In my dream world, I would be closeted in my study, creating the best fiction I’m capable of; my editor would take it out of my hands and polish it; the art department at my publisher would hire the best available cover artist; and, finally, the publisher would pass my precious novel along to the sales department, who would drop everything else they were doing in order to promote my newest book.
Of course, my dream world is just that. A dream. I suspect that for a very, very few novelists, this may be the way the world works, but for the vast majority of us, reality is a bit different.
One of the first things my agent did, when he signed me up, was to send me a huge packet of information and suggestions on how to promote my own work. This was some time ago, before the internet became the premier focus of promotion, and I learned all about doing bookmarks, sending out press releases, visiting bookstores, setting up book signings and other events. I did it all. I really did. My approach was always “If I can think of it, I’ll do it.”
Did that make me obnoxious? I don’t think so. One bookstore or reviewer wouldn’t necessarily know that they were one of dozens I was trying to interest in my work. Now, however, when I put some promotional tidbit online, chances are that everyone knows it, and has either seen it before or has been expecting it. The audience has expanded, thanks to online book selling, e-books, and book review blogs. But the conduit to that audience, I fear, has narrowed to the point that we, the writers dutifully trying to make our readers aware of each new novel published, walk a fine line between self-promotion and self-destruction.
I’ve lost count of how many complaints I’ve seen online about people endlessly and tediously flogging their books or art work or workshops or whatever. I wouldn’t dream of asking my friends to “like” my fan page (Cate Campbell on Facebook, in case you’re interested, ha ha) because I myself am inundated with such requests. I loathe asking colleagues to blurb my books, because I get weekly requests from people I’ve never heard of, and who clearly have no idea what I write or what I’ve written, to “review” their new novel. I’m even hesitant to blog unless, like today, I really have something to say, because somehow it became de rigeur to blog every week to keep your name in front of the public. The results of that development were both predictable and irritating.
So, all of us walk this tightrope, trying our best not to fall off on the wrong side. Does self-promotion work? It does. It does because if we don’t do it, no one will (except for the favored few) and then our readers won’t know that a new novel has hit the shelves. Does self-promotion annoy people to the point they won’t touch one of our books? I have no data, but I would bet it does. I don’t buy books (and I buy a lot of them!) because of a blog, or a Fan Page, or blurbs. I do occasionally buy a book because of a review, but mostly, as has been true throughout the history of publishing, what sells books is word-of-mouth. Therefore, I delicately and, I hope, tactfully, announce a new book or story to those folks I hope are interested, and then–I stop.
As I will now. My new novel, The Benedict Bastard, is now out. If you like historical fiction, or are a fan of the Benedict Hall novels, perhaps you’ll have a look. Maybe, if it looks interesting, you’ll buy a copy. Then, if you enjoy it, gentle reader, please tell someone else! I thank you, and I’ll try not to bother you again.
September 7, 2014 Sunday at 2:56 pm