Today, Jim Hines blogs about writers being pressured to market themselves through blogging. He’s smart, as usual, but the point applies to many of the things writers are expected to do to market themselves.
For example, I’m not really comfortable going out to groups of strangers. I can sorta do it, but I’m not glib or amusing on the spur of the moment, not with people I don’t know. So I don’t do that.
Does that cost me readers? I don’t think so. Just because some other writer brings in new readers with panel appearances doesn’t mean that I would. In fact, ham-handed marketing drives customers away.
Still, some authors do well with convention appearances, or they have popular blogs (I don’t: average daily traffic on my blog is in the high double digits/low triple digits), or they draw amusing web comics, or they play filk, or they start funny hashtag games on Twitter.
The point is not that writers must do a specific list of things, or even that their websites must meet a bunch of specific requirements. It’s that writers must do what they’re good at while putting aside the things they’re not good at. That’s it.
Because the truth is that the “marketing” that writers do has a very, very small effect on sales. That doesn’t mean readers never pick up a book because of a convention or hashtag joke; obviously, they do. It does mean that the number of readers who do so are incredibly small. Most people still buy books because a) they’ve liked an author’s previous work and b) someone they trust recommended it.
That’s why I tell people “If you like a book, tell your friends.” I’ve typed that in the comments of my blog so often I ought to make a macro or something.
One last point: Donald Maass used to offer his book The Career Novelist for free on his website (it seems only the publisher is offering it as a free pdf) and in the middle 90’s he did a survey of his own authors who were making six-figures a year. What did they do? How did they manage it?
Here’s a brief summary of what he found out about those authors:
They were genre authors: they didn’t even try for mainstream success.
They wrote for ten years before becoming successful: It takes time to build a readership.
They reached six-figure incomes through backlist and subrights sales, not big advances:
They don’t spend a lot of time self-promoting, campaigning for awards, or networking: Not that this is harmful, but they spend their time writing.
They don’t chase the market: It’s always better to do your own thing.
Now, I have no idea if I’m going to ever be that level of success. Probably not. There’s no point in me campaigning for awards, for instance, because no one is going to give me an award for the kind of work I do. Also, writers who succeed may not chase the market, but not chasing the market is no guarantee of success.
And I’m not sure how much that matters to me. I’m writing the books I want to write, and hopefully readers will love them. If they don’t, and if I fail to bring in an audience (as I failed with the Twenty Palaces books) I will at least be failing with my own books.
Of course, that survey is 15 years old now; I wonder how different it would be if it was redone today.
Which just goes to say: Don’t assume you know what is effective marketing for any particular writer. These aren’t soft drinks we’re selling, and we aren’t corporations. We’re creators, and we have to go about things in our own idiosyncratic ways.