Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eggs in Baskets and Hatched Chickens

(This post isn't directed at anyone in particular, and you know who you are.)

I've met a lot of authors. Some pre-published. Some seasoned pros. Some somewhere in between.

Most writers have some sort of publicity plan. They're going to set up local signings, or take out some ads, or start a blog, or have a contest, or get some big blurbs, or attend a lot of conferences, or send out postcards, or visit a lot of libraries, or print up 10,000 bookmarks, or pay to promote their website, or teach classes, or try to manipulate their Amazon numbers, or give away lots of free copies or their book, or have a large internet presence, or make vidlits, or all of the above (which is what I did, in one way or another.)

And most writers soon find out that their best laid plans, when executed, don't meet their expectations.

It's hard to sell books. Which is why 4 out of 5 published don't earn out their advance.

A lot of writers I know, when they find out their plans didn't pan out, become discouraged, bitter, depressed, and resentful.

This brings up an important point---one that many authors, both new and seasoned, fail to grasp: If you build it, they won't always come.

Having marketing ideas or strategies is good--enthusiasm and a willingness to experiment with publicity and marketing will help you in the long run. But too many authors think that an ad, or a contest, or a vidlit, or a blog, will automatically sell books. It won't.

There's no single path to success. Some authors do the bare minimum, and sell like crazy. Some try like crazy and still have poor sell-through.

I'm confidant in saying I self-promote a lot. I'm a minorly successful author. I believe I have very good name recognition in comparison to my sales (meaning I'm known by more people than simply those who buy me.) I believe this name recognition is based on all that I have done to promote myself, and that many sales have resulted from my efforts--sales that wouldn't have happened otherwise. My site and blog get a lot of hits. I get a lot of fan mail. My readership is growing. These are all good signs.

But still, as much as I'd like to take credit for the way my career is going, the fact is that luck plays a huge part.

Much bigger authors than me have done much less on the self-promotion front, but sell in much greater numbers. I can say, "Do this, do that, keep trying" but the fact is, none of my efforts have led me to the bestseller lists. James Patterson can say, "Do nothing but write a good book" and his path did lead him to the bestseller list.

For all of our efforts, there's still an X Factor that determines success. Some unknown, unteachable, unreachable thing determines who makes 7 million a book, and who loses their publishing deal due to poor sell-through.

You can increase your odds that Factor X happens by working hard, trying new things, and never giving up, but there are no guarantees.

So why even bother? If it's all up to fate, why spend 80% of your time trying to sell your books?

For me, it comes down to peace of mind. If one of my efforts falls flat, at least I can tell myself that I tried. If my career falls flat, it won't be because I didn't make an effort.

So I recommend that you try. You try everything. You try often. You keep at it, even when nothing seems to work.

But, luckily, sometimes things do work. I believe the failures outnumber the successes in marketing, but when the successes do happen, they make it all worthwhile.

Plus there's the unknown, cumulative effect of your efforts. You might have only gotten three people at your signing, but several hundred saw the sign promoting it. Factor X can come into play in small ways--you meet a TV producer at a convention, someone discovers your blog and wants to do a newspaper story on you, your website contest leads to a foreign rights sale. Your efforts yield more than book sales. They lead to word-of-mouth, brand awareness, and name recognition.

So next time you have a brilliant marketing idea, don't put all your eggs in one basket and count those chickens before they've hatched. The best stock portfolios diversify. Sometimes the sure-thing falls flat, and it's the penny stock that makes you rich.

If you know that a lot of your efforts will fail, you'll be a lot happier at the end of the day.