The following is an extract from a talk delivered at the Calgary Public Library in Feb. 2011.
Before I begin, please watch this video:
I’ve named these two characters Wannabe Author (WA) and Real Author(RA).
How many of you have ever said any of the things Wannabe Author says in this video? Come on, be honest. Okay, then, how many of you have heard other writers say any of these things? And, like Real Author, haven’t you just wanted to put them and everyone else out of their misery by ignoring whatever they say? Obviously, Wannabe Author is the least promotable kind of author. First of all, Wannabe is never likely to be published, so will be of little worry to the publishing industry anyway. WA is not listening to an experienced author, knows nothing about the publishing business, and thinks the path to publication and bestsellerdom is a piece of cake.
Did you notice WA says all fiction novels suck? Don’t you just hate it when someone refers to the genre as “fiction novels”? It’s one of the first signs they don’t know what they’re talking about. (And if you don’t see what’s wrong here, you really need to do some homework!)
There’s no hope for a person like Wannabe author, because any attempt they make to promote themselves will piss off everyone so much they will end up being totally ignored before they can do any more harm.
So I’m going to share several pieces of advice to help you promote yourself and your work, both to get it published in the first place, and also to help sell the book when it is published, whether that’s done with a traditional publisher or you choose the path of self-publication.
First of all, don’t be a jerk like Wannabe! This business is filled with people who assume they know what they’re talking about, and all they do is end up harming their own writing careers.
And this point cannot be repeated too many times: There are no gatekeepers! Authors are the only gatekeepers stopping themselves from being published and selling their books. Repeat after me – I am the only gatekeeper!
As Real Author in the video says, “Are you ready to spend hundreds of hours banging away on your laptop?”
Just as you need to spend a great deal of time honing your craft, learning how to write, and preparing a flawless manuscript, you must also be prepared for the fact that the learning does not stop there. Once the manuscript is ready – absolutely ready – you must then prepare to listen to wise counsel, either by taking workshops or attending writing conferences, studying in writing courses, working with writers-in-residence, etc., and while you’re doing that, ask questions of the instructors and mentors. At the same time, you should be learning as much as you can about the publishing business. I’ve included titles of very good books on the bibliography that follows. Read them. Learn from them.
Aside from a lack of knowledge about how the publishing business actually works, and what it takes to not only write a book, but also how to get it published, the main, and very important aspect of writing that Wannabe Author is missing altogether is a platform.
Does every author require a platform? You betcha! Unless you are writing for your eyes only or, like the young man I once met at a workshop, you burn everything you write every day, because you have no intention of ever publishing anything. In which case, what are you doing reading this? You don’t require a platform. And that’s okay, too, because you should always question why it is that you’re writing in the first place. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to simply write for yourself.
However, the majority of writers write to be read, and they’re the authors I’m addressing. They need to develop a readership that wants to read what they’ve written. And that’s all platform means – the readership you can attract to your work. Plain and simple. So what I’m going to offer you are some methods of building that readership, both before you are published, after you’ve signed the contract, and once your book has been released, so that you can then sell copies of your book. After all, this is a business, and whether you’re publishing with a traditional publisher or are self-published, the point is to sell books, and hopefully lots of them.
Those of you who are self-publishing already know that you’ll be looking after all of this promotion, marketing, sales and publicity yourself, but I’m sure those pursuing the traditional publishing route are now thinking, “But that’s what my publisher will look after for me as part of our contract.” This is where some knowledge of the book publishing business comes in handy, and those of you who have already been published will back me up on this point … Don’t expect much promotion from your publisher. Most publishers have a very small budget, some no budget at all, and once your season in the sun is over, they won’t do any further promotion for you, unless your book proves to be a big bestseller. So, if you’re going to realize any reasonable amount of promotion, you should be prepared to do most of it yourself.
Canadian author, Gail Bowen, gave me permission to share this story about her first publishing experience. As soon as her book was published, she received a box of author copies along with a note from the publisher that read, “Here is your book. We hope you enjoy promoting this as much as we enjoyed publishing it.”
Susan Toy has been a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and is now a published author, publisher, and promoter of fellow authors and their books. Born and raised in Toronto, and after completing a degree in English Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, she moved to Calgary in the late 70s and immediately found a job in a bookstore, beginning what has become a life’s career working with books and their authors.
Published Books: Island in the Clouds and That Last Summer