|Couldn't find a pic for this topic, so I just went with Snoopy :).
I answered her that I would not answer in a public forum. But I do have answers to that question, at least from my own personal experience as a spec-fic author—which basically says, Nope, sorry, yer on yer own, kid.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There ARE authors out there who are willing to help. Who WANT to help. Who bend over backwards for newbies and give advice at every turn and who are genuine and wonderful people. Which is the real reason I said I didn’t want to answer this question in a public forum. I don’t want to dis a bunch of people who have truly been there for me.
Ah, but my peeps have pleaded. And I’m tellin’ ya, there is nothing more heart-wrenching than pleading peeps.
So, here we go. My random observations about why what works for them doesn’t always translate to us.
Genre matters. Target audience matters. If you write sci-fi or fantasy, the marketing techniques of romance writers, chick-lit writers, historical writers, nonfiction writers, etc., will not necessarily work for you. There may be some overlap, but as a YA fantasy writer, I’m not going to find readers the same way a romance writer will, or a women’s humor writer. My audience doesn’t shop the same places. They don’t follow blogs the same way. We run in different circles and have different priorities. And when you factor in the Christian card—the whole system blows up. Speculative fiction is seen as truly weird and often unacceptable in the Christian market, so we’re generally not allowed in the bookstores where more mainstream books are easily found. Which brings up my next point.
Press size matters. I am published through a small press. Because of that, regardless of genre, I can’t get into bookstores. So, when a veteran author with a big press talks about doing signings at the local Barnes & Noble or whatever, the advice doesn’t apply to me. Those places want nothing to do with me. So, I have to be more creative when it comes to marketing. I can’t rely on someone stumbling across my book as they are browsing bookstore shelves. And even during online marketing, many readers who will purchase through Amazon because they’re cheaper still take the presence of a book in a bookstore as some sort of badge of validation.
And speaking of small presses, there are budget constraints. Bigger authors have review copies covered by their publishing house. Often hundreds of review copies. Small press authors can’t afford to send out hundreds. Most of the time we only sell hundreds! Yes, these days even authors at big presses are required to invest in the marketing, but when you’re with a larger press there’s more of a guarantee of a return on that investment, partially because of the reasons listed above this. With us small press authors, the stakes are much higher.
Also, as far as investment goes—one piece of advice I’ve received is to hire a promotion service. These services can cost into the thousands of dollars. You may read this as a cop-out, but here goes. I have already imposed upon my family by taking gobs of time to write. And to attend critique groups (which also require membership fees), and a couple of conference days (which also require registration fees). I can’t justify taking money from our savings to invest in a service that may or may not pay off. Writing is a dream of mine, but it is not a necessity. I will do what I can, when I can, to promote. But I will not infringe upon the generosity of my husband and children. Also, because of the things I’ve mentioned above, about bookstores and genre, that investment becomes a huge risk. It’s fine to say “only $3k” when you know it will likely come back to you in the form of thousands of book sales. But when you’re talking hundreds, and know you likely won’t break even…
One of the things I’ve heard about promotion services is that they get mailing lists and send out newsletters, and constantly remind readers to remember you, remember you, remember you. This, I think, ties in with the genre/target audience issue. These kinds of newsletters may work for romance and chick-lit, but I’ve found that spec-fic readers, myself included, aren’t big on newsletters. I have subscribed to a few, and subsequently cancelled those subscriptions. I’ve also noted that I don’t need someone constantly sticking their name in my face for me to remember them. If I love a book—and we spec-fic readers love our books passionately—I will find a way to keep up with the author’s newest releases. A way that does NOT involve having my inbox slammed with useless newsletters. Maybe I’m wrong to generalize like that, but I tend to think if I find something annoying I’m not going to subject my prospective readers to it.
Okay, I’ve just realized everything I’ve said so far has to do with marketing. But there’s a lot more to it than that. We’re talking about trying to go from small press to big press. It’s a catch-22, though. The KEY to going from small press to big press is selling lots of books. If you sell a lot, you can get noticed by a bigger press. And selling means marketing….sigh….
Case in point. I follow a particular NYT bestselling author on her blog. She gets a lot of questions from aspiring authors, including requests to see her query letter that landed her a publishing contract. She obliged, and I was soooooo thrilled I’d get to see the letter—until I saw it. It wasn’t the letter that got her first contract—that one was with a small press. It was the letter that took her from small to large, and while written with style and personality, if stripped of those attributes it boiled down to this (in other words, this is NOT a quote from the letter, it is my dried-out paraphrase):
“Dear Agent, I’ve got two books published with a small press. They are selling so well the owner is kicking himself for not contracting that he gets first rights of refusal on everything I write. I now have a book I’d like to shop around. It’s about werewolves. Let me know if you’re interested.”
There was literally only one or two sentences about the actual project, and they were pretty vague. There was NONE of the “hook” we are told to put in ours regarding the manuscript in question—it all came from her style—and more importantly, she’d proven herself with sales.
I think going from small press to large press has to do with sales, period. And what works for one author doesn’t always work for another. We’re kind of destined for our own paths. As small press authors, much of that travel is us putting one foot in front of the other. We don’t have a huge team working to help us along.
Which brings me to:
Big names in some ways *can’t* help us.
I met a fairly big name author at a writers group last year. His path to publication involved having a connection that took him straight to a large publishing house. In other words—his path was nothing like mine. I hope this doesn’t sound bitter or jealous-y. He was one of the *sweetest* people I have ever met. I am truly happy for him. But he went straight to the goal. And it’s another place where genre matters—his writing is purely mainstream.
We had a great conversation while at that meeting, too, where he mentioned he nearly never blogs, nor does a lot of those things we up-and-comings *must* do regularly. Authors with major publishers have “people”—people to schedule their speaking events and signings—and those people have pull. Which puts us back to my original point when I said that we newbies with small presses can’t get signings. That is partially why. We’re not taken as seriously, I think, when we don’t have a publishing house setting our stuff up for us. “What, you’re in here trying to sell yourself? Then you must not be very important…”
I guess what I’m saying with all that is, some authors simply don’t have the answers because their path was sooooo different, and their genre is different, and maybe things just timed right for them. Or whatever. Or maybe they did go the “long way” but it was years ago and they’ve gotten somewhat disconnected from their roots.
(Again, let me say, this has been MY experience. If it hasn’t been yours, and you were a small press author in the spec-fic genre, especially in the YA range, and you moved on to a large press, feel free to comment below and tell me HOW you did it. Maybe you can start a service for the rest of us who are struggling along.)
I said above, it’s about navigating waters. But by that, I don’t mean a river. Instead, think surfing. (Now, I’m not a surfer, but I think I have a grasp on this idea.) Each “generation” of writers is like a group of surfers catching a wave. Imagine a huge, long wave that a whole bunch of surfers could line up and all ride together. The next wave that comes along is going to be grabbed by a different group-but it’s a slightly different wave. The previous group can give some advice, but much of it has to do with the unique variances of the wave you are on. It’s my understanding that the really good surfers go by “feel”-and we have to, too.
Publishing is publishing and is *basically* the same as it was twenty years ago. But a LOT of the details have changed. I’m not going to itemize them all—if you aren’t keeping up with that stuff, you may have no business reading this post in the first place. My point is, the pack in front of us had slightly different challenges to face. Their wave had slightly different properties. They can give us some advice, about publishing (surfing) in general, but it truly is up to US to catch this wave—to read its subtleties and go by “feel” based on the knowledge we’ve attained.
The key is perseverance. Studying the waves, looking at the variances, reading them, feeling them out, then jumping on. Eventually, others will get tired. Or get sucked under. The ones who keep going, getting stronger, learning, will make it the farthest. But we can’t do that by copying the group in front of us. They are on shore already. We have to find *each other* and work together to get on this wave, just like the ones in front of us did.
Have you ever wondered how so many authors know each other? Did you think it was some social club they all got to enter once they hit a certain level? What I’m discovering is that they were all working on the same wave, and got to know each other along the way. Most of them didn’t have someone from the wave in front of them holding their hand and pulling them along. Some did, yes, but not most. They turned to each other. And now that they’re successful, it’s not about them not wanting to help us, it’s about them knowing they can’t necessarily. They can stand on shore and holler advice—“watch out for that shark!”—but they know that ultimately it’s about us learning to feel the waves on our own and catch the one that’s right for us.