The would-be author asked me how to publish her book. I should have replied, do you know your market? Instead, I gave her the name of someone who might help. Why point to the pitfalls ahead? The woman had completed a book. She deserved kudos instead of advice. I wasn’t the one to tell her the accomplishment wouldn’t buy her a bleacher ticket in the publishing game. To advance from writer to author requires an audience.
In 2010, I published two novels, Gothic Spring and Heart Land. That’s when I learned the difference between friends and acquaintances. Friends bought my books for good or ill. Acquaintances didn’t. Undaunted, I ignored my sales numbers. If I kept writing, I assumed my audience would grow.
By my fourth novel, I’d sorely tested my friends’ loyalties. True, a few strangers purchased my books. Whether it was by accident or intent, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, my entire fortune couldn’t cover the cost of one night in a fancy hotel. Was I a poor writer? That judgment I leave to those who bought my books or subscribe to this blog.
A writer in search of an audience needs to know more than the difference between a noun and a verb. Readers want to be dazzled which takes more than craft. It requires a compelling story. Even that may not be enough. Recently, I stumbled upon a news filler about an author whose book was trending on Amazon. (The Week, 12/22, 2023, pg. 3.) Despite her success, she admitted “I have sat lonely at a signing table many times only to have someone approach…and ask me where the bathroom is.”
Only scribblers who are children of book editors, publishers, or celebrities escape her experience.
In November, my memoir, Getting Lost to Find Home goes public. It’s my final book. Turning 86 is one reason for my decision. Another is that several friends have died and I’ve not replaced them with fans. I could turn to marketing experts, of course. But they are expensive, and I have an aversion to folks who make a living off the aspirations of others.
None of these experts can guarantee success. That’s because no one knows what makes for success. J. K. Rawling didn’t search for an audience. The audience found her. How did that happen? Why?
All I glean from Rawling’s experience is that when chance, a good plot and hard work meet at a crossroads, magic can happen.
To neophytes ballooning with hope, be warned. Learn your craft and pray for success but when it comes to hiring experts, keep your money in your wallet. For those who choose to reject my advice, what follows is a list of free articles on marketing. The first lays out a general view of what’s required: https://learn.g2.com/what-is-marketing. The second speaks to media marketing: https://learn.g2.com/social-media-monitoring. The third offers advice about the gold standard of success, word-of-mouth marketing: https://learn.g2.com/what-is-marketing.
To the careful reader, these essays lay bare a simple truth. If you decide to promote your book using the methods they describe, you will devote more time to promotion than to writing. There is some compensation, of course. If you master these skills, clients will brave a moat thrashing with crocodiles to pound at your gate. Living off the aspirations of others is more lucrative than being a writer.