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As writers, our attitude towards self-promotion has a huge impact on our careers. Over the next few Mondays, I want to take a look at some of the ways authors and short story writers can successfully promote themselves and their work. 


Most people (myself included) find self-promotion difficult. I believe that’s because we’ve seen too many folks do it badly. This isn’t helped by the fact that when it’s done well, we don’t even notice it’s happened. 


If you’re not already convinced that self-promotion is vital for an unknown writer in today’s publishing world, here’s an excerpt from a 2006 article by Chris Anderson from Publishers Weekly which contains some scary numbers about book sales.


‘Here's the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000.’


As straightforward as these figures are, I like things even more simple, so I dug out the old calculator and did some number crunching with the above. Here’s what I came up with:


For every 25 books published, 24 of them sell less than 1,000 copies.


No doubt a good chunk of these are self-published, pay-on-demand, or non-fiction aimed at a tiny market. Nevertheless, that still leaves plenty of classically-published novels which failed to meet expectations.


Why didn’t they do well? I’d be willing to bet it’s because not enough people knew the book was out, and those who did know, didn’t care.


As I understand it, promotional budgets for new authors are minimal at best, which means responsibility for promoting the novel rests almost entirely on the shoulders of the author.


This leads to a scary, but invaluable conclusion. If a new author wants to be successful, it’s not enough to just write a good book, he/she has to learn and apply the fine art of self-promotion.


“That’s not news,” I hear you say. “Agents, authors and publishers have been saying it for years.”


You’re right, of course. The trouble is, judging from the figures above, not too many people are listening, and a lot of those who are, go about it in a way that has little, if any, positive effect.


Self-promotion is NOT the same as selling

I think a lot of folks confuse self-promotion with selling, when in fact there’s a big difference between the two. Although both have the same end goal, self-promotion is more subtle – and far more successful if done well – whereas attempting to ‘make a sale’ often results in both the writer and his/her potential customer feeling uncomfortable.


Good self-promotion gets better results

Here’s the good news. Proper self-promotion can lead to far better book sales – for short story writers it can mean more online readers, and sometimes magazine and anthology sales. It’s way more effective than the hard sell, and though it does require a more sincere and subtle approach, that too is good news, because most writers are sincere, decent folks.


In next Monday’s post, I’ll take a closer look at some of the things we writers can do to promote ourselves and our writing, and talk about what works, what doesn’t, and why. 


In the meantime, I’m curious. As a writer, what self-promotional things have you done in the last week?


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( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 12th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Posted announcements of my latest sale on LJ, Facebook and Twitter.

Posted my monthly word-count.

Cheered loudly online for other writers who sell things.
Oct. 12th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Ken. I especially like the third example :)
Oct. 12th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
I spoke on panels at a con.
Oct. 12th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
That was OctoCon, right? How'd it go?
Oct. 12th, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
Great! Always good fun to catch up with friends and to make new ones.
Oct. 12th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
There's a problem with your thesis. I suspect that a lot of those forgotten books are missed not because of a lack of promotion, but because those books come out at the same time as any number of other books, and they're just lost in the publicity maelstrom. The real problem is that we're used to the idea of books being around for a while, and that if they go out of print, you just buy copies from the used bookstore. If the promotion isn't so good that it doesn't convince a reader to buy it right then and there, then it'll sit in the back of the (potential) reader's mind until something jogs the memory. By that point, the book has already flopped, and it's over and done.

I don't want to sound as if I'm bitter about my own sales, but I've been dealing with the same exact situation. It's bad enough that particularly in the science fiction business, you no longer have readers and writers but instead published writers and soon-to-be-published writers, and they're all trying to convince everyone else to buy their books while insisting on freebies from others. (This helps explain why so many of the wannabes completely lose it when they're asked to subscribe to the magazine that's been receiving their manuscripts: their interest begins and ends at the submission guidelines, and they cry the darkest crocodile tears about missed opportunities when said magazine goes under due to a lack of income. This also helps understand the insane entitlement issue where certain genre loudmouths, including a current Locus reviewer, whine about how society or just some deep pockets should subsidize a science fiction magazine just so they can continue to have a job doing what they want instead of what they're qualified to do.) This is combined with a lack of urgency to buy books before they're pulled, remaindered, and pulped. You want a particular magazine? Fine, but you'd better scoot before the new issue is out. We spent fifty years being conditioned to rush home to watch the latest big television show. Books, though? There's a reason why every bookstore owner has at least one tale of the idiot asking about what happened to the book "with the green cover, written by that girl" that was in the front window two years ago. Until that mindset goes, bookselling will continue to become less and less relevant, because the competition is better at fueling that sense of urgency.
Oct. 12th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)
Some may have gotten lost in the publicity maelstrom, but (at least in the way I'm thinking of it) self-promotion and publicity are different tools.

I agree about the shortened shelf-life of books. I wonder if companies will eventually embrace some kind of pay-on-demand system for their back-catalogues, rather than the 'I don't want to reprint it, but I'm still going to sit on the rights in case the author gets famous one day' approach, which seems to be how it's done at the moment. Or at least, make them available in digital form.

Thanks for sharing :)

(Deleted comment)
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:01 am (UTC)
An impressive list. Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 12th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
I'm embarrasingly bad at the self promotion. It's something I need to work on. It comes from being quite shy. (Stop laughing it's true.) Also, I'm not sure how to balance the idea of self promotion against the nagging feeling as if I'm somehow bragging. I don't want to end up a braggart. But I do want to promote myself.

To that end, I posted up a quick note on LJ last night. But I fretted about it the whole time I was doing it. Yeah, going to have to get over that aren't I?
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)
I know what you mean, though over the next few weeks I plan to disprove the popular notion that self-promotion begins and ends with telling people about your work, when (in my opinion), that's the merest tip on top of the tip of the promotional iceberg.

Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 12th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
On a slightly different tack, I'm not a fan of showing the numbers the way you do. If 1 in 25 books break the 1,000 sale barrierr...well it makes the average joe think he's only got to be better than 24 other people. When in point of fact, you have to be better than 1,150,000 other people, not including all the folks you had to beat out just to have your novel published at all. (Unless you are within whatever subset of those numbers are self published authors.)
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:14 am (UTC)
I know what you mean, and I agree 100%.

In my draft post, I had a whole paragraph about how writing isn't about beating the odds etc, and how you really had to beat 1,150,000 other would-be successful books, but it didn't make the final cut.

That said, the fact that only one in 25 books sells more than a thousand copies helps me prove there's a need for better self-promotion :)

Oct. 12th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
I think the self-promotion aspect really only kicks in if you're writing novels. I don't think short story writers worry about it much, until such time as they come out with a collection and suddenly they have a book to sell.

I have a website and a blog because I have an agent who is trying to sell one of my books. She tells me editors do care about whether or not authors are prepared to do self-promotion, and having an online presence and exhibiting a level of web savvy-ness is important. Editors know how to Google.

Being an extrovert as well as an optimist, I've also started volunteering to be on panels at conventions. I was on three panels and Worldocon, and enjoyed all of them. I'm doing some panels at my local convention this weekend, too.

As to whether self-promotion actually works to sell books, I think it doesn't hurt, but it's no substitute for having a intriguing story with character that readers care about enough to talk about with their friends. Self-promotion may be the narrow end of the wedge, but the book itself is what will make it sell well or not sell well.

Oct. 13th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)
I agree that self-promotion helps authors a lot more than short story writers, but it can still make a big difference.

As for the whether it sells books, that's something for next Monday's post ;)

Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 12th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
I did a guest blog thingy...
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)
Lol, and we all know how that ended ;)
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:26 am (UTC)
'...You really, really have to be mobile to do much more...'

Mobility makes a big difference, but lack of it is no deal-breaker, at least, in my opinion, which I hope to prove over the next few Mondays..

Thanks for the input :)
Oct. 13th, 2009 11:56 pm (UTC)
Well, I had a short story published ("The Radiator Burped," a comedy/dark fantasy piece in Srange, Weird, and Wonderful Magazine*), so I posted an excerpt to my livejournal and my facebook, I told 2 online critique groups so they'll add it to their next newsletter, I posted on the boards of my 3rd critique group, and I tweeted the link. I also made a note so that I'll add it to my next SF/F writing markets newsletter*. Speaking of which, I also researched markets to add to the markets newsletter, which counts as indirect promotion, at least.

* And do you see what I did right there? I guess that counts too. Meta-self-promotion!
Oct. 14th, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)
Lol, a twofer :)

Congrats again on the story. I love that title :)
Oct. 16th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks for taking this on. I look forward to reading what you find. Thanks for the stats too. Putting our publishing fate in the form of numbers always puts that stamp of reality on things.
Oct. 16th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
You're welcome :)
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

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No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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