Stop Marketing First

Val McDermid made some interesting comments about new writers and how the publishing industry is no longer providing newly published authors with the time to build a following. She argues that if she had sold her first book in 2014, she would have failed at the whole endeavour. I agree with her whole heartedly, and, in some ways, it’s now tougher to get publishers to pick up a second or third book, than it is a first.

However, one thing this article only briefly mentions is that publishers expect of new authors to develop their own fan base. In the article, Jonny Geller, CEO of Curtis Brown states, ‘But publishing is marketing and everyone can be in marketing now, with social media and all these sites like Good Reads.’ But I think it goes farther than that.

Long before I was in this business, they allowed an author two or three books to find their readership and refine their voice. Publishers now expect that the author to have done this in their own time–before they even start submitting to agents and publishers. Publishers want to see a strong manuscript ready for publication AND an already existing fan base (as evidenced by a large following in social media), AND potential sales figures (as evidenced by self-published works that have made a profit), AND future awards (as highlighted by smaller writing awards and publications).

In fact, this hefty CV, which is required for publication, is relatively new. When I started just a few years ago, publishers were still weary of anyone who had self-published. Now, many are happy to read work from an author with a previously self-published manuscript — as long as that self-published title has generated a decent profit.

So, essentially, publishers still want writers to build momentum. Just on their own time.

Here’s the problem, and it’s not with the publishers. I can understand their point of view. Why take the sales risk on an author with no sales or marketing figures, when there are others who have a proven track record of success? And why spend money developing an author’s success, when other authors will spend their own money to do it?

The problem lies not with the publishers but with the authors. They are too ready to jump into the game, and most (I’m talking 99%) of what I’ve read (self-published or slush pile) isn’t ready to be published in any form. Many are even building website, setting up author pages on Facebook and Twitter, when they haven’t even finished writing their first novel. Do not go to a publishing convention or build your social media base when your self-published novel is nothing less than a second draft typed in a pretty format.

So many new writers think that marketing trumps writing, and that all you need is a viral hit and they’ll make it big. Well, they are wrong.

Here’s the secret to being a successful writer. Write. Write a lot. Once you’ve got three or four novels in your drawer, then pass it to an impartial editor. Perhaps you’ll have to pay her, but she will be well worth the £500-£1000 to give you feed back. THEN TAKE THE FEEDBACK AND REWRITE. (A whole other discussion is how many people ignore good advice and then fail.) Then, once you have gone through the process of editing, reediting, writing and rewriting 50 times on one manuscript, self-publish and start marketing. Then, and only then, start building a strong and loyal fan base.

Because here’s the other tip. You won’t get any fans on social media if your writing is shitty. Oh wait. I take that back. You will get a few fans, but they’ll be other writers who started marketing too soon, and they only ‘like’ your work in hopes that you’ll ‘like’ theirs. Believe me, digital publishing is a false economy waiting to crash.

So, there you go. Yes. Publishers aren’t taking the risks. Authors now have to prove themselves as sell-able before getting picked up by a publisher. And you can never sell your work, not truly go viral and show to publishers that you are not a sales risk, if your writing isn’t strong.

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2 responses to “Stop Marketing First

  1. That’s more or less my plan. A lot of the advice out there is that you have to build a fan base before the novel is finished. I agree that is crazy and I am not going to waste my time trying that until I have at least one novel almost ready to go. I can see the point of having some fans of your writing style and subject matter via a blog before you launch, but the rest is dubious at best, damaging at worst.

    However, my problem with this attitude from publishers is that if a self-published author is making a decent profit already via that route, what would be their motivation to give up control and a big chunk of their profits? It seems a bit short-sighted of them. As far as I can see, all they are offering is some kind of kudos of the name, or gate-keeping, the value of which I expect to diminish.

    • The benefit to being picked up by a publisher after good self-publishing sales is that they don’t have to self publish any longer. Self publishing is a tedious laborious task, one that a lot of writers will give up for less profits. Plus the author won’t be risking their own money, and will probably get an advance.

      But glad to hear you are finishing the novel before marketing it. Smart move, and good luck.

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