Not A Formula For Success

May 12th, 2008 · 28 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Once there was an author who wrote a book. He (though he could have been she) sent the book to his editor who cried at the beauty of the words and published the book and the people bought this book and declared it a thing of wonder and the book was deemed an American Classic (because it was so good) and the author kept on writing books and publishing books and never bothered with anything so mundane as publicity because the author was a writer and writers write and marketing somehow happens magically and people just buy the author’s books.

And it totally works. For J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon. Sometimes publishers try to relive the Salinger/Pynchon magic (that whole John Twelve Hawks disaster comes to mind), but, well, it’s not wise to view outliers as models for success. Or maybe you can view them that way, but don’t go putting your career on the line with the Salinger model. I mean, even Thomas Pynchon appeared on The Simpsons.

In publishing, there are two divergent-yet-complementary forces: publishers and authors (there are other forces, but we don’t have all day). Publishers are book focused; authors are author focused, with occasional flashes of book focus. The former functions in the now; the latter works on a more wholistic level (yes, I know, but I prefer this spelling in this context). Publishers buttress careers, authors have careers.

I am baffled and amazed by authors who do not see marketing as part of their jobs. First off, is there really a job description for authors? If so, please forward to me as I have a few holes in my resume and I’m too lazy to do the work myself. Second, what planet are you living on? Very, very few authors have the luxury of not engaging in marketing. And even they have to do talk show appearances or “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”.

While, sure, there are some readers out there eagerly awaiting your next book — and congratulations for that! — the truth of the matter is that people, real people, are busy. Your publisher is juggling hundreds, maybe thousands of authors. Understandably, said publisher isn’t actively engaged in promoting you all the time (though publishers like HarperCollins and Harlequin are building tools to help you help yourself). Also, shocking as it sounds, some authors write for more than one house.

How is a poor reader supposed to keep up?

All roles in entertainment media are changing, and authors, particularly, need to switch from a book-oriented focus to a career-oriented focus. This involves little things like updating your website between books (please, please, please don’t have two-year old content on your home page!). Blogging, if you’re so inclined. Writing articles that are read by your existing and future fan base. Using social media for good (as opposed to evil). Keeping your name in the game even when you’re not actively selling something, except your backlist.

This is the author as a business, as opposed to the writer as a creative being. Note the distinction. You’re wearing two hats. One might fit uncomfortably until you realize that marketing is your job. Marketing might be a distraction for a writer, but it’s essential if you’re an author.

More, later. You’ve been warned.

File Under: Marketing For Introverts · Perennials

28 responses so far ↓

  • Morgan le Fay // May 12, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    John Twelve Hawks is a “disaster?” Right now, his second book — in paperback –is 983 on Amazon.uk (I’d gladly accept that # for my own novel)

    I don’t disagree with your essay — you’re correct. But most publishing (including my own imprint) is trapped in traditional ways of marketing. It is the authors that have the new ideas, but marketing says “no.”

  • Kassia Krozser // May 12, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    I would say that, from a marketing perspective, the “mystery” created by Doubleday (I think that’s right) was fraught with disaster. Even if the story were to be true, the way it was presented (author, off the grid, etc) was greeted more with skepticism than interest. It felt like someone was trying to create a story that would entice, particularly, online media, but failed to do that.

    Authors like Salinger, Pynchon, and Harper Lee built their reputations the old fashioned way: they merely removed themselves from the public eye. And it worked for them — creating a recluse as a publicity stunt isn’t viable in this modern world (another publisher tried this with another author — the truth was revealed, rather embarrassingly, within hours).

    While the author’s books might sell respectably, I’m not sure the effort put into building this story paid off in sales. It certainly didn’t build the buzz an author needs…and the “off the grid” approach means this author is tied to his (or her) publisher when it comes to promotion.

  • Booksquare says it’s your job to market yourself… and it is « Electric Alphabet // May 12, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    [...] 13 May, 2008 in Author promotion, Authors, General, Social media Tags: Author promotion, Authors, books, Kate Eltham, marketing, Publishing I’ve had lots of conversations recently with emerging authors about promotion and marketing and how important it is to start building your platform within your communities of interest. Kassia Krozser over at  Booksquare says it much more eloquently than I could. [...]

  • Diana Hunter // May 12, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    I will admit, when I sold my first book I thought I was home-free. What did I know about the business of writing? I knew I had to write a book and get a publisher to buy it and then I was done.
    Ha! Learned real fast that ain’t true with a small publisher and have since learned it’s not very true with a large one either.

    I think some of my misconception comes from watching too many movies where the author became famous overnight…isn’t that always the way it happens in real life, too? No? Drat.

    Good post. And one all authors of all genre need to read!

  • Kassia Krozser // May 12, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    No, no, no, Diana, life is just like the movies, complete with Vaselined lenses and extreme long shots that hide those nasty little lines. Also, movies, naturally, shortcut the pain and torture that comes before one becomes a bestselling author. There’s conflict and then there’s conflict.

    Truly, reality is so much worse and so much better. But I think it’s even more true that, as you’ve discovered, the role of author in the marketing process has expanded (I believe that authors have always been, in some way, largely responsible for marketing themselves). Being an optimist, I see this as great opportunity (own your career, own your mailing list, own your fans).

  • Jim Murdoch // May 13, 2008 at 3:08 am

    A good “wake up call” of an article. Just one thought, you mentioned Harper Collins and by that I’m assuming you mean their new site Authonomy where you can post your books and/or works-in-progress along with a minimum of 10,000 words so readers can get a decent taste of what you’re about. It sounds like a good idea and I know it’s only in beta at the moment but it looks a lot like a few other sites that are out there like Nothing Binding, Author Nation, Red Room and Author’s Den and there are others. My only gripe with well-intentioned sites like this is that while they are watering holes for writers who all are looking to sell I’m not so sure that these sites get visited very often by people wanting to read and being willing to part with hard cash for the privilege. I know when I want to browse for books I go to Amazon and follow people’s lists. That said I think Goodreads is a better site because it is reader-centric. Authors can display their books there and promote them but it’s the readers that are in charge.

  • Diana Hunter // May 13, 2008 at 5:57 am

    LOL! That’s right, Kassia…I forgot. All books spring from the mind of the author fully formed and with complete, grammatically correct sentences that simply flow from the author’s pen (because, of course, they all still use pen and paper…or at the most, the typewriter).

    The hardest part about marketing oneself as an author, for me, has been finding the balance of time. Unfortunately, I also don’t fit the Hollywood stereotype of a romance writer (feather boas and bonbons aren’t my style anyway)…I don’t sit home and think sexy thoughts…I have a day job and write in the hours I can steal after that. Promotion comes from those same hours. And then there’s that pesky family that likes to see me every once in a while…

    Yeah, finding the balance so I’m not using precious writing time doing promotion…that’s the hard part for me.

  • eNotes Book Blog » Blog Archive » Well, I’m Never Reading Thomas Mann… // May 13, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    [...] are a couple of similar articles- Paper Cuts talks about books that help you write books, and Booksquare talks about selling that book you wrote thanks to the book you read about writing [...]

  • Kassia Krozser // May 13, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    Jim — I was referring to the HC Author Pages (which are really cool). Authonomy is still one of those kinda-maybe things in my mind…for the reasons you’ve outlined.

    Diana — Time? Yes. I think the hardest part of doing all of this is realizing that, well, doing all of this is part of the job. Finding the perfect balance is hard, but I know it’s out there. I’m big on the schedule thing — I had to cut back on my writing here to accommodate other things. It’s not a perfect balance that I’ve managed, but I have managed to schedule personal/writing/promotional work. Oh, and the paying job as well. Darn need to eat!

    Now I’m not suggesting that the family has to go…

  • kate r // May 14, 2008 at 10:11 am

    BUT …but… what if the author has rotten book-signing presence, can’t write blurbs or advertising to save her life.

    Not naming names or anything.

    Oh, never mind, I figured this out on my own: she should just hire a pro. Anyone know any good marketing professionals who don’t charge a whole lot?

  • Kate Douglas // May 14, 2008 at 10:21 am

    I started out in epublishing in 1999 when no one even know WHAT we were, much less that we were writing books you could “GULP” read on your COMPUTER? Marketing our format was as important as marketing our stories. When I made the leap to NY and print in 2006, I had a solid foundation in online marketing skills developed with the small press epubs that had been publishing my stories. I put marketing right up there with finishing the book–it’s important, especially in genre fiction where you have a limited audience–in my case, not everyone wants to read erotic paranormal romance, which means I have to work extra hard to find my niche market. Luckily, I enjoy the sort of contact with my readers that leads to viral marketing opportunities. The secret, in my mind, to successful online marketing is that you enjoy the chance to connect with readers–it’s obvious when you aren’t having fun with it. I’m currently preparing for a cross country “meet and greet” with members of my newsletter group, and can’t wait to put names and faces together. While I may only meet with a few dozen people, those encounters are an important step toward getting my name out.

  • Theodore P. Savas // May 14, 2008 at 10:46 am

    This post, in a nutshell, captures the benchmark we use to evaluate our authors before we offer a contract. What is s/he willing to do, how do they view themselves and our relationship, and so forth.

    The excuses we receive from prospective authors about why they can’t or won’t do this or that makes it much easier to toss their manuscript in the shredder and sign someone else who can climb over, dig through, or tunnel under that mountain ahead of every writer.

    Best Regards,

    tps
    Theodore P. Savas
    Savas Beatie LLC
    989 Governor Drive, Suite 102
    El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
    916.941.6896 (Voice)
    916-941.6895 (Fax)
    http://www.savasbeatie.com

    Join us online for some publishing blogspeak at
    http://www.savasbeatie.blogspot.com and http://savasbeatiemarketing.blogspot.com/

  • Kate Douglas // May 14, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    “KNEW” not know. Sheesh… knew what we were…

  • Kirk // May 14, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    kate r: Actually, the advertising copy is one of those things that should be left up to the publisher (unless, of course, you’re self-publishing).

    Kate brings up an important point about marketing online in an era of social media. It’s all about finding your niche and building a relationship with your readers. When you look at it that way it should become quite a bit easier for authors who have an aversion to traditional marketing.

  • kate r // May 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Kirk, it isn’t just self-publishers who need to do their own promo. I’ve published with Ellora’s Cave (and other ebook publishers) and with Kensington and they did some of that publicity but more is a very good idea. My friends who hired people like Nancy Berland and other hot shots got some good results.

    The extra publicity is especially important when you’re a little fish in a big pond and you’re not going to get the book dumps in stores or other promo money put into your book.

    The more a writer can put herself out there, the better. That is if she’s the kind of person who looks GOOD out there. But some of us probably do more harm then good.

  • Kassia Krozser // May 14, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Kate R (how have you been? Will I see you in SF?) — I think Kirk’s making the distinction between advertising and marketing. Most publishers write some sort of advertising copy in order to entice buyers of books; marketing is a bigger thing.

    I’m of the opinion that making marketing part of your authorial process (as Kate D indicated) is the key to success. It’s about moving from a book-oriented model to an author-oriented model. Which means time management. That’s the hard part.

    As for the “can’t write blurbs to save her life” thing, that’s the beauty of the new world. Sure, there’s a need for the pithy, clever content, but you can learn to sell yourself in ways that make you comfortable while maximizing your success. Diana Hunter is a great model for out-of-the-box marketing. Granted, I’m convinced she doesn’t sleep, but she’s found a unique method that works for her.

  • kate r // May 15, 2008 at 3:41 am

    Okay, okay, he’s right, of course.

    But there are the blurbs for places like Romance Sells ads or other smaller papers–the little press releases that some people might send to their local papers.

    No, no SF for me. That’s your stomping ground, isn’t it? Hope you have a wonderful time. See you in DC, maybe?

  • Diana Hunter // May 15, 2008 at 5:09 am

    Sleep? What is this word…sleep?

    *waves hi to the two Kates*

  • Kevin Smokler // May 15, 2008 at 6:37 am

    Bravo and well said.

  • Jane O // May 15, 2008 at 6:43 am

    You know, from a reader’s point of view this is very depressing. How many wonderful books are there out there that I will never hear bout because the authors don’t know how — or are to shy — to sell themselves?

  • Jane O // May 15, 2008 at 6:44 am

    TOO shy, Too shy

  • Jane O // May 15, 2008 at 6:45 am

    ABOUT and TOO shy

  • K.S.R. Kingworth // May 15, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Yay. I’ve got company! This might sound ridiculous, but over the last nine momths, my friend base at goodreads.com has grown to over 1900 friends. It might look like I’m only concerned about numbers as an author. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a difference between living in the dream world of a writer and hoping someone will take your book and put it under a publishers nose, versus knowing that you need to wear two hats as a writer: the sip-your-cup-of-cocoa-while-you-write hat and the Brave Bertha the marketer hat. It’s about relationships, not receipts, in the end, but if you don’t develop relationships with your future audience, how in the world to you expect to have readers? Here’s to Brave Bertha.

  • Lynne Connolly // May 16, 2008 at 4:54 am

    I’ve been e-published since 2000 and right from the start I knew that marketing was key to success. But there are so many things to take into consideration. When I first started, I wrote historical romance. Now I write erotic paranormal romance, too. I can’t sell my books in the same way because the audiences are different and they’re used to different methods. If I do an in-your-face “buy my book” to the historical crowd, they’ll resent it, but the para crowd tends to drink it in.
    But I did learn one thing – I’m still on the nursery slopes here. The writer should concentrate on selling her ‘brand’ and the publisher on the individual titles. Of course that overlaps, but it’s not a bad principle to bear in mind.

  • I flashed | Once upon a mellow noon // May 27, 2008 at 2:10 am

    [...] The viewpoint that marketing comes with the job description of want-to-be-writer (will write for food? sorry, couldn’t [...]

  • JudithCoughlin // Mar 16, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Wow. Just when I was beginning to think I could be cool and hang with cormac mccarthy and be somewhere above all the, hello my name is (insert) and I’ve written a book and it’s great and you should read it and…Truth be told, the more you do it, the easier it gets, twitter, blogging, reading for groups, sharing until finally you’re so deep in it other people start telling you their stories. That’s when it’s really good.

  • NEWS « Writer Watchdog Newsletter Blog // Jun 2, 2009 at 9:33 am

    [...] http://booksquare.com/not-a-formula-for-success/ [...]

  • Johnny // Feb 9, 2010 at 6:14 am

    As an author you have to be involved in marketing. As a comment said above, as a small time author you are not going to have lines of people waiting for your next book. You have to get in front of people and also use the internet to create a viral following that could someday pay off well for you.