A while back I wrote about self-promotion which elicited much commentary, but then was too sick and/or too travelly to respond. There was one comment from the fabulous Patrick Nielsen Hayden which I’ve been wanting to reply to for some time:
My only quibble is with this: “Promoting your books is part of a writer’s job.” No it’s not. Writing is a writer’s job. The rest of it is optional and depends on your personality, aptitude, and energy.
As the equally fabulous Ellen Kushner said in the following comment: “Would that it were so!”
I mean how fab would that be? If all a writer had to do was write their novels? My brain is exploding with the blissful joy of it.
In my experience the job of writer includes many things, some of which can be outsourced (there are writers who outsource the writing), some of which can not. And some of which can be avoided at least for some of the time:
- more rewriting
- checking copy edits, proofs, final copies (of hardcover, paperback, and various other editions)
- negotiating deals (though, thank Elvis, you can get your agent to do this)
- checking contracts (again all praise to your agent)
- checking royalties (agent)
- publicising your books (if you can afford it—and seriously how many writers can?—you can hire a PR person, but tragically they tend to just come up with more stuff that you have to do, you could hire an actor to do said stuff, but sadly actors are notorious for not reading, and not being that bright)
- answering fan mail and etc.
- blurbing other writers
(I’m sure there’s more that’s escaping me right now and I’m leaving out the stuff that goes with any job: taxes etc.)
Mr Nielsen Hayden says the publicity is optional. Tell that to the writers who get heavy pressure from their publishers to do book tours etc. Sure they can say no, and so can their publishers reduce the budget for promoting them.
The more common flipside of this is all the writers who are desperate for their publishers to send them on any kind of an appearance, who are willing, ready and able to do whatever they can to promote their books, but who find their publicists more than a little, shall we say, elusive. When your publisher isn’t behind your book then it’s even more important that you do what you can to draw attention to it, in a desperate attempt to postpone the journey into remainderdom (sad truth: being remaindered is inevitable).
Yes, there are writers who are shy or otherwise temprementally unsuited to going on the road to promote their books. There are writers that publicists don’t want to send on tour because of their talent for turning lifelong fans into mortal enemies (no, I’m not going to name any of them). Not good. Fortunately publicity encompasses a wide variety of activities, many of which don’t involve leaving your abode. You can sign books and bookplates to be posted, run your website, your blog, do online chats, email interviews and etc. Some argue that online promotion is more effective than offline.
But there are very few writers who can get away without doing any self promotion. Just as there are very few writers who can get away with hiring ghosts to do the writing for them.
Update: To be crystal clear—writing is absolutely the most important part of a writer’s job by a factor of a gazillion brazillian zooadillion.