A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Publicity – Boon, Bane or Just Dratted Distraction?

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.


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Oh how very TRUE Janis!

"Writers should write and readers should read"....Love it LOL!
Good luck and God's blessings

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I agree with your observations and feel similar frustrations. Like you, I continue to blog. But it's something I want to do. As for Facebook and Twitter, I don't believe these forms of social media have helped sell my novels. Through publishers, I've connected with many other writers like yourself. Of course, they are not likely to buy my novels and I don't ask it of any of them. In fact, I give away books and hope for reviews. I review many books myself.

The reason we want to get a major agent is because they have entre to the big publishers. These publishers sent the books to major review pubs. A good review from them or a starred review can get you huge library orders and entrance into bookstores. This will get you readers. So has the system changed? Not much.

Every now and then you will see a self-pubbed author break through the barriers, but this is rare. Good luck to the rest of us!

Maris said...

I agree. This marketing aspect of writing is a time suck and something I do not enjoy doing. You summarized the problem perfectly. If someone has the answer, please share.

Fran McNabb said...

Janis, I couldn't have said it better. Anyone who writes faces the same problems with finding time to write and money and time to publicize. I love to write, hate to promote. A vicious circle indeed. Thanks for reminding us we are all in the same boat.

Brenda Jenkins Kleager said...

I self-published via Amazon's CreateSpace, but using my publishing company's ISBN. I also published the same title for the Kindle. I more or less threw my book on Amazon and hoped for the best. I have enough income that I have to file income taxes, but I'm not getting rich. And that's okay.

I gave away a few books to friends and family asking for reviews. I have a website and a blog, neither of which I keep up to date. I designed nice business cards using Vista Print, and I try to keep them with me - but when I have an opportunity to give someone my card, I either forget to do it or I can't find one in my purse!

In my opinion, publicity is linked to motivation. I admire writers who blog on a regular basis, but I'd rather spend that time writing (or reading).


Marie Higgins said...

I agree! I'm as confused on how to promote my stories, just like you are. I've been self-published since 2011. I had two AWESOME years in 2012 & 2013, but sales have been dwindling since then, and yet I have published more books. I have a lot of writer friends who tell me to promote my stories with blogs, and book launches. Unfortunately all of these places cost money. Well, if sales are dwindling to almost nothing, how am I supposed to afford to pay for these promo services? I have 42 books out there, and still I'm lucky if I can earn $200 a month in royalties. It's quite sad. Back in those years when I was kicking butt in sales, I rarely did promotions or blogs. So why was I getting so many people buying my books when I wasn't promoting? And now when I'm promoting (the best I can without having to pay lots of money) why are sales down?

Laura Carter said...

Whilst I agree with the difficulties (time pressures, money etc.) that you mention, I would encourage you to remember that you are a reader and if you want to make money from your books, you are asking readers to part with their hard-earned cash, too. I absolutely agree that publishing houses often do little to support promotion and, in my opinion, especially given the low royalties we earn, should be doing a heck of a lot more. That said, try to remember that you love books and reading. Pushing ads about your own work isn't the only form of promotion. You have a LOT in common with your readership, that being a love of books. Use that to connect. I run a book club, for example, for one hour each month through my Facebook group. I would be reading books in any event so it takes only one hour of my time. I don't promote my books, I share my love of books with my readers. I build relationships in this way and hopefully engage with new readers who are interested in reading my new releases and back list. Reach out to fellow authors and cross-promote, so the word about your books isn't coming from you but authors who have read and enjoyed your books (meaning you might feel less 'cringe' about it and it endorses the books).

Radine Trees Nehring said...

You--and many of those who commented above--have "told it like it is." One other gripe. Spending so much time on Internet promotion, not to mention writing, means I have almost no time to read fiction for pleasure, and oh my, do I hate that.

Thanks for putting into words what so many of us experience! Radine

Alicia Dean said...

I completely understand your frustration. I experience much of the same. But, unfortunately, it really is a necessary part of being a writer these days. The key, which I have not exactly perfected, is to choose a few effective methods (although who knows what those are), and focus on those. Trying to do too much can be a killer. Laura Carter's comment was excellent! What a great idea. :) When I heard Eloisa James speak a few years ago, she said that she is 50% writer and 50% business woman. Even a big name like her feels she needs to promote and connect with readers. I'm afraid it's just a part of the process now. Good luck!!

Toni Anderson said...

I think the key is to do things you enjoy doing. If you'd rather talk to real people an idea might be to go to reader conferences. I probably have a slightly different perspective. As a British Canadian it took me forever to be comfortable about trying to sell myself. Then I realized no one else was going to do it for me. I enjoy FB and for me it's not just readers I interact with, but real friends and family. Readers have become real friends too. I promo my books, but I like to think those feeds are more about me as a person than BUY MY BOOK :)
I'm lucky enough to be able to afford to hire a PR firm, but that isn't a magic pill for promo. You can't shout into the vacuum and expect people to part with hard earned cash.
And I think people know if you aren't being real, or genuine, so if you hate social media you really are better off not being on it.
Having met you in person I think you are lovely and wonderful. I believe you could use your (dare I say crotchety) personality as a genuine platform to make reader bonds with like-minded individuals.
This is a bit disjointed, like my brain today :)

Sierra Donovan said...

Marie, I think the biggest reason for dropping sales is that there are more e-books out every year -- and they never go out of print. The field is just so crowded, it's harder for readers to find your book ... and for writers to find readers.

Brenda Whiteside said...

It's a tough business. I hate doing promo too. I've heard time and time again the best promo you can do is write the next book. But I could have 100 books written and if no one knows who I am, it won't matter. Throwing money at advertising is stupid I think, unless you're already a name brand. So what to do? I love to write, but I also love to have readers. It is really why I write. I'm not going to spend more time doing promo than writing, but unfortunately, I'll still have to spend time on social media and blogging to continually introduce myself to the world.

Jacqueline Diamond said...

Thanks for putting this down in a blog. It's reassuring to know our struggles are shared!

Yes, there was a gold rush in the early days when not too many ebooks were out there. Now it's a struggle. I'm reissuing many of my 100+ books--romantic comedies, Regencies, medical romances--as I regain rights, and writing new mysteries (Safe Harbor Medical Mysteries, to be precise). I don't mind keeping up the website and some social media, and I occasionally blog on someone else's site as a guest. Buying ads is sometimes helpful, but not on Facebook (in my experience).

It's ongoing. Mostly, I'm grateful that in the years when I was raising a family and needed a steadier income (even though far from large), Harlequin was paying halfway decent advances and buying more or less regularly. I also taught writing.

Now I'm still writing and promoting fulltime but the income doesn't match. Thank goodness for savings and investments.

Carole Price said...

You read my mind when you wrote this post. I agree with how much time is involved with social media, yet readers don't know about me unless I promote my books. It's a balancing act for all of us, if only I had the perfect solution. I do what I can and afford, but it never seems enough.

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