Promoting And Platforms

empty_stageI’ve been thinking about loving your neighbor, mostly because I was reading Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis, but in the writing world, I’ve come across more and more talk about getting noticed. Somehow a book needs to stand out in the crowd. And believe me, with the ease of self-publishing, the crowd is growing.

These two concepts seem antithetical. I mean, with people in so much need around the world, I’m supposed to concern myself with … ME?

Not to mention that a couple situations of what I’ll call overly zealous advertisement–which is the euphemistic way of saying “spam”–I suggested in a Facebook update that unfriending/unfollowing the perpetrator might be the only answer. I was gratified to see that a good number of others agreed–not so much about severing ties as the solution, but about spamming others in the name of promotion being a problem.

Yet I understand where these aggressive promoters are coming from. They read articles that say they need a platform, the publishers are no longer looking at number of blog followers or even Facebook friends, but at Klout scores. They read other articles that say having a platform isn’t enough on its own. You have to hold contests and bring people together into teams, do book give-aways and participate in blog tours. Promotion. It’s part of the book business, whether a person is self- or traditionally-published.

But in the back of my mind, I hear a quiet voice whispering, But I want you to love your neighbor.

There really are only so many hours in the day to do all we need to do. How’s someone with a day job, a writing career, a family, and church responsibilities supposed to add in promotion . . . and loving that needy neighbor?

I don’t have an answer on the promotion part yet. I figured I didn’t need to face that one until I actually have a book that needs to be promoted. But the loving my neighbor seems to be the larger, more pressing, and urgent task.

And yet, it also seems as if I may be overlooking the obvious. It came to me today as I listened to a tribute on the radio program Family Life Today for Dr. Howard Hendricks, former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, who passed away this week.

He taught for sixty years and continued to mentor seminary students even after his retirement. But what difference was he making in the lives of widows and orphans and strangers? How was he reaching the unreached with the good news of God’s good and free gift of His Son? In short, how was he delivering the cup of cold water or feeding the hungry or visiting the sick or imprisoned–the things Jesus said would be like doing those needful things for Him?

I have to believe that all the students–thousands and thousands, many of them in positions of leadership–who Dr. Hendricks taught may have learned from him the importance of loving their neighbor. His role, then was to love them by giving them not just a cup of cold water, but the whole well–or more accurately, the means by with they could go out and dig the well themselves.

And what about the rest of us who aren’t seminary professors? What about writers who are jammed up with edits and dirty dishes and stacks of laundry and grocery shopping and taxes and birthday parties? And promotion?

I think we’re simply to love the person in front of us. Whoever that might be. Whatever he might need.

Loving our neighbor isn’t going to look the same to each person. We’re not all going to travel half-way around the world to find a needy someone to love.

And the needy God puts in our path may not need medical care or bus fare or escape from an abuser. They might. But they might need someone to listen. Someone to cry with. Or even someone to sit beside. They might simply need us to stop talking about our book long enough for them to be noticed.

What The Bible Says About Promotion

Truth be told, the Bible doesn’t directly address the subject of promotion. Nevertheless, I think I discovered a principle that applies. It’s called generosity.

When people generously give, whether it is of their material wealth, their time, their ideas, their work effort, or whatever else it might be, people respond, usually by telling others. Or, more accurately, by praising the individual to others.

I think there is a fine line between genuine generosity and the kind of tit-for-tat promotion that smacks of “bought and paid for” buzz. And I found an example of that fine line in a real Old Testament account.

I’m referring to Joseph. Twenty-eight or -nine year old Joseph, by this time. He was still in prison and had just interpreted the dream of a fellow prisoner, the king’s cupbearer. According to the dream, the man would be reinstated to his job in three days. And Joseph asked a tit for a tat.

Tell the king about me, he said. I’ve been kidnapped and besides I am no criminal, yet I’m languishing in this prison. I’ve helped you, now please help me.

But the cupbearer forgot.

Maybe intentionally, at least in the beginning. After all, he had just returned to the king’s good graces and undoubtedly didn’t want to start back to work asking for special favors. Day after day slipped by and no mention of Joseph.

Until the king had a dream.

Now the cupbearer had a reason to mention Joseph. Not for Joseph’s sake, but for the king’s. No tit for tat here. The cupbearer had a chance to help the king because … who knows, maybe he wanted nothing more than to help the king. Maybe he was hoping for a tat in return.

The point is, Joseph’s bargain making didn’t bring about his release. His generosity did.

Well, of course, God actually did. And it was in His perfect time. If Joseph had been released earlier because the cupbearer came through, perhaps he would not have been in position to help his family or be reconciled to them.

But Joseph stayed in place, by God’s decree, until the time was right. Until the time when he could provide the interpretation of the king’s dream, the advice about what to do in light of the revelation, and the wherewithal to pull it off.

He himself later told his brothers God had sent him ahead that he might provide the means of deliverance for his family. In other words, that he might become a type of Christ, the Redeemer.

Because of Joseph’s special place in history, I can’t say that self promotion was wrong because it didn’t work for him. Rather, it just wasn’t what God had in mind for Joseph.

And that’s the real lesson I learned here. I may think I know a good way to work things out, and it’s not wrong for me to try it, but the most important thing is for me to be and do what God calls me to, and trust that He will take care of spreading the word in His perfect time.

This article was originally posted in August 2008 under the title “Biblical Promotion

Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 5:45 pm  Comments (2)  
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Book Awareness

The hardest thing about being a writer these days is getting noticed. I’m convinced of this.

I judged several contests this year and it’s apparent to me that there are some really good writers out there. I’m also a critique partner and an editor and a blog tour coordinator. I see lots of books, some that I’d like to see hit the NY Times best seller lists. But reality is, they probably won’t.

Promotion of books is hard.

It’s harder now than ever, I think, because we have had an explosion of indy publishers and an ever-growing number of self-published authors. How does anyone set themselves apart from that crowd?

I just left a Facebook Launch Party chat for one of the best books I’ve read this year. I got there late and already there were nearly 300 comments. Wow, I thought. Three hundred!

But guess what. If each of those comments was from a person who has bought or will buy the book, that’s small potatoes. And this book deserves BIG potatoes! 😉

Speculative middle grade and young adult writer Sally Apokedak is working to build her tribe, and as a result has come up with a great idea. She’s creating a semi-annual newsletter about the best picture, MG, and YA books–a great tool for parents looking for Christmas presents in the fall and for summer reads for their kiddos in the spring.

On top of this, Sally is giving away prizes. Just for signing up for this wonderful newsletter (and trust me, one look at her web site and you know she does things up right), you’ll be entered to win a Kindle Fire, or one of the other prizes available. What a deal.

But with all the goodness, you’d expect hundreds and hundreds of people to sign up, wouldn’t you? Let’s just say, she hasn’t reached those numbers yet! 😮

What’s it take, I wonder. Giving things away doesn’t seem to get you noticed any more these days.

Everyone blogs and Tweets. Writers are speakers and do interviews and book signings. Yet that’s the deal–everyone does it. How does a writer separate from the pack?

Is it brilliant marketing? A great public relations campaign?

Or do we say that God works all things for His purposes? Great marketing campaigns have been known to lay an egg and small, unheralded projects have been known to hit pay dirt.

So here’s what I think. If I ever publish my fantasy novels and they find a readership, everyone will know that it’s God at work (one of those “wonders and signs” I wrote about recently 😉 ) because I’ll tell you flat out: I haven’t got a clue how a person or a book can separate from all the others out there to actually be noticed. As I see it, it has to be something God brings about.

Published in: on June 26, 2012 at 6:52 pm  Comments (6)  
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Celebrity Influence

Today at Spec Faith I wrote a post about the “It Factor” — the something that some books seem to have that separates them from the crowd.

One of those is what I called “The Celebrity Factor,” by which I meant some writers by virtue of their name sell books. Marketing may call this “branding” — readers aren’t so much buying a book as they are buying the author.

Once musicians did the same thing, which is why they sold “the best of” albums and eventually CDs. Fans didn’t really care that they were simply buying a re-packaging of music they already owned. If the artist they followed put it out, they bought it.

Several people who commented on my Spec Faith post, however, looked at “The Celebrity Factor” in broader terms than just the celebrity standing of the author. They correctly identified the importance of celebrity influencers. One person mentioned how Oprah’s recommendation could sway people. This (from Facebook) is so good, you have to read it:

It could be old hat, new hat, or controversial & it will sell if any known person backs it. Oprah is the perfect example. If she promoted potato sack dresses with corn-on-the-cob belts, they’d be flying off the shelves tomorrow.

😆 I laughed at that one because I think she’s absolutely right. Personal taste would go out the window if a respected celebrity gives approval. Rather than wondering what happened to Oprah’s good sense, people would line up to get whatever it is she said is great.

The point is, it would become great because the influential celebrity said it was great.

I know I’m influenced by names I recognize and respect. My first awareness of Wayne Thomas Batson and his writing, for example, came one December when I was shopping in (the now defunct) Borders for Christmas presents. Right next to a new Cornelia Funk fantasy was this beautiful hardback book with the most intriguing cover. When I opened it, on the flyleaf was an endorsement by Josh McDowell. That’s when I realized the book was written, most likely, from a Christian worldview, and that’s when I knew I wanted to read that book.

The endorsement essentially sold me. I didn’t know anything about this Wayne Thomas Batson character ( 😉 ), but Josh McDowell I’d read. I knew what he stood for.

Interestingly, today on Facebook, author D. Barkley Briggs asked me to spread the word about a poll he is running (for the title of book 4 in his Legends of Karac Tor series) to my “network of fantasy friends.” After he clarified that he did indeed believe the friends are real, not make-believe, ( 😉 ) I got to thinking a bit more about the idea of finding the talkers.

I’d read about it before in Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing: part of the strategy to get people talking is to identify the talkers — the people who know people and who will talk about your product.

I am certainly no Oprah, but Dean knows of my connection to the CSFF Blog Tour and to Spec Faith. In other words, he recognized that I could be one voice reaching out to his target audience. I then become one of his talkers.

The problem that I see with this “celebrity influence” is multifaceted. For one thing, in an area like Christian fantasy that is just developing legs, who are the celebrities? Wayne Batson went outside the genre to acquire his influencer, and that might be the way to go.

But there’s also the problem of access. There simply aren’t enough celebrities to go around, and the ones that exist are undoubtedly bombarded with requests. Many writers — not even of the celebrity category — have decided they must adopt a “no endorsements” rule because they receive so many requests. A few reserve their endorsements for personal friends. Which brings us back to the access issue. How does a beginning writer become the personal friend of a celebrity writer? Or a celebrity anything?

It feels a lot like the conundrums I faced as a young adult. In looking for my first teaching job, I was asked for my teaching experience … In applying for a credit card (in the days before they were handed out like candy at Halloween), I was asked for my credit history …

Here are a few closing thoughts on the subject. When writing about all the people who would line up to buy an Oprah-endorsed potato sack, I was reminded that “all we like sheep have gone astray.” How like sheep we are!

Regarding celebrity endorsements, I think how much better it is to have the King’s approval — the eternal King who knows the beginning from the end, who loves me and has my good at heart. With Him, I have no access problem. And I can be confident that He’ll see to it my writing will end up where He wants it.

– – – – –

Don’t forget to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll — it will remain open for four more days.

Writing Lone Wolves Or Inkling-like Writing Communities

At one of my first Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, I asked a particular writer I respected if that person was in a critique group. “No,” came the answer, “I really don’t have the time.”

On another occasion, because I had learned and grown so much through the on-line critique group I belonged to, I challenged an editing client to get involved with a group so that person could receive feedback other than mine. Again, the answer was, “I’d like to, but it just isn’t practical with my schedule.”

As I peruse recent fiction releases, I find it interesting to read the acknowledgments page. Some writers thank everyone from the teacher who taught them to read to their current editing team and every writing group they’ve belonged to in between.

Others include no acknowledgments page.

I think of these latter writers, like those who admit they aren’t part of a critique group, as writing lone wolves. They have minimal web presence, don’t show up in writing communities or at writing conferences, either as teachers or conferees. They may still sell books, though, and may be skilled writers.

The other group seems eager to engage fellow writers and industry professionals. They want to swap “how to” information, exchange prayer requests, answer questions, cheer even small victories, and offer that analytic eye that tells an author if he’s on the right track or not.

Is there a right way or a wrong way to go about this writing business?

I’m thinking about this for several reasons. First, years ago when I heard of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Oxford group of writers that came to be known as the Inklings, I wanted the same thing. How great to sit around a pub, reading your work and getting feedback from some of the great minds of your era. It sounded so magical. How could they miss becoming great writers in that environment?

More recently, however, two very different sources have me thinking about the subject again. One came via Fred Warren’s Spec Faith article “Scouting The Competition.” In that post Fred discusses what Mormon writers are doing that has vaulted many of them into the ranks of published science fiction or fantasy writers.

As required reading for anyone who wanted to comment, Fred linked to “The Class That Would Not Die,” an article that gives the history of a movement started at BYU that brought a number of Mormon sci fi and fantasy writers into community.

A couple days later, in response to articles by Jeffrey Overstreet and Jonathan Rogers, Sally Apokedak wrote an excellent post about self-promotion versus loving your neighbor.

Obviously self-promoters are still in community (they have to have someone to whom they are promoting), so they wouldn’t exactly fall into the lone wolf category. Or would they?

Some lone wolves, it would seem, are predatory. They are more interested in their work, their progress, their successes, with little interest in “giving back.” They begin most comments, “In my article (book, blog post, interview, podcast, trailer, tour, book blurb, Tweet, etc.) …”

Other lone wolves really are alone. They resemble writers of old, tucked away in a patron’s loft, where they worked day and night to eke out subsistence wages. And they like it that way — except for the subsistence wages part.

Some of these writers take the stand that they are artists, not promoters. Others believe God has called them to write books not Facebook updates.

On the other side of the planet there is the gregarious bunch — those who have to force themselves away from social media to get back to the task at hand, because if truth comes out, they are perfectly happy talking about writing whether or not they ever publish a thing. These writers have no problem joining critique groups or writing associations. They love to attend conferences and join in writing discussions with frequency.

As I look at this, I see admirable qualities in the lone wolf who sticks by conviction and works with diligence despite minimal feedback. I also see wonderful qualities in those who freely give to other writers with no return expectations. They are generous with their time because they love helping. They are the ones who love their neighbor without thinking they have come upon a good promotional strategy.

But then there are those predatory wolves — not so admirable. Sometimes they don’t operate alone, either; they work in packs. Which makes me realize gregarious writers are just as susceptible to becoming one of them as the lone wolf is.

Honestly, the writing life seems filled with traps. I see only one way through:

Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God (Phil. 4:6).

Promotion – What Makes A Work Go Viral?

I suppose every author and musician, maybe every dancer or videographer, movie producer, or TV exec wants to know the same thing — what makes a work go viral?

In other words, why did Harry Potter become such a success? Why Eragon? The Passion of the Christ? Twilight? Hunger Games? Left Behind? Shadowmancer? The Da Vinci Code? The Shack? Is there something these books have in common that brought them so much attention?

The first thing I notice is that all except perhaps Hunger Games made the national news for one reason or the other. In most cases the reason was controversy. Harry Potter received criticism from Christians as did The Da Vinci Code. Christians debated the merits of The Shack. Shadowmancer supposedly angered a faction of Christians and came to the US under a cloud of criticism. And Jews objected to The Passion.

Some of the works received national attention because of a human interest aspect. Christopher Paolini began writing Eragon when he was fifteen, self-published, and traveled the country with his parents hand selling the book until it was picked up by a traditional publisher, and made national news.

The Left Behind books found their way in front of network viewers because of their success in the Christian market. (In the same way, Amish stories are now coming out of the ABA — because they continue to sell and sell and sell.) Twilight was a phenom because, of all things, the teenage lovers didn’t have sex.

But the question remains. How did these books garner enough sales to catch the public’s attention?

It seems something first captivated an initial group who started talking. Left Behind had a well-known non-fiction writer as one of the co-authors, and I expect that pulled in a number of initial readers. But I also believe it tapped into a fascination about future events.

The Shack took a different path. The book creators solicited promotion from its readers within its covers. At the end, there were specific action points that were designed to get satisfied readers talking about the book and buying more copies to give away.

Twilight caught the attention of a group of romance lovers with a strict moral code. Perhaps Mormons banded together to support the book initially (pure conjecture on my part).

Shadowmancer, besides claiming religious controversy, also took on the mantle of the “Christian” Harry Potter, possibly earning itself a niche following.

In contrast, The Da Vinci Code may have picked up fans from the new atheist crowd or from any anti-Catholic, and of course once the Pope spoke out against it, the controversy was on.

It appears that the first thing, though, was something within the work itself. The Passion of the Christ had so many unique aspects — a famous actor seeing the project through in the face of rejection from traditional sources (human interest), opposition from a religious group (controversy) which garnered national attention, a non-traditional approach to the subject matter, a highly religious film using Biblical material as its primary source, a select group of unknown actors. In other words, there was lots to talk about.

I already mentioned the content of the Left Behind books. Harry Potter had a unique story world. Hunger Games had a timely, intriguing dystopian concept that tapped into a current cultural phenomenon — reality games.

In other words, either the author or the subject seemed to set the work apart from others, which caused first readers/viewers to pay attention.

In each case, a big budget marketing plan didn’t seem to be responsible for the work’s success. People were. But the people who talked about what they read or viewed first had to have something to talk about, something unique enough that they wanted to pass it along to others.

And viral happened.

Success Without Overkill

I don’t know if all successful authors avoid overkill, but in her comment yesterday, Morgan named one who seems to have found a positive way of promoting her works without making her target audience feel spammed.

Debbie Macomber at Mount Hermon in 2008

The author Morgan mentioned is Debbie Macomber. I haven’t done any serious investigation to learn this, but Debbie’s blog gives a picture of how she interacts with the public.

A quick glance at her blog sidebar tells me Debbie posts two or three times a week. Here are some of the latest titles of her posts. “Footbal Sunday” (about expensive meals at her favorite football team’s stadium), “Going green–or would be that orange?” (telling how much work it is and how expensive to grow and use your own pumpkins instead of buying the canned variety), “Weekend Contentment” (re. enjoying everyday fall doings), “Young Writers” (about plans to teach a writing seminar in New York).

You get the picture—not a single mention of one of her book titles or how many words she wrote on any particular day. In fact, the only mention of her work came as a part of an announcement earlier this month that she will be changing publishers after twenty-eight years with the same house.

Well, that seems like big news, certainly something significant enough that readers would want to know. But unless you click on the “Books” tab, or a much smaller “Buy Debbie’s Books” link at the very top of her home page, you aren’t going to find a lot about her work.

She seems to adhere to her tag line – “Wherever you are Debbie takes you home.” Her short paragraph posts are conversational, personal, void of the hard-sell of campaign ads. In fact, void of an form of sell.

Granted, her Facebook page is different–she is clearly intending to use that spot to discuss her books, but even in so doing, there is more of a soft-sell tone. For example, in her last post she says

A final reminder, my friends, to sign up at for my online event on Friday, October 22nd at 3pm EST. I promise to quit making pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie long enough to answer all your questions! (Who knew my pumpkins would grow SO big?!)

First, the tone is personal. Debbie has over 32,000 people following her on that page, yet she is talking to “my friends.”

Second, she makes it clear she is viewing this event as something she wants to do for others. She’s putting aside her activities and will focus on those who want to ask her questions.

Third, she uses humor and a blog tie-in (remember the post about the effort and expense of growing and using pumpkins?) to eliminate any commercial feel.

No doubt about it, promotion is something authors should consider as part of their job these days, but what a difference between the pounding some do and the service others offer.

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm  Comments Off on Success Without Overkill  
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Promoting or Spamming

From time to time I bring up the topic of promotion in regards to authors getting the word out about their books. Because I’m in contact with a number of authors via email loops, writers’ groups, and Facebook, I see a lot of promotion. Some good and some … well, quite frankly, it feels like spam.

Last May I wrote a post about this topic called (cleverly 🙄 ) “Promotion, Promotion, Promotion.” As Christmas draws closer, I see even more frequent mentions of books by authors. Understandable.

But I also realize that my response to some has become automatic—delete without reading. I see some names and I know what’s coming. I don’t need to open the message.

Granted, I haven’t reported the sender as spam for various reasons, but I wonder if I shouldn’t unsubscribe or take some of these names off my list of friends. Already I’m picky about what books I want to become a fan of because I understand now that this is essentially signing up to receive promotional material. Do I really need more messages to delete?

But how else is an author to get the word out about his book?

I came across something similar when I was trying to let Christian speculative readers know about the Clive Staples Award. I sent group emails to people I thought would have a vested interest in the award, either now or in the future, but I wonder how many were deleted unread.

Whenever I think this through, I eventually come to a position I think is right—meaning, it is consistent with Scripture. Granted, the Bible doesn’t address marketing or promotion, but it does tell me to be kind; to love my neighbor as myself; to take the lower position at the banquet table, not the favored one. Jesus gave us an example of humility by coming in the form of a servant. John the Baptist pointed to Christ and said, He must increase and I must decrease.

So it seems to me those same principles can guide an author in decisions about promoting his work. If the notification is informative, helpful, more concerned about others than about sales, and pointing ultimately to Christ, then I think promotion won’t feel like spam. How could it? The recipient should feel placed in a position of importance rather than in the role of consumer.

Ah, but this seems so much easier to theorize about than to actually do! 😕

(By the way, is it spam that I linked to my own article in this post? YIKES! 😮 )

Published in: on December 11, 2009 at 2:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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Contentment and the Book Promoter; CSFF Run-off Poll

You may have assumed I was off earlier this week on unrelated tangents when I wrote about contentment and our bent to believe we deserve all that the world tells us we deserve. I actually saw these ideas related to writing in two ways.

First, I was reminded about the power of the media, and whether we realize it or not, fiction is “media.” So are blogs. Here’s what I’m thinking. The movie and TV industries, and the commercials that go with them, often say they don’t influence society; they reflect it. And there is truth in this line. Pop culture is popular. So the media flock around octo-mom for weeks and weeks, way past the point that most of us care to see another picture of her, because their ratings are up.

Same with Michael Jackson. More and more pop-star-weariness articles surface all the time, but the books that publishers churned out about the deceased star hit the best-seller lists right off. So the media does seem to give the public something a good portion of the public wants.

At the same time, the media is shaping those interests. Would any of us cared about Nadia Sulemon if the media hadn’t first told us about a woman who gave birth to eight babies who lived? Then teased and tantalized with the unreleased-identity tidbit? Followed by this rumor and that suggestion and finally a picture.

Media, after all, is about piquing curiosity. Even fiction. We have opening hooks and book trailers and back cover copy designed to intrigue. We want to pull readers in.

Which in turn allows us to say what we want to say.

So in part we give readers what they want so we can influence what they want. It’s a curious cycle.

But the next thought I had in connection to this realization was this: How ethical is it for us to create an artificial thirst? I mean, if the Bible is right, and Godliness with contentment is great gain, shouldn’t we be helping others realize contentment rather than stirring up disquiet?

I have a hard time telling people with limited resources they need to buy such and such a book (maybe someday mine) or telling overly busy people they need to spend time reading my blog.

Do I want people to read my blog? Well, frankly, yes. And someday, should God open doors for my fiction to be published, I will want people to buy my books.

But how am I to promote in light of contentment? I think it would be wrong to say the two have nothing to do with each other. I also think it is off base to say promotion is wrong.

However, I don’t see trying to convince people who are unaware of an interest or a need, that they really should have an interest or need. I suppose there are exceptions. Someone about to step out in front of a bus needs to be told not to keep going.

But is that what most promotion is doing? What do you think?

– – –

Here is the run-off poll for this month’s award. Check out these posts, and give us your opinion who deserves to be honored this month for their creative, thought-provoking posts:

Published in: on July 30, 2009 at 11:35 am  Comments (6)  
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The Value of Promotion vs. the Value of Story

First, the announcement. After our first CSFF Top Blogger Award run-off, Rachel Starr Thomson garnered 55% of the vote to secure the April Tour honors. Congratulations to both her and Brandon Barr for superb posts during the Blaggard’s Moon tour.

– – –

In case you missed it, on Friday Novel Journey posted an interview with contributor Jessica Dotta and uber-agent, Donald Maass. Half way through, the discussion turned to promotion.

Jessica noted that Mr. Maass is credited with saying that promotion and marketing play a small role in the success of a book. In fact, in Writing the Breakout Novel he calls these ideas about promotion and marketing myths authors continue to believe. When Jessic asked (in question five) if authors shouldn’t strive for the best marketing possible, Mr. Maass replied with a succinct analogy:

Great stories are the engine. Promotion may be the gasoline but gasoline won’t propel a two-cylinder putt-putt very fast–or push a broken engine very far down the road.

Jessica expanded the discussion, pointing to a handful of successful debut novels that snagged reviews in elite media sources and then went to the top of the best selling charts. But Mr. Maass insisted that great storytelling explained the success:

Why does media get excited about a novel? What starts the bandwagon rolling? Publisher hype? That’s a prod, obviously, but media far more often than not take a pass. What gets them excited is the same thing that gets word of mouth going: a great story. It all comes back to that. Up and down the ladder it all starts there.

As you might expect, Mr. Maass also believes that a writer should take the time to get the story right. Apparently this is a point he strongly makes in his new book The Fire in Fiction (which I am anxiously waiting to arrive from Writer’s Digest), prompting this exchange:

[Jessica] One of the elements I loved about The Fire in Fiction was your encouragement to work until the book is right. As writers, we often hear that in order to survive we must be capable of producing one or more books a year—lest we lose our audience and future contracts. But what if it takes an author two to five years to craft a good book?

[Donald Maass] Writing a great novel at a book-a-year pace is extremely difficult. I watch clients struggle with that challenge. One empowering thing to know is that the bigger the impact a novel has, the longer readers will wait for the next one.
– emphasis mine

I have to admit, that last line might be my favorite. Well, what do you expect from a writer of a four-book epic fantasy? 😉 I mean, isn’t it important for readers to have time to spread the word if book one gripped them? Even in this technological age, that doesn’t really happen over night. Or necessarily in three months. I didn’t read my first Harry Potter book until the third one was out, and they were not flying off the presses every six months.

For the most part, the word builds and the promotion builds because the story demands it. Yes, there may be some mysterious exceptions. I think of G. P. Taylor’s Shadowmancer which burst on the scene in 2004 as another book coming out of the UK with a huge following. Americans dutifully lined up and bought the book, and it did indeed hit the best selling list.

But today the lifetime sales on Amazon of the Creation House edition is over 450,000. What’s worse, the book that followed, Wormwood, is 250,000 places higher. Since I haven’t read Shadowmancer, I am going by the reports I’ve heard from writer friends (but the lion’s share of the Amazon reviews bear out their opinion)—this was not a good story.

Maybe this is the exception that proves the rule. On occasion the media will jump on a book bandwagon built by hype not substance. The result may be great sales, but the public, when fooled once, won’t likely be fooled twice by the same author.

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