|Beware of the Bull|
I thought about that advice earlier this year when I read Stephen King's excellent memoir On Writing for the first time and realised that he too was advocating intensive writing - and intensive reading, anything and everything, good, bad and indifferent - as the only way to find your own true voice. Practice makes perfect.
Let's face it, there is a lot of advice out there not just for self publishers, but for all kinds of writers starting out on the same long road. And this blog is probably only adding to the confusion.
But I've felt recently - and uneasily - that some of the advice handed out doesn't just throw the baby out with the bathwater. It forgets to put the baby in the bath altogether. It concentrates on platforms and promotions, but seems curiously reluctant to talk about the need to - well, to do a lot of - you know - writing.
Here's a thing. When I first started to publish my novels on Kindle, backlist and new titles, I read all that 'how to promote your book' stuff myself and I did it a couple of times, posting here, there and everywhere.
I had some success with Kindle Select which allows you give away your books for up to five days in any three month period in exchange for digital exclusivity for those months. This works well for some writers, hardly at all for others. For me - and I understand that this is perhaps because I have quite a lot of work out there, traditionally published too - it worked pretty well and certainly resulted in sales of other books. But I was also beginning to wonder if intensive promotion might not be counter productive. (It irritated me a bit when I came across it myself even though I fully understood why people were doing it.)
So I decided to experiment with minimal promotion of a few free titles: putting a link on my Facebook page, doing the odd tweet (but not a steady stream of them!) adding one or two links to one or two groups. And guess what? People still downloaded the books. If anything, they did rather better. Which suggests that letting Amazon do what Amazon does best works at least as well as any other form of promotion.
Which is not to say that you don't need to do anything. Because whether you go with the odd freebie or not, you do need to do something.
First and foremost, I think you need to concentrate more on the baby than the bathwater. Like my old correspondent said, you need to write. (And rewrite!) A lot. I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. Most writers who achieve any measure of success do an awful lot of writing and they do it because it's what they do. It's more important than anything else. If you find yourself routinely neglecting your writing in order to do promotion, you've got things the wrong way round. The best way to achieve sales as a 'writer as publisher' or to achieve a publishing 'deal' if that's what you want, is to carry on writing.
It used to be a sad truth that writers would often find themselves sitting on a body of highly praised but unpublished material - unpublished because it was deemed to be 'unmarketable' for various reasons: too long, too short, too mid-list, too niche. That was the position I found myself in. Now, if you want to, you get get that work out there yourself and still carry on looking for a traditional deal if that's what you want to do. Or not, if you don't. But above all, in order to give yourself options, you have to write. And care about what you write. The more you write, the more material you will have to publish and the more you will sell.
Promotion is important too.
In fact it's an essential part of treating yourself in a professional manner, treating some aspects of your writing as a business - and engaging with your readers, where and when you can. And whether you're traditionally published, or embarking on the 'independent writer as publisher' route, you had better start thinking like a business person, because either way, those waters are worryingly shark infested and the baby that is your precious work may be gobbled up whole. And don't let anybody fool you into thinking that you won't have to devote a lot of time to promotion if you're traditionally published because you will.
The trick is in getting your priorities right. Managing the time available to you.
I'm feeling my way towards something here, as I have been all year, and I think it's this. In my opinion, the best promotions are those which are not so much promotions as 'optional extras' to the sheer pleasure of writing. They add value or interest in some way to the contents of the book. You must be prepared to share something. It could be about the subject matter of the novel, the characters, the setting, the themes. Or it could be about the process of writing. It could be about a particular genre, or none at all. It could be about some aspect of your research - or it could go off at a complete tangent. It might well be a recommendation of somebody else's book. What inspired you? Who inspired you? But whatever it is, you're giving your readers something extra, sharing something and - often enough - getting something back in the process. That, too, is one of the joys of social media and blogging. Just make sure that you aren't shouting so loudly about your own work that you miss hearing somebody else's intriguing or moving or inspirational story along the way.