Thursday, October 14, 2010


Last month Angela responded to our post about self-publishing and asked this perfectly reasonable question about the publicity side of our business.

Angela said...
I agree with Alissa that there is more than one way to get published. I also agree with Julie that the business is really subjective.People often recommend self-published books to me and don't even know the books are self-published. They could care less who the publisher is, they just want to read a good book. That being said, I think it's hard to put a good self-published book out there and be successful without the benefit of editors, readers, proofreaders, a marketing and PR team, and sales team. Kae, do you and Jon do PR for self-published novels? And if so, I'm curious if you have a different strategy for promoting self-published books.

Jon brought this question to my attention this morning and we spent some time discussing it. While we have worked with self-published authors in the past and continue to do so today, these are authors of nonfiction. Publicizing fiction is very difficult, even if the fiction is published by a standard publishing company. Fiction benefits from the distribution, advertising, marketing and sales efforts provided by large companies. But, other than sending out review copies, most publicity efforts for first novels are minimal. When a novelist gains a name and reputation, there is the opportunity for a much wider publicity campaign. That's why you see famous novelists on "Today" and "Oprah."

I would never advise an author to self-publish his or her fiction. (Unless, of course, the author is famous, lectures widely, has a built-in audience of potential buyers, and is already a veteran of countless media interviews.) Without the support a publishing company provides, it's next to impossible to get a fiction book out there in the numbers required to make an impact. Now, I am sure there are exceptions. Perhaps you are a successful self-published novelist or know someone who is. If so, please let us know. I'd love to hear how you did it and so would our readers, I'm sure.

Publicizing self-published non-fiction is a different matter. We've been very successful with our nonfiction self-published authors. Because these authors are experts in their fields, they have the option of selling their books when they do lectures and programs, on their websites, and online. These people have a "platform" (a built-in audience) and can use that audience to promote and sell their books. Typically we will send out review copies, schedule radio and television interviews, set up book signings and pursue online opportunities for our nonfiction authors. Our campaigns for self-published nonfiction authors are the same as for published authors and are limited only by budget constraints.

Bottom line is, publicity for ANY book, published or self-published is tougher than ever as media channels morph and shrink.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


My friend Phyllis is an avid journal-writer. She has been keeping a journal for as long as I've known her and she's saved the day on a number of occasions. What year was it when we bought our house in the country? When did we all take that great trip to Bethany Beach? When did we take that long bicycle ride and get lost in the rain? Who gave us that recipe for "Oven Stew?"

I think of Phyllis as a domestic historian, the keeper of our families' combined memories. But, at the heart of it, Phyllis is not writing for me or for anyone else. She writes for herself and that's the real value of a journal.

But, if you are writing for publication, you are most certainly writing for others. If you still write for your own enjoyment that's fine. Just understand that if your mind is set that way you probably won't find a publisher.

Michael Cunningham, the author of The Hours, explored this topic beautifully in the Sunday Opinion section of October 3rd's New York Times. His article, "Found in Translation," is a must-read for would-be authors. I love his description of the students in his writing class:

"I teach writing, and one of the first questions I ask my students every semester is, who are you writing for? The answer, 9 times out of 10, is that they write for themselves. I tell them that I understand--that I go home every night, make an elaborate cake and eat it all by myself. By which I mean that cakes, and books, are meant to be presented to others. And further, that books (unlike cakes) are deep, elaborate interactions between writers and readers, albeit separated by time and space.

"I remind them, as well, that no one wants to read their stories. There are a lot of other stories out there, and by now, in the 21st centruy, there's been such an accumulation of literature that few of us will live long enough to read all the great stories and novels, never mind the pretty good ones...I should admit that when I was as young as my students are now, I too thought of myself as writing either for myself, for some ghostly ideal reader, or, at my most grandiose moments, for future generations. My work suffered as a result."

I hope you'll take a few minutes to read Cunningham's entire article. And next time you sit down to work on your book, remember your readers. Think about them and how you can best reach them. It's a good exercise and it will make you a better writer.