Jon Gibbs (jongibbs) wrote,
Jon Gibbs

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The Fine Art of Self-Promotion: Part One – Scary numbers and terrifying conclusions

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?


Tags: fiction, writing
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