Love me! Read me! Buy me!
Writing a book takes a certain set of skills: intense concentration, imagination, the ability to read the same 400 pages time after time, and the fortitude to take criticism (excuse me, ahem, critique) without weeping. You must learn to shut out all noise at a given moment and you must love solitude.
Getting your book in reader's hands requires the opposite: writing in 140-character soundbites, talking about oneself while sounding modest, balancing online me! me! me! without having REGO (readers eyes glaze over) or worse, RSOY (readers sick of you.)
Anyone who has read the hysterical, but frighteningly close to the truth, New Yorker piece on promotion knows how much falls on the writer these days. (Surprisingly few readers know this; at a recent book club, members were shocked to learn writers did their own promotion.) Even if one has great and supportive publicists, much of the responsibility for getting that book read is on the writer.
"You have to sell it one book at a time," my agent warned me.
How was I supposed to do that? I pictured myself walking door to door with a box of books slung around my neck in the manner of nightclub cigarette girls of yore. In terror, I read every book I could find (thus buying their books), listened to experienced writers, attended forums on promotion, jumped from one online site to another, lurked in online forums (and finally came out of the closet and wrote sad plaintive pleas on same forums) and, in short, thus tried to get a cheap fast Masters in SMB (selling my book.)
The problem is this: except for the most ego-driven or ego-protected among us, it's an unnatural position for most writers. We like working in pajamas. We like watching sentences unfold as ideas unfurl. We don't like shaking our booties.
But to sell, we must.
This is the uncomfortable truth. If you want to follow your fantasy of writing and publishing, then you gotta shake that booty. You must learn how to sell without appearing crazed -- because nobody likes the snake oil man. You must swallow your pride and put it out there--Look, I wrote a book! Want to buy it? -- without coming across as greedy, crazed, or so entranced by yourself that people back away in horror.
None of us succeed all the time. Once I got an email from the moderator of an online alumni group to which I belong. I'd sent out a group email inviting members to a reading I'd be giving in NYC, and received this squirm-inducing scold: Usually I try not to use the XYZ Group for personal promotion. Please refrain in the future.
Shame overcame me as my self-image went from energetic-information-sharer to self-promoting-hussy. I imagined whispers in the online hallways: Who does she think she is? God, enough, already. Will she ever shut up about that damn book?
But they said I have to, I whine.
Yeah. It's hard out there for a pimp. But, I remind myself: this is my dream. Suck it up, self. So here's my advice for writer-friends and my pleas to reader-friends:
Readers: Forgive us each day our daily shilling. It's the only game in town these days. And if you have it in your hearts, and you like our books, please pass the word along. If you really love it, write a review on Amazon or B&N or Goodreads. You can't believe how much it means.
Writers: Don't overdo it online. Talk about other books besides your own. Find a launch buddy or two. Or three. Someone with whom you can be as whiny and self-pitying as you need, someone who won't judge you for it. BFF launch sisters and brothers. Make sure it's someone you can truly root for and who will totally root for you. Know that sometimes she'll be ahead of you. That's okay -- keep rooting. That's what sisters and brothers do for each other.
Most important, learn, learn, and learn more. And then remember, no one can do it all. When promoting, pick that which excites you, or at the very least, engages you the most. Passion attracts. Sullen shuffling, not so much.
Handholds writers through every aspect of publishing, including publicity... I call this book an instant shrink for writers: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
Great help to prepare for reading in public: Naked at the Podium: The Writer's Guide to Successful Readings by Peter V.T. Kahle and Melanie Workhoven
Step-by-step guides for publicity, marketing and more: Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval; The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity by Lissa Warren; Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer
And because it's important to remember the creative side of why you do this, a book I love: Mentors, Monsters & Muses by Elizabeth Benedict
For a plethora of resources (web designers, publicists, networks and more) from a trusted source (plus, Bella Stander offers excellent seminars and consulting for authors): Book Promotion 101
For marketing expertise:AuthorBuzz (brainchild of author MJ Rose.)
For finding support among other authors (from beginners to multi-published)Backspace for Writers
For finding lists of festivals, ratings of review sites and much more:Preditors & Editors
Finish off with this New York Times essay on book promotion by Tony Perrottet for a historical view. Yeah, even Walt Whitman had to shake his booty.