02 Mar

Towards A Theory of PR

This has been in my blog queue for a few days:

Justine Larbalestier has a post about making mistakes while trying to engage in self promotion.

Accusations of being too self promotery make me a bit jittery. Promoting your books is part of a writer’s job. If no one knows the book exists how is it going to sell? A writer should be out there lining up bookshop appearances, sending out postcards/business cards/tshoshkas of some kind. You should be attending cons/trade shows/schools/libraries or whatever will help get the word out about your work. It may not have that much effect (no one really knows how to get word of mouth going*), but it might, and besides, for your own peace of mind it helps to know that you’re doing something. No one cares how well your book does as much you what wrote it. Not your agent, your editor or your publicist. It seems mighty unfair to complain about a writer doing what they can to secure their livelihood.

An interesting read, since I’m sure I’m making some of those same mistakes myself. John Scalzi also replies here that how first time writers should be given a pass, if anything, we all seemed to agree (says this first time writer), you can’t blame ’em for being excited.

All of this self promotion stuff, however, talks about going to cons and being on panels and so forth and so on. But Jeff VanderMeer, in the comments of Justine’s original post, really starts leading us down an interesting path of discussion:

I’ve been grappling with this whole self-promotion idea for awhile and finally in the last year or so decided if I was going to do self-promotion, I was going to make it ever-more creative self-promotion. For upcoming books I’m making tie-in movies, creatively different websites, etc. Stuff that extends me creatively. Not as much as writing fiction, but definitely to some extent”“branching into different media.

That way I feel like I’m still making art when I’m doing promotion. And it’s a lot more fun.

This is exactly the kind of direction we need to be thinking about. Particularly in genre circles, self promotion has come to be known as the con circuit. Doing panels, readings, and so forth.

This is expensive. I know a lot of writers point that out. A $200 hotel room, even if split with another author. Food. Drink. Flying/driving out. It’s anywhere from $200-$500 out of pocket, with larger conventions being even more expensive. And how many books do you sell?

If you are a neopro you’re not actively selling anything other stories that have been in an anthology. At the last convention I was at I know the dealer sold 10 copies, which will make me $25. Ouch.

Will I stop going to cons? No way. Here is why. Read Seth Godin’s book ‘Unleashing the Idea Virus.’ He talks about primary ‘sneezers,’ people who spread the word about a product or something they fall in love with (think mac evangelists, or religious cultists, or in biology, Typhoid Mary). Book ‘sneezers’ are the kind of people who will go to a convention or a reader at a convention, or come to a signing. So if you want to prime that pump, you need to meet sneezers, and that’s why I think cons and readings and book signings are not initially profitable, but in the long run, start the first level of word of mouth.

I want to meet those people.

And I also go to conventions to hang out with my peers. At home I don’t get to have lunch or drinks with SF authors, editors, and booksellers. I learn so much from this, just listening to other people’s experiences in the industry. I wouldn’t give that up.

But not everyone is comfortable speaking in public. That’s not a problem, it shouldn’t be a requirement. And the casting of self promotion in purely convention/booksigning/reading terms stops us from thinking outside of the box a bit.

Jeff VanderMeer’s amazing website for City of Saints and Madmen is exactly what we need to see more of. David Edelman, Chris Roberson, and Brandon Sanderson have created a lot of ‘wealth added’ websites as well.

With Alternate Reality Games promoting non-book media like Last Call Poker and Perplex is it really that hard to imagine not adapting those successful viral marketing campaigns for our literature? And this doesn’t require an author to go out and shake hands and kiss babies… with the flat nature of the internet, we should be able to leverage that with some out of the box thinking.

Everyone has a blog now, but what else can you do to effectively add value to the proposition of someone reading your book that will get them excited? That’s self promotion. It’s a two way street. It’s not ‘buy my book, look at me,’ it’s a relationship, and I really think you have to bring something to the table.

The other thing about constant self-promotion is that it drains you and it can dissolve the separation between the public you and the private you that needs to write. In the worst cases, it seeps into the writing itself.

Exactly. I have the benefit of having worked in sales and the person-to-person thing comes easily, I enjoy being around people. But I’m sure as heck not going to depend on that, I don’t want to run myself into the ground until I hate being an author. I want this to be fun, engaging, and interesting. And finding interesting ways to promote myself that don’t drain me are one thing. The Crystal Rain website, the commentaries, extra material, and passing out magnets (I just love magnets, and people can USE them to hang stuff from a fridge, it’s value added) is fun for me. I like it.

Jeff continues and says:

The funniest thing to me recently has been a couple of people more or less intimating that I’ve sold out just because my PR has been effective. I *have* to do a lot of PR because my stuff is really weird and on some level uncommercial! LOL!

Exactly. In sales when things get slow, you don’t spend less money advertising, but more…