Writer as Multi-Level Marketer?

I was talking to my husband last night about book marketing and he had an insight that set me back on my heels a bit. He said that it seemed to him like a first-time author is a lot like a recent multi-level marketing convert who’s been instructed to hustle up sales from among their friends and family first.

He has a point.

The wonderful thing about having been in the publishing world for a handful of years is that I’ve had a chance to develop some perspective on the appropriate role of friends and family in growing your reader audience. When I first started out, I was rabid for readers. After all, if you get a book published and no one buys it, does it even matter? And I desperately wanted my book to matter.

It wasn’t until Wes stopped me one day and gently told me how incredible it was that any of my friends and family even bought my book in the first place that I stopped thinking of them as potential sales ranking boosters and began gaining my perspective back. It was incredible that any of them bought my book. Even more amazing was that some of them read it, and then went on to tell me they enjoyed it!

I think that was the moment I redefined what success as an author means to me. Every single person who puts a book out, whether it’s self-published or through a publisher, wants it to be a runaway success. Did you know, though, that according to Bowker more than 700,000 books were self-published last year? And well over 300,000 books were traditionally published.

That’s over one million books published. IN ONE YEAR.

I don’t care who you are, that’s depressing. It’s overwhelming! If you believe some of the contradictory figures produces by informal surveys, readership of books is declining. Whether that’s true or not is tricky to find out, but what is true is that book sales figures are down, and look to be in continuing decline.

What this means is that there’s a deluge of new material coming onto the market, and fewer people are buying it.

So what does this mean for authors? Are we peddling wares that will soon be obsolete and irrelevant?  Are we the ice deliverymen and women of our generation?

Maybe. I’m convinced the world will always need compelling and entertaining content, but the form it takes may change. That’s okay. Because I’ve recently decided what success as an author means for me:

I want to entertain people, and encourage developing writers. I’ll keep writing my books for the people who enjoy reading them, but I’m not going to pull my hair out trying to lure a wider audience who isn’t interested in being lured. I’m going to take every opportunity I can to teach, equip, and encourage developing writers, because the world needs quality prose, and because I enjoy teaching.

So that’s it. I’m officially hanging up my MLM desperate-for-sales hat, and putting on my I’m-just-here-to-tell-stories pj’s. And if you’ve bought one (or several) of my books? Thank you, sincerely and heartily, for supporting my dream. You’re a kind and wonderful person and I deeply appreciate you.

Behind-the-Scenes Hustling

“Good things come to those who hustle.” – Commonly attributed to Anaïs Nin but in actuality coined by Chuck Noll.

It took me a couple years to get the hang of this whole How to Be A Published Author gig. It’s astonishingly difficult, and so much more work than you can possibly realize until you’re doing it.

From the outside, publishing looks pretty straightforward. You write a book, you shop it around, you freak out when someone offers you a publishing contract (if you’re very lucky), you sign it, and then you polish it until voila! Your book is done! Then you wait for it to be released, when the whole world will of course explode with excitement because your book is AWESOME and duh, everyone will of course KNOW THAT.

wpid-img_20131205_095633It took me two books to realize that so much of this is wishful thinking/just plain naivete. Fifteen thousand books get published every month in the US. Wrap your head around that figure. FIFTEEN THOUSAND.

That’s insane competition. Add to that the weirdness that is the paradigm shift happening in the publishing industry and the whole self-publishing ebook revolution going on right now and there’s just a whole lot of deck stacked against any new author trying to break in. To think that you can just sit back and passively let people discover your book is fine, just not likely to result in the kind of book sales figures that you’ll be anxious to tell your mom about.

I’m not going to pretend I have this whole process locked down. I am, after all, still a Grade A Nobody in the publishing world. I have, however, learned that when you have a book coming out, you have to start hustling early.

There are six months between me and the publication of Bai Tide, but I’ve already started reaching out and laying the groundwork for appearances, signings, reviews, etc. like some kind of maniacal mutant octopus with three brains, twenty-four arms, and six computers. Emails are flying out left and right, my calendar is starting to look like it might be pretty booked for next year, and I’m starting to get the barest forward momentum started in terms of buzz.

But oh my gosh, you guys, it’s a ton of work. Tons and tons of work that most people never see because all this stuff is done behind the scenes. The average reader has NO idea how much work goes into getting a book into their hands. It’s bananas.

But then when someone reads your book, and tells you they like it, and leaves a positive review for you to revisit and enjoy whenever you’re having a bad day, man that just makes it all worth it.

If you learn nothing else, learn this: I will GLADLY send a hundred futile emails that go nowhere if it means introducing someone new to my work who will enjoy it. Hustling is hard work, but at least in the writing business the payoff is gratifying in the extreme.

Readers are the best people in the world. If you’ve read my work, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. Truly, none of it would mean anything without you!