by Janis Patterson
Whether you self-publish or go with a traditional publisher, the burden of publicity falls on you. Yes, even with a traditional publisher you are responsible for getting your name out there – unless, that is, you are already a household name, in which case you needn’t read any further.
Publicity is one of the banes of a writer’s existence. At least it is for me. I’m gregarious in public. I have a lot of friends and I enjoy talking. Seems I would be a natural for doing publicity, doesn’t it?
Wrong. I was raised in an old-fashioned manner, where it was considered crude and vulgar to push oneself forward, which is just about what publicity amounts to. Plus, I love the ‘aloneness’ of writing. I love sitting in a room, playing with my computer as I invent populations and worlds and events. (Some call it a god-complex; I call it fun.)
Whatever one calls it, to me that is what writing is about. The publicity circus is something else. I don’t see where adding my voice to the cacophony of “Buy My Book!” out there is good for me, people in general or my book. A couple of announcements upon release or winning a prize I can tolerate, or a couple of discretely placed ads, but not this constant “Here’s an excerpt – you’re going to love it so much you’ll want to buy my book!”, even though there are loops devoted to nothing else. I cannot help but wonder how anyone has time to buy any of these books if they read all the excerpts posted.
On one of these excerpt loops there are two women (whose names I am not going to reveal) who post two or three excerpts every day. Every single day. They must be faster writers than I, because with doing so much publicity how do they have time to write or have any kind of a life?
We won’t even talk about the tsunami of free books out there, which have to be promoted just as much as a full-price one, let alone the problems and frustrations of getting a book out there for free. I’m not allowed to use that kind of language.
I had an interesting call from one of the minions in one of my publishers – yes, I’m a hybrid, and no, I’m not going to name names here, either – chiding me for not doing enough publicity for my books with them. If I would only push my books more, she said, like holding giveaways and engaging with my readers through social media and buying ads I would be selling so much more. Needless to say, this is a big publishing house – one with which I do not intend to publish again, for this and several other reasons.
I was polite to her (my mother raised me to always be polite) but basically told her I was waiting out my contract to get my rights back – if I can get them back. Big publishers are becoming notorious about not giving rights back at all through one dodge or another. She was horrified. Didn’t I want to sell books and make money?
Well, duh! Of course I want to sell books, but making money with them is problematic. On my self-published ebooks I make between $2-$4 dollars each sale. On the books through that big publishing company I make less than a dollar – and sometimes as little as six or seven cents, depending on how much of a ‘sale’ they’re having. If I’m going to go to the time and trouble of doing all that publicity stuff it’s going to be for the books where I make money instead of small change.
Somehow some of these publishing companies can’t get it through their collective heads that most writers write for money, not for the perceived glory of being published by them!
As for social media and interacting with my readers, it’s a time sink. I really don’t care about interacting with my readers. I’m sure there are some very nice people out there, and I might like them, but between my writing and my life I am very limited on time. Surely sensible readers who like my work would rather me be writing another book instead of being on-line comparing gardening techniques or swapping recipes or telling them how I write a book or whatever else we’re supposed to do to ‘engage’ our readers.
So what are we to do? Some writers can juggle all this and jobs and families and whatever else – my hat is off to them. I can’t, but that doesn’t make my books any less interesting. Some people hire assistants and publicity agents – I can’t afford to, at least not until my books start to sell better. It’s a vicious circle – you can’t afford not to get your name out there, but getting your name out there takes money and time, two things which far too many of us don’t have a lot of.
I ask again, what are we to do? I don’t know. I believe that writers should write and readers should read. I should not have to mortgage my time or my house to sell books. If anyone comes up with a workable solution, I wish they would share it.