So, with that promising title, “Raising the Curtain. Author Secrets Revealed”, just what secrets will I share with you?
For a start, I’m going to talk about author newsletters and what we (authors) have been obsessing over for the last few months: cross-promotion.
Then I’m going to answer the perennial question of where we get our inspiration.
Finally, I want to talk about the emotional cost of publishing a book.
In the last few years, there’s been a massive increase in the number of authors independently publishing their books. On the one hand, advances in digital publishing and marketplaces such as Amazon have made it ever easier to independently publish. On the other hand, traditional publishers either shed or provided limited support to many of their midlist authors (people whose books seldom hit bestseller lists, but who sold enough to live on their royalties, and had devoted fans). There were other factors, too, in the decision of popular authors to publish independently: contract negotiations breaking down, editorial conflict, the freedom to write what they wanted, and timeliness (with traditional publishing it can be two years or more from submitting your book to seeing it published).
For me, the appeal of independent publishing is the ability to write what I want, price it as I want, and generally indulge my control freak tendencies. I have final say on everything from covers to afterwords.
But one of the consequences of this explosion in independent publishing is an absolute avalanche of new books. The challenge for authors (both traditional and independent) is to get their books in front of readers.
A few years back, blog tours were big. These have faded. Then came promotional newsletters like BookBub, which is still huge, although many of its competitors are losing ground (in the sense that advertising a book with them nets less and less sales). Filling that space are authors’ own newsletters – and this is where cross-promotion comes in.
Many authors now have newsletter subscriber lists well in excess of 10,000 readers. (My list is a teensy fraction of that). These lists have become valuable capital for authors. They swap space in their newsletters along the lines of “if you feature my book on this date, I’ll feature your book on that date”. Sometimes it’s even possible for smaller authors to pay to have their book featured in a bigger author’s newsletter. You’ll notice the effect of this tactic particularly when an author has a new release and they’re pushing it everywhere.
The other way newsletters are used in cross-promotion is when a big sale or giveaway involving multiple authors runs and one of the conditions for participating in it for the author is to feature the promotion in their newsletter.
I guess by now you’ve realised how often my newsletter has included cross-promotional activities. Trust me, it is stressful to organise such things. First and foremost, I don’t want to bore you with relentless promotion. There’s also my personal fear that one day I’ll forget a book I’ve promised to share with you and the author I promised will be rightly annoyed.
While I salute the authors that are making this style of cross-promotion work for them and their readers, I’ve tried it long enough now to know it’s not for me. My newsletter subscriber list is too small to get me into the bigger, more effective cross-promotional activities, and the smaller efforts don’t generate enough sales to justify the effort. So once I’ve cleared the handful of cross-promotional promises I’ve made and which are still outstanding, you will find significantly fewer book and event announcements in this newsletter.
Afterthought: Box sets and anthologies are another cross-promotional tool that some authors find hugely successful, and which just stress me. (As I write this post, I’m getting the idea that I’m not a team player … hmm).
The first is curiosity. Every new experience provides the opportunity to ask “why?”. Inspiration for a novel takes that “why?” and turns it into “what if?”. Once you have an idea strong enough to handle a battering of “what if” challenges, you have the basis for a plot.
But what happens when the plot hits a wall? What if 😉 you’ve written yourself into a blind alley?
Then the second secret of sourcing inspiration kicks in: relentlessness.
Inspiration requires persisting at a project. You might get a hundred rotten ideas before the perfect one materialises. When it does, it feels like magic, and often authors forget just how long and hard they fought to reach it. Inspiration is hard work.
The Emotional Cost of Being an Author
Publishing a book is a leap of faith. Heck, writing the book is! Each time you sit down with a blank page you have to squash the toadstools of doubt that mock you with the threat that this time no one will want to read what you’re writing. Or they’ll read it and hate it. Or perhaps, even more scary, they’ll be disappointed. Hating a book is at least a strong emotion. Books that fall flat are my real fear.
And this is partly why authors indulge in a frenzy of cross-promotion and other marketing efforts. Yes, we need the money from royalties (living on fresh air is not actually possible, sadly), but we are also fighting demons of doubt. Sales and good reviews help to muffle those doubts. They help us to keep writing.
Thank you for your support!