Someone asked me after I’d posted my last blog (“Marketing the Un-Marketable”) why, if I did not care about my book selling a million copies, I would even bother trying to ‘market’ it. It’s a good point: Since my philosophy about why I write (to learn about the world and life, and connect in a meaningful way with others, and also because I just HAVE to, no matter what) completely diverges from the practical, conventional wisdom (to be rich and famous?), I shouldn’t be worried about sales and that kind of crass nonsense. But this is why I put the effort in: Simply, to find my audience, my beloved readers.
I have a good idea who my audience is, and it’s a great audience. I spoke to a number of book groups with my first novel, and was pleased with the sort of people who went out of their way to read my book. Intelligent, thinking people who nevertheless crave a good story and strong characters, people interested in other people and how they tick, people not afraid of emotion or a little spiritual drama. My audience skews heavily toward women, educated professional women, but some men, too; suburban and urban Northeasterners and Midwesterners, and they’re all probably a little older than the average reader, maybe mid-thirties and up. My books sell nicely in the United Kingdom and ‘Down Under’ and I know I have at least one big fan in Johannesburg, South Africa, so there must be something in my work that appeals to British culture and reading habits.
I have to find a way to attract the attention of those special readers and let them know this might be a book they’d enjoy. Many self-pub authors turn to advertising; I don’t think my audience pays any attention to that stuff, so I wouldn’t bother with that investment. I find that book giveaways are helpful, even though it may seem absurd to just give your work away: I’ve always had a boost in sales after any kind of giveaway promotion. And since I live in what might be the most populous area of the US, I get out and do a lot of library programs, book clubs, and talks. I also send out press releases to local media. Forget bookstore signings: No one will come to see you unless you’re an actual super-famous bestseller. What I find I need to do most, like most genre-less authors, is to move heaven and earth to see that my book gets reviewed: By professional reviewers, as well as readers on Amazon and other venues.
Reviews are scary things. I have a sad-bad review story that I swore I’d never reveal, but enough time has passed, so here goes: Years ago, the library review journal Kirkus reviewed the traditionally published Secret Vow, and completely trashed it—called it a ‘Bridges of Madison County’ wannabee and other bad things. I was several months pregnant at the time, and read the review in the morning; that afternoon, I began to lose the pregnancy. I know perfectly well the miscarriage was not due to the stress of reading that review—it was likely due to a chromosomal problem, but for years I did blame Kirkus for the loss of that baby. I would think, “I’d have a son now, if it wasn’t for that damned review.” Yet now, I am contemplating sending the new novel to that very journal. Because I realize even a bad review is better than no review at all; also, I’m past menopause, and chances are that snippy and unhelpful #$&% of a reviewer is long gone from that publication.
The trouble with professional reviewers is you never know what their mindset or agenda is: There are some who truly go out of their way to understand the book and provide helpful feedback on what might be improved; there are others who, for whatever personal or emotional reason, have to be mean-spirited, maybe to showcase what they think is their own witty writing style. And a lot of reviewers are particularly savage when it comes to self-publishing books, because they don’t think you should be doing that, period. How dare you inflict your worthless literature on an unwitting public?
But a writer needs reviews, good or bad. So the only thing to do is send the book out, grit your teeth, and endure. But, should reviews be bought? I’ll discuss that in my next post.