Years ago, well before I got the offer from Night Shade to publish my first trilogy, I’d heard about the promotion angle, namely that authors need to sell themselves once they’re published. Have a ready-made platform already? That’s great, but it’s only a starting point. And for those that don’t, you’re going to have to forge your own audience.
Trouble is, it’s one thing to hear you need to be ready to self-promote and another thing altogether to actually do it. Some people are really gifted at it. Or at least it seems that way from the outside. Look at Mary Robinette Kowal. She’s not merely a good writer, she’s an awesome self promoter with a ton of energy and talent. She’s always coming up with new ideas, trying new angles, keeping the ones that work and tossing the ones that don’t.
Look at Pat Rothfuss. Yes, he gained a platform with the runaway success of his first novel, but he’s a natural storyteller and a gifted blogger. His posts are, to varying degrees and at various times, witty, funny, insightful, and touching. It makes you want to support him that much more, to spread the word about his books. It makes you want to keep hanging around his blog and that can only keep his work fresh in your mind.
Look at Paul Genesse, an author and editor who is tireless, extremely personable, and always positive. It’s infectious. Just talk to him at a convention and you’ll see what I mean. His can-do attitude and bedside manner (Paul’s a cardiac nurse) leaks over not only into his friendships, but into his writing and promotional efforts as well. He takes his strengths and channels them to help spread the word about his writing.
Look at Myke Cole, another high-energy author who uses his background in the military and U.S. Coast Guard to his advantage, calling on his brothers and sisters at arms for a bit of a boost. And why not? His military-fantasy series that starts with Control Point is tailor made for the fantasy and military fiction fans in our armed forces. Myke is another tireless promoter that also bares his soul about the challenges facing an author who makes a leap of faith and dives into writing full-time as Myke did.
These four writers are promoting to their strengths. They’re taking what they’re good at and turning it into buzz and excitement for their writing, and it helps sales, no matter that their work has generated buzz of its own.
And that’s the first piece of advice I have: to look to your strengths. Use what your good at already, your experience in life. Leverage that in your promotional efforts. It can be as simple as blogging about those things that drove you to write your book. It can be part of a promotional campaign, using your background to share your areas of expertise, your interests, because believe me, if you’re passionate about what you’re writing about, your fans (and potential fans) will be too.
Another thing I would suggest is to look at promotion as an opportunity to learn. Promotion—being outgoing, doing interviews, talking about yourself, crafting marketing campaigns—is something you’ll get better at, but that implies that you’ll make mistakes along the way. Be ready for that. Embrace it. And by that I mean: get creative. Try things no one has tried before. Try things others have tried, but put your own spin on it. I’d never done a podcast before my first book came out. The only experience that was anywhere close was reading out loud, a thing I rather enjoyed, so when Greg Wilson asked me to start and run Speculate with him, I was nervous but I still jumped at the chance. I had no idea what I was doing at first, but I grew into it, and now I really enjoy the episodes, the interviews, the talks about writing that we do. It’s fun for me.
So look for the things you’d like to try your hand at. You never know what’ll happen. Worst case? You decide it’s not for you and you move on.
But there’s another aspect of self-promotion that we need to talk about. Just how much can you do? Well, the answer is different for everyone of course, but I think my rule boils down to this: do what you can and no more. Be satisfied with what you can put in, and if that’s not as much as the next writer, don’t worry about it. It’s not a competition. And remember this: you’ll never know just how well your promotional efforts are working. You’ll have some sense of it, to be sure, but it’s very, very difficult to gauge how they translate into sales.
So don’t kill yourself. Do what you can do. And if that boils down to no more than writing your next book, so be it. Allow that to be it, because as you’ve no doubt heard (and I believe this to be true) the single most effective piece of marketing you can do is to write the next book. Each book acts as a reminder to everyone that not only do you have a new book, but you have other books out as well. It’s a chance for reviewers, interviewers, and your fellow authors to touch on your backlist. And they will. So pour your soul into your next book, and if you happen to have time for more, then do so.
Before I close, there’s something glaring that’s missing from this post, isn’t there? Your personal life. Make no mistake, though: in all the ways that matter, this is the most important aspect of your life. Don’t neglect your family. Don’t neglect your friends. And don’t neglect yourself. Life isn’t all about writing. You have to life your life to be able to find those wells of writing.
So much of life is about balance. It’s going to take time to find the right equilibrium for you and your situation. Just be mindful of all three of these phases of your writing life, and make adjustments as time goes on.