My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mailbox: You Evil Self Promoter!

I know you pay to promote your Facebook posts!

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I even reply to world famous detectives.]     

Anonymous (of course) writes:

I am disappoint, Chris...if that is even your real name. Back when I was growing up, my parents (both professional writers, in case you were wondering) drilled an idea into my head: "money should flow TOWARD the writer." They said anyone could publish a book if they spent enough money, but a real writer would make money. But you, you're a faker! A sham! A fraud! 

I deduced that you promote your posts on Facebook, falling into that age old of traps for people to pay to be famous. My first clue was how many Egyptians like your Facebook page. Clue number two was how fast your page grew. Then I noticed that I always saw the links to your blog even if I rarely saw one of your image macros. From there it didn't take me long to investigate how well certain blog posts did. I compared the number of likes over the last few weeks on YOUR posts with comics and other linked post. Clearly there can be no doubt. You promote your posts. Don't bother trying to deny it.

That makes you a fake artist, my friend. How dare you give advice to people about how to make it when you can't even make it yourself without paying to have your posts promoted. 

Good day, sir.

My reply:

Are you fucking for real?

Okay Hercule Poirot, you totally found out about that thing that I was making no effort to hide. While you were doing all this "expert" detective work, did you also notice that promoted posts say "sponsored" right in the post? Cause that would have been my first clue. I totally wrote to Mark Zuckerberg (call him Em'ly Z-man cause we're that close) to see if he would keep that shit on the "DL," but thanks to you meddling kids and your dog, now everybody knows.

Yes, I have promoted some of my posts, and let me give you the reasons for that:

1- It's a brave new world. And I love my family.

It's a brave new world.

I don't know exactly when "back when [you] were growing up" was, but I'm going to guess that it was before the rise of social media since you would otherwise be about twelve. And while your being twelve might explain...uh....a few things about your e-mail, you're probably older.

If I go with this assumption, that means you grew up and were given this advice from your parents before the most recent upheaval to the publishing industry and before computers changed...well....everything. Because this was also the prevailing advice for writers when I was growing up and doing a lot of WANTING to be a writer (and a lot less writing) back in the 80s and 90s.

I'm also going to assume you grew up after Cabbage Patch Kids because no one over thirty would use "I am disappoint" non-ironically in an e-mail they expected to be taken seriously....by anyone.....ever.

Back "then," self publishing only meant vanity press, and there were a lot of scams. Not a few dollars to see if you could advertise something, it was more like $20,000 to publish your book and then you still had to buy individual copies. (Though if you're keeping score, John Grisham, published through vanity press and sold his own books out of his trunk at the start of his career.) These days, that advice is as outdated as playing your boom box outside a girls house after she's broken up with you.

Today, they call this "stalking."
What's this world coming to?
Oh all those scams still exist (and there are even a few new ones in the form of "promotional packages" when you do self publishing), but there are plenty of legitimate opportunities as well that have been brought about by computers and the extremely low cost of new printing technology. Self publication isn't the demon it once was, and e-publication has completely changed everything. Self pub is a REAL thing now. Your book gets an ISBN number and everything.

If I've taught you nothing it is that this One True Way™, "holy grail," canon advice path to success through the brambles of traditional publishing will only lead you to Bullshit Mountain. It's one way. It is not the only way. Not any more. That advice is from a time before you could push a button and make fifty copies of something and from back when printing costs meant you needed a 2000-book run to even have a chance to recoup expenses (10k-15k if you're a big six with a bloated legal budget). Today you do a print run of ONE book, sell it for ten bucks, and have enough profit to buy a value meal.

Print-on-demand makes many arguments invalid.

Much like this shark.
Writers who fetishize the validation of a book deal or their big five contract might be fixated on traditional publishing as the "right way," but anyone willing to flip the bird to that "real writer" crap, can make money, be published (in every way that matters), and have groupies right along with the "real" writers. If you want to join them Lord Peter Wemsley, in turning on each other like starving hyenas and competing for fewer opportunities in a retracting and myopic industry that is renowned for its anachronism, elitism, and whitewashed, sexist gatekeepers, be my fucking guest.

Me, I'm okay with ignoring a twenty-years outdated sense of elitist propriety if it means I get to be a writer for a living.

No writer just sits and writes all day and has their agent whisk their manuscripts off to be published. No working writer's skill set is limited to writing and picking up checks from the mailbox. Not even old guard or megastar writers who everyone wants to be in their wet dreams get to do that, and certainly not anyone starting their career in 2014.

To put this into perspective, your stigma went out with jelly shoes and slap bracelets.

This is how hip you look right now.  (topshop.com)

I love my family. 

Okay, Sam Spade, here's where you have to pay extra attention so that you can "cleverly deduce" how well your One True Way™ bullshit holds up when you really look at it.

Every writer has to promote themselves.

Let me say that again.

Every writer has to promote themselves.

It's part of the cost of doing business. In order to find the readers who love your style and subject matter, you have to pique their interest. You want to sit around, writing your stories all day, and never taint yourself with self-promotion? Fine. You will make a dedicated hobbyist. You may write quite well. You may even publish. But without learning the business of writing, you will never pay the bills with your fiction. If you want to do that, you will have to promote yourself. Fact.

Every writer does it. We all have dirt under our fingernails. Cope.

Actually, that's not entirely true. A number of writers never needed to sully themselves with such a thing because they were already independently wealthy (or married money). But for those without the luxury to sneer at writers who dare to tarnish the purity of the craft with their plebeian need to eat and have heat, spending some time promoting oneself is a vital part of being a working writer. These working rich have dominated the culture of writing with their disdain for money for far too long.

Even in your perfect 1980's, traditional publishing world (which these days resembles Alderaan after its encounter with The Death Star), a writer would still have to promote themselves. They would go around to book signings, and do readings and generate interest in their work. Stephen King still does cross-country book-signing tours even though he could write his name over and over on eucalyptus leaves and have a best seller. I've personally watched NY bestseller authors sign books until their hands blistered--usually for fans who want to point out some continuity flaw in something they wrote a decade earlier. It's a part of being a working writer. Most writers hate it, but their publishers and agents haggle out certain promotional obligations.

Small press? You'll have to self-promote even more! There are more books (even in a small run) than the retailers the publisher contracts with. A writer has to run around and get other bookstores to carry their book on consignment and do readings and hit up everyone they ever knew to buy a copy. If anything an author in small press will be more involved in their own promotions than with a big six.

Heck, a book's launch party is just an excuse to try to sell a few hundred copies to friends and family.

Every writer has to self-promote. A five to ten hour week is a pretty reasonable clip for a serious writer with something to sell. I mean Stephen King might do 10 hours once a week at a full day event with a line of fans out the door (all wanting to tell him why The Stand was his last really good book). Reader McWordy might do four hours, twice a week going to a couple of literary events (one to read at and one to watch because it is considered gauche to only go to literary events when you're reading [and will get you un-invited]), and Oldy Oldschoolson might be walking up and down the city going into every local book store to see if they'll sell books on consignment or host a "Meet the Author." But let's pretend that everyone who is serious is going to be spending the same ten hours or so a week doing something that isn't writing for the express purpose of promoting themselves.

And in case it hadn't occurred to you, a writer is probably likely to spend money during these other promotional efforts doing things like buying lunch (or having a couple of drinks if they go to a literary event), so how does that factor into your flowing money equation, Miss Marple?

Oh and here's the money shot, my intrepid investigating friend. All that promotion that your publisher does on your behalf? YOU STILL PAY FOR THAT. Did you think that money came out of the ether? Or maybe that the publisher just pulled the money out of their own pocket? Actually it comes out of your royalties with no choice or control over how it's spent.

I'm totally promoting my latest urban steampunk vampire novel!
Right now.
It's called networking. Shmoozing. Making contacts?
I'm a writer goddamn it!

Many writers in our brave new world use social media to self promote. Actually it's pretty awesome. They have Tumblrs and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and they share lots of fun things to get followers and then promote their work periodically once they've gathered all the eyeballs near by. George Takei has a massive following on Facebook and uses it to pimp out his books a couple of times a week. Social media promotion is incredibly effective--even more so than the physical versions of yesteryear--because it can target people who are actually interested in the work an artist is doing.

Social networking is actually time energy friendly compared to many of its physical counterparts as it can be done in a few minutes and leave the writer free to do more writing.

So yes I'm curious about which social media work best and which are sucking my efforts like lampreys. I watch my analytics closely and I know which media are very useful (Stumbleupon) and which are not worth the amazing amounts of effort they require (Reddit/Facebook). I was curious about how a paid promotion might affect my numbers and so I put a modest budget into Facebook to see how it would work. (Turned out, it was great for finding new Facebook followers but took more money than I wanted to spend to affect my blog numbers.)

I gave up on Facebook (ironically after their most recent attempt to get more pages to pay) and now I'm trying my "advertising" budget through Stumbleupon. Again, it's a modest budget of "imaginary" money that I'm kind of entitled to by virtue of all the babysitting I'm doing, but if it jump starts my numbers and helps me gain visibility (which is absolutely the obstacle in the beginning) then it could be money well spent.

You tell me Sherlock:

What is the difference between going out and spending five to ten hours a week of self-promoting in the "traditional ways" that are considered to "count" where no money ever "flows away" from the "real writer" and clicking a button that costs me half that time (and gets results that are far better because they are targeted to people's interests)? I'd rather spend the money (earned by being with my family) that then frees me up to spend more time with my family.

Or write or read or watch FFM porn.

Seriously, Marlowe, is there any reason other than some anachronistic principle (championed by those with nothing to lose if they were poor in their lifetime) to cling to that outdated advice? Pragmatically, is there some fundamental difference to a writer between the hours spent networking physically and the hours spent watching a baby so that I can network via computers? These aren't $20k scams, conning people desperate to see their name in print; they are measured promotions of a few dollars that may or may not help a writer jump start their career (and can be stopped if they don't work). Is there actually, logistically any appreciable difference between these paths?

And just for the record Nancy Drew, I haven't spent as much money as I've made yet, so money still is flowing towards me. I just happen to reinvest it since, like most writers, I have to have a day job to make ends meet.

The problem with this One True Way™bullshit made a little bit of sense back before the Internet. It was true back when there actually was only one true way. Twenty years ago if you were paying to be published, you really were being taken for a ride. But it's just not true anymore.

Now, that's just a lot of bad advice, straightjacketing talented people into thinking there's some "real" way to go about pursuing their passions and nothing else counts.  I hope we writers, as a collective, get the hell over the publishing industry's stranglehold on our own cultural legitimacy. Because it leads to complete sanctimonious cretins like you.

Good day to you, sir.


  1. Preach, man. my theory: the refusal to self-promote often comes from a place of fear. A writer who self-promotes might still fail, even after all that hard work, but a writer who puts him/herself "above" that can still claim they COULD have been successful if they'd "sold out." That way, the failure is the industry's, not the writer's.

    1. That's a really good point! That may have to be its own article soon.

      I think another part of it also has to do with the unrealistic expectations of talent--that anyone who reads a their work will fall in love and become a walking billboard and so a lot of starting writers seem to have this sense that it'll just proliferate on its own due to the power of awesome.