I fear I have done a disservice with my last blog entry on internet vs. traditional methods of promotion. I had approached the topic as one who built a career the old-fashioned way, by finding my genre niche, reliably producing a book a year in that niche, and tirelessly going on the road to promote them. My publisher(s) pretty much decided how much promotion would be done, and what methods would be used, although in more recent years I’ve contributed my own efforts online with a website, a video book trailer, a blog on Amazon, and webzine ads. My attitude was, if it got me — a former paperback romance author — on the hardcover bestseller lists, then it must work.
But as a number of people have pointed out to me, this is a new day and age. The publishing business has changed. Traditional promotional methods are costly, print media is fading, and we have to adapt to a world that’s increasingly online. I’m trying to.
Another thing I was wrong about was focusing my comments on promotional strategy for top-tier sellers, and not for new or mid-list authors. My comments about co-op, Costco, and major print ads are better directed at those writers who are on the cusp of breaking out to the next level. Promotional efforts are not one-size-fits-all. No career is the same. And depending on where you are in your career, you will choose different ways of promoting.
If you’re just starting out, marketing money will be tight, and you’ll want to be as cost-effective as possible, which makes the internet a good place to begin. Everyone, for instance, should have a website. Everyone should take advantage of Amazon.com’s free author blog space. Throwing a fortune behind a debut novel could well be a useless extravagance, and authors should know that before going into debt to push their book, no one knows exactly what works. There are a number of things you can do, with minimal cost. Everyone should make a point of dropping into local bookstores, meeting booksellers, and signing stock. Everyone should be willing to do at least a few speaking engagements at libraries and bookstores. These will require your time and effort, but they’re free. (I continue to do all of these things, limited only by my energy and my writing deadlines.)
But the most important thing you can do as a writer is to write. Write the next book. And the next. Because every new title on the bookstore rack serves as an ad, another chance for readers to discover you. If you write two books a year, that’s twice a year readers and booksellers will encounter your name. But those books must be good books. That’s the given in all this promotional talk. The books must make a reader want to pick up your next book. There’s no point spending millions promoting a book that no one likes; all it achieves is convincing an audience that they don’t want to buy any more books by you.
You don’t have to be a bestselling author to make a living at this business. A prolific mid-list author with a devoted audience can have a rewarding life-long career. And you can do it without ads in USA Today or TV spots or national book tours. It’s breaking out to the next level where promotional strategies are subject to debate. If publishers knew exactly how to make an author a bestseller, then they’d be doing it more often.
Building an audience takes time. In my case, it wasn’t until my fourteenth novel, THE SURGEON, that I became a regular on the bestseller lists. Sometimes you just have to be patient and keep your nose to the grindstone. Keep in mind, too, that there’s something called luck involved. And that’s something you can’t bottle or pay for.
And on a personal note, I’m happy to share that the German edition of THE KEEPSAKE (in the UK known as KEEPING THE DEAD) just hit #5 on the hardcover bestseller list in Germany.