Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Now it Really *is* a Business—Eek!

It’s easy enough to tell yourself that you need to think of writing as a business (see my posts of July 27 and August 10)—but it’s harder to put your money where your mouth is.

I just did that, and it caused me a sleepless night.

In the olden days, publishers used to spend a lot of time and money promoting books. They still do—but now, financial realities make them reserve most of their efforts and dollars for their top-selling authors. So far, anyway, I’ve been a good, solid mid-list author, not a top-seller. My books earn out their advances and churn out nice royalties, making money for me and for my publisher.

Not a lot of money, though. There are readers and critics who love my books—just not enough of them. Historical fiction is a notoriously hard sell; I had several agents turn me down as a client because they say they can’t place it with a publisher. (These are the same agents who repeat again and again: “I don’t care about genre; all I want is a good story and good writing,” and then they tell me, “Love the story, love your writing, but I can’t sell historical.” But I digress.) Thank goodness I've found a wonderful agent who loves historical fiction and is willing to keep working on editors to love it too!

I don’t write dystopian trilogies, and I don't write about the monster du jour (vampires or zombies or werewolves or whatever), or about teen suicide or rape or bullying. Some of my favorite authors write important books in those genres, but that’s not what moves me to write.

My publishers do the best they can with their limited resources and limited staff, all of whom have been wonderful and helpful and have sent review copies everywhere I’ve asked them to. But my sales are hardly astronomical, and at many book fairs I’m listed as “also appearing,” while authors who have written less than I do, with less-glowing reviews and fewer sales, are headliners.

So what would you tell a manufacturer who is convinced of her product’s value but who has a recognition problem? Why, advertise, of course!

Do I know how to advertise? Can I identify what is a good place to send a review copy to, and what would be a waste of time and postage, not to mention a perfectly good book? Can I rattle off the names of the top reader blogs? No.

So I’ve hired a publicist. I heard her speak at the SCBWI conference last month and was greatly impressed. We talked on the phone for an hour the other day, and yesterday, after the sticker shock at the cost of a two-month “campaign” had eased a bit, I gulped, signed a contract, and wrote a check.

I tell myself clichés like, “You have to spend money to make money”, but I still needed chemical assistance to get to sleep last night.

I'll keep you posted.


  1. I'm very interested to see how this goes! Please do keep us updated. I have another writer friend who spends a lot of money on promoting her own books, but I've never been able to pull the trigger on it myself.

  2. I'm interested too, Alan! I have no experience with this and it will be quite a journey.