Something I’ve been posting about on forums recently and felt the need to rant about: authors trying to get noticed. (This isn’t a rant against the authors but the stupid system that means the world of writing is ridiculously competitive and soul-destroyingly hard to get recognition in.)
I don’t mean legitimately chasing interviews, contacting review sites, posting the best of your reviews, any of that. Even the odd little reminder that a review helps – especially since that supports your writing friends, too – is okay, I think. It’s a tough world and we’re all competing in it.
What I’m referring to are some of the ways I see authors trying to boost themselves, or engage with others, which I think are potentially damaging.
Some are obvious. Like giving themselves a rating on Goodreads (everyone can see they did it), or worse still Amazon*, or getting their mates to turn up on a forum and wax lyrical about their book in their first post (really: it happens all the time).
I know what it’s like to want that recognition (hell, I’m living it.) You see other books getting mentioned and talked about and you know your own is just as good. You know it because your reviews are excellent, and your ratings high. And you want people to know that what you love doing, and have put hours into, has value. And, hey, let’s be honest – some pay for that work would be nice.
You can't force this for your own book. It's no good you telling people how great it is - other people have to do that. Organically. In lots of places: on forums, on Goodreads, on Amazon, in reading groups and fan groups, on trains, in offices, in all the little ways word gets out.
It’s the ultimate Catch-22. You can’t get readers until you have a buzz about the books and you can’t get a buzz without readers. If you had a big publisher, things might have been different, but you don’t.
- On that point, I’m going to digress a little. Years ago I was in an open window for a chance to be published with Harper Voyager, part of the Harper Collins imprint. I notoriously went a long way in that window (18 months of waiting, down to the last 3%), and then I went out, and I went with a small publisher instead. Today, browsing the internet, as you do, I came across one of the books that was selected. I opened up the Amazon page (the imprint is e-only, so Amazon is a good indicator of how the book is going), expecting to turn slightly green with envy. Instead, I found sales rankings in the low 000000s with unstartling reviews. The moral of that story is that no one, not even the big publishers, can predict how a book is going to sell. This isn’t a science.
So, based on that, I understand perfectly the need to go ‘but, but, but! Mine didn’t get selected and is doing well! I should have been given the spot….’
Hold on, though. Should I? Shoulds are horrid, dangerous thoughts. They’re rarely kind and generous but thoughts that put us down, that mark an action we failed to do.
Now, here comes the controversial bit. (Could this be the blog where I get roasted?)
I’m going to suggest that if you’re struggling a little, you don’t let on. Don’t do the things that tell others you are. Things like tweeting about your multiple rejections (because there’s got to be some reason no publisher wants that book, right?) Posting that it’s a quiet week, and so you’re doing a promo. Mentioning a surge up the charts (because it means you’re watching. Also, one sale can gain 300,000 rankings and other authors know it.) Posting a tweet with so many hashtags in it the message is lost (yes, it will reach lots of people, but it doesn’t look conversational and friendly.) Sending a DM to your latest follower telling them your book is free and to please download. (I get a shocking amount of those on Twitter.) Latching onto the latest Trending #, or International-whatever-day purely to sell your book. (Latch onto them, by all means. Who knows who might want to look further after your pithy, entertaining tweet. But do it in the spirit of the hashtag – to promote it, not you.)
You want to look like you’re cracking this business. You want it to look like people are reading your stuff – even when they’re not! – and enjoying it. You want it to look like you might be the next big author to try because you’re evidently so awesome. Not undermining that is part of being professional, I think.
It’s a really hard balancing act, one we’re all trying to get right. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. My writer friends are all awesome. They work hard.
Not one should have to feel they need to shout out how awesome they are – they wrote and finished a book. Nor should they have to operate in a world judging how-popular they are by their sales, where sending out a message contrary to that can be damaging. Because they're all awesome already.
*Shortly after I released my first book I discovered I was signed into Amazon USA on the tablet under an old email address and a user name not linked to me in anyway. (Something about a Newshound, if I recall correctly.) The only way anyone would have known it was connected to me was by the IP address. I cannot say what a temptation it was to go on and post a nice 5* review. In the end, I signed out and, since it must be eight years since I set the account up and I no longer have access to its email address, I can’t reset the long-forgotten password. Temptation averted. Just.