This is indeed a great time to be an author. No longer must manuscripts disappear into the drawer, never to be heard from again, lacking only a publisher’s best guess. Now, no matter what people think of a book, it can be published and try and find its audience.
Everyone, in short, has a shot, and the more people with e-readers the easier it will be to put a book out there to try and reach them.
But it’s still important to remember and acknowledge: Not everyone has an equal shot.
The author backed by a publisher and with marketing and who has their book out there in large numbers is still going to have an advantage over an author who is unknown. The author out there with a blog or active in discussion Forums is going to have an advantage over the author who quietly uploads their book to Amazon. Like it or not, celebrities are going to continue to sell a lot of books.
And in fact, there is even some growing evidence to suggest that rather than level the playing field for everyone, the rise of e-books is leading to more polarized sales between the bestselling haves and microselling have-nots. Not less, more.
What does it mean? Well, aside from writing the best book possible, it pays to make your odds as good as possible. Self-published or traditionally published, it means trying to get your book out there to publicize and to make yourself known.
At the end of the day, the book is still the most important factor. All the marketing in the world can’t make a hit out of a book that the public doesn’t want, and hits can come out of nowhere will the tiniest of beginnings. It’s just that the odds are better for the book with the bigger initial boost.
I don’t know how productive it is to bemoan that authors are now expected to self-promote, whether they’re traditionally published or self-published. It isn’t good or bad that authors are now expected to do promote, it just is. It’s the time we’re living in. The days of being “just an author,” if they ever existed, are no more.
Everyone does have a shot, but the best shots go to the authors that are able to give their books a boost.
Well, I don't know, Nathan. This is a good article, I certainly agree that this is a great time to be an author (!!), and you may very well be right about promotion.
But I'm still on the fence about this whole thing. I keep coming back to the bottom line, which is that the Kindle came out less that four years ago. It's all so new. And what is happening now may not be happening a year from now. Things are changing quickly.
I think it's important not to take a narrow view. That was the problem, imho, with Mike Shastkin's article. It's looking at things under a microscope that should be looked at with a wide-view lens.
One thing I do think – which is that books have been traditionally hard to find. Wandering around a bookstore is a terrible way to find a book. I don't think we are used to thinking about how to deliver a book to a consumer that wants it.
I think that will change. Readers want to know about books. I know this because I am a reader, and I want to know about new and good books all the time.
I think that new ways to help me find those books will start popping up, which is good! I think we are just starting to see in what ways books will be matched with the right readers.
Hopefully, it will be easy ways, that will leave the writer with time to write! I hope so, anyway.
But I tend to be very optimistic about this whole thing. I think all the problems will get worked out over time.
But that's me.
Thanks, Nathan, really interesting discussion!
When did an author NOT have to promote him- or herself? Most of us just don't have an agent to help out with that job, but we do it constantly. This will make no difference.
This is a very relevant blogpost and I'd love to be able to share it on my podcast BlogsAloud. I'd like to get permission to use it on my episode Friday.
Dana Stabenow says
"Just being an author" never did exist. The first thing my first publisher did was send me a multi-page form to fill out, stating specifically what I would do to promote the book under contract. Then, it included bookstore signings, library appearances, touring, attending cons.
Now they want to know if you have a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account. The difference? The latter you can do sitting at home in your jammies. I'll take the now.
Sheila Cull says
I know you've done entire previous blogs on this topic but can/will you list in a one or two line sentence what authors need to do for self promotion?
Also, I've been in SAG commercials and have a great public speaking resume. How could this translate into self promotion since I've yet to sell my essay collection. Although, I've been published in many magazines. Do I pick up the phone and call, places, that may want speakers? Who would look for a speaker?
Last question, tweeting over blogging, blogging over tweeting, the same? Do both?
wry wryter says
For me this is a very timely post Nathan.
I was just notified by an agent that he would have taken on my book but I’m not famous enough. (Could be form-letter BS but I don’t think so.)
I get it.
I DO NOT have a problem promoting. That anyone would find self-promotion beneath them is either from another planet or so well known seeking privacy is part of the package.
As an unknown we can’t all be Susan Boyle. Whatever happened to her anyway.
Ms. Trite says:
If you are an ‘am not yet’ and you want to be an 'I am now’
Remember that unless you are an ‘always will be’
You’ll be a ‘once was’ which is better than a ‘never heard of’
Jenni Holbrook-Talty says
Being successful, whether traditionally published or self-published is pretty much based on the same things. Quality product, good solid promotion, strong platform, consistency, persistence, hard work and a fair amount of luck.
Christina Katz says
I think this is a very wise post, Nathan. You've balanced the hype with long-term publishing wisdom. If aspiring authors could always take a long-term approach instead of looking for short-cuts, I think they would always be surprised by how successful they would become in the long run. At the end of the day, everything in publishing works exactly the same way life works: sow seeds, tend the garden, harvest later. The harvest is worth waiting for when you don't take short cuts.
Eric DelaBarre says
I agree, but when Snookie and The Rock are called NY Times Best Selling "Authors" I just wanna hurl!
Emily St. John Mandel says
Good post. I do have fleeting moments where I wish I could be "just an author", as I think we all do; those moments coincide with the times where I'm deep in a project and really just want to spend all my time writing. But I have to say, for the most part I've found the process of promoting my books surprisingly rewarding.
When I sold my first novel I was frankly dreading having to go sell myself on Twitter and Facebook, but it turns out that the key to self-promotion is, paradoxically, not talking about your books too much. Going online and engaging in conversation with readers and other writers never feels like work to me.
David Jarrett says
We indeed seem to have reached the point at which promotion outweighs quality. That is probably the reason why I, as a lifetime avid reader, am not reading as much anymore. It is becoming harder and harder for me to find a book that interests me enough to spend my time reading it.
I find the idea of accepting, rather than railing against this trend, more than a little repulsive. It is akin to giving in and giving up to a concept that has little real merit. It may not be "productive" to bemoan it, but that depends on what one's definition of "productive" is. If making money from writing satisfies the definition, you are probably right; if being true to yourself and your values is the important thing, you're probably not. When the importance of the packaging exceeds that of the product, the end result is not good.
Sasha Barin says
David, I personally agree with you, and it is a little sad – but only looking at it personally.
-We can't really judge "quality" for others – only for ourselves
-Thus, the best thing we can do is write the book of the highest "quality" (as we perceive it), and then promote it the best we can, hopefully to find readers who match us in the definition of "quality"
February Grace says
I just want to write the book I want to write- let it stand or fall on its own because if there's one thing that's subjective it's entertainment.
There are huge franchises that I've never read or seen a movie of. There are others I'll love till the day they pry my R2D2 action figure from my cold, dead hand. Or my tricorder (same thing. good thing I have two hands.) I can't make people like my book no matter how it's published. If anyone could figure out how to do that then they'd be very rich and everyone would love the same things.
I'm grateful the scene is changing. If I could put out the book that I want to write- and it resonates with a few people out there- that would be all I could ask for.
I think in the end that's what being a writer is about- being heard. How many people you need to be heard by to be happy will determine how much promotion you do or how long you're willing to keep knocking on agent's doors/try to get traditionally published. I also think that there are some folks who are unintentionally shooting themselves in the foot by giving the friends on FB/blog followers they do have marketing fatigue by overdoing it. It's a fine line between promoting and putting everyone to sleep starting every post with the name of your book.
This introvert is grateful for the e-publishing revolution, otherwise I might just stick with the Emily Dickinson route (my personally adopted current strategy of marketing myself) and let my relatives decide after I'm dead if anything in the trunk is worth putting out there.
Love the Wonderbar trailer, by the way! Good stuff, that. The floating corn dog is priceless.
Carolyn Abiad says
Well said! My WNBA group (books, not basketball) hosted a panel on social media, and reputation management was part of the discussion. My post today is a recap and it links back here.
I got a comment from a reader that stumped me: Is it true that we should be blogging with a real/pen name for best results? Yes?
Maybe I'm just green, but I still don't understand why authors bemoan their role in promotion. Yes, it takes an incredible amount of time and energy, energy you'd like to be putting into that next book everyone is waiting for. You know, the one you have to get out before people forget who you are. That said, it gives you the opportunity to be (somewhat) in control of how much exposure your book gets. Put in the time and hopefully get a return, but it's better than waiting for someone else to do it.
Just a thought from an unpub'd writer who is still thrilled to get rejections from agents because it means I'm out there doing everything I can…
I guess this is gonna be a lame question; 'cause everybody seems to get it but me!
What is the big deal about "a floating corndog"? I just got back from seeing the movie "Diary of a wimpy kid; Roderick Rules"….and when the character Greg said that line….the entire audience broke out laughing!
What is the hidden meaning of a floating corn dog????