Wednesday, October 11, 2006
the year of living pimpishly
A month ago I said I'd be back with my feelings about my year of pimping and whoring.
For the past fifteen years I've said a writer can't sell her own books. That it's a waste of time and money and energy she could be using to write the next book.
Yes, maybe a few hundred UNITS will sell with a writer's push, but not the numbers you have to be able to sell in order to make a living in this business. That has to be done by the publisher. IMO. I'm not going to give actual print run figures, but with my first thriller I did absolutely nothing and the book made the USA Today list four weeks in a row because of strong publisher backing and a nice print run. I also think the book had broad appeal. As a single, unemployed mom at the time, I'm not ashamed to say this was something I deliberately went for. The book also had a cover with broad appeal. I was actually told to keep a very low profile, so even people in my local writing group didn't know I was writing under a pseudonym.
I had absolutely no network or support group. No one outside my immediate family knew my secret. No photo. Vague bio that actually called the book a debut thriller. True, but a bit deceptive. Unknown writer, unknown book. Success.
This year I pimped and whored to the extreme. Pale Immortal still ended up with a print run that was half the run of my last book - common with most writers in these sad, tough times. It had some publisher backing, plus a beautiful although somewhat confusing cover which I think might have kept it out of the hands of target readers. Fewer books means less exposure, so that alone muddies the pimping question. Pale Immortal wouldn't have had the broad readership of my first book, something else that's important. Easy to slot, easy to market. This book wasn't.
Print run pretty much determines success or failure unless something else comes into play such as a movie deal or oprah to give it a big boost from the outside. That's not to say a book with a large print run can't fail. It happens all the time. But in order to succeed, a fairly large print run is a necessity. It's all about numbers.
But my own personal feeling/guess is that blogging and self-promotion doesn't help sell many books. I think more people have heard of me, but I don't know if that necessarily translates to much in the way of book sales. Not that I'm trying to talk anybody out of buying my books. God no!!! And not that I don't appreciate my pimp squad!!! I love my pimps!! And loved the blog crawl!!! That was fun as hell. I'm just trying to step back and process everything in more of a bean counter way. And it could be it will take another year or so for me to have a more solid answer. I could even change my mind/opinion at some point in the future.
Hush - no self-promotion - USA Today list for 4 weeks, fairly big publisher backing.
Pale Immortal - promoted the hell out of it - great reviews, some publisher backing, no in-house excitement that I know of, average sales.
For myself the amount of time, energy, and money I put into promoting wasn't worth it.
That's not to say that blogging hasn't been great in a completely different and unexpected way. It's not about selling books but about being a part of a community. It was so weird and wonderful to go to Bouchercon and see SO MANY people I knew - all from blogging. When you finally meet a fellow blogger, there is no introductory phase because you already know the person fairly well.
That's SO NICE. So I will continue to blog for that reason. Because I enjoy the socialization. People will say they bought my book because of my blog. I know that's true, but I also think the circle is fairly small and when we're talking about the numbers it takes to make a book successful in the eyes of a publisher - I'm not sure blogging makes much of a dent. A writer needs to focus on writing something a publisher will sit up and back and get excited about. I managed to do that with Hush, but haven't been able to hit that moving target since then.
One more thing. I think blogging would have more long-term impact if careers were long-term. But if a book bombs, or sales are just so-so, a writer might have to reinvent herself and start over with a new name. And the typical reader doesn't keep up with these reinventions.
And another one more thing. Hush came out the year before 9/11. Within two years of 9/11 mass market paperback sales were down a total of... it was either 23 percent or 28. so far there has been no recovery.