Wednesday, June 06, 2007

kool-aid suicide?

I posted this on Crimespace a few days ago, and thought I'd also post it here.

I’m worried. Really worried.

About how self-promotion has become not only expected but required. And the more the better. I recently heard a small-press publicist say their writers should invest more than their advance on promotion. Three years ago I was presented with a verbal list of possible self-promotion ideas:

Start a blog, attend conferences, get involved in more online groups and online events, give talks at libraries, travel to small towns and speak, make a book trailer, have online contests and possibly a writing competition, join more organizations, enter my books in more contests, do a monthly newsletter, put together a mailing list, visit more bookstores.

The argument for all of this is that publishers have no idea if any of it helps, but it certainly can’t hurt.


The few who agree with me about the futility of self promotion usually say it takes away from a writer’s writing time.

It took away all of my free time and left me mentally exhausted.

It wouldn’t be so bad if my efforts had mattered, but we are all just kids at our individual Kool-Aid stands, holding up our signs, begging people to stop and buy. And on every corner is another Kool-Aid stand serving up another version of cherry-flavored anxiety.

Our family and neighbors shuffle over. But mainly we just stand around and drink our own stuff and go check out the other stands to see what flavors they’re selling that day. And while we’re there, delivery trucks go by taking Kool-Aid to stores all over the country.

Is our willingness to wear ten different hats, no matter how poorly, giving publishing houses more of a reason to step back and do less? As a group, are we hurting ourselves? Especially when publishing houses already have a system in place that we can never come close to touching no matter how hard we work or how much money we spend.

The national decline in reading can’t be fixed by opening a Kool-Aid stand.

I’m giving myself permission to write. Just write. And maybe enjoy life a little bit while I’m at it.


slpenney said...

Michelle Rowan posted a while ago about needing multiple books a year to keep your fan base. What happened to that being a bad thing? Isn't that why Nora Roberts end-up with a gazillion pen names?

And I totally agree with what you are saying. Just as more of the editing has been pushed to the agent, more of the marketing has been pushed to the author. What the heck are the publishers doing???

Anonymous said...

This might not be the best time to ask if you want to do a contest with me in honor of GOD's arrival....

Everything is down in the industry except J.K. Rowling, I suppose. Maybe all this is a touch of desperation.

Kelly Parra said...

I read the debate over on crimespace and felt there was nothing important I could add. Everyone made great points.

From a newbie pov, I disovered promotion is tough and can be tiring and I have no idea if there is one main reason that makes a reader buy a book by an author he has never read before. I think it's a very individual decision.

I'm really glad that you're giving yourself time to enjoy your writing. When I'm stressed this is when I forget about the enjoyment. And I don't want to forget that. =D

anne frasier said...

stacie, yeah, years ago publishers didn't want writers to have more than one book in a year. i think it was because of promotional budgets and fear that readers would tire of a writer if she released more than one book a year. sheesh. now i guess all of us with ADD won't even remember a writer in a year. :D

jason, i had a blast with the lonely moon contest!

and i think it's 100% desperation.

anne frasier said...

kelly, i saw you posted david montgomery's list today. :D i agree with him on some things, especially getting books to reviewers.

anne frasier said...

as more and more writers are ridden hard and put away wet, i think we're going to see more and more careers that last a period of a few years with a total of 4 to 8 books. those people will live and breathe writing and promotion until they burn out.

jamie ford said...

This reminds me of a quote from Cormac McCarthy when he was asked by The Oprah as to why he did so few interviews:

"I don't think it's good for your head," he said. "You spend a lot of time thinking about how to write a book, you probably shouldn't be talking about it. You probably should be doing it."

Great books sell better through word-of-mouth than average books through promotion.

How possible is it to write a great book, and have the energy to promote it as well?

bekbek said...

I wonder if it is inappropriate to point out that I would never have bought PI if it weren't for your blog?

It's true, too. Even were I still reading voraciously, it's way outside any genre that normally piques my interest.

Now, I'm glad. I enjoyed it quite a lot. But I'll admit that getting to know you is what sold the book to me.

The trouble is, that can't be true for a whole lot of people. You can only "share" with so many before you exhaust your stash of personality. And you won't have earned very much money from my single book sale.

What publishers aren't doing is they're not picking up on any of the buzz you might generate with a blog, or a reading, or a message board post, or a Myspace page, or anything else. I sent a link about you to a couple of people who, I think, would really "get" your work. But it seems to me there used to be more expansive ways for my own "this was kinda cool, you'd like it" to grow into serious publicity.

When I was a kid, I read Locus. Science Fiction reviews. Monthly. I'd pour over it, and I knew what was coming out next month, and I was intrigued by reviews of new authors or new series or new books by old authors, and I put them on my mental list, and when they came out in paperback, I was at the store to buy them as they were unpacked from the boxes.

What happened to that energy?

I guess I'm not the only one who has stopped reading.

Wow, Anne, I hope this response has cheered you! Pfft. But in all seriousness, I do think there's a better way. I am just not sure what it's supposed to look like, at this point.

Anonymous said...

If you'd be game for a contest for GOD, just let me know the approximate timing. I'm going to do a summer contest, so I'd like to space them out.

Kaycie said...

I adore books. My house is full of them. Hard back, paper back, fiction, non-fiction, I love them all.

Sometimes I buy them because they are beautiful and I am hooked by the first few paragraphs. I pick them up, feel the quality of the cover and the paper in my hand, breathe in the smell, weigh the heft of the book in my hands. Bookstores are financially dangerous for me. I just love them.

Most of my purchases start with a review. Sometimes I see an author discuss their book on Jon Stewart or Charlie Rose or even Letterman. The last book I purchased, "The Book of Air and Shadows", by Michael Gruber, I saw reviewed on either or

My Anne Frasier reading list is courtesy of Jason Evans. If it weren't for his blog, I would never have found yours.

pattinase (abbott) said...

For my take on this, check out my blog. I attended a reading and evert writer there was obsessed with these issues.

flip said...

If I had a choice between blogging with an author or reading her new book, I would chose the new book. Write for goodness sakes. To be perfectly honest, self promotion is the only way for new authors to get their name out to the public. It if it weren't for the net, I would know when my favorite established writers have a new book out.
Publishers seem very counterintuitive. They promote their biggest selling authors only. The new and mid list authors are ignored. No insult to Nora Roberts, who I enjoy reading, but it is very frustrating to go to the chain bookstore and try to find the single copy of my favorite writer's book when there are two shelves of Robert's books.

Since I live in a small rural community, I special order most of books from the local book store or order online. Therefore, I must know what is being published. Fortunaely, for writers, there are alot of great sites created by fans and readers.

Personally, I loved your Theresa Weir books. I thought that you had fallen off the planet; then, I discovered your writings under the Anne Fraiser name. If it wasn't for the internet, I would not have found your books.

flip said...

Love the cover to Garden of Darkness. I am looking forward to it.

I love to read. I am from family of readers so it is hard to believe reading is down. My son was not interested in reading. I tried book after book. Then I gave him a book by Darren Shan. Shane loved it. He could wait for the next book in the series. Once he read all of Shan's books, Shane started reading Stephen King and other fantasy writers. So I am really grateful to Mr. Shan. Recently, an outraged parent told the local bookstore owner that the Shan books were completely inappropriate and she shouldn't sell them. Apparently, there are people who consider reading a dangerous activity for adolescents and teens.

anne frasier said...

"How possible is it to write a great book, and have the energy to promote it as well?"

jamie, EXACTLY. I think that many new authors can do it because they're in a state of energized euphoria, but that can only keep them going so long.

bekbek, it does seem that the internet should be a great tool for publishing houses, but they haven't had much success with it. i know several years ago NAL was very excited about a website and forum they'd started. the hostess reviewed every book and put it up for a week of discussion. if an author had anything coming up, we would send the info to be put on the calendar. nobody participated. it was basically just the authors and site host. it may have been timing. i think a lot of times houses do too little too late. and i don't want to paint publishing houses as the bad guy here. they are trying, but nothing is working.

anne frasier said...

jason, right now it looks like i might be moving about the time GOD comes out, so i'd better not commit to anything. i leased this place when i thought i was going to have to jump right into my option book. probably wouldn't have done that if i'd known they weren't going to take it, but it will interesting living here for 6 months. after that i can stay month to month, but the condo/apartment is going back on the market in march.

anne frasier said...

kaycie, i love the way books feel and smell! i especially love the trade paperbacks because they seem to feel better, smell better, look better. :D

and jason has been such an amazing support. i tease him about being my brother, but i do kind of think of him that way!

patti, what i find really interesting about all of this is the shift that's come about fairly recently. two years ago, whenever i brought up the subject of authors taking on too much beyond writing, nobody EVER agreed with me, and I was always attacked, sometimes politely and sometimes not so politely.

things i wish i hadn't done this past year or two:

book trailer
traveling/flying/hotel to signings
online drawings (sorry if you won something, but it's just time-consuming!)

i do enjoy blogging, but i should have blogged a lot less.

one thing i should have paid much more attention to -- my website. I let it become horribly outdated, and didn't have the most recent books and projects on it.

anne frasier said...

Publishers seem very counterintuitive.

flip, that is so true. part of the reason is because they have to put a book into production so early, often before the book is even finished. i do think some houses are better at seeing the whole picture a couple of years out, and other houses never see it or see it too late to do anything about it. and it is sad that there's so little shelf space left non-brand names. even though in live in st. paul, i still have to order a lot of books through amazon.

and thanks about the theresa weir books. it's always so nice to know that someone has followed me from the TW books to the current stuff. i don't think many people have done that, but i could be wrong.

my son didn't like to read and had completely quit reading until i handed him a copy of catcher in the rye. he's been a voracious reader ever since. it really is about picking the RIGHT book for each person. so glad you found the trigger book for your son. and sheesh -- the woman who complained to the bookstore needs a hex put on her. :D

Bethany said...

You know... I agree for the most part. Sure, I have a blog. And I will likely do *some* promotion when I sell my book (hopeful thinking here).

But I think it is key to determine WHAT works for you and will give you a return on your investment. To KEEP writing books, we writers can't do it all. Physically can't. Even if we try really hard!

Sandra Ruttan said...

"How possible is it to write a great book, and have the energy to promote it as well?"

jamie, EXACTLY. I think that many new authors can do it because they're in a state of energized euphoria, but that can only keep them going so long.

I'm not even sure most can, to be honest with you. And I'm not considering myself sold on any debut author based off book 1 - book 2 will be more telling. This is where the crunch comes in. Under pressure to write to a deadline and doing promotion as well tell you if they can manage. A lot of debut authors are delivering book 2 late. Not good. The flip side is getting authors to the point where they just churn out product and it loses something, gets stale.

Anonymous said...

i tease him about being my brother, but i do kind of think of him that way!


No worries about GOD. The offer is there if things fall into place differently.

BTW, my sister-in-law loved your story in Before I Wake. So there.

flip said...

I once read that publishers really want to be just like big movie studios. They want megahits. They want celebrities. They pay huge advances to people who have never written a book. All the prosecutors in te O.J. Simpson case obtained huge advances for their stories, none of the books paid for the advances

J.K. Rowling is a rare phenom. Occasionally you get a book that everyone wants to buy. But publishers seem to want all their books to be the huge sales. They push successful midlist writers to write the current trend.

I am a romance reader, who likes all types of genres. All of my closest friends are buying fewer and fewer books. One cannot ignore the high price of books You buy three paperbacks and you spent $25.00. But there is also a lack of variety in the romance genre. I enjoy paranormal romances; I read them before the trend. But pity the poor romance reader who doesn't like paranormals.

I still think that the internet will change the music and book business. I am not certain how, but I think that it will. Who would have thought that women readers really wanted more erotica? I saw this in an article from

"Ellora's Cave, in Akron, Ohio, which last year netted an estimated $600,000 on revenue of $6.7 million, up 11% from 2005."

Of course, now, every romance publisher is rushing to publish female erotica.

anne frasier said...

bethany, yes, i think you're right about figuring out what works for you. i don't think i would ever do zero, but i'm done with trying to do everything. i'm also done with spending a lot of money on promotion.

sandra, i think a lot of debut authors hit the ground running with book 1, and are madly enthused with doing everything they can. i imagine that's partially why editors love new writers. and yes, then they suddenly have another book due that they can't finish on time because they spent the last 6 months promoting. it makes no sense.

anne frasier said...

I once read that publishers really want to be just like big movie studios.

flip, i agree, and i think it's more that way now than ever before.

i would like to think that the internet will change the music and book business. i hope you're right about that.

i remember in the early nineties when romance moved toward sweeter books. i think pamela morsi may have started that trend, and everybody jumped on it and the sexier books suddenly weren't doing as well. and it was really hard to sell a paranormal. my agent just told me that paranormal romance is still the hottest thing going right now, along with erotica. i would have to think the saturation point has been reached, but maybe not.

anne frasier said...

jason -- nanner, nanner!


Heather Harper said...

There is definitely an allure for me to submit to Ellora's Cave because I know the environment is more laid back. I hate stress, and many of my published friends have it in spades.

I wonder if they would consider publishing a young adult urban fantasy? ;)

Jeff said...

"I’m giving myself permission to write. Just write. And maybe enjoy life a little bit while I’m at it."


bekbek said...

Ironically, the big movie studios are relying more and more on independent productions (though still big-name stars), and using more and more "fresh, new" talent they scrounge from shorts they find on the internet.

If publishing would just leap ahead to where filmmaking is GOING, we might have something interesting. :)

Making money is still the problem. They have to ditch the bureaucracy if everybody is to get paid AND the consumer can still afford the product. I'm working with some of that bureaucracy now, and my tiny sliver wastes so much money (and paper), it's embarrassing.

anne frasier said...

heather, i really do think writing is one of the most stressful occupations, and it doesn't help the stress factor when most people outside writing and publishing think it's a constant vacation.

jeff, not sure i can stick to that plan, but it sounded good a few days ago. :D

bekbek, you're scaring me even more. :O

Julia Buckley said...

THANK YOU, Anne! I wish every publisher would read your post. There has to be a better way. I think most naive beginning writers think that getting published will make them (if only a little) wealthier, not poorer and exhausted. Then their dreams are shattered. :)