Starting off with a reminder that I’ll be at the children’s book festival in Tarrytown, New York, on Sunday. The event is held at historic Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home, a literary destination in its own right.
On June 20, 2011, Jen wrote, ....I am a very introverted person. But I've read in a lot of places that self-promotion is just as much a part of being a successful author as good writing is. Do you agree with that perspective? Is there any hope for someone like me that would rather not be in front of people?
I would never ever ever agree that anything is as important for an author as good writing. Success is a separate matter, hinging on many things, including luck and timing. And yes, self-promotion is useful. You, all of you reading the blog, should do some when you get published. If you already are published, you know.
And if you’re already published, I hope you’ll chime in with what worked and what disappointed you.
Self-promotion doesn’t necessarily mean public speaking. There are more ways today to promote your book than ever before, and new ones keep springing up. I’m not an authority on the subject, but there are lots of books that may help. Your library may have some, or your local bookstore may suggest some titles.
I googled “self-promotion for authors” and lots of links popped up. One of them, a fascinating and funny New York Times article, goes over author self-promotion from a historical perspective. To my amazement the practice goes way, way, way back. Many of the examples do not involve speech at all. The article’s tone is adult and may not be right for elementary schoolers. Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/books/review/how-writers-build-the-brand.html.
Luck is luck, and you can’t do much about that, and timing is hard to control too. Your first picture book comes out when the market is down for picture books. Your paranormal novel is released just when the trend is fading, or your historical novel about the San Francisco earthquake hits the bookstores just after an earthquake strikes... somewhere, and interest is high.
The internet is the self-promoting author’s good buddy. You can create a website, a blog; you can tweet, use Facebook and, I suppose, LinkedIn for publicity. You can link to other sites that may link to yours as well. Some literary blogs interview authors, and these interviews are written, no speaking necessary. You can shoot something for YouTube about your book. Some authors develop online book trailers, not cheap, but not a fortune either. A friend has created an e-newsletter for teachers and librarians. She promotes her own work but also offers articles of more general interest.
I have a website and a blog (as you know!). The website is mostly for people who are interested in my books. The blog, obviously, is about writing, and it offers value even if you never read a word inside one of my books. But I do often mention a title or two to illustrate a point and to remind you that I’ve written this book or that one. I don’t do it so frequently that the blog is all about me, but the self-promotion is there, subtly. And of course I want to encourage you to come to appearances, where it will be hard to resist buying a book.
However, the results of promotion are hard to measure unless you score a huge coup, like an interview that is sure to result in thousands of sales. I have no idea how many books have been bought as a result of this blog, but I like writing my posts, so I continue to do it. It’s not worthwhile to promote in a way that makes you unhappy.
I don’t tweet, and I keep meaning to set up a fan Facebook page, but I haven’t gotten around to it, so I could do more. Everyone can do more. We have to choose between promotion and writing or hiking or talking to friends or flossing our teeth.
Off the internet, you can have postcards made and send them to everyone you know and leave them at local libraries and stores, especially bookstores. Your editor will almost certainly give you a PDF of the book cover to use. Heck, the publisher may even go halvsies with you on the cost or may pay for the whole thing. I always do a postcard mailing for my books. If nothing else, the postcards keep me in touch with cousins and friends I rarely see.
Friends can host book parties for you, although I’ve heard that doesn’t do much for sales. Still, a book is an achievement worth celebrating. You can write a press release and send it to local newspapers. If an editor wants to interview you, that will be one-on-one, most likely by phone, and your shyness may not be activated.
You can arrange a signing at a local bookstore and pressure your friends and family to come to hear you talk about your book. You may not sell many, but your supportive audience will give you experience in discussing your work.
Kids’ book writers can visit schools, which I’ve talked about before on the blog. School visits are a direct source of income as well as promotion, because we get honoraria for our visits. Some people who are shy with adults are comfortable with people half their size.
If you’re willing to give speeches or run workshops and if you have a particular expertise that relates to your writing, which might be in writing gothic mysteries for teens, for example, you can develop presentations for conferences and apply to showcase them. Often you’ll get an honorarium for this too.
I like to speak publicly, but it wasn’t always so. I got nervous. I feared that my nervousness showed, and my audience was suffering for me, miserable in the face of my misery. This was years before I started writing. Luckily, management at my job at the time brought in a public speaking consultant to work with me and a bunch of other newbies. He videotaped us (or whatever the technology was at the time) so we could see how we did. My big discovery was that I didn’t look afraid. No one but me knew how scared I was, which put me at ease. Now I regard nervousness as a boon for my energy level, and I never begin a speech as some do by confessing my fear.
If you can get training in public speaking, I suggest you go for it. It’s comforting to know you can handle yourself in from of a crowd. After all, if success does come your way, you may need to make acceptance speeches.
I remember a lot of the public speaking advice the consultant gave us, which I’m happy to share. He was opposed to written speeches and even speeches from notes. He said if you don’t know your topic well enough to talk from memory, you shouldn’t give a speech about it. I’ve taken some of that advice. I use notes to make sure I get to everything, but never a written speech. However, I do practice my speeches in the privacy of my office until I have what I want to say down solid, even to the cadence of my clauses, the expressions I’ll use, a particular wording. Then, except for an occasional glance at my notes, I’m looking at my audience the whole time.
The consultant was against podiums too. He wanted to be able to walk in the aisles and lock eyes with anyone on the verge of falling asleep. An assertive fellow, he refused ever to speak after his audience had had a meal, when they’d be drowsy. I don’t love podiums either, but I speak from behind them when I have to, and I certainly speak after a meal. And I have observed people fall asleep, which throws me off my game a little, but I soldier on.
I don’t remember if these are his techniques or if I’ve come upon them myself: I never use a power-point presentation, although I do project images on a screen when I need them. Power point, in my opinion, like a written speech, lacks spontaneity. If the room isn’t full, I urge my audience to move up to the front rows. I ask for the lighting to be as bright as it can be and still have people able to see the images on the screen. The most distressing speech (distressing for me) I’ve ever given was in a darkened auditorium with lights only on me. Afterwards, I was told it went well, but I couldn’t judge audience reaction and I felt boring and foolish. I know I would have been better if I could have seen a few people nodding or smiling.
The point of the consultant’s advice and my own strategies is to shrink the distance between audience and speaker. It’s that distance that causes the horror, but when you close it, the experience becomes more intimate even when hundreds of people are listening. Intimate is familiar. We often do intimate.
Here are three prompts:
∙ If you belong to a writing group, my guess is that sometimes talk wanders to publishing and even self-promotion. Take turns with group members in giving a chat about your story. Listen to the others. What worked? What didn’t? What can you incorporate into your own presentation?
∙ Write a variant of (part of) Cyrano de Bergerac. Your main character, Bethany, has published her first book. The publisher has set up a local signing, but she’s terrified. So she enlists a friend, Wanda, to speak for her. Wanda, however, isn’t much of a reader. She’s told Bethany that she read her book and loved it, but in truth she got only as far as the first chapter. Write the scene.
∙ Every year the empress of the Ocean Islands judges a poetry competition among her islands. The winning island hosts the empress until the next contest, and her presence brings the people of that island both esteem and wealth. On Parrot Island the judges have chosen Alti’s poem as the one to represent them this year. Alti will have to read the poem to the empress, and his delivery will be part of her evaluation. Trouble is, he suffers from awful stage fright. His teacher, Yora, has been charged with helping him prepare, but she preferred a different poem by another student, and she’s decided to sabotage Alti rather than help him. Write what happens.
Have fun, and save what you write!