Every week on Facebook and in my e-mail in-basket, I see the following:
- Podcasts and videos that promise to show me how my next book can be a bestseller.
- Free PDF downloads that promise to show me how to get better coverage on Amazon and in Google searches by changing the keywords I use in my promotion copy–and even in my book title.
- Publicists who want me to gamble, say, $5,000 to hire them to get more reviews, articles, TV appearances, and other promotional exposure for my novels.
Some of these people mean well. Perhaps most of them mean well.
But I’m tired of all the offers because: (a) There are so many of them, (b) A large number see books as a value-added extra for people whose real business is doing something else, (c) They’re focused on non-fiction, (d) Use videos that are not closed-captioned, meaning that they are of little value to those of us who are hard of hearing, (e) Use podcasts that, while very popular, present information in a linear fashion that means–even if I could hear–I’d have to wade through the whole thing to get information I could see on a webpage in a fraction of the time.
There’s an old joke that people selling shovels made more money than those heading out as part of the gold rush. This seems similar to those promoting writers’ tools. People wanted to strike it rich in the goldfields. Apparently, writers want to strike it rich–or, at least all these sellers of so-called helpful information think we want to strike it rich.
Many of us on Facebook joke about the fact that whenever we go out on a website to buy gifts or check on prices for something we need, our Facebook screen is filled with advertisements for that very thing the following day. Maybe that’s why writers see all these promotions. The promoters find out we’re writers, so they display “how to write” advertisements in our e-mail in-baskets and Facebook timelines.
Frankly, I think a lot of these promotions are looking for writers with a short attention span, the writer who don’t want to “pay their dues” working their way up, and so we’re offered promises of instant riches. The whole thing would be amusing if it weren’t for the possibility that a lot of writers are paying money for “all this help” that probably won’t get them anywhere.
I wonder, how naïve can a person be who has just graduated from high school, self-publishes a book, and thinks that with a small investment of, say, $5,000 s/he will suddenly be in the stratosphere of writers by listening to a podcast? Yes, it could happen. But for most people, it won’t. The lottery probably has better odds of success.
My publisher and I joke about when Oprah will select one of my books for her book club and when Viola Davis wil read Conjure Woman’s Cat and want to play the role of Eulalie. Sure, these are nice dreams, but I can’t base my writing career on waiting for them to happen. Or, on thinking I can pay somebody to make them happen.
Writers everywhere are asking what it takes to get more reader reviews on Amazon, reviews in prestigious review sites like Publishers Weekly and Booklist, how does one build a platform that major publishers and major critics and the book-buying public notice, what does it take for a word-of-mouth campaign to bring in sales, and similar questions. When all of this is discussed online, it brings you a host of ads and purported deals that claim to help you get those things.
In most cases, they won’t. And, I think that the majority of people who spend money on such services are spending more than their books are likely to earn.
Yes, I think you can build a platform. I think you can do yourself a lot of good submitting short stories and essays to carefully chosen contests and magazines, I think you can make comments on the Facebook status updates of other writers as well as their blogs, I think you can develop a niche for your own blog and website that sooner or later captures the attention of readers, editors, and agents. But, there’s nothing certain about this process. Keep your day job and keep at it, and look at all those people selling shovels with a sceptical eye.