Okay, fine—a bit of baiting with that title. But, hear me out. There are some things that we all need to come to grips with before we can effectively reach any reader group.
For starters, let me take you back about a decade to my career in music. If you search Spotify for “Stonehigh” a melodic hard-rock/metal band will come up and you will hear the sweet sounds of my voice caressing your ear drums. I lived that band for years. I breathed, ate, and slept “Stonehigh”. We toured, we played everywhere we could. We talked to anyone who would listen. We marketed the mess out of ourselves.
After a few years a major record label came calling. They wanted to pick us up and give us a large advance to put out several albums and tour our butts off even more. I am a christian. I prayed. I didn’t feel right about things, so I said no. What I later found out solidified my response—a response that sounded ridiculous to most people around us. Bands don’t make money anymore. When you have major players like Jared Leto of 30 Sec to Mars (maybe better known as the new Joker in Suicide Squad) going on record admitting that they owe millions of dollars to their record labels you start to get a picture of what the industry is really like. Bands like System of a Down and the Deftones are unable to pay their bills without touring 3/4 of the year. (Much of this information can be found on Netflix by searching for ‘artifacts’).
It’s sad, but true—and it mirrors the book world as well. The days of huge publishers taking a relative unknown out of obscurity and catapaulting them into glorious light are well over. No matter who you are, you are still responsible for marketing and promoting yourself. Even traditional publishing houses expect you to do the leg work to get yourself discovered.
Much like a record label, a publishing house will offer you an ‘advance’. This means they will loan you $20k (arbitrary number) to use toward whichever avenue you see fit. A smart person knows that you should use it to promote yourself not to buy luxurious meals. Simply stated, you will never see a dime until you sell enough books to pay that $20k back to the publisher. If you never succeed at marketing yourself you will end up having all of your “traditionally published” paperbacks boxed up and shipped to discount resellers where it’ll be marked down to $1.99 just so the publisher can recoup some losses.
Here’s something to consider: which is better? Sell 1000 books as a self publisher or fail to meet the required sales in traditional publishing? If you fail, would someone want to try their luck on you again?
But what if you could say “1,000 readers have enjoyed my book. 200 of them reviewed me on Amazon and goodreads.”
I’ve become a part of many writers groups over the last months and found that there are still a lot of (specifically older) writers who are holding out for hope that some day they will be scooped up in the arms of a knight in shining armor, and be saved out of the hard work of marketing themselves. Self-promotion is the name of the business you are in. Writers: until you’ve established yourself with a fan base of loyal readers you will never truly have a reprieve from the grueling task of promotion.
Blogs are vital to your author-platform. But most important is making lasting relationships with people. No matter who they are. Even if they aren’t some super famous author who can help launch you. (Because they probably won’t anyway). Learning that anyone who is willing to read your words on a page is important to you will be your only way to success. Do you realize how many millions of books there are out there? Do you have any idea how uninspired most our writing actually is? Do you really think that your story is so amazing and unique that everyone should stop what they are reading and grab your book immediately? Don’t be so naive!
The opposite side of that is that we need to have enough faith in our product that we can sell it properly. You need to be excited about your book, otherwise no one will. But, let’s get one thing perfectly straight: you are writing so that people will read your book. If you’ve been rejected 40 times by traditional publishing houses, but still refuse to self-publish because you want ‘people to read my book’. You are failing on all accounts. Putting in the hard work of self publishing and selling 100 books over the course for 3 years is better than trying minimally and only being “read” by those who reject your manuscript.
The more readers you gain, the closer you will be to landing a deal with a traditional publisher, if that’s what you really want.