Sunday, November 6, 2011

Getting the Word Out

Dear Reader,

When I started the “life of a writer”, I had imagined it as a life where I’d, well, write. I’d just sit around, writing, story after story and novel after novel. That’s the writing part, you know, creating worlds and peopling them, and then putting life into both. The problem with this idyllic picture of the life is it omits a very key aspect of the author’s existence, selling and promoting your work.

If you’re an author or aspiring author, you know the deal with selling your work. To put it gently, it can be a nightmare. There are probably a thousand blogs, magazine articles, columns, and podcasts offering advice on how to successfully sell your work and I’m absolutely certain I can’t add much to the dialog that hasn’t already been said. It’s all about finding the right place for the right piece at the right time. Though that sounds like a simplification, especially after you’ve had a few disheartening rejections, it’s the unfortunate truth. Sure, you should strive to improve your skills, attend seminars and go to writer’s groups, and find a beta-reader who will give you constructive criticism but in the end its about persistence and research.

The more interesting and difficult subject, at least with novels, comes when it’s time to market your work. If like me you grew up in the Midwest, the thought of self promotion probably carries a less than flattering connotation. You may have the idea that you shouldn’t talk about your accomplishments too much, that it’s conceited or self-important to go around telling everyone “hey, I’ve published a novel!” That’s a feeling that, to some extent, you’re going to have to manage. While major publishers promote their authors, setting up events, running ads, and assisting in getting the word about a new book out to the reading public, small and medium size publishing houses don’t have the funds or personnel to engage in this sort of promotional activity. In short, you’re on your own, my friend.

What to do? There are options. Before your novel is released, I recommend seeking sights that will do pre-release reviews. Publications like The Bloomsbury Review do pre-release reviews of fiction. I suggest doing a web search for similar publications, but be sure to identify ones that accept books that haven’t been released.

Once your novel has been released you have other options available. I recommend approaching local newspapers and local publications. Also, check with local booksellers and independent bookstores to see if they have newsletters and might be interested in reviewing a local author. If your book is being sold on, I recommend reaching out to some of the site’s top reviewers (Amazon even has an article on how to approach potential reviewers). Also, don’t forget to reach out to bloggers, some might be willing to give your book a review.

With reviews, though, you must be prepared to roll with what you get. Certainly, you should address any inappropriate reviews that appear on bookseller sites but be aware that readers have opinions and they are entitled to say what they feel.

Beyond reviews, I recommend you reach out to writer’s groups for your genre as well as local writer’s groups. Just like any other business, it’s important to make contacts. If you write science fiction, look into the SFWA or if, like me, you write thrillers, look into the ITW (a great organization where it’s also free to become a member). Also, look into reading groups and anywhere else you can get your title in front of the reading public. Good word of mouth is your best friend.

My final recommendation comes in the form of a reminder that very few authors have a best seller on their first go. The hard work of promotion isn’t really what you sign up for as an author but it is the reality when you’re starting out. When you hit it big and land a contract with a major publishing house, you’ll have a staff promoting your work. But, I hate to say even then the work won’t end at seeing your book in a bookstore!

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