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.