Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Book Marketing Conundrum

I’ve been involved in a long-running debate with a group of writer pals (the shadowy and feared ‘Grey Havens Gang’) about the greatest downside of self publishing for many writers – the fact it entails promoting your own work. Most writers seem to find the whole process of promotion deeply counter-intuitive, but it's increasingly the case that, regardless whether you're conventionally published or self-published, you need to drag yourself out and stand on that street corner.

I had long held out for a publisher to take up my work for two key reasons: validation and scale. A publisher signing you as a writer, so my thinking went, validates you as such. It’s now you can change your profession in your passport to ‘author’. Oh, how wrong I was to prove myself in that one. The other reason, scale, was simple. A publisher would get your onto all those shelves for all those eyeballs to see your cover and pick you up.

These turned into two of the key reasons I decided on self publishing. Firstly, I was signed up by an agent, which meant that someone who knew what they were doing considered me publishable.  This, I realised, was validation enough. Secondly, writer friends who had been signed by publishers were bitter about how little scale was actually on offer from publishers unwilling to invest in books that weren’t sure-fire supermarket sellers.

Seriously. Here’s one of the rejections of Beirut from a top London publisher:

“There are lots of elements to it that I like – there’s an austere, almost Le Carre feel which I like and the author can clearly write. The dialogue and plotting stood out for me in particular. I’m afraid though that it is – for my purposes – a bit too low-key; the ‘commercial’ bit of my job title requires me to pick out titles which are going to appeal directly to supermarkets and the mass-market, and I feel that this would be too difficult a sell in that context.”
And yet if a publisher has a single remaining attraction for authors, it is that the author can ‘get on with writing and let someone worry about the other stuff’, like formatting, editing, printing and, critically, marketing the book. It's at the marketing stage many writers find themselves being told to blog and tweet by publishers - to effectively do the heavy lifting in an online environment. The lack of focus given the 'mid-list' by the sales and marketing teams has left many writers tied to a publisher and cast adrift in the wilderness.

But as more authors turn to self publishing, there is a vast and exponentially increasing legion of writers clamouring for people’s attention. All too often, this consists of little beyond ‘read my book read my book read me book’, which soon becomes very wearying for the victims. It’s got to the point where readers on platforms such as the Kindle Forums and GoodReads are hyper-sensitive to the faintest whiff of self-promotion by authors and slam them accordingly.

So what can a writer do?

Attend my workshop at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai this Friday, of course! There I’ll be sharing tips and tricks for promoting your book and getting people to read it without just screaming repetitive promotional messages all the time. There are still seats, priced at Dhs200, and you can sign up at the handy link below. A warning before you decide to listen to what I've got to say: I'm not Amanda Hocking - the Olives project is still very much in its early days...

How to Get Noticed and Sell Your Book with Alexander McNabb
Self Publishing and Promoting Your Book in a Digital Age
Friday 9 March 17:00-19:00Al Waha, InterContinental Hotel
Tickets are available by clicking on this here handy, rinky-dink link.

(Yes, this whole post was an evilly conceived plug for my #EAFOL workshop. Sorry 'bout that... :)

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