We’ve all heard for years that rejection by agents and publishers can be a huge problem for writers. Relief came with the development of self-publishing technology. Details on the numbers of self-published books vary widely, but range up to one third of all books available today. However, with so many books available, (2,700,245,640 individual units sold in 2014–and that 2 is two billion), it’s obvious bookstores and libraries must cut stocking lists to a manageable size. So where do they start cutting? Self-published books are the first things cut or ignored completely. Yes, it is possible for a self-published author to achieve stocking in their home area stores, but stocking is iffy otherwise unless something about that book has brought it into general public interest.
One problem? Self-published books are too often full of editing mistakes. We writers can rarely edit our own books successfully. For one thing, we read what we think we said. We read what pleases us, not realizing our readers may not “get it” or will be just plain bored. And, of course, there can be appalling grammar and spelling mistakes. Fortunately, these days, self-pubbed writers are more aware of potential problems, and many are wise enough to hire an independent editor or, at least, to work with a good critique group. But the stigma sticks and, in many cases, is still justified.
What about those of us who sell books to publishers with editors who help catch problems, assuming the quality of the book has passed potential inspection by a publisher and/or agent? Of course we must present the best book possible and here, too, a critique group or independent editor can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.
And, after the book comes out, bringing it to public attention is–for the most part–done by authors, not publishers, whether that publisher be Random House or Granny’s Garage Press. Statistics say a large percentage of published books do not sell more than 250 copies per year. To enhance promotion, some authors hire a savvy independent publicist who will help get the word out well beyond an individual author’s reach.
So, on our own, and with any help we can add, we promote–largely on line. Honest truth? On an average day in my office I spend up to five hours on promotion, especially when a new book has just come out. I get the question “WHY?” when new authors hear this.
For each book, I write a marketing plan made up of many avenues of promotion, including an active on line presence. I think you can figure out why that’s important. Yesterday’s advertising methods have most often been replaced by reading on a screen, especially a tiny hand-held one. So I write guest blogs and, when I can get to it, my own blog on WordPress. I post to groups like facebook and twitter. I update information on sites like DorothyL, and Goodreads, plus groups I am part of–Oak Tree Press, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America. Taking advantage of all the ways there are to get news out about my profession and my current products–novels–obviously takes a big hunk of time out of my day. I am not alone in this. Other authors talk about the fact that promotion, instead of the act of writing itself, takes too much time. (This is especially difficult for parents and those who have a “day job.”)
All this information is not exactly cheering. So, why do so many of us continue writing and submitting?
Some time ago newspaper editor Richard J. Cattani offered this advice to potential writers: “Your writing should begin with motive, not process.” Okay, process is what I have been talking about. But what about motive? Webster says “motive” is “a need or desire that causes a person to act.” That sounds like an ordinary human life. Well, what about book characters?
As a mystery writer, I believe that, when evil happens and my characters react to it, there is a truth in the background waiting to be discovered. Of course book people will be the ones to do this–after I discover in my thought-file ways to resolve the challenges I have placed before them. Often I do not know how an issue will be resolved when the problem is presented but, over the years, I have learned the answer is there and always appears when needed. Do other authors work like this? In my own case, I knew what the art crime would be in A Portrait to Die For long before I became aware of how it would be brought to light and what the result would be. A writer uses imagination, intuition, and inspiration for problem-solving. We have a deep interest in the human condition and the world we live in, and we do our work on a highly intuitive level, noticing, pondering, sharing, and, quite often–at least in my case–hoping we are sharing solutions that may be helpful to our readers while we offer them adventure and entertainment.
For me, that’s a great motive for being a writer.