Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Click Here for Success

There exists in the mind of many a writer an assumption that if you go through the motions of tweeting, blogging, Facebooking and so forth, success is assured. Not so. Just posting or sending "here's my book--buy it," more or less filling in the blanks--doesn't do the trick. The publishers of books about how to "build your brand" and bring customers howling to your site want you to believe that the Web has mystical powers. So do those with services and methods guaranteed to make you a success. They want you to believe that if the Web is stroked and penetrated in just the right way, it will erupt in an orgasm of dollars, Euros, zlotys or whatever.

A huge industry is built upon that kind of wishful thinking--the desire for the existence of a shortcut. A secret technique or set of simple actions that will, through some magical means, make editors and agents notice you, land big advances, and cause people to buy tens of thousands of copies of your book. (And maybe--just maybe--cause that book you haven't written to come into being, or at least make people think a mediocre work is great.)

In 30 years online, I have yet to find a button labeled "Click Here for Success!" that works. If you want promotion that is guaranteed to sell books, buy billboards and network television spots. Just don't count on breaking even.

I started promoting books online for Baen and others in the mid-1980s, and I promoted one of my non-fiction books (about the online world) to sales of over 200,000 copies. But the promotion wasn't done exclusively online. I've also had books sell tens of thousands of copies without serious online promotion (so have Andre Norton, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, and Stieg Larsson--pre- and post-Web).

What have I learned from all this book promotion? That successful promotion is (usually) anchored by a quality product, and Internet gyration is but one element in a larger effort. The secret, if there is one, can be found in promoting your work on multiple fronts. It also helps to concentrate on special niches where you're likely to be welcome.

Going through the motions of promotion doesn't yield automatic success--no more than saying you are a successful writer will make you one. Whether you motivate people depends in large part on what you deliver through the online channels, and the other promotional efforts--about which more in a later post.
--Michael Banks

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