I've been pondering an article by Writer's Digest blogger and editor Jane Friedman, who is "getting frustrated with people who say they're bad at marketing & promotion because they're introverts". In the age of social media, Friedman reminds us:
... introverts should be over the moon at how lucky we are to live in an age when we can effectively market and promote by
- staying at home
- using whatever tools suit our communication style best (e-mail, IM, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
- crafting and controlling messages to our own satisfaction
- limiting interaction when needed
I see what she's getting at, and this is a good message for independent writers and publishers to hear. It's a message that feels relevant to me, because I've been trying to push myself to work harder on publicity and marketing since beginning an e-book publishing venture in April. I know how important this is, and I already knew (before Jane Friedman reminded me) that I wouldn't get where I needed to go without stepping way beyond my comfort zone in terms of self-marketing.
The way I figure it, to succeed as an indie publisher I'll have to cover every base. My creative vision must be solid, my editorial oversight flawless. I must master the technical details of book formatting and graphic design as well as the business details of accounting and reporting. Once the book is ready, the hardest work (for me) of publicity and marketing begins. Discouragement, apathy and despair must be avoided at every single step of this chain of responsibility, and this challenge, even when things are going moderately well, can feel Sisyphean. There are a whole lot of ways to defeat yourself in indie publishing.
I've published two e-books so far (still only in the Kindle format, but I'll be announcing several other formats soon). I was proud of the way I handled the (hated) publicity tasks for my first one, the book about Ayn Rand. I wrote fluffy copy for the Amazon page, contacted many philosophy bloggers and well-known Objectivists (some of whom, I knew, would not be sympathetic to my book), and asked my family and friends to help me spread the word. I applied myself to the max, and I felt I gained some sales traction as a result. This felt really good.
But when my second book came out, a book about poker, I found that I was out of gas. I was still exhausted from the previous publicity effort, and I was also at a disadvantage because I am not in touch with nearly as many poker bloggers as philosophy bloggers, and the poker community has a completely different (less thoughtful, less social) personality than the various literary communities that encircle me. I went through the motions of self-touting -- Jane Friedman would have been proud of me -- but it felt even harder, even less natural for the second book than the first. Every email I wrote felt treacly and fake.
The problem with Jane Friedman's pep talk for shy and self-effacing writers is that she makes it sound too easy. A person who finds self-publicity difficult might read her piece and imagine that, once they get over the hurdle, they'll be over it for good. "Come on in, the water's fine!" Once you get used to self-publicizing, it will become easy. HAH! It's actually difficult in ways that don't become apparent the first time you try it. It's difficult in ways that cut deep into your emotional makeup. You may not even find out how very much you hate self-publicity until after you try it a few times.
The more important a self-marketing task may be, the more painful it may feel. For instance, I know that I should email the venerable poker writer James McManus, author of two books I like a lot, Positively Fifth Street and Cowboys Full, because he unsuspectingly gave me an "in" when I mentioned a terrible Robert Pinsky review of Cowboys Full in a New York Times Book Review roundup two years ago, and McManus himself posted an approving, winking comment on this blog. He even left me his private email address. If I had the slightest touch of the natural self-marketer inside my poor soul, I would have emailed James McManus to brag about my poker book and ask for a blurb or a kind word weeks ago. I haven't done this yet. When does this become easy? I'm only realizing now the dreadful fact that, for me, it never will.
A few weeks ago I was at a book conference with a writer friend who was scheduled for a signing. We arrived together at his publisher's booth. He saw that nobody was on line for a signed book, asked a publisher rep where the stack of copies were, and immediately stepped in front of the booth and began hawking his galley to passers-by: "Would you like a copy of my new book?" "Please, check it out!" "Get your signed book here!"
His exhibition amazed me. A slightly-known writer with a small indie publisher, he had no reason to believe that any of the people he was intercepting would be interested in his book. I could read Jane Friedman's article ten times in a row, memorize it and recite it in Sanskrit, and I still wouldn't be able to do what my writer friend did that day. It's easy for me to see what part of the indie publishing toolkit I'm badly missing.
So what will I do? I'll keep pushing myself. I'll do what I have to do. But I hate it, and it takes a chunk out of my heart every time I send a blind email. I don't really understand why this is, and I wish it weren't true.
But I'm not going to worry about it too much. There are so many different ways to defeat yourself as an indie publisher. You can also harm yourself by having too much enthusiasm, too much self-confidence. I can't make myself as sociable and extroverted as my writer friend ... but I bet he can't immerse himself in research tasks the way I can, nor can he spend twelve straight hours building a Drupal website with social networking hooks and launch it after a single night's work. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. My goal will be to keep going, to keep my head above water, and to keep my books there too.
There are a whole lot of ways to defeat yourself as an indie publisher. What I'm looking for now is a way to not defeat myself as an indie publisher. I hope I find it.