Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Writers who published their first books in the 1980s to 1990s–even the early 2000s–tend to flip out when someone utters the word platform. They’ve never recovered from the sticker shock of seeing a list of what publishers expect of authors nowadays. I call the syndrome Promo Shock.
In this week’s Publishers Weekly an article appeared written by an author who wrote satirical essays and published a book in the 1980s. Then she wandered off into the sunset to write for films and television.
Recently she decided to return to her roots and seek a literary agent. “My reentry into the publishing world’s atmosphere was staggering,” Mollie Fermaglich recounted. “I was the 1950s airplane passenger–accustomed to flying in style–walking onto a flight today and being trampled by earbud-wearing passengers in velour running suits hogging the overhead bins with skateboards.”
“But getting followers is a job in itself. I’m a writer. That takes up my day,” she bemoaned. “Now I have to draw attention to myself with something other than writing in order to draw attention to my writing?”
Welcome to our world, right?
But then she thought of just the way to draw that attention:
“Maybe I’ll post pictures of my pug playing shuffleboard on the QE2. Then I’ll get a book deal. For my pig.”
Mollie pondered the sad state of the industry and then started a blog. Quit. Created a public Facebook page. Never checked it. Opened an Instagram account. Closed it. Pondered self-publishing. Couldn’t figure out where to start.
A Happy Ending?
And then her phone rang. An agent called to say her writing “was terrific.” She (pouting, I assume) told him that, when it came to social media, she pretty much wasn’t engaged with anyone. “It’s just me.”
“He paused. ‘”Me” is good,’ he says. ‘I’m willing to take a chance on “me.”‘
We don’t know if the agent manages to find a publisher for her. The article ended with her signing the agency papers.
Promo Shock and the Writer
It doesn’t require someone who started in this biz decades ago to experience Promo Shock. I’ve recently returned from a writers conference where I had 18 writers pitch their projects to me. They fell into two camps: complete novices with no idea what is required to obtain an agent let alone a publishing contract; self-pubbed authors who hadn’t bothered with traditional publishers but turned immediately to DIY. Only then they found out how hard it is to sell even a couple hundred copies of their books. Now they want to crack into the traditional world but are worried their failed publishing experience will tarnish them.
Sitting across from the starry-eyed newbies and the DIY-ers, reminded me of a few truths about publishing.
The Rocky Road
Every path to holding your book in your hands is rocky. Yes, traditional publishers have high platform expectations from anyone whose work they seriously consider. But self-publishing is hard work, too.
Mollie’s first response to discovering the importance of making connections with potential readers is one most writers have: Wait. It’s hard work to build a platform.
Indeed it is. But both directions require it, if you care about book sales. Just ask the self-pubbers I met at the conference who struggled to sell more than 500 copies of their books despite all of their hard work.
For the Love of a Book
Fortunately for all of us, rules are made to be broken. Not every manuscript finds a publishing home because the author brought a massive audience with him or her.
This week I read a published book that an editor had requested I take a look at. The editor told me, “This author is so special, not only as a writer but also as a person. She has other books in her. Would you consider representing her? I have to tell you that we published her book not because we thought it would sell lots of copies–it hasn’t–but because we felt compelled to get her story out to readers.”
A few weeks ago I sold a nonfiction project based on the concept rather than the author’s social media reach. She has a decent reach, but nothing jaw-dropping. Yet five publishing houses wanted to publish her book.
I’ve also had clients who managed to corral a gazillion potential readers, but whose books sold pitifully.
As in life, publishing is tricky to predict. And often unfair in whom it bestows its blessing.
My advice to writers–both experienced and brand new–is to get over their Promo Shock and get to work. There are readers to be found, if we’re prepared to look for them.
How do you motivate yourself to keep pressing forward in building your audience? What steps have you taken recently?
Writers, if you’re tired of the word “platform,” this blog is for you. Click to tweet.
“Publish or perish” has become “Platform or perish.” Click to tweet.