Friday, May 10, 2013
I recently had an argument with another writer. It led to several swears in a cozy cafe - all of them from him - but I wasn't about to step down.
"No," I insisted, if you want to succeed as an author, you must start as a nobody and accept that if you want that to change, you have to promote yourself."
He went on to tell me that it is the publisher's job to organize authors' promotional campaigns and to distribute their books, that the writer should only be concerned with writing and editing, and conveyed several other ideas that would might have been true ten years ago. Despite his own experience with steady rejection, he insists that submitting and waiting for an advance is the only way to do it.
All of this came about when I explained that my first title had just been released and I had spent the better part of the week busy with promotion, tirelessly putting months of planning into action - I expect to be doing this all the way through until the release day of the next title, and at that point, I'll be promoting them together. I'm very driven to succeed, not because I want so $ell, but because I want to be read. That's why I write, and it's why I work hard and take those steps one must take if they want their work to be successful.
As much as I would love to have Tor Books putting my work on the shelf and doing all the work for me, I have come to recognize that even authors who are in such a position have worked long and hard to get there. Brandon Sanderson wrote thirteen books before he finally sold the sixth one of them, and in the meantime he got his masters degree in creative writing. Robert J. Sawyer increased his popularity to science fiction readers by using well-thought-out SEO strategies. Most authors who make a sale to a New York publisher have some sort of trail of short stories and mid-list novels to account for their sales.
Many writers, however, use Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling, or similar rags-to-riches authors, to fuel their dreams that all it takes is writing that great book then riches will come. While this isn't impossible, it belongs in the realm of lottery tickets. It is very difficult to predict what a large publishing company will like, even if you try to match current trends in fiction; you can only write the best story you know how to, learn more about your craft, then get out there and get people (editors, publishers, beta readers) to engage with it. That's what promotion is. J.K. Rowling worked hard to capture her dear tale, persisted in sending it out, and became one of the lucky few who happened to have a book that was dear to her AND was liked by a publisher, but there are those countless others who receive rejection after rejection, and among them are the many who keep writing, take what opportunities they can get, and embrace promotion.
"A man makes his own luck." This is the proverb I prefer to live by. It's not about becoming a Tor Books or a Penguin Books author. It's about becoming an author who people know about, an author who has a growing fan base, and in this day and age, with the internet and eBooks and all the opportunities to reach your audience, this doesn't require a contract with one of the Conglomerates.
I am an author for Burst Books, a small and growing company, and I'm proud to be part of it. I'm happy to have a home for my prose where I know the editing and production team is as passionate about a quality book as I am about writing, and I'm glad to embrace this opportunity the house has given me to connect with my readers.
This, for me, is the writing dream, and it's what makes all the hard work rewarding, because I know that everything I'm doing is an act of obedience to the deepest passion I know. As for the writer? He left, grumbling, telling me to "Listen to someone who knows."
"I listen to people who succeed at selling books," was my quip, but I kept that one to myself.
Graeme Brown is a Winnipeg author and junior editor for Champagne Books. He writes epic fantasy, with his first story, The Pact, now available. He is a frequent blogger and a tweeter, and a full-time math student.