promotion for novice writers. She didn't see sales of her book take off until she spent some of her own money (smart authors know that's what the advance is for) and created her own media campaign for it. It was her story. She believed in it. And she took it upon herself to find ways to let people know that it existed.

The interesting thing about Corrigan's success story isn't that her book sat on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks. (Ok, truth be told -- that is a rather interesting part of her story...) What makes her experience selling her book so noteworthy is that she spent a modest amount of money and did it all herself. It didn't take getting on Oprah, or a coast-to-coast book tour, or a major billboard or print ad campaign. She used the means at her disposal and found ways to get the word out.

Now, I'm pretty well known for giving my little pep talks -- for telling authors that they can do it, that their work and their dreams have merit. This is true, when it comes to following your muse and working on your writing craft.

When it comes to marketing your work, however, I have to change my tune a bit. It's not so much that you CAN do it... You MUST do it. You must find a way to champion your book. Be creative. Study marketing. Study trends. Analyze what makes you buy a book and then apply it to your own project.

So, go on... Get out there... Write! Create! Indulge the Muse with wild, wanton abandon. And then be ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. You owe it to your readers to crow a little about what you've done for them.


Jacob R Parker said...

Hi there,

According to your "About Me" page you're a Narnia fan! That's awesome because, on my blog, I'm giving away three free copies of a new book that I think us Narnia fans are going to love. It's called Curse of the Spider King, by best-selling author Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. If you're interested, Click here to check it out!

-Jacob Parker

Ami Hendrickson said...

Hi, Jacob,
Thanks for the heads-up. And congratulations on the upcoming publication of your book! Good luck.