On Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. What is the number 1 business rule you want authors or publishers to rethink, or to understand better. Or what is the rule you feel is most misunderstood.
Today's essay from Simon Lipskar, literary agent and one of the smartest people I know.
These days, one of the first things a new client asks me is “what should I do to support my book?” Since the rise of the internet and the opening of certain doors of communication that had previously been sealed except to big money media players, authors have rightly realized that there are opportunities to market their work and to develop relationships with their readers. It’s become the seeming #1 rule for today’s authors: do it yourself or assume it won’t be done.
The catch is that we’ve reached a stage of sound and fury in which a whole lot of effort may not signify very much. It’s depressing to admit this, but if anything, I think it should be freeing for authors to realize that the burden of turning their books into bestsellers remains where it has always been: on the publishers.
That’s not to imply that authors shouldn’t do all the things that they can to promote themselves, but the ugly truth is without massive effort and expense, there’s not much they can do to break out of the pack that’s independent of their publishers’ efforts. Websites, for example, don’t really market books – they’re just static, if important, informational placeholders for the most part – and to make a site really valuable it has to provide regular compensations to visitors for their time. Whether blogging or aggregating or having active reader forums (pretty much the domain of superstar authors anyway), this stuff takes time, and a lot of it. If you’re independently wealthy, you can hire someone to do it for you, to update a site regularly, to be your web marketer. But if you’re a typical debut novelist who was paid a typical debut novel advance (say, $25-50,000 if we’re talking about a major corporate publisher) and you support yourself by working any of the thousand day jobs writers work, this is all far beyond your monetary resources.
There are certainly some excellent, maybe even essential, e-marketing programs available – such as MJ’s own AuthorBuzz or Bookreporter.com – but these are not promotions that “make” a book. They do that little bit extra, making sure readers are that small percentage more than minimally conscious of your book. These promotions are, to my mind, like coop placement, which has become the single largest marketing expense for publishers. Coop is completely essential: it’s just hugely unlikely that a book will work without significant front-of-store placement that is bought and paid for by the publisher, but it doesn’t “make” the book. Rather, it makes it possible for other forces – tremendous reviews, a brilliantly conceived and executed word-of-mouth marketing campaign, a major advertising spend, lightning striking, whatever – to “make” the book.
So, should you throw yourself wholeheartedly into becoming a world-class marketer of your books? Should you begin writing a daily blog that’s pithy and brilliant and specific enough about a certain topic to begin attracting readers and then holding their attention? Maybe. But, remember: as an author, your most valuable commodity is time, and this stuff takes time, and lots of it.
It might be time better spent on your actual work as a writer. Maybe you can write that second novel faster – or maybe spending more time on your new book will mean that it will just be better. And that, I think, is the most powerful and valuable thing an author can do to help his or her career: write the best possible books.