Now that I’ve finally evolved from frustrated novelist to published novelist, I’ve learned that the role of a writer is far more than writing. It would be nice if you could write your little heart out without having to deal with marketing or self-promotion—unless of course you like that sort of thing. But until you’ve earned the right to sit back and ride the wave of your popularity and success, you’d better clearly understand the business of writing, lest your published book die on the vine.
According to Wikipedia, the United Kingdom publishes over 200,000 books a year, and the United States publishes just under that. So when you consider the fact that your book is not only competing with nearly 400,000 new releases; it’s also competing with several million existing books, many written by established authors, the competition for reader attention is ferocious. Don’t even think about the rest of the world because the numbers will give you a migraine.
So, what does an author have to do to distinguish their book from the pack? If I could answer that question with absolute certainty, I’d be writing a how-to book and making millions. But what may work for one author, or more importantly, for one particular genre, may be a total flop for another. The market is fickle, so it may take some trial and error. One thing is certain: there is absolutely an element of luck factored in. And there is also timing.
Suppose you wrote a book about Al Qaeda and terrorism prior to 9-11, long before the average person even knew how to pronounce Al Qaeda. The book would likely achieve modest sales numbers at best because the market for such a book would be small. But what do you suppose might happen to the sales figures after 9-11? Or let’s say you wrote a novel about the first African-American president long before it became a reality. Even if well written and brilliantly plotted, if written by an unknown author, the book might not do well. But how would that book do now with Barack Obama occupying the oval office?
With all of the variables, complexities and unpredictable market changes from day to day, marketing and promotion is a work in process. What’s effective today might not be effective tomorrow. If it sounds like I’m telling you everything but telling you nothing, that’s because I took the easier route and hired a publicist who specializes in author marketing. I really couldn’t afford a publicist, but then again, I couldn’t afford not to hire one.
No matter what road you take, one thing is certain: the more exposure your book gets through its availability, the more stores and on-line outlets that carry it, the more positive the reviews you get, the more book signings you coordinate, the more books you will sell.