I know I’m not supposed to feel this way, but I’d rather write than promote.
I know that’s a common feeling for many writers; we’re supposedly a shy lot that would rather write behind closed doors than get out there and promote. Thing is, I’m not shy. I’ve spoken at conferences and other places. I do a lot of things the “right” way. And when I do these things, sure…sometimes I see a little spike in sales of the things I write.
And sometimes, despite the greatest efforts taking up a lot of time, nothing happens. I’m fine with that. You’d think when you speak to a large group that you’d see a payoff in sales, but that’s not always the case, no matter how hard you worked. When I speak to a group, I do it not so much to sell things, but to share information — and the reward is chatting with people when I’m done who liked what I shared, even if they don’t buy my stories.
Still, there comes a point where you ask yourself, “Should I work even harder to promote my writing?”
The answer is different for every writer…
I used to be a billing analyst. When I see a billing error on a bill, you’d think that I’d break it all down, have my argument ready, and jump on the phone looking for a fight. I did in the past, but one day, while dealing with the sheer wreck that is the North Texas Toll Authority, it hit me: “I’ve called several times to straighten out this error. I’ve spent over two hours on email and calls, fighting this error. And I still have a lot of time ahead fighting an issue that should have never happened.” That was the day I just started paying, hoping that they’d eventually catch the error and refund the money.
If their error isn’t found — yes — they sucked some extra money out of me and it’s not right, but…my time is worth something. More than the money they sucked out of me, they stole some of my time! Those hours each year spent on the phone, standing in lines, or writing letters/email (or worse, faxes!) could be spent doing something that I’d actually enjoy doing — like writing!
Dealing with billing errors is frustrating. Writing isn’t. Having to explain the same thing to each person you speak with — especially when nobody really listens — is enough to make you angry. I don’t get angry when I write; I love that time in a quiet room just doing my thing. It makes me happy.
My time and — more importantly — my happiness is worth something to me…something more than money. Some may think it’s wrong that I look at it like this — that I should fight for even a dollar in error against me — but my to-do list is usually not overflowing with things like, “Call [insert company name of your choice] and argue billing charges.”
And that gives me time to write…to be happy!
Promotion as Billing Error
Now, I do promote what I’m doing. I sometimes even like promoting what I’m doing. But…I don’t always do all the things I’m told I “should” do — and I’m definitely not one of those loud writers who spends just as much time (or more) promoting what they’re writing than actually writing.
I view promoting like I view billing errors. There are just things I look at and think, “My time can be better spent being happy,” so there are some things I don’t do. Whether it’s picking up the phone and calling to argue a charge for hours or spending hours online and in person promoting my writing, my time is better spent being happy. Sure, I’ve argued medical billing charges scraping the $1000 mark and won, and I’ll do interviews and speak in public and do some bigger things to promote my writing, but I’m happiest when I’m writing.
Writing Makes Me Happy
In the end, it’s about happiness for me. Sure, I’d be happy being one of those rare authors who can write a book every three years and never worry about money again…but that’s not likely to happen. So — for me — it comes down to this: “If I’m not going to make much more than a little money, here and there, why should I put so much effort into promoting?”
My close calls over the years have come through contacts and solid writing — not through promoting what I’m doing all the time. So why should I put so much effort into always being on when it rarely works? Why should I be like that when I don’t like people who are always on?
“How ’bout this great weather?” you say.
And they say: “Yeah, it’s great! You know what else is great? My new book, It’s Great to Be Great! If you have an hour — hell, even if you don’t — I’ll bore you with so many details about the book that you won’t feel the need to buy it, even though I’ll never stop begging you to do so!”
I won’t be the guy at the party promoting his work. I won’t write “what sells,” over what I want to write. I won’t flood my social media feeds and spam the people I know every day, mentioning what I’m up to with my writing. Maybe I’d make more money if I did all that, but I wouldn’t be happy.
Money’s nice, but happiness is priceless.
Too true. Promoting — not so much fun. (Sometimes it can be.)
Making shit up and putting your characters through all manner of obstacles? *Always* fun.
Talking about what I do and why everyone should buy it? Ugh. Makes me feel like I should be wearing a bad tie and selling used cars.
Creating a world and populating it with interesting people? Makes me feel like I’m doing what I want to do, what I *should* do.
So, in short — Agreed, sir. Heartily agreed.
I love posts like this. Writers are writers, first and foremost. Agents, PR people, and readers are promoters. Reversing the roles would be silly. 🙂
Christopher Gronlund says
I do like coming up with cool ways to promote things. But the whole, “Do this, that, and this…” formula leaves me as flat as writing formula fiction.
If I knew my efforts would allow me to write full time and earn a comfortable living doing so, I’d promote a lot more. The reality, though, seems to be this: it’s easier than ever to get something out there (e-books), but in ways, harder than ever to make it. I saw it with independent comic books. There was a time you could crank out a crappy black and white book and break even…maybe even make some money. Then it seemed everybody started doing it; there was so much out there that numbers dropped. Those who rose up didn’t necessarily stand out because they were great promoters…it was more likely that they were just good. With comics being a visual medium, good is more apparent than it is with novels.
So I spend more time writing. Agents and others like my stuff, but I always get, “Too quirky for me,” as a rejection after the praise of creating a great sense of place and story. I have friends who could help me, but they all do genre stuff. Not that I have anything against genre fiction — I like it, and have even written it — but I like what I do even more, so that’s what I do. I tell people this and they say, “Man, write genre fiction and maybe make some money, or at least get physical books on shelves!” but it’s not where my heart is.
So I write because I want to. What happens beyond that is all good. If I rolled all my writing time into promotion, I still wouldn’t see a huge spike in sales, so given the choice, I’ll just write the best books I can write.
Christopher Gronlund says
Shawn: I think you totally hit on it with the sales line. I hear people talk about their books and I rarely want to check them out. If you or somebody tell me about a book, I’ll check it out. But when an author tells me about their book, it’s like standing on the car lot and having some sales weasel try to convince me to buy something I don’t want or need. Maybe it’s because I’m built like a defensive tackle, but I know I can be imposing. I’ve known this since childhood, so I’m generally soft spoken and do all I can to physically say, “It’s okay, the big guy with the wild hair isn’t going to hurt you — I’m very friendly.”
Hyping my stuff, especially in person, seems like I’m putting something on a person they didn’t ask for…so somewhere in my mind, I feel like I’m being imposing. Obviously, I can do things online without seeming that way, and once people chat with me ans ask about my writing, I’ll talk about it. But the act of just talking about my writing and being on all the time is odious. I know people who think they are good at sales because they sell things (and by that definition, they are), but even spam works for some of the bigger spammers out there, even though most people hate it.
Obviously, I talk about what I’m doing here. People who follow The Juggling Writer…some have read the things I’ve written, some haven’t. And I’m fine with all that, even those who like the blog and not my stories. I don’t expect people to buy my stuff in exchange for what I do, here. I like conversations like this as much (maybe even more) than logging into Amazon or Barnes and Noble and seeing that people have bought stuff I’ve written. Maybe I’d feel the two things equal if I made a living selling e-books, but I’d rather chat with people, here, than seeing small sales.
Since I feel that way, selling isn’t as important to me. I like making money writing, but I’ve made more money writing articles than fiction. I’ve made a lot more as a technical writer. There’s nothing I’d rather do than make a comfortable living writing novels, but that’s rare. So…if that’s the case, I’ll just write, be happy, and see what happens without being out there shouting, “BUY MY BOOK!!!”