“Help! I’m not promoting my book!” I heard this last week from a client who self-published an excellent novel. Her eyes were wide and horrified, as if she’d done something shameful and vaguely unnatural. Immediately, I took out my Author Sanity Toolkit. There, in Drawer #1, I found the two fundamentals of self care for “not yet rich and famous” writers: kindness and common sense.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another. We used to complain that Old World publishing houses only accepted authors from their own circle or their own schools. It was more a question of who you knew, than of what you knew or how well you wrote.
When New World self-publishing became the norm, everything changed. The good news: If we have a good book, we don’t have to wait for the gatekeeper agents and editors to bless it. We can publish it ourselves! The bad news: We are entirely responsible for promoting it as well! (This was also the case with Old World publishers, but few people realized it).
So along with our new freedom and opportunity came a lot of “shoulds.”
THE “SHOULD” FACTORY
If you subscribe to self-publishing marketing blogs and newsletters, you hear this kind of thing over and over:
- You must know all Google’s and Amazon’s algorithms, and launch each new book so that it shows up first and becomes an instant best seller.
- You must create a virtual author’s tour, guest blogs, book trailers, and podcasts to promote your book.
- You must blog daily and grow your email list, creating a huge gang of people who hang on your every word.
- You must hawk your book at webinars, virtual conferences, and meetups of every kind, every day.
- You must be everywhere, all the time, in real space and cyberspace, screaming “Buy my book”—or else come up with a promotional idea that nobody else has used, one that sells hundreds of thousands of copies within two weeks.
Even reading this list is exhausting. The suggestion is that if we don’t do all these things, yesterday, we’re bad—or at least lazy. Many very good writers who’ve had the courage and persistence to self-publish wind up beating themselves up because they don’t toe the promotion line and do all these activities. At precisely the time when they ought to feel happy and proud of their accomplishment, they feel defeated and ashamed.
BLUE JEANS, SHOVELS, AND WORDS
Where did we get this promotional line, and the idea that we had to toe it, or else? Mostly, from folks in the new and burgeoning “author support” community who sell promotional services. Some of these people are wonderfully helpful; others simply see financial opportunity. They understand that the shopkeepers who sold blue jeans and shovels to the 49ers made a lot more money from the Gold Rush than most of the actual miners.
It’s true that we’re unlikely to have many book sales if we don’t promote our books, but I believe that there is “A time to promote, and a time not to promote.” Some times not to promote are:
- When it gets in the way of writing at a time when you have not chosen to stop writing and focus on promoting
- When you really, really don’t want to (Promotional efforts by authors who really, really don’t want to are rarely a pretty sight.)
THE AUTHOR’S LIFE
Here’s an odd thought. What if the things we wanted from publishing a book don’t have much to do with how many books we sell? What if what we really want is to express what is ours to express, have a published book, and live the author’s life—whatever that means to us?
Whoa! That would mean we could make up our ideal author’s life, and just do the things we wanted to do—whether or not those activities resulted in book sales. We might do readings (just with our friends, or at bookstores), have lunch or drinks with literary pals (perhaps fellow self-publishers), attend writers conferences, write in our jammies, drink Scotch, or just gaze at our book sitting on the self. There it is! That’s what we set out to do!
Of course, this tack requires that we not depend on book sales to purchase food—but sometimes it’s worth keeping the day job so that we can live the author’s life we want to live, rather than the one we “should.”
If we apply a little kindness toward ourselves, and a little common sense about money and promotional energy, we can be happy authors regardless of how many books we sell. In the end, I think that’s what most of us want.