Monthly archives for October, 2012

The New World of Publishing: Maybe You Wrote a Good Book

This is sort of a continuation of the last promotion post, but a ton of words shorter I promise. And if you haven’t read the comments on the last promotion post, I would suggest you do so. Some wonderful discussion there.

I saved this part of the promotion post to stand alone because I knew if I didn’t, it would get lost. So here is my thesis statement:

Maybe your book is selling because it’s a great book. Not because you promoted it.

I know. Shock! Am I trying to tell you that good storytelling sells?

Yes, I am. Because readers have this scary ability to hear about and go find good writing and good stories they want to read.

And a bad or amateur story doesn’t sell no matter how much you Twitter and Facebook and blog tour about it. Sorry.

I was stunned in the last post that I only got one comment “But what about Amanda Hocking?”

Amanda Hocking has a blog with a lot of followers where she talks about her life in general and sometimes her books. But why her books sold as much as they did and why New York stepped in and offered her millions was not because of her blog. Nope. The readers and New York did not buy her blog. It was because she wrote some damn fine books that readers wanted to read.

It really is that simple.

But putting the responsibility squarely back on the writer’s shoulders to write better stories is scary. Especially to new writers who really don’t understand what it takes to write a quality story that hundreds or thousands or millions will want to read. New writers don’t even know what they don’t know. They just don’t have the study or the practice or the words under their fingers yet.

Writing good stories is a skill that takes time to learn. It can be learned. It’s not a talent, it’s a craft that can be studied and learned with enough effort and drive and practice.

But writing and learning need to be the focus.

So if you are out promoting your third novel and wondering why it’s not selling, maybe your time would be better served to learn how to write a better story. Just maybe.

Just saying…

Attitude is Everything!!

A mentor of mine once told me a secret about writing that really, really hit home.

He and I were in a workshop and he told some young beginning writer (with a horrid attitude) to turn a story into a novel. That was his entire critique of the story which was so poorly done that it had no hope at all in my opinion. And the writer was so full of himself, he wasn’t going to listen to anything negative about the story anyway. He thought his one story a masterpiece and he was going to make sure the world knew it was. In fact, the only reason he had submitted it to the workshop was to impress my mentor friend.

So as we were walking away from the workshop, I asked my mentor why he had told the young writer to turn that awful story into a novel.

My mentor just smiled and said, “With someone like him who has a pile of crap, tell them to make it into a bigger pile of crap and they go away happy.”

Folks, sorry, but if you have only written one novel or few short stories, promoting a pile of crap just won’t help you.

And trust me, I wrote some really heaping, steaming piles of crap when I started out. We all do. And my piles of crap were pretentious because I came from a poetry background and thought I knew everything about writing. They were rewritten to death because I believed that was the way to create art. They had zero thought to the art of storytelling or what a reader on the other side might be thinking when reading it.

They stank up the place and I had no idea at the time.

Looking back, I have no idea what would have happened to me at that point in the 1970s when I wrote those early stories if I had the modern world of easy access to publishing. I imagine I would have published and promoted them to death and wondered why readers were so stupid as to not understand my great art.

Luckily I didn’t, so I just sent them to editors who paid no attention and sent me form rejections.

Writing good stories readers want to read is a craft that can be learned, but it takes time. And a ton of practice and learning combined with the practice. Focused practice.

Attitude is everything. And that attitude needs to be a hunger to learn and to become a better storyteller.

So my suggestion: Put your story out on the market either to editors or readers and forget it and focus forward on learning and writing more stories. It can’t hurt you to have them out. No one will read them if they are a stinking pile of crap. So no big deal.

And if you happened to have gotten close to a story that works, then readers will pay you money for it without you doing a thing to push them. And you will then know and can take credit for writing a good story.

And when that happens, take the credit. You will deserve it.

Keep writing and learning and writing and learning and writing and learning.

There will be enough time down the road for promotion of the right book.

And keep having fun.

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Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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The New World of Publishing: Promotion

I actually should do this under the “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” series of articles, but decided that since so many newer fiction writers have bought into the myth of promotion, hook, line, and sinker, this should go here along with the “Seasons of Publishing” article I just did a week or so ago.

I understand I am going to step on a few feelings (called land mines) with this post. If this makes you angry, come and talk to me when you have over a hundred novels published and been making your living with your fiction for over thirty years. At least get past your anger enough to consider what I am talking about. Then ignore it if you want.

So all those warnings done, let me start off with the following summary statement: Promotion can help book sales when done right and for the right reasons.

The problem is, of course, most indie writers only believe the myths of promotion and wouldn’t have a clue on how to do it right. But then the question is: What is the right kind of promotion? I’ll get to that.

Some basic history

Up until fifteen or twenty years ago, no author thought about doing promotion for any book on their own. Never happened. Publishers sometimes asked authors to go out and do a tour, on the publisher’s dime, but past that it never happened. Publishers all knew it was worthless.

One day I was at the Pocket Book offices in New York when one of the editors slammed down the phone and made a swearing sound. Someone asked what was wrong and the editor went on about how this author was badgering to have a promotion tour. All of us laughed because the author was just a low-level media writer and a beginner.

Then another editor laughed and said, “Give him a mercy tour and let him discover what it is like to sit alone in a bookstore for a few hours.”

That was the first time I had heard that term “mercy tour” spoken out loud. But not the last. Basically it means let the author go to some bookstores, have a publicist at the company spend an hour or so to set up a few things. The reason it was called a “mercy tour” was to get the author out of the hair of the editor. It would not sell one extra copy of the book and everyone knew it, but it made the baby author happy. And it allowed the editor some breathing room from the annoying author. (Mercy for the editor.)

Way back in the dark ages of the previous form of publishing (meaning mid-1990s), the romance writers started the idea of going off to give distributor truck drivers copies of their books and cookies as bribes to put their books on the top rack. (Added note: I have been told that Louis L’amour started this much earlier and the romance writers picked it up.)

The romance writers also started authors doing bookmarks and flyers and God-knows-what kind of thing to get bookstores to buy their books.

Without one thought to the poor bookstore owner on the other side of the garbage being poured at him.

 

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