I’ve spent the last ten years or so quietly writing. First I wrote a mystery novel, then I got an agent, then the mystery novel didn’t sell. Then I felt insecure and didn’t write for a long while. Then I wrote another novel, this time a work of general fiction. You know, the kind that is even harder to sell. I queried some agents and then I tucked that novel away. (I really can’t stand rejection.) Then Janis and I started writing this blog. That’s been fun – and it’s published every time we push the button!
Last year I wrote the sequel to the first mystery novel and recently entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Turns out I made the first cut—nice, but nothing to get too excited about. Then I made it to the quarter finals! Here’s where the going public first started.
Amazon published the description of the book (the pitch) and also the first chapter so “customers” can download it for free and write a review if they’re so inclined. Find it here: I figured that having friends review the excerpt might mean that I’d have a better chance of making it to the semi-finals. So I posted it on Facebook. Here’s where things started to get kind of scary. I mean, friends were actually going to see what I’ve been up to all these years! What if they hate it? What if they hate it because it’s really terrible? It reminds me of this graphic that someone posted on my Facebook wall a while back: Which reminds me that I’m not the only insecure writer out there.
So, then things got kind of fun. The second review posted was from a friend whom I’d not seen in a while and her review showed up unexpectedly. Then more reviews showed up from other friends who I didn’t expect to be interested either in my novel or in writing a review about it. You know, that takes time – you gotta give it some thought, write something down and then press some buttons. But people I didn’t ask to do it actually did! Then I ran into someone from my long-time book group which I haven’t attended in many months (feel guilty about that). She was with someone I didn’t know and she introduced me like this, “This is my friend, Rachel, she’s almost a famous author!” Now that felt awkward. Was she making fun of me? She said she’d figured out how to download the excerpt on her I-Pad and was looking forward to reading it. Of course, I’ve been checking the Amazon reviews and haven’t seen one from her. She must have hated it! See how insidious this can be?
Okay, now the second part about going public. My first mystery novel, Leap of Faith, the one I wrote a few years ago is about to be published by a new, independent, local mystery publisher! Hurray! (I’ll write about that here as soon as it’s launched!) As part of that process, I’ve been hooked up with a marketing person. She’s great and enthusiastic and all that stuff a good marketing person should be. She tells me all the things I need to do to get my novel out there – things like getting an author website up and running, getting up to speed on lots of social media sites, joining groups of writers, going to conferences, writing more blog posts, developing a “brand.” Wow, that’s different for someone who likes spending lots of time alone in her room making stuff up. And it gets to the question that writers have been asking for as long as they’ve been picking up a pen or tapping computer keys – why do we write? Do we write because we love to? Yes! Do we write because we think we have something worthwhile to say? Yes! Do we want other people to read our writing? Yes! Do we want to go out and sell our writing? No! Someone else should be doing that, right? Well, not any more.
I picked up this great book on marketing recently: Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies. It’s a collection of essays on marketing now – what authors need to do and how to do it. It’s put out by the mystery writer’s organization, Sisters in Crime. Here’s the introduction:
Everyone knows that the days of typing “The End” on the last page of a manuscript and then turning it over for the publisher to sell are over. Anyone who has a book published knows the author is expected to participate in promotion. But what kind of promotion? And how much time and money should a writer spend? What do the publishers expect? How can a writer promote herself without appearing overbearing or unprofessional?
That last question seems especially important to me. I know I can do the things I need to do to get my book out there, but how do I do it without becoming an annoying self-promoter who my friends start to avoid? Time will tell. I will do my best. I will take the advice of the marketing professional I’m working with now and the advice of a writer I especially admire.
Ann Patchett, in her essay, My Life in Sales, discusses book tours. Her experiences are funny and painful and sometimes moving. She says she has a niggling belief that there is something inherently wrong about the basic premise of authors selling their own books: “Most people who are capable of sitting alone day after day, year after year, typing into the void are probably constitutionally ill-suited to work a room like a politician . . .” Yes! But she also says that what matters about book tours is “being friendly . . . so that the girl at the cash register, and maybe even the store manager, would like you, and in liking you would read your book once you had gone, and by reading your book would see how good it was and then work to hand-sell it to people for months or even years to come.” Of course, I don’t plan on going on a major book tour with my locally published mystery novel. But I will go into bookstores around Seattle, and I will remember what Ann Patchett has to say.