A Writer’s Job (Updated)

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:

  • research
  • writing
  • rewriting
  • 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.

66 comments

  1. innle on #

    Hey Justine, I got Magic Lessons today and as a result I may have done an extremely public, undignified dance of jubilation…so exciting!

  2. Justine on #

    [blushes] I hope the book lives up to your expectations!

  3. holly on #

    SO TRUE.

    Just looking at the list makes me want to have a little lie-down.

  4. Justine on #

    Indeed, after writing it I had to have a nice long soak in the bath, though, truth be told I’m still not fully recovered.

  5. Patrick Nielsen Hayden on #

    Look, what I meant is that the one irreducible thing that’s every writer’s job is the writing.

    Some writers can contribute to the selling of their work as well, and they want to, and their publishers agree and are willing to support them in this.

    Some writers can contribute to the selling of their work, and they want to, and their publishers don’t agree, so nothing happens.

    Some writers can contribute to the selling of their work as well, but they _don’t_ want to, but their publishers pressure them into tryng it anyway.

    Some writers can contribute to the selling of their work as well, but they don’t want to, and their publishers are fine with this.

    Some writers are very ineffective at selling their work, but they want to, and their publisher wants them to and is willing to send them out into the world, where they proceed to do significant damage to their reputations.

    Some writers are very ineffective at selling their work, but they want to, but their publishers (thankfully for all involved) manage to talk them out of it.

    Some writers are very ineffective at selling their work, and they KNOW this about themselves, but their publishers insist on sending them out into the world, with predictably successful results… Etc., etc., etc. You can work out the remaining permutations as well as I can.

    Meanwhile, you challenge me to “Tell that to the writers who get heavy pressure from their publishers to do book tours etc.” Okay. Send me their names and I’ll “tell that to” them.

    The plain fact is, some writers have accurate self-knowledge and some don’t. Some publishers have good judgement about who ought to be sent out to publicize their own work and some don’t. Everybody’s an idiot a good part of the time. There’s no substitute for using your own judgement. And RWA-style categorical assertions about what authors HAVE TO do or MUST come to terms with are, by and large, wise-guy bullshit. There are no accurate formulas, and the maps get redrawn every day.

  6. sdn on #

    i am with garth and patrick completely. publishing is only partially a business; it is also built on timing, fate, luck, what you will. it’s not as if you can do X and get Y. and, as an editor, i much prefer a wonderful book written by someone who isn’t an aggressive self promoter than a mediocre book written by someone who is the king of queen of self promotion.

  7. Justine on #

    Garth & Patrick: Sure. I listed the subsets of writing with rewriting twice (when it should have been at least ten times) to make it clear where I believe the centre, the core, the beginning and the end of the job is: writing.

    I’m just making the point that there are other parts of the job and a writer has to deal with them as best they can and, yes, skiving off, as I mentioned above is one of the options. For better or worse, every working writer I know has had to come to terms with the whole publicity thing. I think that saying it’s not part of the job is misleading.

    Sdn: Hmmm, I’m not sure how you got to there from what I said. Colour me, puzzled.

  8. sdn on #

    your focus was on the business and the promotion as being part of a writer’s job — but that all comes after the writing. so we are in agreement, i think.

  9. holly on #

    As someone who had to write a large portion of the ending of my second YA novel while I was on tour because the tour had to suddenly be moved a month ahead, I have to say that while the book is of course, of course, of course the most important thing, all the other stuff can really kick your ass.

  10. Justine on #

    SDN: I would kill myself if promotion were the main part of a writer’s job! Or, you know, find a different job.

    Holly: Zackly! This post came out of my own surprise and naivety about self-promotion. When I became a writer I honestly hadn’t expected the whole publicity thing to be quite the big deal it’s turned out to be. It keeps chewing up much bigger chunks of time than I ever thought possible and I’m nowhere near as well-known a writer as you or Garth is.

    I thought of this post as a kind of warning to other newbie writers not as a declaration from on high of what a writer must and must not do. I’m sorry if it was read that way.

    I should also make it clear that I’m one of those writers who quite enjoys a lot of the promotery stuff—especially library visits. I adore those!

  11. Patrick Nielsen Hayden on #

    Sure it can kick your ass. And so can having your house blown down by a hurricane. Does this mean that disaster recovery is “part of a writer’s job”? Or does it perhaps mean that dealing with dire events is part of every human’s job? Answer obscure, try again later.

    I really don’t want to emotionally escalate this argument. I completely sympathize with the writer who says, look, I was subjected to these pressures, I had to deal with them, it’s part of the job, sympathize with me. I _do_ sympathize.

    What I’m trying to say is, look, there is no surety and there are no rules. If you are an obliging helpmeet to your publicity department it is not written that your book will sell. If you are an uncooperative git it is not written that your book will fail. And on the other other hand, it may be that your publicist is a really, really smart cookie to whom you ought to listen. THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE for your personal judgement. Authors are frequently idiots. Publishers are frequently idiots. Deal with it.

  12. Garth Nix on #

    Sure, I agree that writers do a lot more things than just write, and some of those things need to be done. Stare out the window for ages, for example.

    I guess what I was mainly talking about is in the narrower topic of self-promotion not ‘all the things writers do’. I have detected (perhaps erroneously)a growing conviction among many writers that they absolutely must take every possible opportunity to promote their work. That if they don’t get out there and beat the drum all the time the book will be doomed.

    I’m simply saying that this mostly isn’t true and *in my opinion* it is better to spend more time and energy earlier on in the process, and then when it comes to the promotional stuff, be selective and do the things you are best at and that will take the least time, preferably in a concentrated block. This may or may not include personal appearances, web presence, clever self-generated marketing ideas etc.

    But as Patrick says, there is no one truth in all this and different writers will find out what works — or doesn’t — for themselves.

  13. cecil on #

    Ha, Justine, your list is truly true.

    I agree with Garth Nix (by the way, I love you Garth. Really, your books are the batter, cake, butter, cream, chocolate and icing)

    First things first, write a good book.

    Then after that I do find that there is a lot of busy work to being a writer that doesn’t include writing. And it does include promoting.

    Here’s the thing, if no one knows about the book, well then, no one knows about it. You have to help it in what ways you can. I think that promotion is just part of the job of being an artist. I mean think about it, I’m sure Van Gogh would have been stoked to have a bit of publicity.

    The rub is that I think people hear the word “self promotion” they think it is like saying a dirty word. It’s like EW. Disgusting. Shudder. Just like “going hollywood” or “selling out”. And no one wants to be gross. We all think it’s a bit disgusting (OK, well I do) to have to do certain publicity, but we all know that we have to do a little bit.

    I come from an Indie Rock background, where the motto was tour, tour, tour. So I toured. And let me tell you, one or two college radio interviews meant the difference between having no people at the show in Lawrence, Kansas or having five. Well, I’ll always take 5 over zero. Because 5 meant gas money to the next city.

    I feel it’s the same with books, art, plays, movies, etc. You have to let people know about it.

    So you can get that gas money to get to the next city so you can play your next show (sing your next song, write your next book, do your next art installation, perform you next play, etc. etc. etc)

  14. holly on #

    I am one of those writers that has horrible stage fright, so doing the visits and speeches and all the other stuff that I didn’t expect (because I really did think that just writing the book was all I would be called upon to do) was hard for me. It’s gotten easier and I think I’ve gotten better at it, but maaaaan. I think my publicist was so afraid I was going to bolt on the first Spiderwick tour that she actually sent a martini to my room.

  15. Patrick Nielsen Hayden on #

    Now that’s a well-trained publicist! Encourage her in this behavior.

  16. Justine on #

    Now I know how low down the totem pole I am. I’ve never even been offered a glass of water . . . One day!

  17. Justine on #

    Holly & Garth: so nice to hear I’m not the only one who gets nervous.

    For any kids reading this: mostly us YA writers don’t drink at all. Honest.

  18. holly on #

    not that i want sympathy, patrick. i wasn’t trying to imply that at all, nor was i trying to imply that promotion is a tragedy on the scale of getting one’s house blown down. just the opposite.

    it’s part of my schedule. all the time. and I have to work around it. maybe i should stop doing promotion–but i do consider it part of my job. i’m not sure what else i should consider it?

  19. Garth Nix on #

    P.S. With regard to last-second brandies and martinis . . . with children’s authors who are going to sign for kids later it is generally considered de rigeur to take a few peppermints immediately upon leaving the stage.

    With adult literary authors it is quite the reverse and more brandy can be had. At the signing table.

  20. holly on #

    to those kids: i didn’t even drink the martini! honest!

    of course, that was because i was hopped up on cold medicine at the time.

  21. Garth Nix on #

    Hi Holly, Justine, Patrick, Sharyn

    This is turning into an online chat, isn’t it?

    :-)

    Garth

  22. holly on #

    Does that mean I can post trivial, one-sentence responses?

  23. Garth Nix on #

    Yes. With some emoticons.

  24. Justine on #

    Yup an online chat all about how children’s/YA authors are very good non-drinkers. Peppermints, indeed! He was just kidding. And when Holly says “hopped up” she meant, um, “medicated”, no, that doesn’t work either, does it? Never mind.

  25. holly on #

    I just needed a little bump… ;D

  26. Garth Nix on #

    The brandy was purely medicinal. It was just easier to get and apply than oxygen.

  27. Justine on #

    And of course the main part of a writer’s job is procrastination . . .

  28. Garth Nix on #

    I thought it was leaving comments on each other’s websites.

  29. holly on #

    oh right. the revisions sitting next to me…the main part of an author’s job is writing…

    it’s all starting to make sense.

  30. Teresa Nielsen Hayden on #

    1. Writers say many true things about their own experiences with publicity and promotion.

    2. Sometimes writers say true things about the overall nature of publicity, promotion, and the publishing industry; but alas, not always.

    3. For some writers, fretting and comparing notes about the need for self-promotion, and strategies for promoting oneself, functions as soothing busywork that makes them feel like they have more control of the process.

    4. In my humble opinion, well more than half of — possibly more than three-quarters of — the self-promotion I’ve seen writers undertake on behalf of specific books has been marginally effective at best.

    5. You and your readers weren’t discussing ways of gaming the system; but will you understand if I say I have near-allergic reactions to such discussions? I hear a lot of them. They make me want to say, “Please — just go home and write your book.”

  31. Justine on #

    Garth: And the difference would be? Oh, of course, we’re all brainstorming for a new collaborative middle grade What Does the Peppermint Hide?

  32. holly on #

    Does it hide liquor? Cough medicine? Or just the smell of fear?!?

  33. Garth Nix on #

    Yes. I am eating lunch at the same time though, so I don’t feel too bad. When my coffee is finished I’ll have no further excuse and must resume actual writing . . .

  34. niki on #

    I was just thinking of my good friends mother who is a very good illustrator and she drew a very famous book with another writer. My friends mother is very shy and hates public apperances and the writer is the exact opposite. So everyone knows the writer and she’s had pleanty of success because of it. Not that my friends mother hasn’t too but not nearly as much…so by this example, it does seem to pay to be out there even though that seems increadably unfair to me ….

  35. Garth Nix on #

    That would be Julie Vivas, right?

  36. cecil on #

    oh was I not supposed to have that glass of champagne while signing at my first book signing!

    Ooops. Now I’ve done it twice. NEXT TIME: Ginger Ale only!

  37. Justine on #

    Teresa Nielsen Hayden: Thanks for this. I was kind of bewildered by Patrick’s response. Nice to know where it was coming from. And, no, that isn’t what I meant at all. I have no idea what is and isn’t effective. I just know what my publishers expect me to do and how it’s affected my understanding of my job. Prior to being published I thought all I had to do was write. Like I said I’m new to this game!

    Niki: I know exactly which book you’re talking about and it isn’t fair. On the other hand, would she want that kind of attention? Isn’t she better off without it?

    Holly: All three as well as that other smell, that cloying, dead smell . . .

    Garth: Lunch, eh?

  38. Garth Nix on #

    Crumbs on the keyboard and all. And I have just finished my coffee so I guess I’d better get back to work.

    With the retiring illustrator/flamboyant author duo, if I’m right, I think among many children’s book circles the former is as well-known and greatly respected, and of course, has benefited from the millions of sales of the book. She is not *famous* in the same way to the more general public, but who would want to be?

  39. Garth Nix on #

    And one last post before resuming work, proving that prevarication is a powerful force.

    Cecil: thanks for the kind remark about my books. And a first book signing is an absolutely appropriate time/place to drink champagne.

  40. holly on #

    And I’m off to have some coffee to get me past midnight.

  41. Justine on #

    Cecil: You were totally allowed to have the champagne. Everyone knows champagne doesn’t count. It’s fairy breath liquid.

    Garth: Side-of-a-book famous is just fine (as you’d know!), but recognised-on-the-street famous? *Shudder*

    Holly: And that would be cup number what? A thousand? Hope you’re drinking water, too!

    Okay, I too must get back to work. Thanks Holly, Cecil, Garth, Patrick, Teresa, Sharon & Niki for stopping by to play.

  42. niki on #

    ah I know I’m too late for this – but I had to go wine and dine with a friend. yes yes I know you’re all right she so wouldn’t want the publisty and in effect she’s proably done really well because she had someone else to do all the puplicity shit :) – and I ain’t no writer so you’ll have to excuse my crappy spelling and grammer – justine got all those genes…

  43. Diana on #

    Perhaps it’s because I come from the background of what Patrick calls “RWA-style categorical assertions” but I never considered that promotion would NOT be part of my job. The day my deal happened, my agent and I spoke about promotion.

    However, I also thought that “RWA-style categorical assertions” about printing up a billion emory boards/rubber duckies/pens/whirligigs with my name on them were basically a waste of my time. I’ve taken what I consider to be a very aggressive stance in the field of self-promotion, but I try not to do things that I think will eventually be a waste of my time.

    I do not think that Justine was saying anything about what was or was not a writer’s main job. Of course it’s writing. And rewriting. And rewriting. And then editing. But even though she frames it as a response to PNH’s comments, I don’t think this post was directed at the really experienced industry folks out there. I think it was directed at the newbie writers or non-writing folks who are baffled when you tell them that you’re staying in all New Years/Valentine’s Day/Easter weekend to work on a book that you turned in last August. The ones that don’t get that copyediting isn’t just something that “happens” or that all writers aren’t Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark and no, they can’t have a part “in the movie.” Yes, writing is the main job, but it’s not the only job, and I think a LOT of people go into it thinking that it is and then getting a rude awakening.

    Also, I think that in romance, especially, you get this promote or perish attitude because it’s a volume business in the way no other genre is. Of course, the best way to promote is to be CONSTANTLY on that new release shelf. Sherrilyn Kenyon wrote a gazillion books a year. But if you haven’t got that kind of deal, if your publisher is spacing you out, if you haven’t tiered into a place where they are willing to put out everything you write, then you’ve got ONE chance a year to rise above the 953,702 other romances released that month. And you gotta do something.

    Maybe it’s like TNH said above, that it helps us feel more in control. The illusion of control is a very powerful thing. Do I think the tchotkes help? Eh. Do I think that booksignings and readings are a good thing? I think it depends on the genre. I’m not sure that romance readings come off well. Maybe if it’s cross genre, Janet Evanovitch style romance. But though there may not be IMMEDIATE benefits to a signing where you sell five or six copies. you’re in that store, you’re making connections, you’ve now got a store where they are much more likely to hand sell you… that is, if you aren’t one of those people who PNH says will ruin your career if you attach a face and a personality to the name on the spine.

    Of course, the romance writers I see who get the most out of signings and such are (aside from the superstars) the ones who are writing stuff MOST like SFF. Why? Because for some reason, those bring out the rabid fans. The urban fantasy romance writers and the paranormal romance writers and the whatnot are the ones who get the long lines of people at the booksignings, wearing vampire fangs and shaking in their boots and crying when they meet the author… there’s something so magical about that facet of SFF fandom

    And we don’t have the convention system that the SFF world does — our conferences are for writers, not fans, and I get the idea (smack me if I’m wrong) that the science fiction conventions are more of a mix. There are plenty of writers who’d I’d call conference-famous — i.e., well known in the conference circuit, but not so much outside, and concentrate most of their promotional efforts on other writers. Sometimes this translates to a larger audience, but often not.

    Though no matter what you do, it seems like the people that are most interested are other writers. I attend many reading events in the city when my fellow writers are touring and need butts in seats, and I’d say about 90% of the people who show up at these things (unless it’s the vamp fans, again) are writers looking for “the secret” to breaking in. The author is there to talk about the book, but the audience wants to talk about fonts and finding an agent. My blog hits shoot way up when I talk about the industry. Etc. Novel promotion is rough, which is why publicists are always looking for an angle. you don’t talk about your book, you talk about, say, plastic surgery innovations (scott). I think that might be another reason romance promotion is a tough gig, because it’s so personal. Often, there’s no overarching theme of nanotechnology or the downside to cloning or whatever that you can use to sneak in a mention of your book.

    This summer, the Borders/Waldenbooks buyer for romance was telling a roomful of RWA members (in an effort, I think, to TNH-style tell us all to cut it out with the lapsed focus) that they only truly useful thing she’s seen authors do, promotion-wise, is have a good website.

    Wow, that was epic, and a bit more romance-vs-SFF than I wanted it to be. What it all boils down to is this:

    1. No one is arguing that writing isn’t the point, and that writing well and writing more isn’t the best thing you can do to promote yourself.

    2. Self promotion is a FACT. Yes, it would be lovely to skip out on all that and just have seventy five books out a year, but sometimes that option is not made available to you. If you DO have just the one book, then you DO have to promote it or risk being forgotten or lost in the shuffle.

    3. Self promotion is oftena big crapshoot. The results vary wildly and are often not readily apparent. Doesn’t mean it’s not better than doing nothing.

    4. I’m up too late. (early?)

  44. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    I don’t really understand the vehement response to Justine’s initial post. I also don’t understand people who keep saying “I agree with Garth.” Well, of course, everybody agrees with Garth–Justine agrees with Garth, too. The writing is paramount. There is no opposition to that idea from Justine in her post. I also don’t honestly believe Garth embodies his own position as stated, given his own background, his network of contacts, etc. Garth just had more leverage to begin with, and his self-promotion isn’t of the highly visible kind. (This isn’t a dig, btw–I happen to think Garth is one of the nicest people on the planet.)

    Patrick–I think you’re quibbling about semantics, to be honest. It’s the “writer’s job” bit that seems to have stuck in your craw. Maybe it’s not part of the core description of the writer’s job, but a writer would be a fool not to consider it, at least.

    I think there’s also an assumption here that PR takes the place of creativity, of “output.” Not true. Anecdotal evidence here, like everything offered on this thread: I schedule PR bursts for times when I can’t write. Like, right now, I spent eight years on a novel. I need to recharge my batteries. No way would I be starting right in on another one anyway. So I feel no guilt and no qualms about putting most fiction writing aside for a few months and focusing on promoting the books I have coming out, instead.

    Also, word of mouth is key, true. But saturation is also key–it’s part of getting word of mouth. Any publicist will tell you this. And a writer with some PR savvy can, through his or her contacts, most definitely help with saturation.

    Anyway, this all seems to be a case of people seeing the discussion too much in black-and-white–and misinterpreting Justine’s initial post, where she specifically says the writing is paramount.

    And, yeah–duh–you have to have a good book (usually) for the PR to make any difference.

    Jeff

  45. Justine on #

    Little Willow: Isn’t that poem amazing? So bitter yet so funny. Good ole Clive James. (An Australian, naturally!)

    Niki: Yup, she’s much better off. It’s only fair I get the writing genes, since you have all the taking good photos, doing cool visual stuff genes.

    Wow, Diana! Thanks so much for that. You hit on something with your distinction between how romance works as opposed to sff that I’ve been thinking about since Patrick posted above, which is that I think the Young Adult/children’s publishing scene is different from the adult sff world.

    There are much more obvious ways to get yourself and your books known, because there are so many gatekeepers—mostly librarians—paying attention. I’m starting to lose count of how many best of the year lists my debut novel has been on. If my book had been sff it wouldn’t have been on all those lists, cause there aren’t that many, and there certainly aren’t as many that have the kind of impact that, say, the bbya list has.

    Self promotion is a little bit more clear cut in YA/children’s land.

    Jeff: Thanks for that. I confess I was very surprised by some of the initial responses, so it’s lovely to have the case restated so cogently. Bless you.

  46. Garth Nix on #

    I just wrote a long reply to this and lost it. So here goes again.

    I’m basically with Patrick on this, at least in essence. In the end, no matter how much schlepping around bookstores and events you do, no matter how many copies of your books your sign, and even no matter how many television or radio shows you apepar on, it all comes back to the book. If the book connects with readers and they like it and talk about it (that famous ‘word of mouth’) then nothing else matters.

    Therefore, the single most important job an author has is to write the best possible book they can. (And I would say that at least the first five points in your list, Justine, are just a sub-set of ‘writing’.)

    Borrowing from my earlier lost post, all the PR and appearance stuff is just icing on the cake. It will help attract people in the first instance, but if the cake is no good, then the icing just gets licked off and that’s it, and they won’t recommend the cake to anyone else.

    I’m not saying it’s a waste of time for an author to do the publicity & marketing stuff, because it can be helpful as an acclerant to that word of mouth. (Obviously I do a certain amount myself.) Just that I agree with Patrick that it should not be at the expense of the real job of writing.

    In the long term, I believe investing a much greater proportion of time in writing than in marketing will result in better books that deliver more personal satisfaction, will probably gain better critical attention, and may garner more life-time sales.

    Hypocrisy Alert. I do believe what I’ve said above. But now I must return to writing . . I mean organising myself for my trip to the US in two weeks to blather on about my books at TLA, IRA, numerous schools and bookshops . . .

  47. Garth Nix on #

    I still have stage fright. I hate those minutes waiting to go on. I almost passed out once at a conference because I was the last speaker of the day and I had to listen to all the (mostly) brilliant others for about seven hours. I had severe jetlag, and I was so nervous I couldn’t eat. Only a last-second brandy kept me conscious long enough to get up to the mike.

    Fortunately, once I get on stage I’m usually OK, not least because I have a basic repertoire of talk/stories and I just do one of them, adding a new one every year or so to stop both myself and various publicists from being too bored.

  48. Renee Dodd on #

    Wow, I’ve got whiplash from my head going back and forth watching this match. Very interesting discussion, and some good laughs, too. I would read an online chat between you all anytime–and I won’t need a peppermint if I decide to speak up too, ’cause in cyberspace no one can smell your breath.

  49. Justine on #

    Renee: Glad you enjoyed it! Amazing what lengths we’ll go to in order to put off actually writing . . .

  50. Garth Nix on #

    Hey, I’m agreeing with everybody — except I have to mildly disagree with one of Jeff’s points. It’s true that *now* after many years in the publishing industry in various roles, and 16 years since my first novel came out, I have the contacts, the invitations to do stuff, the critical mass etc But I didn’t start that way, of course, and my general advice comes both from my personal experience of my early career and my later observations as an editor and agent.

    I completely agree that it’s not black and white. Nothing is in publishing. I’ve also never said don’t do the promotional stuff. Just that a self-promotional blitzkrieg is not a silver bullet to success. Nor is anything else for that matter, but in general, based on my experience as an editor, agent and author, I would recommend putting more time and energy into writing than PR.

    I also agree that if you’re good at promotional stuff (and not fooling yourself) it’s a very useful thing to do and can be a good change from the writing.

    Sometimes I hate posts: I think we all basically agree but the serial nature of the conversation and various time lags confuse the issue.

    To sum up: write the best book you can, find a good agent, choose the best possible publisher in the cirumstances, do as much promotion as seems sensible, be lucky and hope for the best. Repeat step 1 etc.

  51. innle on #

    I hope the book lives up to your expectations!

    Oh yes, very much so. Loved it!

  52. Diana on #

    To sum up: write the best book you can, find a good agent, choose the best possible publisher in the cirumstances, do as much promotion as seems sensible, be lucky and hope for the best. Repeat step 1 etc.

    AMEN!

  53. Justine on #

    Innle: I am mopping my brow. Phew!

    Diana: I believe we have a consensus.

  54. Little Willow on #

    Justine: Indeed. If I had a nickel for every time a customer asked me, “Why is this a bargain book? Because it is BAD? Is it a BAD BOOK?!”

    As per promoting, that’s my job. :0)

  55. A.R.Yngve on #

    A good debate that was sorely needed.

    Please continue it…

  56. Richard Lewis on #

    Very interesting discussion.

    One angle not raised: trying promoting your book when you live on an Indonesian island.

    The Internet can only go so far.

  57. Jeff VanderMeer on #

    Makes sense to me, Patrick. I said, I think, in my own post, that I didn’t think there was much to argue about here, on either side.

    Jeff

  58. maureen johnson on #

    Wow! This is an exciting reply chain! Do you mind if someone joins, even if that someone has relatively little to say because there have already been 61 replies?

    I’m not asked to do all that much-the demands made on me are slight, as I am not as well-known as the other YA writers on this discussion. I’ve never had to change schedules to accomodate pr, aside from a day or two here and there. Also, I naturally embrace almost anything that can get me away from my desk. Give me an excuse to shirk my duties, and I will shake your hand. Besides, there are often snacks involved. And who amongst us is against snacks?

    My response to the intital post was, yes, Justine is absolutely right–we have to play a role. I always end up wondering how I can go about this in a more organized way. It sounds like a very sound idea–but I end up staring blankly when considering how to actually go about it. But that is just me.

  59. Justine on #

    Richard: I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I imagine living on an Indonesian island with easy access to mangosteens is compensation enough.

    Maureen: Please! You’re much better known than I am!

  60. Patrick Nielsen Hayden on #

    Jeff says: “Patrick–I think you’re quibbling about semantics, to be honest. It’s the ‘writer’s job’ bit that seems to have stuck in your craw. Maybe it’s not part of the core description of the writer’s job, but a writer would be a fool not to consider it, at least.

    I would have said I was arguing about language, not “semantics,” but as Philip K. Dick said in very different circumstances, here the possibility of recursiveness looms large.

    Here’s the problem: Justine’s statement that “Promoting your books is part of a writer’s job” is a statement I have seen made by many writers in our field, and different speakers mean significantly different things by it.

    Some of them mean “You may find that certain kinds of self-promotion are helpful.” Some of them mean “You may find that your publisher wants you to undertake certain promotional duties.” Some of them mean “You may be missing the boat if you don’t at least try certain kinds of self-promotion.” All of these are reasonable statements. But a non-zero percentage of respected writers in our field mean “I am comfortable engaging in a relatively high level of self-promotion, I regard it as part of my obligation as a writer, and if you differ from me in this you aren’t serious about being a writer.” That’s what some people mean when they tell you that X is “your job”: they mean “you had better do it or suffer (at the very least) a loss of respect.” And that’s what I was arguing against. I don’t think this was picky or unfair. So much is made by aspiring writers out of every public musing by successful writers–or by other publishing professionals!–that I think it’s reasonable for us to encourage one another to be more precise.

  61. Shalanna Collins on #

    Promotion . . . hmm. I suspect there is good promo and there is bad promo. I feel that the more subtle it is, the better. I’m not talking about THIS journal, but I’m thinking of some other high-profile ones that I no longer enjoy because they’re now so talky about buy this, buy that.

    All I know is that I’m tiring of all the websites and weblogs and journals that purport to be entertaining and all about what fun the writer’s life is, but which turn out to be mostly a hard-sell shop for the book. I find that being told over and over about the book and how it’s doing and how you loved writing it and how I will love it does not typically make me want to go out and buy the book. Perhaps I am just a contrary old witch (there have been suggestions to this effect.) But what DOES make me go out and take a look at the book is if you’re interesting, you’re a good writer (as evidenced by your prose style on your journal), and you’re not always asking me to go buy the book. Perhaps the promotion does some good; perhaps it doesn’t do as much as we would like it to. So it goes.

    (And I’m capitalizing “I” throughout this post; I suspect the stylesheet will lowercase it. Just noting for the record.)

  62. Lee Lowe on #

    No, Shalanna, you’re not a contrary old witch, and not the only one who finds little of interest in the primarily me-blogs, even the ones by authors whose books a reader might otherwise buy.

  63. Lucy Sussex on #

    Belated entry…
    Now we have probably all met self-publicising authors who come over so strong you have an abiding wish to flush them down the toilet–irrespective of whether their work is any good or not.
    I think the trick is to be forceful & interesting rather than forcefeeding yourself down the throats of anyone unlucky enough to be stuck in a lift with you.
    That said, a good PR is worth their weight in gold. I was once on a panel with some rather famous authors and one lesser-known feminist historian, whose PR audibly hissed at her: ‘Miriam! SPEAK UP!’
    I’d have found that thoroughly offputting.

    Lucy

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