Sunday, May 5, 2013

Promoting Your Writing: Now is the Time to Keep the Faith

In the story, that is, although it's completely understandable if you'd rather kneel through a litany of novenas or light candles on the altar of the deity of your choice in hope of landing on the Times Bestseller list.



You can't effectively promote a story you don't believe in.

This is the most important thing to remember once your story is published and it becomes your job to spread the word about it. 
Driving promotion is the belief that people will buy your book, should buy your book, for their own benefit—for the sake of their education, help, health, comfort, morals, sex life, or entertainment. At best, more than one of the above. In short, you have to believe your book is good for people and good in itself.

This is far more easily said than done, even for me. Like many writers, I have outwardly bombastic, inwardly fragile self-esteem and tend to shrink in at the first sign of someone's dissatisfaction. It took me a long time to be able to manage critique groups, and reviews continue to be extremely difficult for me. There is a reason why writers are told never to read reviews. However, I have often done so in quest of good quotes—compliments that will not only support my failing ego for a few days (Mark Twain claimed to last weeks on a good compliment) but also serve as a good promotional blurb. Finding someone who both believes in your story’s quality and can describe it well is a gift from the otherwise cold and unfeeling universe of publishing. Reviewers are hardworking and talented people; I would send them chocolates if that weren’t considered creepy.

But perhaps reviews aren’t working out for you. Or your story hasn’t been reviewed at all—it’s too new, published in an outlet too obscure, or else it and you are just unlucky. Nobody is saying good things about your story. In fact, nobody seems to be reading it at all.

This is a horrible shame. Your potential readers are missing out. How are you going to reach them, let them know of this fantastic story they could be losing themselves in? How are you going to convince yourself to do this reaching out? Especially if you’re a timid writer whose darkest moments are consumed by the fear that any pride you’ve ever felt in your work is only a delusion of grandeur?

That’s called imposter syndrome, and everyone has it. Great writers have it. Great actors have it. Politicians probably have it, too (Did everyone just elect me president by mistake?)—although depending on your viewpoint, 50% or more of the time they’re right.

In the words of a man one of my class’ speakers this semester quoted, a man who circumnavigated the north pole during a year of unparalleled melting for the Arctic ice cap: “It’s too late not to be an optimist.” He was talking about the fate of our planet in the face of catastrophic climate change, but frankly, once your novel is published from your point of view something just as drastic and irrevocable has happened.   

There's a time to see your book's flaws, in fact, to see nothing but its flaws. That time is during revision. But in fact, I think the best time to start planning or even launching your promotion of your story is while you make the final edits to your story. Not only is the lead time helpful, but you’re at a stage where you can genuinely believe in the perfection of your work, since you’re fixing its flaws. Logically you know true perfection is impossible, but you are making improvements, and the potential for those improvements is limitless. You can promote the book you wish you could write. And in doing so, by picturing your goals, you’re coming that much closer to writing and eventually publishing the book you wish for.

Once you put on your promotional hat, you need to know your story’s good points and have ideas for how to share them with the world. The handiest way to do this is through your “pitch.” If it helps, you should realize you already have a convincing pitch, or at least you had one at some point—one so convincing it even snared you! The first successful “pitch” a story ever has is to its author. It had to be, in order to get you to nurture this kernel of an idea over the course of months or years. The next pitch comes when an editor or publisher became convinced that the story was worth paying you for and worth investing time and money to polish, present, and promote. Only after these successes does a pitch go on to snare the readers. 

Get a list of talking points for your story, and experiment with different ways to present them (I’m still tinkering with Aqua Vitae’s “blurb” over a year after it was published). When people do want to tell you about how they enjoyed your story, listen. And not with the terrible guilt of “Look at this poor soul I’ve hoodwinked.” Your readers are smart people, if they liked your story and want to tell you why, they are very worth listening to. They might offer insights you haven’t considered (is Aqua Vitae a subconscious tribute to Heinlein? I don’t know, but you bet I’ll mention the fact if I’m talking to a Heinlein fan!). Your articulate and passionate fan--whether they're your mother, a member of your bookclub or critique group, or even a complete stranger writing you fan email--is as good as any of the reviewers you risk breaking your heart to get a kind word from. Plus in many cases you can actually offer them chocolates without appearing creepy.

The nice things your fans say can also, yes, soothe your bruised artist’s ego. But be careful about that. Coddled egos only get softer. Realize that not everyone will like your book, and some of those people who will not like your book will even, unfortunately, read it and say so. It’s sad for them that they spent time on something that wasn’t their cup of tea and it’s sad for you. But, and I’ll be as gentle as I can here, get over it! The reader will move on from their disappointment, and so will you. Concentrate on finding the readers who will love your story, because of the good points you know are there. Ultimately, belief in the story has to come from the author first, as it always has. 

This musing on the importance of confidence in promotion now forms part of the introduction to a chapter in The Starter Guide for Professional Writers. Specifically, it opens the 50-page chapter on promoting your book, which contains plenty of no-fear, low-cost ideas for building a marketing platform. And how's that for confident self-promotion?