Writers = Desperate Self-Promoters?

"The best advice for today, and really in any financial climate, is to be fanatical and motivated to promote your book," a Random House editor told debut author Novella Carpenter (Book Publishers, R.I.P?, San Francisco Chronicle). "Do as many events as possible. Become a shameless self-promoter."

I don't know about you, but that job description sucks the creativity right out of me. She's right, of course -- selling books is a bottom-line requirement in the publishing industry. Unfortunately, this focus can lead to a glazed-eyed obsession with Amazon sales rankings and the consumption of massive amounts of chocolate after a not-so-stellar royalty statement.

Not the best atmosphere to inspire the next story.

Career writers have always needed to muster endurance for the long haul. That's why I prefer to stay motivated by a vision statement that reaches beyond a single title or a belt-tightening shift in the publishing industry.

Here's my best advice to the debut or wannabe author of a children's or teen book in this tough financial climate, even if it does sound sappy or idealistic: shamelessly create and celebrate good stories, and be fanatical about getting them into the hearts and minds of young readers.

Photo courtesy of Thorinside via Creative Commons.


Micol Ostow said…
Mitali, I agree! I'd much rather tap away into the void than do a little sales-y softshoe every time a book comes out. But I like your comment about "career writers" and the long haul. And unfortunately, I do think that the promotion aspect is crucial, especially in this climate.
Mitali Perkins said…
Somehow, though, if I keep my focus away from promoting MYSELF and focus on promoting good stories (by many authors) and serving the kids, it fosters creativity.
Anna said…
Haven't published anything yet and of course, I just can say what I think without having suffered in my skin the promos. And maybe Europe is a bit different related to promotion. In America you market yourself a lot more!
But I agree with you. Great stories are easeir to sell and promote because you already have characters and stories that do get inside readers and grab them. If the story is good you should be able to find ways to get them in front of your readers and they will love it, and share it and talk about it (best promo).
bravebethany said…

As a debut author whose book drops in a few days this is timely indeed. It's been an interesting shift from process to product and how to create and self-promote and still stay sane!

I wrote myself a misson statement when I was having my website designed. I am going to go back to that as a touchstone. And as proud as I am of my first book, I get a ton of joy out of "bragging" about other's stories who touch me, and devising ways to deepen the discussion in children's lit.
Mitali Perkins said…
Bethany, congratulations! That's exactly the fuel you need to keep going in this vocation. And Anna, I'm so curious now to find out how authors in Europe manage this challenge.
Kathleen Benner Duble said…
Promoting takes time away from your writing, and there is no guarantee that what you do will actually translate into book sales. It's so frustrating to have a title get great reviews only to see sales lag. I have no idea how to rectify that. So I agree with you, Mitali, just keep writing and bring good books to kids.
holly cupala said…
Amen to that, Mitali! I'll try to keep it in mind as I keep writing book #2 and stress out over book #1!

One thing I think may be unique to this industry is how willing kidlit people are to promote each other - also a great conference strategy, for the unpublished. I love being part of this community.
Anna said…
I guess we do tend to put more weight on the publishers and agents side in Europe. Kids Lit authors go to schools and high schools, and do some signings, yes but it's not them who put their webpages up, who set the appointments with schools, libraries etc. It's the agent and/or (mostly) the publisher who does it.
And authors with no promo from their publishing housese, just don't promote themselfs as you would do.
I've been wondering myself if I should start a blog on my writings (not just the one reviewing others' books that I've been doing once in a while), but as I write in Spanish but talk about writing in English mostly I'm in a bit of a dilema :).
tanita s. davis said…
Mitali, I think you're right -- that's what I keep thinking -- using the story as a vanguard, hold it up in front of me, and walk forward, showing IT to everyone, not so much promoting me.
susan said…
Love you new layout. How you package yourself and your books matter. Authors have some of the most bland blogs I've read. This might sound superficial, but in this age of technology and our real connection to visual stimuli, authors could do better with their blogs/websites.

I'm a reader not an aspiring writer. You didn't ask us, an issue I think that maybe writers should consider when they are thinking of ways to self-promote.

I don't think you should attempt to re-invent the wheel. While you certainly have to learn how to promote yourself and buyers are not buying just your product. People buy from people they like. Why not 1) Ask readers how you can best promote yourself and your book(s) 2) Enlist your readers to promote you and your book.

I do write but I have no professional aspirations. I did work in publishing. I worked with librarians, teachers, other educators and public libraries. I have 20 years in sales. To be good, you learn not to deceive or manipulate, but to listen to what the customer wants, and then match the product with the customer's need or want.

I left publishing and now run a small library with no funding. Founded a lit group and I promote aspiring writers for free. I think I've learned a few things about multi-tasking, continuing to write, and marketing my projects with zero budget. Ask me how I filled a library with 3000+ books initially by collecting recyclable soda cans.

If I'm not banned after this post, I hope I shared something useful. I've been reading your blog for a bit now, Mitali. And we have your work in our library.
Mitali Perkins said…
Anna, interesting! Maybe writers who hate the thought of promotion should move to Europe. Your bilingual skills and presence across the continents create a valuable niche in the industry and good blogging possibilities.

Tanita, I like the notion of story as vanguard. Isn't the web a perfect place to promote for shy writers?

Kathleen, you already do what Susan recommended. Your authentic voice comes through in your web presence, and that's good promotion.

Susan, thanks for that sales wisdom. Very helpful. How inspiring -- a library funded by soda cans! Tell us more.
susan said…
I don't like to highjack a post so I'll try to keep this brief. Before the Yes I Can was the Obama slogan, I was using it and I was referring to cans- go figure. In short, I approached parties at my company about getting permission to collect the cans from the rcycle receptacles we had around the building. I explained I ran a group for girls and that I was trying to build a library. The powers that be were happy to support us. Later, I posted notices on our intranet promoting our group and our efforts. From that effort I gained private customers who saved their bottles and cans for our group. I created a wish list on Amazon. Created an e-mailing list of donors, friends, anyone who ever expressed an interest in our group, Color Online and kept them updated about what we were doing. For five days a week for little more than a year, I collected the cans, used the cash to buy books and library supplies and prizes for contests I ran out of the library.

I no longer collect cans, but I write a blog, run an online discussion forum, manage a wish list and participate on book trading sites to continue promoting our group and acquiring books for our library.

In the future, I'd like to file for 501.3c status. All in due time. Did I mention I work a regular full-time job and I have two daughters of my own?

Thanks for asking.

I wish you and others, continued writing success.

clindsay said…
It's all well and good to just write great stories. But remember: your publisher is going to spend very little time promoting you, and you know that going in. Therefore you can't really cry foul if the book isn't a success and you as the author didn't do everything in your power to help it become a success. And as an agent, I choose not to work with an author who won't commit to meeting the hard work necessary to becoming a successful published writer.
Anna said…
I guess it will start to be the other way round in Europe as well. As companies have more tight budgets, authors willing to sell will have to turn their efforts to learn from you all, and promote themselves. Some European ones started to put up their webpages, and some blog, but it's not as common as it is in the States.
But at least promotion on the net it's not that scaring as it seems in person :).
I'm not scared to be with a bunch of kids, been there, done lots of things with them (telling tales, making crafts, dancing...) but it's the other parafernalia that scares me.

I'd also love to learn more from Susan. Is there a blog or a website on your project?

Thanks for the blog Mitali. It's a great place :)
Mitali Perkins said…
Colleen, notice that my advice includes "be fanatical about getting them into the hearts and minds of young readers."

That's promotion, but with a subtle shift of focus from self-promotion to story-promotion and reader connection.

In my experience, that shift empowers many authors to become stellar promoters and great at sales out in the marketplace.
Jennifer Brown said…
Love this blog! I've been working so hard on "getting out there," I've found myself with precious little time for writing. And even when I am writing, I'm not feelin' it, because I'm so worried about "getting out there." It's really beginning to get depressing. This morning my plan was to do what needed to be done and get down to the story at hand. You've re-motivated me. Thanks!
beckylevine said…
On a bad day, yes, that statment could strike me with paralysis. In general, though, I'm trying to have fun thinking about promotion. I LOVED Cynthia Liu's online launch party and got a bit inspired by it, thinking about me trying to do a video! Here's how I'm trying to see it. I have always been limited in my creativity--it's all words, words, words. Which I love! But I do tend to stay a bit narrow, away from visual arts and any tactile, 3-d crafts. This feels like a place, a reason, to stretch my boundaries a bit--if my writing isn't worth it, then what is? If that makes any sense! And, yes, I want to keep pushing myself on the writing itself, too, but sometimes thinking as though it'll really, truly, get out there acts as an additional motivator to get back to the computer and work!
susan said…
Hi Anna,

I run Color Online. In the past I ran a book charity, Books For Kids.Essentially we sponsored schools or youth organizations and committed to getting them a minimum of 200 books with a goal of 400. We sponsored 8 schools and exceeded goal each time. My work territory was the east coast, Miltali's backyard as a matter of fact. We sponsored schools across the country. I published an e-zine and ran an online poetry critique forum. I ran all these programs while working full-time. I share this to say, I've been committed to promoting literacy and a love of reading for most of my adult life. I'd love to hear from you.

jenniferjabaley said…
great blog and timely for me. I've recently started online promotion for my debut YA that releases in the summer and it can be a total time suck! I must remember the reason I'm promoting in the first place is because I put pen to paper and wrote!
bostonerin said…
Sage words, Mitali! One thing that's made my debut even more fun is having a group of other writers to share my experience with and cheer on as their books come out. There's room for so many stories on the shelves, and it's so important to share great work with readers.
Mitali Perkins said…
Congratulations to all you debut authors! I've been so impressed with your community spirit and championing of one another's books. That's the right way to promote.