Steve K. Smy
Lost in the Labyrinth
Are you a new author? Before we go any further, let me just say that I don’t believe that there’s any such animal as an ‘aspiring’ author. You either write or you don’t. If you do write, you’re an author. If you don’t write, then nothing in the world is going to turn you into an author. Believe me, this is important to this whole discussion.
As a new author, you’ve struggled with all the usual issues of doing the actual writing and polishing. You’ve found a publisher or you’ve self-published. You sit back and wait for the sales... And nothing happens! Your book sits there with no activity associated with it, except perhaps a few strays stopping long enough to take a brief look. So what’s happened? Simple: books don’t sell themselves. More importantly, perhaps, authors have to sell themselves to potential readers! Yes, you can hammer the social networks with the news that you’ve got a book available, but you’ll be disappointed by how much notice that gets you. You need to negotiate your way through the labyrinth of the internet, and you have to do it right or you’ll be lost in there forever!
Very few people, whatever they do, are anything but a small voice in a mass of voices, as far as the internet is concerned. Sadly, most people are almost microscopic voices. They go unnoticed, unremarked. Why? Because they make the mistake of thinking that putting something up on the internet will draw others to them automatically, with no great effort expended. That is, to be brutally honest, utter nonsense! Above all else, entering into the internet community means you have to sell yourself, and you have to do it in the right way. Apart from a handful of friends and family, nobody out there knows who you are or what you do. You have to tell them, and you need to do so in a way that will make you attractive. Good humour, avoiding self-obsession, talking about subjects you’re passionate about, and being as open as possible while protecting your privacy. All these are essentials.
“But I just want to sell my book!”
Sure, and that seems perfectly reasonable. Now tell me: given the choice between an author you already like (or one you’ve heard of) and somebody you’ve never heard even a whisper about, which book, assuming the books are the same price, will you buy? And that’s part of the problem. People feel they know the bestselling authors, beyond knowing their books. They have presence! That’s what you have to create for yourself. You need to let people get to know something about you, as a person and as an author. You have to show them who you are and what you stand for. But, you have to do it in a way that doesn’t overdo it. If you get ‘in their faces’ too much, they’ll turn their backs on you.
In truth, you should really have started creating You, the Brand, long before you published your first book. It’s a lot harder work doing it once you’ve got a Product to sell under the Brand name! “Brand”? “Product? Oh, yes! That’s exactly what we’re talking about. You’re a Brand and your book is your Product. There’s no escaping that fact. So just what do you have to do to publicise Brand you? Top of the list: create a website. I would recommend doing so using a blog facility - it will save you a great deal of work. It also means you only need one site to worry about, as you can use the blog part as a blog – to keep your readers updated and entertained. And in those blog posts, don’t focus too much on yourself and your writing! Talk about writing in general, talk about other authors, post reviews and interviews, get guest posts. Too much you and people won’t be hanging around or coming back for more. Then, in the early days of your website at least, get on those social networks and be heard! It doesn’t matter what you say, as long as it makes you sound interesting and fun to know. Also, be prepared to back other authors by helping them spread the word about themselves and encourage readers to visit your site by making connections with reviewer blogs. And visit other blogs, leave likes and comments as appropriate – genuine ones – don’t abuse blog commenting to just advertise yourself or your book! The occasional plug for your book and/or website/blog won’t hurt. A status note that you’ve got something new on your blog is fine, but limit the frequency of such messages! If you live outside the USA,
then you can possibly get away with two publicity messages per day – to cover your local peak time and again at some time when others from other countries are more active. You’ll be surprised how much more activity you get if you build your Brand effectively.
Theseus used a thread to avoid being lost in the most famous labyrinth of all. You have a thread of sorts: your footprints on the internet. Keep it simple, at the start at least! Set up an author page on Facebook, get a Twitter account that describes you as an author, and have that blog! If you know how to use it, then add LinkedIn too – and when you acknowledge new contacts, include a link to your blog in your message signature! Steer people to where they will find your book using gentle means – as if you’re letting them use your own labyrinth-busting thread to avoid getting lost.
I should close with a dose of reality! You are extremely unlikely to become a bestseller. Sales will be slow and sporadic. You’ll have to work hard, too, just to put your book up on the eye-level shelf, where it can be seen. Every bookstore has thousands of titles. They’ll have many free books. It would be unreasonable to expect your book to leap into first place overnight!
One final word: The you that you present will establish your reputation online. If you value your reputation, give careful thought to how you portray yourself!
BioSteve K Smy was born in Ipswich, Suffolk - a picturesque part of England famed for being part of Constable Country, where the renowned artist John Constable worked and produced many of his finest paintings. He has lived virtually his whole life there. He started writing for pleasure when he was 13 years old, with a science fiction novel! Naturally, his writing was less dominant for many years, as he and his wife Jenny raised their three children to adulthood and independence. He returned to writing seriously in February 2012, following a long illness. Since then, he has written and published, in ebook format, several short stories and, in ebook and paperback formats, four novelettes and a novella, and has been working on a major fantasy novel.
His published stories include tales in three series: the Thief series of fantasy short stories, the mixed genre G1: The Guardians series (two novelettes and a novella, to date) and the science fiction Captain Henri Duschelle Stories (a short story and two novelettes, so far). The novelettes and novella have now been published in paperback. Fans of the G1: The Guardians series will be delighted to hear that a novel (A Darkness in Amazonia being Part 4 of the series) has recently been published!
Steve is also a blogger with a growing readership for his blog Imagineer-ing, Again, fans of the G1: The Guardians series will be happy to hear that they can find background information on the stories, especially the political shape of the world, in a special section of the blog site!
Thank you, Steve, for an interesting article. I'm sure it will help many a writer surmount the obstacles presented as they try to get their work known.
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com