by Angela Jackson-Brown
Most days, I enjoy being a writer. But there are days when I ask myself, “Why am I doing this again?” The days I dislike the most are the marketing days. Instead of working on my next novel or having imaginary conversations with Gayle and Oprah about my current book, I have to put aside my creative hat and focus on my marketing hat. Just last week, I made fifteen phone calls to bookstores about possible book signings. I sent out more than fifty emails to HBCUs in hopes just one or two of them will adopt my book. I also emailed book clubs, book reviewers, and members of the press about the release of the book and upcoming events. Because of COVID-19, I didn’t get to do any face-to-face events, but normally, upon releasing a book, I usually visit about half a dozen bookstores and give out tons of flyers and postcards. I have made posts to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter urging my family and friends to write reviews and post them to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, and Goodreads. Weekly I am updating my website, and providing content for my Patreonaccount. And I’m not even counting all of the hard work my husband Robert and other friends have done to try and get the word out.
Whew. No one said this writing thing went beyond sitting at a comfy desk with a nice mug of tea while the writing muse washes over me.
Before you say, “Blah, blah, blah, stop complaining. Wasn’t this your dream?” Let me just say, yes, you are right. But it doesn’t change the fact that this part of the process is not fun. I am an extroverted introvert, meaning, I can turn on the charm when I have to, but in all honesty, a great day to me is a day when it is just me, my muse, and my keyboard. Making phone call after phone call where I have to spark enthusiasm in the hearer on the other side of the phone is not my idea of a good day, hence why I never went into sales.
I was teasing a friend the other day when I said I had heard everything this week except, “It’s not you. It’s me,” when I called various bookstores trying to set up book signings. Nobody told me that most bookstores are not interested in granting signings unless you are already well-known. Whodathunk? It’s like being back in the day when I was a new job hunter, and I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have a job. And yes, I have had a lot of positive press, but I am still not considered a top-tier author. That day is coming (I hope), but until then, the labor is HARD! But you know, in spite of that fact, those of us who write and publish can’t give up. Even if nine out of ten people turn us down and make us feel like our life’s work is not much more than a blip on the radar screen of publishing, we can’t give up.
So here are some tips that might make things a little easier for those of you who are just getting your feet wet in the publishing arena:
Make sure you spend some time building your presence on social media BEFORE you publish your first book. Promoting your work becomes a little easier when your friends, family, and colleagues are also helping to get out the word. You don’t have to be on every social media platform, but make sure you are at least on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Most publishers are going to Google you to see if you have already begun to establish a name for yourself.
Get ready to be a cheerleader for your work. If you are too timid to shout about your books, no one else will. Publishers do not spend a large sum of money on new writers, so it is up to you to figure out how to promote your work yourself. Be creative. Think outside of the box. Yes, there are authors who write in isolation and never interact with the public and somehow find a way to get their work to its intended audience, but really, those writers are few and far between. Make sure you enter into the publishing process believing you will have to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing your work. Even those who publish with the large presses are finding themselves having to utilize their skills as marketers to plug their work.
Get organized. I have half a dozen templates of letters, emails, press releases, etc., so when I find a new outlet to send material to, all I have to do is tweak my template and then voila! It is off to my new potential resource without my having to spend hours recreating the wheel. I plan my social media posts days in advance when it comes to promoting my books. I keep up with my events on Outlook and my website. I keep notebooks all over the place in case I need to jot something down as it relates to marketing my books.
Schedule your marketing day so that you are not trying to market your work and write creatively on the same day and time. There is nothing that will suck away your creativity more than knowing you have to send off press releases, type up mailing envelopes, or talk on the phone with individuals who might be lukewarm, at best, when it comes to talking to you about your work AND THEN turn around and work on a chapter in your book.
Delegate or ask for help. Once you are in publishing mode, you need a team—a team of unpaid (or paid if you roll like that) “staff” who can take some of the burden off your shoulders so you really can spend more time being creative. I am lucky. I have a publicist at my publishing house—BUT she isn’t just MY publicist, so that means she can’t drop everything whenever I need/want something done.
So, I offer you writers this advice, not to discourage you but to prepare you for those days when the writing life is not a whole lot of fun. Just remember, unless you are already Alice Walker or Toni Morrison or any of the other rock stars of publishing, don’t expect the red carpet to automatically be rolled out to meet you at every venue you imagine yourself reading in. Unless you are a literary giant already, don’t expect The New York Times to come knocking down your door to review your book.
Instead, treat your writing like it is truly a business venture. In the beginning, there may not be very many individuals believing in your work besides you and your good old Aunt Susie. And that is okay. Just make sure you help Aunt Susie learn how to tweet, because, really, initially, she might be all you’ve got.
Angela Jackson-Brown’s latest book is When Stars Rained Down, published in 2021 by Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins. She is an award-winning writer, poet, and playwright.