Saturday’s “business side of writing” workshop reiterated the familiar disheartening theme that today’s authors (especially new authors) cannot focus solely on their writing. They need to think like entrepreneurs. Extroverts make great entrepreneurs. Alas, most writers are introverts, people who love to sit alone at their computers and create worlds.
“I don’t want to do all that promotion stuff, and I don’t know how!” is the common reaction. It’s like telling a boy who loves baseball that to succeed he also needs to take up needlepoint.
One of the presenters, Bob Mayer, pointed out today’s writers must compete fiercely for discoverability. In recent years, the estimated number of books published (mostly self-published) in the United States is between 600,000 and 1,000,000 a year. It takes a lot of effort to have any book noticed. It’s one frozen drop in a Niagara of ice.
Only two hardcover fiction books have been on the current New York Times list of best-sellers for more than 16 weeks (alas, and my snobbery is showing, one is by Dan Brown, but the other is Gone Girl, a super read). Eleven of the 15 have been on the list less than three months. Remember when books were on the best-seller list for a year or more? Those were the horse-and-buggy days of book marketing, as gone as the girl is.
Our second coach, the estimable Jen Talty, pointed out the flaw in writers’ tendency to hang out with other writers—people who don’t ask, “So when is your book coming out?” when they learn the first draft (of probably 15) is done. What she advised writers to do is to connect with readers. That takes work and as much creativity as goes into the novel itself. “My book is for everyone” isn’t a marketing strategy.
Talty and Mayer have their own publishing partners enterprise, Cool Gus Publishing, capitalizing on opportunities in both traditional and electronic publishing. A key difference between the two is that traditional publishers are most interested in initial sales. If a book doesn’t do well out of the gate, traditional publishers’ efforts to promote it go from minimal to nonexistent, and the book vanishes. By contrast, Amazon (Kindle) and other e-publishers are in it for the long haul. Maintaining the e-file is all but free, and if an author has a book success next year or the year after or the year after that, sales of the earlier book will likely head up, too. Writers sitting on a backlist of books that never sold well are finding new revenues.
The publishing mountain gets steeper, but writers persist. It’s in our bones. Perhaps that’s because, as Mayer said, and contrary to the common expression, “Storytelling is the oldest profession.”