Roundtable on Author Promotion

Rachel Swirsky

Theodora: No doubt the IWW does, but it was my experience of the culture there that no one had ever even had it suggested to them that they have a website.

Also, it looked to me like the original assertion was about a literary collection? Or at least a non-SF one.

Michael Dirda

Am I alone in thinking of the Wobblies–Industrial Workers of the World– whenever I see the acronym IWW?  I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night . . . .

Rachel Swirsky

Re: agents requiring that someone have an online platform:

Threw it open to twitter, so far the most reliable response is from Jennifer Jackson’s assistant, Michael Curry, indicating that agents generally prefer someone have an online presence–something basic like a twitter account and a website, possibly a blog–and that some do find that a necessity. He indicates that other agents do not consider it a necessity.

I asked him whether the agents who consider it a necessity would reject an author/manuscript because of a lack of an online presence or whether they would ask the author to develop one after offering representation. He said that he thought it would be “More likely latter if they felt very strongly about the book(s), but if they were at all on the fence, could tip it.”

It may be useful to draw the distinction that Michael Curry does between an online presence and a platform. Certainly, branding requires more than a hasty wordpress page.

The agency I’m with (Goldblatt Literary) has an annual retreat where clients can bug the agents with their questions. We’ve definitely discussed whether having an online presence–or a platform–helps and how to develop one. But the agents have also been emphatic that writers need to concentrate on their writing. I’m pretty sure that they’re opposed to anything that saps a lot of the writers’ energy.

Some people develop platforms/brands/presences naturally and it’s easy for them–they/we are gregarious in that way. I’m sure it’s a positive. There are many other positive things that a writer can do, though, some of which I totally can’t.

For me, who is gregarious in that way, it makes sense to develop an online platform/whatever. For a writer who finds online interaction unpleasant or painful, it really doesn’t. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard our agents specifically advise people who are in that situation not to make themselves miserable (especially if it means they have less energy for their writing), and instead to concentrate on other things that they do well.

Will report other info in aggregate later.

Guy Gavriel Kay

Just for discussion/interest, then:

Theodora Goss

Guy, I think it’s an interesting article, and I agree that spending 80% of one’s time on marketing is ridiculous.  I will say, though, that the writers I know who are using social media effectively aren’t doing it the way the writer describes.  It’s not about making sales but about making connections.  I feel as though I stay connected to people interested in the same things I’m interested in, many of whom are also potential readers.  I learn about what’s going on–who has anthologies out, who’s closed for submissions, etc.  I think it’s a much more eclectic thing than just trying to sell.  I have no idea how much it helps sales, but I know it helps me be part of the community of readers and writers I belong to.  Rachel’s post was really interesting, and it’s a good point that if you would do it anyway, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys it and does it instinctively, social medial can be great.  If you hate it, it’s not likely to help you.  It is good for keeping your name out there–I often find that I’m interested in a particular writer or artist, but if I can’t find information online, I rarely look further.  And I do make sure I have contact information out there because someone may need to get in touch with me about a reprint, translation, etc.  I think it’s helpful to make yourself easy to find, even if you’re not blogging or tweeting all the time.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

That is a definite danger of the platform, especially for writers who are working solo rather than with a team who can do their blogging or tweeting for them anonymously. I’ve seen it in my own household. When my wife’s book came out, she knew there was not going to be much promotion from the publisher and so threw herself into social media whole heartedly. After the initial big push to create a profile for herself, she discovered that it took a lot of work to maintain that profile. She has to blog regularly and for her that means surfing the Internet 24/7 to find stories to report, comment on, or link to. She had to be active all the time on Twitter to keep her follower count up. She found herself obligated to respond to people posting to her blog and retweeting her to make sure there was no negative backlash for seeming inattention. Fortunately, she enjoys doing this and connecting with an audience who is familiar with her work, but this has consumed several hours a day every day for the two years that the book has been out. I’ve told her that it’s kind of like she’s doing the author tour without ever leaving the house.

Guy Gavriel Kay

Dora, I really was just relaying the Guardian piece not endorsing. But in fairness to him, he does essentially say people need to do what you describe, in different words, or from a different angle. His 80/20 (when can we drop that meme?) wasn’t just 80/20 social media/writing it was also 80/20 as to what one does ON social media: meaning 80% ‘other stuff’, networking, socializing, retweeting, ‘connecting’ … and only 20% promoting.

I think Stefan is likely right as to the need to be somewhat ubiquitous and responsive, or risk seeming inattentive (in his word). No one likes a self-referential monologue.

For what it is worth, I have been giving a speech for a while now making essentially Rachel’s point (ie, I agree): in it I try to be amusing by way of bestowing my permission for writers not to go wild on Twitter and FB just because agents and marketers urge. They have my consent, I pronounce. Then the segue point becomes, if they would be using social media for pleasure as teachers, accountants, bakers, roofers, students … then go for it … because you’ll be better at it if it is done for enjoyment, if they hang out online for the joy of it. I offer (nice of me, I know) a major added bonus: one of the very best writing-avoidance activities becomes … work! We aren’t stalling or dodging, we are doing our 80%! It is virtuous, dammit.

4 thoughts on “Roundtable on Author Promotion

  • November 30, 2012 at 2:46 am

    It’s slightly odd for the panel not to acknowledge the increasing shift to self-publishing with some established authors trading on their brands and reserving digital rights or selling directly, e.g. Terry Goodkind self-published his most recent book, The First Confessor. This reflects the lack of active promotion from the traditional publishing industry. If most midlist authors are left without marketing support, why should they accept the peanut royalties the publishers pay when, if they do their own marketing, they can pocket the substantial margin from digital sales? The rewards should go to those who do their own promotion.

  • November 30, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    While some writers might have the energy and inclination to be their own publishers, agents, promoters, and the crew of the captain’s gig, others might prefer to be writers. The brave new world of digital self-publishing looks to me more like subsistence farming.

  • December 3, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Russell has a point, though as David notes, for people like me releasing new or reverted work can be very profitable — and most important, gives authors control over presentation they never had. I’ve reissued HEART OF THE COMET, CHILLER, DOWN THE RIVER ROAD, plus a new story collection, ANOMALIES–and they’re all doing well.
    Beginners will have trouble, as Russell says, but publishing is moving fast and authors are getting more power. Still, developing your “brand” is best done by writing well.

  • December 11, 2012 at 1:54 am

    The 80/20 percentage for marketing/writing is especially ridiculous for those of us who are part-time writers. I can usually manage to write an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening. That means I would have 24 minutes to write every day. Try finishing a novel or even a short story in a reasonable amount of time. You have to have something to promote for social media to do you any good!


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