Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Pains Of Self-Marketing

One of the biggest decisions in a wanna-be author's life of getting published and read these days is the decision to either go the old route of "get agent, get publisher interest, get reviews" or the newer tech-savvy route of "get self-published, get reviews, maybe get agent and publisher afterward".

The old route was tricky, messy, disheartening: getting an agent was one thing, but it was still no guarantee of getting a publisher who would get that book on the market for you.  But getting the publisher was a huge boon: the publishers had ties to established reviewers, and publishers had the financial means to market and promote.  The new route is satisfying in that you get your book out there right away, on your terms: bad news is, you don't have the financial means of marketing (ad space is costly) and you don't have access to a lot of the major reviewers (some will review self-publishers but they're swamped with thousands of self-published authors already).  You're usually reduced to social media like Facebook and Twitter, and most of the time it's just spreading the word to the 80 or so online friends you've already earned.

The toughest part is the self-promotion: most writers are artists at heart, and while there's a part of us that's eager to show off, there's the other half that's defensively private about ourselves and our craft.  We're not also keen on shilling ourselves: it somehow rubs against our integrity.  Advertising always has something... disingenuous about it, like there's too much exaggeration and hyperbole.  Just blogging about it here, half the time posting "buy my book!" isn't as eager as it may read: I half-treat it like a joke, with a bit of dread that somehow I'm just not "getting it" in terms of sincerely looking for readership.

Just read what this fellow is up against:

It reeks of desperation, these pleas, this constant litany: read me, recognize me, buy me, buy me again. On an authorial scale, being relatively unknown and resolutely Mid-list is like spending a few years on the floor of a deafening concert, angling for attention from every quarter, stuck in a sweaty throng of the equally disregarded, ultimately reduced (en masse and from the obstructed view seats) to holding up a lighter and screaming at the bass player–who couldn't possibly give less of a shit, even if he could hear above the distortion and tinnitus and quart of hastily guzzled Jack Daniel’s...
In fact, I’m almost certain my years-long squat of self-promotion has been entirely pointless. If I could have back every minute I've spent on social media and apply it to churning out actual prose, I would probably have finished at least one bestselling swords-and-incest fantasy trilogy instead. Maybe even two. In any case, it’s pretty clear that whoever reads what I post (a diminishing coterie, to be sure) has either already bought whatever book I’m flogging, or never had any intention of doing so in the first place. Everything else is just more white noise, a narcissistic armada of turds floating down the center of the Hudson, or the river of pixels, or the throat of the cybersphere. We've all heard it before, seen it before, been pitched everything from Sham Wow to rote sham. We've sat through a lifetime of fifteen-second commercials in order to watch the ubiquitous YouTube clip of some Khaki Dad taking a Wiffleball to the nuts. Like everyone else, I am truly and deeply bored by the incessant marketing and self-promotion that comprises a majority of any day spent in front of any screen...
Writers are an odd lot. A volatile mix of bravado, insecurity, insatiable need, unusual discipline, and occasional talent. Despite that fact that writing itself is a lonely, obsessive, and mentally unstable vocation–just the sort of pursuit that lends itself to anti-social habits and behaviors–authors are likewise expected to be great in front of a crowd, hilarious at the podium, and engaging at the lectern. They are expected to represent the worth of their prose through expressions of personal charm. Which is, of course, completely ludicrous. But since the collapse of publishing (or at least the explosion of dire, whiny articles about the collapse of publishing), publishers themselves no longer spend the requisite money to advertise the existence of all but a handful of titles.
So, as a self-employed independent contractor of suspect means, you either have to get out there and market yourself, or choose to remain silent and hope for the best. In an industry where 150,000 titles were published last year, hoping for the best tends to be a failing strategy–if not a bit naive. Therefore one is forced to ask themselves, “If I am not going to make the effort to publicize my own work, why aren't I a third-year law student instead?” Further, and most damningly, “If people are not reading what I write, why am I writing at all?”
For me, the answer is pure communication–an intellectual exchange. Telling a story is the first step. Having that story read and enjoyed and interpreted and understood is the second. Obviously I would like to do so on the largest scale possible. Forget bestsellers and movie rights and relative fame and huge advances (although all those things would be nice in their relative ways), the bottom line is that if I am not communicating with a sizable group of readers, if I am writing in a vacuum for a static body of acquaintances–spending six hours a day in front of a laptop for ten years suddenly seems like a masturbatory and delusional exercise.
The great white hope of writing is to reach the point where you no longer have to pimp yourself at all, where you tap into a weird alchemy in which you suddenly have enough name recognition and sales that word-of-mouth and momentum do all the work for you. Then you can sit back and troll Facebook, posting cake recipes and cat pictures and acting like your royalties are preordained and that you are way, way too cool to flog yourself ever again–as if you ever had.
Yeah, I want to get there. But mainly because I love writing, I love what I do, and I don’t ever want to go back.
That said... Yes, I am STILL working on finishing up my damnable first novel.

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