Author Delilah Dawson recently stirred things up in the writing world with a blog post, “Please shut up: why self-promotion for an author doesn’t work,” which you can read here.
In a nutshell, Dawson makes the argument that marketing has become both more difficult to do and saturated such as that it doesn’t have the same effect. The result is authors turn up the volume, creating more noise.
I have to say I both agree and disagree.
I’m old enough to remember back when the marketing stuff I did was cutting edge. Not cutting edge as in original–Marketing 101 is always the best way to go at least as a foundation–but cutting edge as in that kind of thing wasn’t something authors normally did. I recognized at the time that I was with a small press with limited resources, and the best thing I could do would be to promote my own stuff.
So I did a blog, social media, a little advertising, email list, giveaways, conventions, contacting reviewers, book trailers, some other things. At the time, I think it had a real impact.
Now everybody seems to be doing it, so it’s harder to reach new readers.
That, and it’s getting harder to be heard. In particular, Facebook used to be a great way to connect with fans and prospective readers. Then Facebook decided to start blackmailing its users, making them pay for their posts to be more visible to their friends. That really sucked.
I was surprised by how quickly the landscape changed. The good thing is more authors than ever get it–that whether you self publish or you’re with a Big 5 publishing house, you have to promote your work. The bad thing is that it’s now harder to break through all the noise.
Dawson sums up a formula for success: “The recipe seems to be GREAT BOOK + HARD WORK + TIME + LUCK.”
I’ve been saying the same thing for years. People would ask me, “How did you do it?”
First, “doing it” is always temporary. The hard thing about professional writing is fortunes come and go. It’s a long game, and it’s a hard one.
Second, many authors give an answer that can be basically summarized, “Here’s what I did. Do that, and you’ll get published. Easy!”
Everybody’s path to publication and decent sales is different. There is no real formula. If there is one, I would offer my variation on Dawson: “Produce a good book, get it out there, and get lucky.”
In this case, “good book” and “lucky” are closely related but not entirely.
Writing a good book is the best marketing you can do. If somebody likes your book, they’ll tell their friends about it. That’s it. That’s the main way books get sold.
Luck comes into play more sharply when you write a good book in a genre that’s taking off or that somehow resonates with the public for some reason. I was lucky to write some zombie books when that genre was about to skyrocket. The books were also good, so they became popular among these readers. Luck can also run against you. SUFFER THE CHILDREN came out from Simon & Schuster in a year horror books took a 23% hit in sales. The title broken even for them in the first six months, making it an average title, but it could have done better.
What Dawson is missing that I include is “get your work out there.” Meaning, sure, everybody’s doing marketing these days for their books, so it’s harder to stand out and build a huge platform. But that doesn’t mean “shutting up” is the answer. The answer is to do it–because you can, it poses very little cost, and it’s a great way to connect and think of your fiction as a business. You’re telling people the book is available. However, authors have to have realistic expectations about its impact. Put your work out there. If it’s good it will sell. If it resonates with the public and exciting in some way such that readers get other readers to buy, then it will sell well.
Dawson got a lot of feedback from her post, prompting a follow up post, “Wait, keep talking: author self promo that actually works,” which you can read here.
To summarize, she says when you do marketing, be genuine, positive, non-repetitive. Yup. Promote without overdoing it. I think seeing constant Facebook posts by authors haranguing people to buy their books prompted her first blog post. She backtracked a bit to saying marketing is good but be good about it. But she offers no magic bullet, no new techniques.
Until somebody comes up with something new, authors just have to expect that there’s more competition out there than ever before, and most of these other writers are to some extent doing marketing.
What’s my advice? I’ll share the advice I gave myself: Stop putting pressure on yourself. Do what you love because you love it. Keep doing it, and always produce quality work.