I'm often asked how to market a new book. Well, no, that's a lie. But I should be.
Here I am collating the wisdom I've gathered on the subject over nearly a decade in the biz.
MARKETING TIP #9
Even the most dedicated of conversationalists must draw breath, and the words BUY MY BOOK fit neatly into any such lull.
MARKETING TIP #12
ALWAYS LEAVE CAPS LOCK ON. EVERYONE WILL APPRECIATE YOUR DIRECTNESS. MARKETING TIP #17
Any unattended bag is an opportunity to leave a free book.
If the wallet/purse is also unattended leave a non-free book.
MARKETING TIP #33
Try these easy conversational gambits on seeing any stranger with a book:
i) "A book, eh? I too have written one of those."
ii) "I see that you like readingBUYMYBOOK."
iii) Draw a breath in through your teeth: "See, that's your basic mistake. Wrong book." MARKETING TIP #41 Invest your time well when visiting bookstores. By careful shelf blocking your can steer shoppers toward your volumes. Swaying and spreading your arms can help to ward readers from your rivals' sections of the alphabet. MARKETING TIP #47
A fixed number of words are read in any given year, so in order to secure your fair share be sure to disparage all other authors at each opportunity.
To contrast the level of attention this year's 300 authors are getting compared to what they might expect from a real agent ... I questioned two such a beasts. Successful ones.
One of them was my own illustrious agent, Ian Drury!
(seen here attacking the editor of a fantasy magazine with my Gemmell Legend Award)
Both typically spend 5 to 10 minutes with a manuscript and given a pile of 30, such as the SPFBO blogs are allocated, both would expect to be mailing out 30 "no thank you's" after a day's work. The reason you might have to wait for that "no" is that they have many other things to do and may not get around to looking a manuscripts for some time.
The 5+ months that the blogs take to consider their 30 books now looks pretty damn good! Some of them review EVERY book too!
Anyway, that's how tough it is and that's how quickly they go through the slush making decisions. The rest of their time is spent pitching the work of and dealing with the needs of existing clients.
One of them gets 30 submissions a week (cover letter, synopsis, first few chapters) and the other 50-60. They call for around 6 full manuscripts a year. That's <0.4% of submissions leading to a full read. In those cases they will typically get back to the author within a week. Most of those guys they still don't take onto their books.
So that's >52 SPFBO blogs' worth of books seen each year (let's call it five SPFBOs) leading to maybe 1 or 2 new clients.
Ian gets a publishing deal for at least half his new clients, so lets say 5xSPFBO = 1 publishing deal.
And we are only on our 4th SPFBO!
And most traditionally published books don't earn out their advance (which averages around £5,000).
So, the strong implication (but this is not necessarily true) is that with 10 weeks' worth of what passes over an agent's table we cannot reasonably expect to find a best seller in any given SPFBO - though we can definitely hope - and that with 1 week's worth of an agent's inbox no blog can expect their finalist to fly - but again, it can happen.
The other interpretation is that the process the agents use to filter books is very flawed. But even if their inboxes are crammed with books that could sell 100,000+ the fact seems to be that there is simply no room for such numbers in the market.
The question is does the market hyper inflate books that are only slightly better (or no better at all) than others (which sell very poorly?) And my own opinion is that it definitely does to a significant extent.
Or are the vast majority of books incapable of sustaining a large readership no matter what breaks they are given. And my own opinion is that this is also true to a significant extent.
I.e. I feel that many great books definitely fail because the winds of chance don't blow favourably for them. And simultaneously that only a small % of books out there would sell in huge numbers even with those winds filling their sails.
An author I know has quit all social media recently. Goodbye Facebook, goodbye Twitter, adios Instagram, auf weidersehen Reddit. The author in question felt that these things were having a negative effect on their mental health, and if you feel that way then they undoubtedly are!
Social media can be having a bad impact on your metal health even if you don't feel it is.
The thing is that as an author these days you are strongly encouraged both by your publishers and by logic to partake of social media. Wallow in it. Dive in and only come up for air when you need to write.
The best of books can utterly fail without sufficient initial publicity (the author in question is actually a prime example of this - their excellent book only flourishing after belated publicity following years in the wilderness). So clearly there is a vast pressure for authors to engage with the public, be seen on forums, be available on Twitter, be responsive, witty, entertaining, constantly placing their product in the spotlight without seeming to do so. All striving for that golden ratio of "just enough" selling that it moves books while not pissing folks off.
And that's fine if you enjoy social media and have a more or less healthy relationship with it. Many of us do enjoy it. With my caring duties it's basically my only social life, a much needed window on the world. I would be all over social media whether I had a book to sell or not.
But for those whose personal makeup makes them vulnerable to the harm that social media can inflict ... to then be bound to it by your profession must be a very hard thing. Like having to drink poison in order to stay alive.
And an author's relationship with social media is not quite like Joe Public's. Not only are we spreading our wares out, but we are talking with strangers who know us only through our stories. We are part of a complex network of obligation and interactions each with different boundaries. We talk with reviewers and readers, with authors who sell way more, or way less, or broadly similar amounts to us. Strangers of various shades become friends in varying degrees. We have to say "no" a lot, to reading this book, to critiquing that chapter, to signing at this venue. Everyone has expectations of us. Some think we can help their careers, some we know could help ours. Everything is potentially coloured by these sorts of unhealthy considerations when really we would just like friends.
So again, for those of us with sufficiently thick skin, arrogance or whatever is required to navigate these waters safely, its great to have a swim. But to those who feel they are drowning in it, social media is a burden.
And what if you set it aside and then your next book dies on the launchpad? Imagine how that feels. You, left unable to tell whether that would always have been the book's fate or if somehow you had swallowed your medicine and gone out to bat for it on Reddit the book might have found its audience and soared.
It's a scary equation to consider. Nobody should think they have to do themselves harm in order to succeed.
In the end it is definitely possible to succeed and to continue to flourish with your back turned firmly toward all forms of social media. And I wish those who take this path every success. But, sadly, it is also entirely possible for superb books to fail entirely without that first flame being applied to their touchpaper. And in this day and age it's hard to walk away from the channels of communication knowing that they really could make the difference between the career you want and writing as a hobby.