Earlier this year, I was invited to write a guest blog for my publisher Word Alive. It was an interesting exercise–my mandate was to talk about my experiences in communication as they applied to my writing a novel.
Here\’s what I produced for them:
I have made a sobering self-discovery. I am the worst author/PR client I have ever had to deal with! Let me explain
As an author, I realise that there are harsh realities I must come to terms with if I my book is to succeed
First, the publishing milieu has changed. Some of it can be put down to technological changes such as the rise of eBooks, and some to contraction of the industry. But some, unfortunately, has to be put down to corporate greed—publishers who refuse to take chances on new material or authors because they are not guaranteed an instant financial recoup that can be passed on to shareholders. Fortunately, there are publishers like Word Alive who have not fallen into that bottomless maw.
Second, the heavy lifting in terms of publicity and building readership largely falls into the author’s lap. And that applies no matter the size or prestige of the publisher (unless you are already a ‘star’ writer). This is a major conundrum for authors. First, we are writers not marketers. Second, the more time we spend on marketing and promotion, the less we have for our passion, writing.
I had the advantage of coming into the authorship role with a media background. As a journalist and public relations specialist I had the tools, tricks and techniques that would serve me well.
Then I met the worst, most cantankerous, obstinate and contrarian client I have ever had. Me
No matter what angle I took or what strategy I aimed at, I argued with it. But slowly, I (the miserable client) began to realize that I (the professional communications expert) really did know what I was doing.
The media climate has changed. Where before, a new book might attract a news editor’s attention, today they dismiss it. At the very least, you could expect that local media would be interested in an area resident-authored book. Not today. Local angles are given short shrift. Space and time constraints allow for coverage of only the biggest stories. Plus, the media works on a 24 hour news cycle—sometimes even a 12 hour cycle. If it doesn’t grab immediate attention it is ignored. And yesterday’s (or last hours’) news is forgotten.
For those who, like me, who are promoting fiction (in my case a suspense thriller with an underlying Christian mindset), this means the mainstream media are out. The client ‘me’ argued with the professional ‘me’ that we should forge ahead. The pro ’me’ disagreed and pointed out the problems.
Unless your book has a startling revolutionary impact upon society in general and is immediate, the chances of your scoring on radio, TV or in the local newspaper are slim and none—and Slim is leaving town!
The Christian media are no different. Although their mandate may differ from mainstream media, their modus operandi doesn’t. This is particularly true in Canada where we have a small, struggling Christian media. The major TV programmes are interested in instructional and inspirational stories. If you have a book that meets those criteria, by all means try them. But by and large, their interest in books and interviewing authors is diminishing.
In Christian radio, the focus is primarily on music or paid preaching programmes. Few have general interest shows that feature interviews. One huge exception is Kitchener Ontario’s Faith FM which broadcasts a weekly “Arts Connection” show.
And, apart from denominational publications there are very few general Christian print outlets. Some, regrettably, operate on a quid pro quo basis—buy an ad, get a story—which leaves many authors out.
In the United States, the picture is a bit more positive but many of the same concerns and restrictions apply. There may be more media outlets, but their limitations and changing requirements still mean fewer opportunities for authors.
This leaves us with the old word-of-mouth method. And wow has that changed with the advance of social media.
Through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, My Space, personal websites and others, we have an unlimited opportunity to spread the word.
While I had some limited success with the mainstream approach, I’ve focused the bulk of my promotional efforts on social media. None of this is new, but the fresh paradigms demand elasticity in our thinking and openness to new approaches.
So I launched a Twitter account,(something I resisted for a long time because of much of Twitter\’s inanity) started a blog and created a website for my book, The Excalibur Parchment.
All of this is fundamental. But I have been challenged to go beyond.
Bookstores—especially independents—are also facing challenges. They’re often unwilling or unable to put the time and effort into book signings, so I sought other venues. Coffee shops and small cafes have provided an interesting locale where I can not only sell books but sit and discuss books with other customers. Speaking engagements allow similar opportunities.
But you have to really know your book and your audience. What are the commonalities? What aspect of your work would connect with a different and unique audience?
My book is unusual in that it is partially set in Wales. Not many books are. So I am promoting the book in Welsh societies across North America and in Wales itself. Will it be successful? I don’t know, and it will probably take a while to see results, but it is a new and different platform well worth exploring.
And that, my professional ‘me’ kept telling the crabby client ‘me’, is the whole point.
Changing mass media and publishing climates plus the promotional demands means that authors must develop real flexibility of thinking. It demands a willingness to venture into new paradigms that even publishers may be loath to go.
I realize now that this is a good thing.
After all, most of us wrote our books to push the envelope by opening up new lines of thought or action, creating new challenging worlds and throwing new ideas into the loop. Why then would we pedantically stick to the “old ways” of promoting books?
It’s been said that the seven deadliest words are “we’ve never done it that way before”! Authors today have an amazing opportunity to be just as creative in promotion as in our writing.
Books—whether electronic, print or a platform not yet imagined —will always have a place in our society. They are our learning tools, our imagination tools, our soothing tools, our joyful tools, our inspirational tools. Books will never go out of style though their format may change
And now we have new ways of directly engaging our readers that draw them in to the very heart of what we do—communicate truths, tell stories, challenge, inform and educate.
What a great time to be an author!