Following my live blogging event, I rolled over to watch True Blood, which I had to catch on the TIVO. After last week's powerful episode, I was hoping for so much more from tonight. Instead, it felt like we were sitting on an elevator listening to the music, artificially ramping up the tension for the finale (which airs in two weeks by the way). I was a little disappointed, admittedly. I did love the conversation between Sookie and Lafayette about Eric, Eric's blood and their rather passionate dreams regarding the Viking. Yum. Yum. Jason and Andy acted like keystone cops with a lot of posturing and Sookie rushed headlong into trouble to save Tara from herself, sadly, it looks like Sookie and her happy hand of light may be the only thing that can push the Maneid back since Maryann has willed herself immortal. I'm still looking forward to the season finale, but I hated treading water tonight.
Oh and note to Bill -- sacrificing Sam to save the rest so you can kill Maryann is not going to go over with the girlfriend. I'm just saying.
One of the most basic rules associated with book publishing is that books are business. Yes, you as an author may be laboring with love for your characters. You may have passionate ups and downs with the writing, then find yourself having to court your characters to make up with them and coax them into the stories you have created. But when it comes down to submitting the manuscript to an agent, the first rule of thumb is not how much do you love your characters. It's not how much you sweated and worked for the story. It's not even whether the story is good.
The question is can the agent sell it? A lot of agents won't take on books they don't believe in. So you really have to make the agent believe in your work to get their attention. But just getting the agent is like pushing a grocery cart uphill with three wheels, one of which is rusty and getting ready to fall off. Once the agent believes in your work, they have to find a publishing house that's willing to believe in it. Then so forth and so on.
In the ebook world, you don't have to go the agent route. For some print submissions, you can bypass the agent too. You still have to get the squeaky cart up the hill to get it submitted and accepted. Now you've got a contract and woot, that feels good. You're going to be a published author. It's all gravy, right?
Selling Your Book
You've worked your way through writing. You've sweated your way through submitting. You've cried your way through the editing process. But now you have to sell your book again. That's right, you have to sell your book to the readers and their rejections don't come with form letters or words of encouragement. If they buy it, you get some money, if they don't, well you don't. Sales are the ultimately equalizer when it comes to understanding whether you're doing your job of selling your book.
Wait, you thought the selling was over when the agent agreed to represent you? Or when the publishing house said they wanted to put the book under contract? Sorry to disappoint, but even the big publishing houses have a limited budget for promotion. Unless you're a top tier, huge author with guaranteed blockbuster sales, you're the one who is out there schlepping your novel through:
- Social Networking
- Mailing List
- Guest Blogs or Blog Tours
- Author Appearances
- Book signings
As a first time author or even second time author, you do not have the luxury of name recognition. E-books, this is even more true, because you're an unknown quantity. So you do all this schlepping in an attempt to get noticed, to have people look at your book out of curiousity. Sure, they may pick it up randomly when scanning the bookshelves at the bookstore or at the new releases section, but you're only a new release for a small amount of time.
Personal Appearances and Name Recognition
Ebook authors have a harder time with appearances because they don't have a physical product to hold up and say, check it out. They are less likely to be invited to do readings at their local library or bookstores because the library can't stock the book and the bookstore can't sell it. The online book tours are fantastic, but you have to really work it and line up all your appearances with multiple sites, coordinating multiple dates and arranging for interviews, blogs and reviews which is a gargantuan effort for the individual unless you can afford to shell out the dough for someone to do it for you.
Now, promotion is a carrot, but here's the stick. You can spend a few hundred dollars on promotion - yourself - with no promotion budget from anyone else and get little to nothing in return. It's a gamble. It's a crapshoot. Particularly for new authors. Yet, you do it because people don't know your name yet. They don't go, ooo, Nora Roberts, must buy. Nora Roberts has name recognition, so does Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher and Kelley Armstrong and Kay Hooper and dozens of other authors out there. People go out to find their books because they are by them.
Some imprints are popular enough to sell the book without creating buzz about the name of the book or the author. But those imprints are series romances or published by a name that is a brand in its own right. For first time writers, the marketing aspect of your job can be daunting. In fact, after nearly six months of schlepping for Remembering Ashby, I've experienced the gamut of fun to frustrated.
The Value of Marketing
Great reviews from a wide variety of sites, industry magazines and even other authors that I really respect does not always translate into sales. Free giveaways interest people, but so does solid writing and believable characters. But the number of hoops you have to go through just to get your book into someone's hand and to get people to buy them much less read them can be so overwhelming as to not be worth it.
What was that? Are you suprised to see me say, not worth it? I'm not the best marketer on the planet. I've been learning. I've been working it. I've paid my dues, but do I see a return with my book sales? Honestly, not this time around. But that's okay, because I've learned so much from this experience that I am going to pay it forward to the next book and the book after that and the book after that.
My muse strangles under the marketing, so I have to strike an even balance between the two. I have a marketing budget that's next to nothing because I have to feed my family and pay my bills. So what is an author to do?
They keep doing it. They don't do it for the fame. They don't do it for the fortune. They do it because they can't not do it. They have to write, they have to tell their stories and then they have to talk about their stories so they can sell their stories. It's an ongoing process that gets a little easier each time.
Buying Me for Me
No one knew who Heather Long was when Remembering Ashby came out. Chances are, only a handful of people know who I am right now. But a few more will know when Prime Evil comes out and a few more after that. Someday, someone will pull up an ebook shop or go into a bookstore and they will see Heather Long on a book and go, 'Hey, I know that name. Don't I?" And they're going to pick up the book and they're going to check it out.
It doesn't mean they will buy it, but that's the next step, right? Marketing isn't for everyone and it can certainly be a headache, but it's in the contract of blood, sweat and tears for our art. So tell me, what have you sold lately? How much time a week do you spend on marketing yourself and your work?