Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Promotion, promotion,promotion! Who has time to write?

If I were to dig out my vintage ( i.e., circa 1957) high school year book,  I could point to a prediction that I would write a great novel.  It did not hint that it would take half a century for me to get around to the attempt.  I recall Robert Ruark's thinly disguised 1965 auto-biographical novel The Honey Badger, in which the protagonist confesses that he spends six hedonistic months living life at its fullest each year, and then settles into forced asceticism imposed by his badger of a wife and writes for the remaining six. My formula was very different --60 years of  intense and often heartrending living, followed by writing for whatever time was left over. The problem is apparent in the math.  To paraphrase Carrie Fisher from Postcards from the Edge, there aren't that many 120 year old women around.  And even if there were, Ruark's formula fails in the current writer's market, because it does not allocate any time for promotion, and as most traditional writers and all indie authors know, promotion, unfortunately, is the name of the game.  And it is in this area that the Indie Writer faces
close to insurmountable odds. Traditional writers have a staff of trained in-house promoters.  The Indie Writer has little more than social media, and that avenue is becoming more crowded than the airspace over Atlanta.  I would frankly rather undergo a colonoscopy prep than self-promote my books.  And here I am, about to launch my third ebook (The Midwife's Secret: The Legend of La Belle Ecossaise) when what I want to do is keep working on the fourth (The Midwife's Secret: The Other Daughter). 
The  books in my Queen of Scots Suite include The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, published in late May 2011, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, published in late May 2012, and The Midwife's Secret: The Legend of La Belle Ecossaise, published October 2012 in trade paperback, and in late November as a Kindle ebook. That production schedule has earned me the title of a 'whirling dervish.'  But recall that I am getting up there in years and I have no time to sit with my gearshift in idle.  Each of my first two tomes is over 730 pages, but I am learning my lesson.  The third is only 370.  Which leads into one of my first observations.
Axiom #1:   Readers wish to be entertained.  If they wished to be educated they would get an online degree at one of the numerous diploma mills sprouting on the web.   Even my degree- heavy firstborn has told me to decide whether I wish to be a history professor or a novelist, and if the latter, get with the trend and start writing about Highlanders with washboard abs and countesses with cleavages.
Axiom#2:   Anyone who reads a 700 page novel is too exhausted at the end to bother reviewing it. If you want reviews, you want quick reads from voracious readers, the folks who are addicted to Goodreads and other sites designed to cater to readers who take pride in their stats.Look for sources and go begging.  Offer free reads in exchange for an unenforceable commitment to review.  But I think it is poor sportsmanship to specify the level of the review. 
Axiom #3:   Spend your money where cash  converts to sales.  I had no idea when I decided to self-publish The First Marie whether I would sell tens, hundreds or thousands of books, or in what format.  I doted on the manuscript as if it were a newborn child and I a parent fearing  SIDS death.  I did the cover art myself, because no one else seemed to see the Mally Flemyng of my vision, but I also paid a cover designed to set it up.  I included 25 interior illustrations which got me a nice comment on Bookloons and complements from readers, but which hiked the expense of publication by an additional $270. And I purchased a custom interior design.  Those features and the size of the book made FM a very expensive book to produce and to buy,  and I am just now looking to break even.  By book # two, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, I was more cost conscious.  But I ended up with a cover on the trade paper back that I hate, and a spine that  yells 'cheep. cheep, cheep' louder than a baby chick at Easter. The ebook version of the cover worked well once I learned how to do it.  The big lesson I learned in producing LK was that nearly all of my sales were in ebooks.  The old friends and colleagues who bought FM to please me were (and many still are) wading through it.  They were willing to shell out the price of high end coffee but not the costs of purchasing and shipping something the size of the Greater Los Angeles telephone directory. The second time around, they spent the $2.99 for the ebook. By the time I was ready to publish Midwife's Secret, I was tempted not to do a paperback at all. But when I elected to use the do-it-yourself aids on Createspace, I ended up with a nice looking trade paperback that can be marketed for the price of a non-alcoholic lunch, and it cost me less than $150 including the cover image and interior photos, and  Kindle conversion.  That means even with modest sales, I should break even in months, not years. So I am learning.
Axiom #4:   Listen to (but do not necessarily obey) your critics.   In my prior life, I was a prosecutor.  I took tough cases to trial, and I won most of them.  And in a homicide prosecution,  you will always get reviews, at least twelve of them if you exclude clerks, reporters, bailiffs and the person in the long black tunic.  Those reviews,  like the reviews from readers, are not unbiased, and they are absolutely scarey, and  some of  them are inane. There is nothing that a bad review on Amazon can do  that is as bad as a not guilty verdict in a case in which there is a mountain of evidence of guilt, or a guilty verdict in a case where the evidence is tainted.  I always stayed in the jury room after a verdict was rendered and listened respectfully to the jurors, so by now I should have a very thick skin. But as to book reviews, I have little advice to offer, because I cannot seem to get people to actually write them. I had two editorial reviews of FM.  One was excellent, but it never got published because of internal staffing issues in the  journal from which it was to come.  The second was lukewarm, somewhere between what Amazon would call a three and a four.  But both of those reviews contributed knowledge, and thus, they were invaluable.  First, I was bolstered by the knowledge that an editor of a revered publication thought I was "one helluva novelist" and second, I saw that I needed better proofing and editing, and I needed the courage to butcher my darlings.  I am still working on it. 
One fan suggested that I consider dividing my stories into two, and that is what I have done with the  novels in the Midwife's Secret sub-series.  It was an easy decision, since the true story has a natural hiatus that invited me to write two stand-alone books stemming from a single rumor that the Queen of Scots gave birth to a daughter while imprisoned  at Loch Leven, and a companion mystery as to the actual identity of Marguerite de' Kircaldie, a nun at Saint Pierre les Dames who was presented as the daughter of Kirkcaldy of Grange (the Last Knight) under facts that do not fit.  Rather than struggling with a story that like some plays, had a miserable second act, I am ending up with two books that I like, with very different protagonists. 
Even my one very negative review of First Marie taught me something, and is to discourage persons who are seeking a historical romance written at the YA level from venturing onto my playground. They will not like me at all.  If they want The Wild Queen, it is available and apparently selling well, and it is reasonably well done for a young adult audience, but its focus is not the Marie Stuart of my research or my books.  But then, I have been researching the topic non-stop for four years.
Enough for now.  I have to busy myself figuring out how in the world to reconstruct my Facebook pages into devices I can use. And that brings me to my final Axioms.
Axiom 5:   In using FB and other social media, why not consider separating your personal page from your professional one.  I am going to be cautious of spending too much time and effort promoting other writers and products to one another.  There are so many of us out there now who are writers, that we can spend  24/7 promoting one another to ourselves, a promotional traffic circle without an outlet. Better I think to treat my long term Facebook friends who are not writers to selective morsels  likely to interest them.  As matters stand, I seem to be constantly barraged by those endorsing and marketing everything from samples of soap to Viagra.  In my opinion, Facebook has become far too much a soap box and a marketing tool and it needs to be employed with discretion.
AND, speaking of soapboxes:
Axiom 6:   No one among us is so devoid of friends and family and folks who owe us money or favors that we need to review our own work.  There is nothing wrong with soliciting a review. That is necessary and proper.  And we  do review our own work all the time: it is called editing, and I need to do more of it, but I find cleverly disguised self-reviews non-professional, and if Indie Writers wish to be taken seriously we should avoid the temptation of reviewing our own work product.  On the other hand,  when publishing houses solicit reviews from a friendly source, aren't they doing the same thing?  I have a couple of author mentors whose work I review and they reciprocate or refer my work product to a friend with interest in my genre.  They do a far better service to me than I would do for myself.  I believe any policy that stifles that practice to be reprehensible.

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