By: Joelle Charbonneau
Because of advances in technology, the way we read, buy books and market books has changed. Writers have more choices when it comes to publishing their books. You can choose to work with the established brick and mortar system that has been in place for decades or become your own publisher or go with something in between.
With so many options open to writers, it should come as no surprise that there are even more opinions about how a writer should proceed when it comes to publishing, marketing and just about everything else in the industry. The effort of reading all of those opinions would be enough to send someone into information overload.
The crazy thing is – almost everyone has an opinion about how to do it. Or maybe I should say they have an opinion about how they have chosen to explore publishing. And just because someone else has had success or failure with a certain avenue doesn’t mean the same will happen for you. This isn’t like buying a towel or a pair of socks where most sizes fit all. Publishing is personal. Which makes sense because your work is personal. And it would be foolish to believe that all books are the same or that all publishing journeys should follow the same path.
So – with that in mind, here are some of the issues every writer (traditionally published or self published) encounters and the reasons why one size doesn’t fit all.
1) Yes – agent! No – agent! You’ll see arguments for an against the need for a literary agent in this age of the Internet. And wow – the arguments (especially against) can be very forceful. Some say having an agent limits your career. Others say it expands it. Which is right? Well, I can only tell you that neither is wrong. An agent is someone who represents your work to publishers. So, if you are choosing to self-publish you probably don’t need one. However if you want to go through the more traditional publishing model – agents are necessary. They also work hard to sell translation, film and audio rights. For that effort, they make a percentage of all that you earn.
2) Editors are not all created equal. Do you need an editor – yes! No matter who you are it is necessary to have another pair of eyes look and help you revise your work. Why? Because you know what you intended to say. A fresh reader will help you understand what you really said and where passages or story points that seem clear to you are confusing to others. A good editor is worth his or her weight in gold. However, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t meant that they are the right editor for your project. If you are hiring an editor to help with your project, ask lots of questions and have a conversation about what you are looking for in an editor. Ask for samples of the editor’s work and referrals. Don’t just trust that the right editor for your friend is the correct editor for you. Also, as a traditionally published author – you often have little say in which editor loves and chooses to offer you a contract on your work. However, you can ask around about the editor’s style. If you know the editor is more strongly regarded because of their eye for strong writing voices and not for their editorial input, you can always ask your agent or a trusted reader for opinions on the story before it is put into production. Editors are important pieces of the publishing puzzle, but it is the author’s name that goes on the cover of the book. That is the name the reader will remember. Don’t let them associate that name with poor editing.
3) Bookmarks and swag – Often the first thing an author does after seeing the cover art for their book is order bookmarks and other swag. Why? Is it genuinely effective in helping sell your book to readers? Does swag effect purchase intent? Some will say YES! I know agents that insist their authors have swag or some sort of paper product with their cover on it whenever they go to events or to conferences. Other agents shrug at that kind of marketing collateral. No one knows exactly what swag or marketing materials help sell books. If you love handing out bookmarks – get them! If you have some extra cash and want to spend it on cool trinkets – have at it. But remember that NO ONE knows exactly what influences book purchases. So, if you don’t have the cash or the inclination to get bookmarks or postcards printed – that’s okay, too.
4) Blog tours – Here is a tricky one. Blog tours were the new, fabulous, exciting public relations tools about a decade ago. Back then, a blog tour appeared to generate sales. Now? Again, no one knows. There are a lot more blogs now. The audience for those blogs is thinned out amongst them. And because blog tours are still hugely popular (because – hey – you don’t have to pay for food or hotel or transportation with this kind of tour) not a day passes without dozens and dozens of authors posting about their books on the world wide web. With so much content out there, and so many books touring the Internet, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. If you like blog tours – hooray! Have at it. If you hate creating Internet content and don’t want to play – that’s good, too. Your publisher will certainly have ideas about what they would like you to do, but they aren’t going to make you do a 40 stop tour with original content required for each stop. Strategic blog tours can still help get the word out, but they are not the end all be all of PR. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
5) Reviews – Do reviews matter? Well, they provide validation for some authors and many bookstores or libraries use them to help gauge which books should be ordered for their patrons. But I know books that get great reviews that never sell well and books that are panned which sell zillions of copies. Go fig! Clip the good ones. Throw away the bad ones. Or create a bonfire and put both versions on the fire. Up to you.
6) Social Media - Twitter. Facebook. Tumbler. Instagram. (what is this? I mean, really!!!! Someone tell me why it is different than just posting a photo to Twitter. I’m baffled) Google Plus (does anyone use it?). Pinterest. And more! There are so many platforms. Everyone will tell you what the platform is that they have found the most useful. I know some who love Tumbler. Others adore Facebook or Pinterest. Twitter is either hated or beloved. There is no right or wrong answer here. Try them out. See what you like. Ditch the rest. Your career doesn’t hinge on being fabulous at all aspects of social media or even any of them.
7) The Amazon sales ranking – Some would argue it means everything! Others will say it means nothing. The truth? Only the great and powerful wizard behind the curtain knows and he ain’t talking. Everyone agrees that more goes into the sales number than just…well…sales. And that’s the only thing everyone agrees on. The facts and figures aren’t available to tell us what those numbers really mean. If they are important to you – okay. If not, no worries. You’re not alone.
The list of things people will insist an author needs to know or do is almost endless. Certainly, these are only the tip of the iceberg. Do this. Do that. Spend money. Don’t. I’ve listened to lots of advice. I’ve tried lots of it. You know what I’ve learned? There is only one thing an author must do to help their career.
Write the next book. Because really – that is the only thing you can control.