In this golden age of publishing, authors need to throw off the cloak of invisible writing. Many people still have a hard time promoting their work. They consider it beneath them, an alien task, the bailiwick of braggarts and con men.
They often dismiss the book reviews of writers who self-promote their work, suggesting that the evaluation is bought, or comes from friends, or is the result of swaps with fellow authors.
They sometimes view the success of Indie writers who do succeed with disparagement. They say: “I don’t think The Martian is a very good book” even though it originally sold for 99¢ on Amazon because its struggling Indie author wanted a chance to “make it as a writer.” And he did. It’s a very good, well-crafted story, on the page and the screen as well as in developing literary folklore. It does not matter if you don’t like the book. It sold a heck of a lot more copies than yours. Study the lesson.
Of course, the possibility of sour grapes does not fully explain writers who refuse to promote their work. Some of them genuinely believe in their unrecognized genius. They believe that the world will beat a path to their better book. They do not have to promote. They are that good. Consider one writer I met in the ebb and flow of cyberspace.
He has written three novels.
If you judge him by the supposedly sage and carefully-measured advice he constantly offers to others, you would assume he is a literary star, a giant among Indie hopefuls. And yet, as of this writing, two of his books have never been reviewed by anybody. His third book garnered a 2-star and a 3-star rating, considered quite poor in the Amazon 5-star scheme of things. His Amazon “Paid in Kindle Store” rankings put him near the bottom of the sales heap, literally millions and millions of places behind the Top 100 books.
It seems safe to assume that this person’s genius will remain unrecognized. But not his voice. He will continue to berate and ridicule other authors who question his invisible talents, even when they do it in private messages to protect the miscreant from public humiliation.
In the Bad Old Days of Publishing, you had to write a good book before you got published. Nowadays, all you have to do is tickle a keyboard.
I have heard but not been able to verify that the average Indie book on Amazon sells less than ten copies in its lifetime. I believe that number comes close to the truth. I have seen far too many books with bad grammar, poor punctuation, horrible formatting, constant misspellings, and non-existent storylines. The author’s mother might refuse to buy it.
But I have also seen beautifully-written, properly-punctuated, well-formatted, correctly-spelled novels and memoirs that remain buried at the bottom of today’s growing heap of literature. This is the part of “Invisible Writing” that disturbs me the most. The other stuff gets what it deserves. Why doesn’t good work do the same?
I know a writer who has written a masterful science fiction novel. It is over 550 pages long. It is not a perfect book. But it is very good. And completely invisible. In the world where Number One is the best possible outcome, his book ranks down around three and a half million. Why does this happen?
This writer and others like him have a hard time promoting their work. They consider it beneath them, an alien task, the bailiwick of braggarts and con men. Or perhaps he thinks the “humility” of not promoting gathers faithful readers rather than dust.
Authors need to appreciate the success of what I call “the back matter brigade.” Bear with me on this, because many accomplished writers do not admire these people — they consider them merchants selling swirling pans to gold diggers searching for imagined nuggets.
The Back Matter Brigade consists of writers who make a lot of money, often six digits a year, because they promote everything and anything that passes through their fingertips. They write How To books bought by writer wannabees. They tell you how to sell on Facebook, build mailing lists, write blogs, create a buzz in Twitter, capture readers on Pinterest, and sell books to libraries. Their information might work. It might not. But they sell a bundle of books. They sell seminars. They sell cyberspace consultations. They promote each other. They sell, and sell, and sell.
Some Back Matter authors also write successful works of fiction. They are real writers. But they’re not able or willing to live on those proceeds.
Why do they succeed? Because they have no qualms about beating their drums. Nor did any of the great writers or artists you can think of although many of them had spokespeople pound the drums for them. I’m talking about people like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mailer, and Michener.
Most indie authors can’t afford PR consultants. Most will never sit in a professional editor’s office at a famous publishing house. Most can’t find writers’ agents until they get good enough not to need one.
The point of all this is to lose any disdainful attitude you might have towards promotion. Embrace it. Shout “I am an author” from the highest mountain you can climb. Just make sure you have the equipment to climb it, which includes talent, grammar, punctuation, formatting, spelling, proofreading, editing, and a bunch of honest, favorable reviews.
Plus one more thing: the willful ability to sell.