Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Overlooked Job of a Writer by Leverett Butts

There are several writing concerns that new writers instantly understand. The most obvious concern, of course, is where to get ideas.

Ask any veteran writer and he or she will tell you:
Every night around midnight, Tinkerbell craps pixie dust on your sleeping head
and inspiration is born. 
Another common concern is whether or not you need an agent (which is itself a question deserving of its own topic blog).

YOSSARIAN: So in order to get published, I need an agent, but I can't get an agent unless I've been published?
DANEEKA: You got it. That's Catch-22.
YOSSARIAN: That's some catch, that Catch-22.
DANEEKA: It's the best there is.
Royalties are another concern new writers seem to have. Everyone wants to know how much money they're going to get for their magnum opus. Probably somewhere between diddly and squat, honestly.

Unless this is your Opus; then you'll have royalties coming out of your ears.
Unfortunately, most of these concerns are usually out of your hands as a writer. You either have an idea or you don't; you can't go shopping for them. An agent will either pick you up or not; you can't force one to.
Unless you kidnap Qui Gon Jinn's daughter and force him to use the 
Jedi mind trick on the agent.

You will not live off your royalties, nor should you expect much (read: any) of an advance if your name is not Stephen King.

One concern, though, that many new writers overlook is, ironically, one of the few they have direct control over: promoting their work. This seems to be something many feel will take care of itself. Either the publisher will drop boatloads of cash on book tours and full-page ads and billboards and professional book trailers for your unknown first novel, or people will simply wake up one morning, magically understanding the beauty that is your genius and flock to Barnes & Noble cash in hand demanding their copy.

Pixie poo is apparently good fertilizer for more than just ideas.

Sadly, this is not the case. Whether you are traditionally published through one of the major houses, published by an independent firm, or self-published, the onus of promotion is going to fall squarely on your shoulders. 

Thankfully, you have Dr. Uncle Lev to offer up three suggestions that have worked well for him.

3. Share Your Work

Sometimes this means giving away free copies, but that's not really what I'm talking about here. I mean giving out free samples of your work in the form of public readings. It is insanely easy to get local readings. There are venues aplenty in your town, regardless of size. Does your town have a coffee shop? If so, they will, more than likely, be happy to host your reading. It doesn't even matter how good you are. After all, readings and coffee shops have gone hand-in-hand ever since the beatniks doo-wopped their gasses in a crazy hep patter over java and joe:

If you're worried that your writing's no good, fear not. It has to be
better than beatnik poetry, and they practically invented public readings.

There are plenty of other venues for a reading as well. Your local library will almost certainly be perfectly happy to offer you a stage for a reading. While you're there, offer them a free copy of your book for their shelves.

Ask your local independent bookseller for a reading as well. What better way to sell books than at a bookstore? Even more important here is that the bookseller will almost certainly sell your books for you on a consignment basis (which just means the store gets a small cut of your sales).

If your local college has a creative writing group, offer to give a reading for them. Or if they host an open mic event, take part in it.

In other words, make yourself visible in your community and its environs. These people are, after all, going to be your primary audience, and if they like your work, they will buy it, and hopefully recommend it to their friends.

2. Contact the Media
Admittedly, as an unknown author, the New York Times Book Review is unlikely to care about your new book. Your local papers, though, will almost certainly want to know about it. You can write up a press release for them and ask if they'd be interested in running it (if they ask for money, consider it. It is, after all, advertisement). If you have a reading coming up, ask the paper if they'd like to cover it. 

Hell, if they'll run this boring story, they should jump at the chance to cover you.

You might also ask if anyone on staff would be interested in reviewing your book for the paper. If so, give them a free copy for review.

If your community offers a local access cable channel, consider asking one of the hosts to interview you.

Again, the point here is to make yourself known to your community and the surrounding area. However, it's not a bad idea to try to spread your name out to a wider audience, which brings me to my last suggestion.

1. Create an Online Presence

Since we now live in the digital age, it is easier than ever to grow your name beyond your geographical area through the use of social media. 

Consider creating a Facebook page for your author persona. Post status updates about your latest project, reading, or media appearance. However, also post online articles you find that have to do with writing or the subject matter of your work. Essentially, use it just like you would your "real" Facebook page, but without all the politics, religion, passive/agressive cryptic rants, and cat pictures.

Well this one's okay I guess.

Consider doing these same things on a Twitter feed as well. You can even set up Twitter so that it automatically posts to your Facebook page

If you are selling your book on Amazon (and if you aren't, you really need to fix that), be sure to set up your free author page. You can link your Twitter feed to this page, post upcoming reading dates and venues, and host online discussions of your work.

Finally, consider writing a regular or semi-regular blog. This blog does not necessarily have to be about writing at all. It can be about anything you find interesting. 

Or uninteresting for that matter.
This guy set out to write a boring blog
and reaped over 350 replies to a post about straightening pencils.

The long and short of it is that you need to be online, and in multiple areas. If you are online, you are instantly available to people around the world, and while you may not reach as many people worldwide as you do in your community, even one person overseas who notices you is one more than you would have had.

Except for this guy. You're probably not available to this guy.

If you're very lucky, you might even be asked to contribute regularly to a European writers blog.


12 comments:

Leverett Butts said...

I apologize if you're reading this post on an Apple device. Apparently, Apple doesn't recognize the videos I posted as worth your time.

Chris Longmuir said...

That's OK, reading it on my PC. Entertaining as well as informative post, Lev. One comment re the small percentage the book store takes to sell your books. That can range anything between a third to a half of the selling price, hardly small! In some cases the book store makes more than I do!

Kathleen Jones said...

Great fun Lev - and bang on the nail!

I echo Chris Longmuir on the bookshops - I wholesale books in the UK and the discount is 50% to wholesale distributors and 40% to bookshops. They certain do make more than I do!

A Cuban In London said...

Whenever I read an article (and a fine article this one is) about where to get ideas from, I always quote the late Cuban film-maker Humberto Solás. When asked about his inspiration and where it came from, he simply answered: I just go out and live.

Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it.

Greetings from London.

madwippitt said...

That was a sad article in the newspaper. Hat Rescue is overflowing, so every day entirely blameless hats are destroyed. It is not the hat's fault that the owner has abandoned it, for no fault of it's own other than that he/she has become bored with it or can no longer be bothered to maintain it. The really sad thing is that the owner will probably just go out and buy a new one which will eventually meet the same fate. Don't buy a new hat: rehome a rescue one!

Lydia Bennet said...

Witty fun post as usual Lev! On the inspiration question, I can't see the point of writing if you've got nothing to say, ie no idea or story to tell, so getting ideas shouldn't be a problem, but it's finding time to write when you are flat out busy promoting the existing work and getting it out there on social media. Book shops here aren't keen to take small press books or self-pub, and there aren't that many gigs, with masses of writers queueing up for them: I do a lot of readings and poetry performances and can see how the number available has declined with loss of funding for events and libraries closing or switching to volunteer-run, etc. But good advice generally!

Lydia Bennet said...

Witty fun post as usual Lev! On the inspiration question, I can't see the point of writing if you've got nothing to say, ie no idea or story to tell, so getting ideas shouldn't be a problem, but it's finding time to write when you are flat out busy promoting the existing work and getting it out there on social media. Book shops here aren't keen to take small press books or self-pub, and there aren't that many gigs, with masses of writers queueing up for them: I do a lot of readings and poetry performances and can see how the number available has declined with loss of funding for events and libraries closing or switching to volunteer-run, etc. But good advice generally!

Pauline Chandler said...

Thanks for all this good advice! I'm inspired to do more promotion online, starting with a facebook author page. Great idea!

Bill Kirton said...

Loved it, Lev, and it answered the question I asked on Pam's blog about the difference between an author FB page and a 'normal' one. Thanks for the info and the laughs.

Dennis Hamley said...

Great post, Lev.About the advances. Once I used to get not great but just enough to make it worthwhile advances. Amazingly, a small publisher has just taken two short books, which I'm pleased about because it shows I'm not dead yet. But there are no advances. Frankly I didn't expect them and certainly won't bother protesting. Huge royalties next year? Dream on. I echo Lydia/Val's remarks about gigs, readings and and independent bookshops.

Reb MacRath said...

Terrific infotainment, Lev. I may have to send you an email about the FB author page. Havin' some wee technical problems with that. My troubles begin with their refusal to spell my name as MacRath, not Macrath.

Reb MacRath said...

My confusion continues with your Facebook link taking me to the Amazon author page.