Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let's Say I Wrote a Book

I've been reviewing your comments and e-mails regarding self-publishing, dear readers, and so far no one has reported making more than a couple hundred dollars. Which, granted, is money you didn't have before, so for those of you making money self-publishing: well done!

Do I think you could make more money publishing traditionally? That's a tricky question. If you're a good writer who's willing to self-promote: probably. If not: no, because no one will buy your work. Regardless, as most of you know by now: a get-rich-quick scheme, self-publishing ain't.

But! Please keep sending e-mails my way. I'm happy to post about anyone making a living via self-publication, so long as I can see the numbers.

Now then: let's say I wrote and published a book.

I'm not saying whether I did or didn't; I'm just saying: supposing I did. What would my process look like? My self-promotion? My "do"s and "don't"s? And in what order would I do (or not do) those things?

In brand-new for 2011 Top-Ten-O-Vision™:

1. I probably wouldn't self-publish. As I've mentioned before, self-publishing is fine for some endeavors, but generally not for those that aim toward fame, glory, and money. Insofar as those can be attained via writing books, that is.

2. I'd probably start with a smaller press. Not that I'm saying the Big Six would be knocking down my door for a publishing contract; rather, authors generally get more attention from smaller presses, and since the advance and co-op dollars available for a d├ębut author usually aren't phenomenal regardless of publisher, I don't see a real downside. I'm all about more one-on-one time and input on the details.

3. I'd be social networking my tiny black publishing heart out. I'd be tweeting. And announcing things on Facebook. And keeping a personal blog. And setting up an author website. And guest-blogging. And doing podcasts. And making sure an e-book version's available. And and and. You get the idea, cats & kittens. I wouldn't want a digital footprint, I'd want a digital impact crater.

4. I'd be real-world networking my tiny black publishing heart out. Everything from getting in face time with the owners and salespeople at my local independent book stores to doing in-store author events & readings. You get a lot of breadth but little depth with social networking, so I think it's important to complement one's electronic self-promotion with a little old-fashioned legwork. I'd be getting out there and meeting people before you could say honey, come quick, that misanthropic publishing guy is actually leaving his apartment.

5. I'd be soliciting reviews. Editors of literary magazines, fellow authors/writers, bloggers, independent booksellers, and various friends, family members, and accomplices who frequent Amazon are all fair game. I imagine the publisher would help out with this, as most have a lot of industry connections and could do a review copy mailing pretty easily. Reviews are worth their Microsoft Word file size in gold, mes auteurs. People can't read what they don't know about.

6. One word: conferences. This sort of ties into #4 above, but I figure it deserves special attention. Readings and book signings expose you to one audience; hanging out with indie booksellers, another; and electronic media like Facebook and Twitter render you vaguely recognizable to a yet another (arguably larger) one. But there's nothing like a conference to get everyone—booksellers, writers, readers, librarians, publishers, editors, professors, salespeople, you name it—all in the same room. I'd go to any relevant conference I could afford.

7. I'd review the work of others. Whether via book reviews in fancy literary magazines or blog posts, writing book reviews garners you 1.) general good karma, 2.) goodwill from those you review (assuming you do so positively), and 3.) street cred as a serious reader and writer of literature. In terms of positive and negative reviewing, I draw the line as follows: if I'm reviewing books in my capacity as an editor or reviewer for a magazine, I'll feel free to review negatively that which I believe warrants a negative review. If I'm doing it to widen my own exposure and that of the author/text at hand, better only to review titles I know I can say something good about.

8. I'd invest in the work of others. This is a generalization of #7 above, and it won't always earn you direct attention/acclaim, but it's a necessary aspect of participating in a literary community: you've got to give as well as take. Attend readings, subscribe to magazines and buy books you like, &c &c. The more you support others, the more others will want to support you. Or, at the very least, they'll feel guilty if they don't.

9. I'd take regular breaks. I can't run at 100% power 100% of the time, bros and she-bros, and neither can you. Regular days off and vacations are part of the working life, and writing—as we all know—is work.

10. I'd keep on keepin' on. With all this self-promoting, you'd think I wouldn't have time for anything else. But you'd be wrong! There's always another story, another book, waiting in the wings. Some of us are slower or faster than others, more or less prolific, but the key is: so long as you're always writing/working on your next project, you're much less likely to lose momentum and stall out in the midst of your career. I'd be selling one project while writing the next and planning the one after that.

That's it for today, meine Autoren. Questions? Ideas? Theories? Schematics? To the comments!


  1. This is me saying nice things about others' work: good stuff.

  2. This seems to be a good plan of action. I do have a question regarding online social networking.

    I follow lots of authors, agents and editors on Twitter. I've found lots of good reads and tips that way, but the Tweets and the messages on Facebook I receive that are just basically ads tend to put a burr under my saddle.

    Is this pretty common? Do straight up ads tick people off? I think there are nuances to online social networking that aren't inherently obvious.

  3. Let's say I read a ten point pimp list and subscibed to this blog. This is me saying it's a career list.


  4. Thant you again for a great post :)

    Perhaps writers should ask themselves why they write? Like an entertainer, I want my stories to engage my reader. The best blog post I have read in a long time was from Tess Gerritsen. She said when she is finished with the tenth and eleventh drafts she feels she is almost done.

    Self publishing deludes the inexperienced writer into beleiving long hours and hard work can be avoided.

    If you really love something, those long hours of hard work melt and in the process you learn.

  5. Eric, this is great! I self-published my first novella, and it has now been picked up by a small publisher as an omnibus, but that came about because of another book deal I got through them. I'm doing all of the things on your list, some more than others at the moment.

    By the way, I made $1300 on my self-published novella in 4 months. I think self-publishing is smart for certain projects and authors. For me it turned out to be a good move.

    You have excellent points here. :)

  6. I love this post. Great advice! Now, about finishing said book ...

  7. #9 is even more important if you have another job or other responsibilities outside of writing and networking. If you don't take a breather once in a while, you'll work yourself into the ground and won't be able to get anything done.

    @Scooter: I think that annoys most people. It's much more interesting when authors post about other things besides "buy my book!", whether it be publishing, the writing process, interesting things they have read or experienced lately, etc.

  8. A great list of what to do - pretty much what I'm trying to do, but it is exhausting.

  9. Terrific post, Eric, thanks. My writing group has been taking deep dives into this very question lately, and your advice is a great summary and frame for our ongoing dialog about rubber hitting road.

  10. Conferences. That's where I want to go.

  11. Agree with everything with the possible exception of #7. I don't do reviews, especially for books written by authors I know because I'm afraid of potential backlash if I don't like the book. And if I only post reviews of books I like, then what about the books I don't review? Do their authors assume I didn't like it--or just that I didn't have time, or like the genre, or whatever. I'm too insecure, I guess. The hardest job I have with one of my publishers is groveling for cover quotes--which isn't quite like reviewing, but close enough.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  12. I have a novel coming out from a major US publisher this spring (Fall From Grace Forge Books) and I hope to make some money out of it. At least, pay back my advance and some more. And then, they might want more from me after my two book deal. But I also write freelance, articles and books-for-hire. I can now charge more money for those, or get more work because I have a two book deal with a major US publisher. Also, as a Canadian, having more books published allows to to apply for grants that offer more money.

  13. Okay...this was an amazing post, I've gotta say, just the kind of advice I've been looking for lately. Thank you so much!!

  14. Great post! I loved "digital impact crater" – nice!
    You've given me several ideas and I'm really glad that your advice chimes with what other professionals and friends have told me. I've got two of my Robin Hood books coming out in America next year (Outlaw in April, and Holy Warrior in August – both published by St Martins Griffin) and I shall be checking in frequently to listen to your words of wisdom.
    All the best, and Happy Christmas,
    Angus Donald

  15. I totally feel getting face to face with the public, you can only do so much online, that people can be overwhelmed with images, so getting in their face really stands out. The two elements play a great role in exposure, networking. Also developing your BRAND, beyond the product is really important. GREAT POST!

  16. This is a terrific list; it's similar to the plan I came up with myself. Except for Step One....

    My first two novels were published by a small press, and that was a good way to go for me. My next series of books will be self-published, beginning with The Unfinished Song: Initiate. After all, I have to do all the work mentioned above (except go to book stores), so I am better off with 70% royalties rather than 35% or much less offered small publishers. I also retain artistic control and the ability to adjust my price points quickly. But starting out with a small press enabled me to learn a lot about publishing, enough to open my own micro-publishing company.

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate