The TV interview gone wrong was the most painful part of his story (who flies 3K miles for a book signing–unless he was already flying in for the interview and thought he’d arrange a visit, I guess?) but there’s nothing to differentiate his post from dozens of others by writers flailing to find a way to effectively market their work.
As he says, his trailer didn’t work (it’s more a mini-documentary than an actual trailer, but there you go) but it was terrific fun to do. To me, that means he’s doing things the smart way, even if he’s not really seeing sales from it. I wonder if he’d had more success marketing his book with a shorter trailer–more negligee, less bare skin, so to speak.
He also says that the only thing that truly helped sales of his book was a rave in the NYTimes. Naturally, this leads to a lament about the loss of the book review sections of the major newspapers and their ability to reach so many people at once.
And I sort of agree with him–not that the NYTimes would ever give a second glance to one of my Twenty Palaces novels. Book talk is very decentralized now. We get our recs from friends on Goodreads or Library Thing, we read amateur reviews on blogs, LiveJournal, Facebook, we… what? Read tweets? Stumble upon? There are a hundred different ways that we discover the books we read and love.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no way to reach a large audience. Scalzi’s blog gets 45K unique visitors a day, which is 500 times what I get, but still small potatoes compared to other folks. If Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, or Neil Gaiman tweet how much they liked your latest, that’s a direct recommendation to nearly two million people. I know a great many of my sales have come from kind words by Jim Butcher, who has the ear of a great many people.
The difference is, of course, that these aren’t institutions you can contact cold. These are real people touched by fame, which means they have to guard their time and energy from users and crazies.
The easiest way to get a rec from someone like this is through dumb luck (ie: they happened to buy and like your book). Beyond that, you need a personal connection, someone who knows them well enough to say “You’ll love this!” without being intrusive. That’s how Jim Butcher read Child of Fire before it was published; Del Rey was publishing his DRESDEN FILES graphic novel adaptations, so my editor contacted him).
Or, if you have to do it yourself, well, that would be a whole different post, one that should be written by somebody else.
But what you can’t do is befriend people for the sole purpose of getting a review or furthering your career. That’s creepy and awful.
So it’s not that there are no avenues to get the word out to a whole lot of people at once. It’s that many of these avenues are people rather than institutions, and you can’t just call them up and say “I’m sending you a great book. Write about it, will you?” Because these folks need to protect themselves from the crazy.
How to market your books, then? Well, in a way, you can’t. You can’t pester complete strangers to rave about your work. What you can do is offer reading copies to the people who already have a relationship with you. You can ask them to help spread the word (hopefully, they don’t need to be reminded).
If they don’t? If none of your friends or acquaintances post rave reviews or give you five stars on Amazon.com, or link from their blogs? Then just forget about it. Brush it off. Drop the subject and never bring it up again.
Finally, if a stranger raves about your work, it’s cool to contact them to thank them and, if appropriate, offer them an early copy of your next book. But that is only for people who already know you or have a reason to talk to you, and you have to treat them with the expected social graces. Leave strangers alone, especially if you’re only going to stare at them the way a starving dog stares at a rib eye.