Sunday, January 29, 2017

Three Big Questions About Novels, Three Possible Answers

I got an email from a writer. His three questions to me were:

1) How should I publish a novel?

2) How should I market and promote a novel?

3) What do you love about marketing and promoting? 

Because he was in the beginning stages of research, my answers were somewhat different from what I've blogged about before. Similar information, certainly, but new packaging.

Here is my response, slightly edited.

Dear Writer,

As for your first question, self-publishing is the default choice for most writers for two reasons.

First, the big New York publishers won't touch most writers because they don't have sufficient platform, i.e., the persistent rumor that Saul Bellow couldn't get a novel published after he won the Nobel Prize because the big publishers decided he simply couldn't sell enough books. But Paris Hilton can get a six figure advance. For most unknown writers, pursuing a New York deal is a waste of time and energy because the likelihood of a positive result is very small. And for those writers who do succeed in getting such a deal, 95% of them are dropped before the option on their second book is exercised. Once they are "orphaned," they are in a worse position than before they began the process. (Much of this information from a talk given at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference by Michael Pietsch, current publisher of Hachette - world's largest publisher - and former editor-in-chief at Little Brown.)

Second, small publishers won't give you any advance money and they still take 90% of your profits. (It is axiomatic that an advance is nearly always the only money a novelist ever sees from a traditional publishing deal.)

That leaves self-publishing. The supposed downside to going it alone is that you have to do all the selling of your books. But what new writers don't realize is that you always have to do all the selling of your books regardless of how you're published. Only when you claw your way into big recognition - Lee Child, Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly - will the publishers begin to hustle your work, but not before. And even those biggest of authors, all they do is work. There is no easy way...

As for your second question about marketing, my blog explains every step of how I have marketed my books and built my brand. (Click on the "On Writing" label in the right sidebar.) You have to write good books. Most of the time, those books need to be in a series. You have to have professional covers that all go together. You have to constantly get your books in front of thousands of readers.

There are a few one-book wonders out there, but they are very rare. And often times, it turns out that the whole concept is a fabrication and the author has written many previous books under another name, and the publisher is aware of, and focused on, that when they sign the writer to publish under a new name.

As for your third question about what I love about marketing, there isn't a great deal that any writers I know enjoy about promoting themselves. Although meeting readers - book clubs, library talks, festivals, etc, is always fun.

We are all introverts. Promotion is simply something you have to do in any business. Think about restaurants as a business model. Seriously. You have to have multiple good entrees on the menu to get people coming back for more. You have to keep adding to and adjusting the menu. You have to have good signage. You have to get the media to write about you. You have to get lots of reviews, and they have to be good. You have to have a theme or high concept to your presentation to set yourself apart from everyone else.  You have to be constantly involved in your community, whatever you perceive that to be, i.e., this is not a "Build it and they will come" enterprise. Maybe J.D.Salinger could do it 60 years ago. But I doubt it can be done today. Last, you have to be open long hours, i.e., there are few if any successful part-time authors. Successful authors generally work double time.

Here's a way to sum up what writers are up against and a good thing to keep in mind as you frame your plan. A writer needs to have an answer to the following questions: On any given day, Amazon has hundreds of thousands of free Kindle books available for download. So why would a reader pay money for my books? And what do I need to do to make that happen?

At this point, you are probably thinking that I make marketing/selling novels seem very difficult. That is probably true. That is also something that can help a writer be better prepared, and the better prepared one is, the better chance of success.

Good luck!



  1. Replies
    1. Lemme think... The title begins with TAHOE. The publication date is August 1st, 2017.

      Seriously, the new book is in the pipeline, and I'm proud of it. So I think you'll like it. But we haven't even decided for certain on the title!!

      Soon. Very soon.

      Thanks so much for your interest!


  2. We're excited for the new one!!! The new Todd Borg book makes our summer!!!