Thursday, December 12, 2013

To Promote or Not To Promote...Is That Even a Question?

The question I get asked most often by emerging writers is whether it's really necessary to...X.

"X" can be any number of things. Tweet. Blog. Appear at bookstores. Maintain a website. Have a GoodReads or Facebook or Shelfari presence, and what is this Pinterest thing anyway?

Because we writers are stumbling around in search of an answer to this question: How do we become successful authors? And this one: How do we reach readers?

As the great William Goldman says, "Nobody knows."

But I don't think this wisdom means that we should just throw up our hands. And while there's not exactly a roadmap for figuring out what you should do once you've reached that land called Publication, I have accumulated a few thoughts during the long road to my own. Getting a book written well enough to be published is one of the harder things any of us will accomplish in our lives. But then what?

First I need to back up and tell you a little about myself. It took me three agents, eight novels, fifteen almost-offers, and eleven years on submission before I sold my debut novel. This finally happened through a confluence of events that still feels mystical to me. And the dream of being a published author was such a long, long, long time in coming that, once it happened, I did the only logical thing.

I hired an independent publicity firm, rented out our house, withdrew the kids from school, and asked my husband if he would accompany me on a book tour that would cover 44 states and 40,000 miles. Not exactly in that order, but you get the point. The whole family's life would be subsumed by this dream, at least for the next seven months.

Since my book came out, we have visited over 200 bookstores, as well as libraries, book clubs and almost every place where people come together over books. I've been the inaugural author at a brand new mystery bookstore in Madison, WI and the newbie who drew the smallest audience at a bookstore that holds near-daily events. I stood up in Oxford, MS with a rockabilly band behind me and spoke for precisely fourteen minutes--we were being recorded live--to a house crowd of three hundred. I've done Sit & Sign's where only one person showed up, but that one person drove three hours to see me, and thus will always have a place in the Annals of my Becoming an Author, not to mention in my heart. And there have been events that hit almost every point between these extremes.

So, is this the point of my blog post? Is there a roadmap after all, a literal one that shows our route, or a message: change your whole life in service of The Book?

I'm hoping that writers will take something else from this description of what I've done. That it's not necessary to do any one thing as an author. Neither Tweet nor Tour.

Instead, figure out ways you will find joy in your book being out there, and in your great love of books in general. Things that will help you celebrate this shining accomplishment while connecting with those who want to share it.

To my mind, it doesn't matter what you do, it just matters that in today's increasingly crowded content space, you find something that allows your own voice to stand out.

Say you're an introvert and the idea of meeting crowds of people face-to-face sounds as draining as a bathtub. Online social media might be a great outlet for you. Or perhaps you have an author platform, such as being a doctor who writes medical thrillers, or a biotech expert who wrote a book about GMOs. Maybe you can find a listserv or organization that will appreciate hearing your wisdom. One good thing about having 1.4 million blogs out there is that one of them is sure to be interested in your topic. There are more reviewers today than back when a daily paper landed on the curb at every house in the United States. The net gives like-minded readers and writers ways to find each other virtually and face-to-face. There are more riches than we can ever spend, but that also means that there is more than enough to go around. It's just a matter of finding it.

Some will find Twitter the perfect medium for self-expression while for others the idea of boiling something meaningful down to 140 characters will be anathema. Some will love blogging, others will start a charitable cause connected to their book. Some might come give workshops at great writers' organizations, such as the one that's featuring this post.

Some might even take to the road for seven months.

And when you do--whatever you do--please come find me. I'll be one of the connections that you make.

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer whose debut novel, Cover of Snow, was released by Ballantine in January 2013, and whose follow-up, Ruin Falls, will appear in April 2014. After making her home on the road for seven months, she has come to settle in upstate New York. For now. 


Teri Riggs said...

WOW! I'm impressed by your efforts. Great and inspiring post!

jenny milchman said...

Thanks, Teri! It really was less impressive than a massive amount of FUN. But--I realize it wouldn't be for everyone :)

Adriana Schanen said...

so inspiring and helpful, jenny! thanks for sharing this and best wishes for a lovely holiday. i loved COVER OF SNOW and can't wait for RUIN FALLS!
-Adriana Schanen

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jeeny,

It's great that you had the cooperation of your family in this. I know my husband gets upset when I as much as offer to talk at the local library. So my meet and great the public endeavors are limited. I don't know if Facebook, Twitter, etc. are helpful in promoting books, but we writers do need to find ways to reach out to readers. I do quite a bit of blogging, but again I seem to reach only other writers. So I haven't got a lot of helpful promotion suggestions to offer.

Leslie Budewitz said...

The key here, I think, is to do what you enjoy. Because if you don't enjoy what you're doing, what's the point? and you won't do it well, and your audience won't connect with you or your book. Writers come in all personality types, so our promotion plans need to vary, too.

Congratulations, Jenny, on a fabulous debut, and on sharing what you learned so generously!

jenny milchman said...

Adriana, thank you for those very kind words. You's still hard for me to believe anyone has read my book. I get chills to hear you liked it, and I thank you. Please come see me on tour if that works!

jenny milchman said...

Jacquie, is it the time that bugs your husband about your doing events? They are definitely time-intensive. I think with your books you have some natural, built-in audiences that wouldn't be only writers. What about magazines or blogs that deal with other-worldly elements?

jenny milchman said...

Leslie, you said it so well, I think you should write another blog post on this topic! And--congratulations on your own debut!! Were you happy with everything so far?

Pamela DuMond, D.C. said...

Hey Jenny.

Nice post! That book tour of yours was simply amazing. I'm still finding my way with marketing. Every new book seems to have a different path.


Sandra Hutchison said...

Good post, Jenny! You're absolutely right -- fundamentally, we need to find a way to make it work we enjoy. It's great that you and your family enjoyed such an adventure!

Steve Piacente said...

Hi, Jenny, great post, and I certainly know firsthand about what's required to even have a chance of success. I like to say that the good news about publishing is the same as the bad news. That is, anyone can publish, and everyone is, which has resulted in a very cluttered marketplace. Coincidentally, I just wrote a piece aimed at authors who have a hard time with marketing and promotion.
All the best, Steve

Maryann McFadden said...

Jenny, those who've traveled a bit of this road with you are so thrilled and excited for your career taking off. I cannot wait to read the next book!!! And yes, in the end, we have to choose writing because we love it, as we all know there are no guarantees. But hard work and persistence definitely do pay off. Miss you!