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Why I Self-Promote

I think that many authors get discouraged because they work their butts off self-promoting, and don't see immediate benefits. How could they? The hardest working author in the world could maybe handsell ten thousand copies of a book in a year. That's an impressive number, but ultimately insignificant if he has 500k books in print.

When I say, "You should self promote," some authors immediately go into defensive mode. Their arguements usually come down to:

"It's the publisher's job to sell books, not mine."

Or

"You can be successful without self-promoting."

Or

"I'd rather focus on writing a good book."

Or

"Prove to me that self-promotion makes you successful."

Or

"I tried and it didn't work."

Or a combination of the above. Justification for our actions (or non actions) is essential for our self-esteem.

But that justification should be well thought out. All options should be carefully considered before a path is chosen. And that path should be subject to change, as more evidence comes into play.

I've spent a good deal of time contemplating the publishing business. Along with contemplating, I've experimented. I made some observations, and drew some conclusions, based on my experience (which I tried to make as broad as possible.)

I've found that:

1. Publishing, as a business model, is a poor one.

2. No one in publishing really knows what they're doing, because you can't learn from unreproduceable phenomenon.

3. Taste is subjective. A "good" book means different things to different people.

4. People would rather defend their actions than analyze them.

5. Luck plays an overwhelming part in success. This is scary, because it is beyond our control. So most publishers, and authors, would rather erroneously attribute success to their hard work and efforts, talent, and business savvy.

6. There are no guarantees, except for one: The more you self promote, the more books you'll sell, and the more you'll increase your luck.

So, what can an author do to better their career?

1. I can't change the publishing world, even though it's broken. That's beyond my control.

2. I can't learn from unreproduceable phenomenon any more than my publisher can, and I don't have the resources to run controlled tests, surveys, focus groups, and scientifically analyze the system to learn what works and what doesn't. It's beyond my control.

3. I can write the best book I can, but that's no guarantee of anything. Many good books fail. A lot of crap sells really well. Taste is subjective, and there is no objective scale that can rate books based on their merit.

4. I can learn from my actions and be open to new ideas, but can't expect anyone else to have that same attitude.

5. I can recognize that success comes down to luck, as scary as that is.

6. I can do what I can to improve my luck. That means writing good books (which is subjective) and spreading the word about my books, which is objective.

So basically, what I've learned in the past five years is that the only real control an author has is how many books they can sell by self-promotion. That's the only way we can empower ourselves.

Beware a sense of entitlement. Beware believing that hard work and/or talent is more important than luck. Beware believing that your success or failure is a direct result of anything you've done. These beliefs don't lead to anything healthy.

There's no fairness. No dues that must be paid. No deserving success.

There's only getting lucky, and what you can do to maximize your luck.

That's why I spend so much time self-promoting.

For Those About To Give Up...

Meanwhile, in the NFL....

Coach: OK, guys. The first half was a little rough.

Player #1: Rough?!? We're getting creamed 78 to 3!

Coach: I understand that.

Player #2: The other team is killing us, coach! We're being humiliated!

Coach: I know. That's because they have a better owner, who spent more money on getting better players. It's hard to hear, but it's true. They also have a better coaching staff. It's all about the benjamins.

Player #3: So what do we do? How do we win?

Coach: We're not going to win. It's not within our power.

Player #1: Huh?

Coach: There's nothing any of us can do to win. It's up to the owner. He didn't come through with the cheddar, so we might as well give up.

Player #2: Isn't there anything we can do?

Coach: Nope.

Player #3: What about trying harder?

Coach: Won't work. We don't have the support of the owner. Without that influx of money and talent, we're all just spinning our wheels.

Player #1: But I'm a great player! I was on the all star team!

Player #2: I was a first round draft pick!

Player #3: I won awards!

Coach: It's not enough.

Player #2: What about heart? Effort?

Coach: None of that matters.

Player #1: This is a pretty shitty halftime speech, coach.

Coach: Why? it should be liberating. Once you know that you can't win, that success isn't possible, you can absolve yourself of blame.

Player #3: But we want to win.

Coach: Too bad. There's simply nothing you can do.

Player #2: We can refuse to give up. We can analyze what we've done before, and adjust our tactics. We can brainstorm new plans. We can keep trying our best.

Coach: Won't matter. You're doomed to fail. Only the owners can decide who wins. You don't have the power. Think of all the football players who play the game. Only a few are winners. We can't all be winners. You should accept that. In fact, if I were you, I wouldn't even finish this game. I know I'm not going back out there. What's the point?

Player #1: Well, when you put it that way, it sort of makes sense.

Player #3: Yeah. I mean, if we don't have any control anyway, why should we bother trying?

Coach: Now you're getting it. Forgive yourself this humiliating defeat. It isn't your fault. It's the owner's fault. Now who wants to go out and get ice cream?

Player #2: But we still have a game to finish!

Coach: There's no point. Nothing you do matters.

Player #2: But we can still try! We can still play our best!

Player #3: I'm getting Rocky Road.

Player #1: And a waffle cone. I love waffle cones.

Player #2: Guys! Come back! It's your names on the backs of those jerseys! This is your career! You're responsible for your success, not the owners! Guys...?

Announcer: Remember kids, success isn't up to you. Nothing you do to help your life matters, so you might as well give up now. Trying is for the ignorant. So just cross your fingers, and hope the money people get behind you.

This has been a public service message by PWUEIHW (People Who Use Excuses Instead of Hard Work.)

------------------------------------

There will be people in life who tell you you're not going to make it.

And there will be times in life where you think your efforts are in vain.

Once you start making excuses rather than trying your best, you've lost.

You may not be able to guarantee the outcome.

But you can guarantee your best effort.

Now go get 'em, tiger.

Writing Organizations: Should I?

I recently had a talk with an author friend who was saddened that a writing organization she has belonged to for many years has changed its acceptance guidelines and now doesn't regard her as an active member because her print runs are too small.

My advice to her was two simple words:

Fuck 'em.

Personally, I've never been a proponent of writing organizations. And at the risk of alienating myself from my peers, I'm going to list some reasons why I think you don't need them.

First, let me say that I've belonged to just about all the major genre organizations at one point or another. And they aren't entirely without benefit.

Awards.

You can be allowed to nominate books for awards, and in some cases vote for them.

Promotion.

Your books are mentioned in their promotional material, in print or online.

Meetings.

You get invited to meetings, which allow you to mingle with peers, and banquets, which allow you to mingle with peers while wearing nice clothing. Often these meeting have interesting speakers, and sometimes (more importantly) liquor.

Publications.

You have chances to appear in organization-sponsored anthologies.

Conferences.

You're allowed to participate in conferences and conventions that the organizations sponsor.

Good Will.

The organization often claims to help raise awareness of the genre you're writing in, and may contribute to worthy causes.

Now, readers of this blog already know my feelings about awards. To reiterate: They ain't important. Not a single one.

Sure, they make the writer feel good. And they can get your publisher excited. They might even result in extra sales and interest in your books.

But I have a hypothesis, which I won't confirm because it will take too much time to do so and I'm a lazy bastard. If you take all the bestselling books of 2007, and compare them to all the award-winning books of 2007, there won't be a lot of overlap.

Someone prove me wrong, and then effectively argue that the awards fueled the bestsellerdom.

Besides, this point may be moot, because in the case of many awards, you don't have to be a member of the organization that offers it in order to be nominated.

As for promo material, I think this has a certain amount of worth. Having your latest release mentioned in a widely circulated newsletter certainly can't hurt. Sure, you'll probably be buried among the dozens, or hundreds, of other releases also mentioned in that newsletter. But every little bit helps.

Whether this little bit justifies the steep (and still escalating) yearly costs of being part of a writing organization remains to be seen.

Being invited to meetings, or parties, is a great way to meet peers. Especially if you're a newbie. But you don't need to be a member of anything to meet peers. You only need to attend book fairs, conventions, and conferences, and you'll meet plenty of peers. Along with fans and booksellers, who are more important to your career than your peers are.

You get invited to submit to anthologies. Okay, this is a biggie. A real biggie. But I've been a member of many organizations, and have only been in one antho because of my membership. I've been in around twenty other anthos, no membership necessary. There are plenty of collections that don't require membership.

Many organizations host conventions. I think this is great. While attending conventions holds limited appeal after you've already done several, it's still the best way to introduce yourself and your work to the public, and a great place to shoot the shit with your peers. But even if you belong to the organization holding the event, you still have to pay to get into the event. And guess what? You can go to the event even if you aren't a member of the organization. So where's the real benefit?

As for raising awareness about the genre, I've had the unique opportunity to meet a few thousand booksellers. Some of them know about awards and writing organizations. Most of them don't. Ditto the fans.

The diehard fans who attend conferences do know about the awards, and a few of them care about them deeply. But I'll conservatively estimate the number of mystery, thriller, and horror fans who attend conventions to be less than 10,000 people total.

If your book only sells 10,000 copies, you won't be in this business very long. And chances are high you're not even going to sell to 1/100 of those folks.

The majority of the book buyers don't know, or care, what organization you belong to, because these organizations aren't raising the awareness of the average book buyer. They're preaching to the choir.

If I've missed any benefits to joining an organization, I'd love to hear them and be proven wrong. But now that we've gone through what I see are the positives let's talk about some negatives.

Volunteering.

Boy, can you get screwed volunteering.

The time you spend judging award submissions, organizing a conference, or sitting on a board, can be substantial---taking away from time where you could be writing or promoting. It's also exhaustive, stressful, and never appreciated. No good deed goes unpunished, and devoting your free time to helping an organization that you joined because you wanted it to help you is one of Dante's inner circles of hell.

Lack of Representation.

By a show of hands, how many of you have ever joined an organization and gotten EXACTLY NOTHING for your dues? Where did your money go? How did being a member benefit you? What exactly did the organization do for you that you couldn't have done for yourself?

Professionalitis.

This is when, because you consider yourself a professional writer, you must cloak yourself in the trappings of professionalism, one of which is joining an organization that reinforces the fact that you're a professional.

Bullshit. A union is one thing. But as far as I'm concerned, the only single criteria needed to prove you're a writing professional is if you've gotten paid for your writing.

Groups, clubs, cliques, and gatherings of like-minded folks are part of human nature. As is excluding other folks. Us and them is genetic. We all want to be us rather than them.

But here's a better idea. Be you. Because it's your books, your career, and if your feelings about either are dictated by the approval of your peers, you need to seek some therapy. Which brings us to:

Peer Pressure.

I've had some writing organizations give me the hard sell. A really hard sell, that becomes embarrassing and uncomfortable. Talking candidly with many of my peers, they continue to renew their memberships because they feel pressured into it, are worried about being though less of, and figure a few hundred bucks a year is worth not having to deal with the hassle of actually standing up and saying, "Wait a second, you're not doing shit for me."

Of course, if you do say that, don't be surprised if that organization offers you a volunteer position so you can help to change the very thing you're complaining about.

Conclusion.

If this blog post angered you, it's probably because you're a member of an organization that you feel has helped you. That's awesome. I'd love to hear from you.

Just don't be shocked if I reply and explain how you could have gotten the same benefits on your own.

I've done a lot of self-promotion, to varying degrees of success. In JA's World, joining a writing organization shouldn't be at the top of any writer's Must Do List.

Maybe it can't hurt. Maybe it can even help. But I think that rising dues, increasingly exclusionary practices, and very little return on investment for the average member has taken what was once a good idea: helping like-minded people succeed in a hard business, and turned it into organizations that exist solely to be self-sustaining rather than beneficial.

Of course, I'm also an opinionated jerk.

The Alternative.

Naturally, I have an idea for a writing organization I'd like to see. Let's call it WWJAD. Here are the rules, and what the organization does for you.

1. You must have written and published a book. If you have, you can join.

2. Your $100 a year dues invites you to attend WWJAD Con. You do not have to pay extra admission to get in. And at the con, you get 15 minutes of time to speak to everyone in attendance. No competition. There's one mike in the convention room, and that's the only program going.

3. WWJAD Con has a printed program book, which contains your bio, and a page about your work that you write. Could be an ad. Could be an excerpt. But it is only a page.

4. WWJAD Con is a three day event held at a cheap hotel. Admission is free to all attendees, but, like a carnival, they can buy tickets for $1 each. This fee goes toward paying for the hotel space, program book, and the poor bastards who are helping to run the con. No volunteers. If you work the front door, you get paid for your time.

5. During WWJAD Con, all authors have table space for their books. They give their book, for free, to anyone who gives them a ticket. How long you spend at the table depends on how many books you have to give away. Can this be expensive? Sure. But the best advertisement for your writing is your writing.

6. The WWJAD Award will be given at the end of the conference. Whoever has the most tickets wins the prize. Just like Chuck E. Cheese. Awards are popularity contests anyway, so why not be honest about it?

What's the Point?

The purpose of belonging to WWJAD is to give you an opportunity to mingle with peers, speak in front of an interested crowd, meet fans, possibly win an award, appear in a program, and give away as many copies of your books as you can afford to.

In other words, most of the pluses and none of the minuses of every other writing organization.

Dues, and $1 ticket sales, go toward running and advertising the event, and maintaining the WWJAD website.

Oh, and if you miss the event, your dues get refunded. And depending on the number of members, this could be held in different areas at different times of the year, to minimize travel costs and maximize fan attendance.

I'd join. Would you?

Free Books For Fans

I just finished writing Jack Daniels #6 (Cherry Bomb, coming July '09 from Hyperion) so now it's time to get back into promotion mode.

To kick things off, I've got a lot of free stuff to give away.

If you want one of these free books, email me. But there's a catch.

If I send you something free, you have to review it somewhere.

Your blog. MySpace.com. Amazon.com. BN.com. Facebook.com. Goodreads.com. Or any other public internet forum.

Fair enough? Okay, here's what I've got for you:


FUZZY NAVEL ADVANCE READING COPIES

This is Jack's fifth adventure, coming out July 2008. It all takes place in an eight hour period. While Jack works a high-profile sniper case, someone from her past returns to kill her and everyone she cares about. The two stories converge in a knock-down, drag-out, free-for-all, which was a lot of fun for me to write.

I have ten copies. If you want one, and you love to plaster your reviews all over the Internet, drop me a line.


LIKE A CHINESE TATTOO

This is an anthology featuring Cullen Bunn, Rick R. Reed, David Thomas Lord, and me. My blurb on the back says, "JA Konrath's prose ranges from careless to wretched" - Kirkus.

I contributed three horror stories, one of which is a lengthy Harry McGlade novella.

Harry, as you may know, is a supporting character in the Jack books. He takes center stage here, with predictably gratuitous results.

This is one of the funniest, and most disgusting, things I've ever written.

If you love your horror books gross and laugh out loud, email me and tell me why I should give it to you. I only have one copy.

The rest of you should get your copies here:

https://www.horror-mall.com/LIKE-A-CHINESE-TATTOO-by-Cullen-Bunn-David-Thomas-Lord-JA-Konrath-Rick-R.-Reed-p-17713.html

The first edition printing is less than 300 copies, so act fast.

While you're at Horror Mall, you should also pick up my other Harry McGlade novella, SUCKERS, co-written with Jeff Strand. This is a signed, 100 page, limited edition hardcover. It's also gory, and funny, and very collectible. Buy yours here:

https://www.horror-mall.com/SUCKERS-by-J.A.-Konrath-and-Jeff-Strand-p-17711.html


DIRTY MARTINI

Want a free copy of the fourth Jack Daniels thriller?

If you buy a copy of the sci-fi horror anthology GRATIA PLACENTI, which featured my revolting little alien story THEM'S GOOD EATS, then you get a hardcover for free. First come, first serve. Go here for details:

http://apexdigest.livejournal.com/97381.html


WHISKEY SOUR

The first Jack Daniels adventure. If you can read Italian, I have 7 copies available in oversized trade paperback of the Italian edition by Alacran Edizioni. Email me if you, or someone you know, knows Italian.

If you can't read Italian, you can still get Whiskey Sour for free. It's available as a free pdf download for reading on your computer, Sony E-reader, Amazon Kindle, cell phone, iPod, etc.

WHISKEY SOUR is available as a free download here:

http://www.jakonrath.com/WhiskeySourFree.pdf

Do you want more free Jack Daniels, along with other short stories?

I've got 55 short stories available for free on my website. They're in a collection called 55 PROOF, which features 13 Jack Daniels shorts and tie-ins, plus 42 other crime, horror, and humor stories.

I also have three full novels available as free downloads.

ORIGIN is a technothriller about a secret government compound where they're holding Satan. Mayhem ensues.

THE LIST is a cop thriller with a twist--the heroes and villains are modern day clones of famous historical figures. Mayhem ensues.

DISTURB is a horrific medical thriller, about a drug that replaces a full night of sleep. Mayhem ensues.

All of the above books are available for free here:

http://www.jakonrath.com/ebooks.html

Does James Patterson give you free stuff? Does Dean Koontz? Stephen King? Dan Brown?

I'm sure they do. But I love you more than they do.


SIGNED STUFF

I get several requests per week from people who want to know where they can buy signed copies of JA Konrath books.

I encourage you to seek me out at a signing event, which are posted on my website. The next one will be on April 5th at Barnes & Noble, 13 W. Rand Road, Arlington Heights, IL, from Noon until 3pm. I'd love to see you there.

If you can't make it, you can order signed copies of all of my books (including the ones mentioned above that are free downloads) here:

http://www.jakonrath.com/extrastore.html


As always, thanks for reading.
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