by Will Viharo
The best thing about being an indie writer these days is that you’re in charge of all your own publicity and promotions!
That can also be the worst thing, though. Not just for you, but sometimes, for your audience, too…
Everyone it seems would prefer to be their own boss, in charge of our own destiny. Well, many us writers do, anyway. Despite the persevering poverty, we’re attracted by the autonomy of this art form, and the unique position of authority. We’re like a one man (or woman) band, playing all the instruments ourselves.
Unfortunately, we have to do all of our own “booking,” too. And often it feels like we’re just singing in the shower, our own lonely voices echoing back at us.
All the World’s a Stage…
Writers are often not comfortable with public performance (which is another reason they chose this solitary vocation), including live readings, and they’re even less inclined to boast about their work in a social media forum – even if that’s exactly what they need to do, in order to spread the word of their work to the whole wide world, whether it's waiting or welcoming or not. The exception comes if they can afford to hire a personal publicist, or if they’re contracted with a big enough publisher that provides promotional support. To a point, anyway.
The fact is, whether you’re signed with a small or major press, you will wind up doing a lot of your own publicity anyway, even if you have an agent. Most publishers do not invest much time, effort and especially money into promoting authors that aren’t almost immediately bestsellers. That’s just the nature of the business, or any business. The bottom line supersedes all other interests, artistic and otherwise.
But the good news is authors now have access to the most pervasive, cost-effective promotional platforms ever invented – for free. It’s how you decide to exploit your social media networks in the service or your writing that may distinguish you as either a hack or a pro.
If you’re like me and you have a pre-existing brand name that you can reinvent and reapply to your body of literary work, all the better. But most writers aren’t like me, meaning a B movie/burlesque impresario that build his reputation over years in an entirely different medium, before returning to my true love.
Most writers are starting from scratch. No one knows them at all. Their name and work are brand new. So how do they go about introducing themselves to the world, beyond the normal online channels like Facebook and Twitter?
Well, that’s where you always start, anyway, then branch out from there, prudently yet aggressively. A regular blog of your own would be a good, too, whether on Blogger or WordPress or Weebly or any of the other sites out there. Your own website with your very own URL and domain name, a virtual "home base" featuring everything anyone would want or need to know, would supply your authorial identity further distinction and validation as well.
The Kindness of Strangers (and Friends)
But in any of these cases, you don’t want to rely solely on your own high opinion of your work to persuade readers to take a chance on it. You will need quotes from other sources, like fellow authors, the more esteemed the better. For this you will probably need to send out a bunch of free ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) in either digital (MOBI files) or print format to bloggers, reviewers, etc. Don't rely on your publisher to do that, either. Unless of course you are your publisher.
If you’re self-published, this "service" may cost you a small fee. But if you can earn recognition without paying for it, it’s worth the effort, even if means doing something else to attract attention, like I did, then parlaying that notoriety where it’s most needed.
You will also rely heavily on reader reviews, since most potential purchasers of any product look to their fellow consumers for assurance or admonition. If your readers really want to provide you with support, they will spread the good news of your books for you, since positive word of mouth is the most effective type of publicity ever invented. And praise is always most convincing when it isn’t coming from the actual subject.
But no matter how carefully you couch it, whether you’re sharing a review or interview or just a gentle daily reminder that you exist, you may still come off sounding egotistical and self-obsessed to some people, primarily total strangers, within eyeshot of your posts.
That’s okay. Don’t let it bother you. It’s a big part of being an independent anything. You’re just doing your job, and unless someone else wants to step in and do it for you, it’s either you do it, or it won’t get done at all. If others don’t appreciate or at least put up with it, that’s their problem. Stay true to yourself and your own goals. As long as you’re not spamming other people’s pages, restricting your promotions to your own personal public profile and platforms, you’re doing the right thing.
Like a Bullhorn, Without the Bull
Since there are literally thousands of authors vying for the same shrinking audience via the same social media outlets, you will need to find a way to stand out, and that can be achieved via force of personality, unique advertising, and any way that best reflects and represents what you’re selling. Mainly, yourself. And since no one else is quite like you, that’s the place from which you should launch any of your campaigns.
The most common question always regards the frequency of posts that are flagrantly self-promotional. Common wisdom dictates you limit them to once a day, as opposed to once an hour. I often ignore this rule, but then everyone has to find his or her own way.
Case in point: my established audience base is accustomed to me promoting my stuff via my own network. For years it was my live cult movie cabaret, Thrillville Theater. Now it’s Thrillville Press, my own imprint devoted to the preservation of my body of work that isn’t published elsewhere.
Newcomers to either incarnation of Thrillville may be turned off when I sometimes carpet bomb the Internet with memes or my latest interview, but I don’t care. My attitude is if they’re not patient with my promotions, they probably won’t ever wind up buying a book, anyway.
Still, out of respect for both myself and others, I do try to pace myself, keeping in mind that most of my posts won’t be seen by the majority of those in my network, anyway, which is why I always make sure to repost them after a while.
Again, I can’t tell you how to run your business. Every individual has a unique personality, agenda and audience, and the only to find out what is too much or too little is to just go with your gut instincts, then live and learn.
Your writing career is a lot like life itself. There are general guidelines based on the experiences of others, but ultimately, you need to forge your own path, ideally without pissing off too many people in the process.
Unless, of course, that’s part of your overall promotional plan. And good luck with that.