Dear Josh — an advice column? (Encore)

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to get feedback on my work from a number of incredibly talented writers, Rob Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Kris Rusch, and Steve Sterling to name a few. There have been others, to whom I’m equally grateful, but I don’t wish to be accused of dropping too many names. Those four stalwarts are enough. And I wasn’t the only one on the receiving end of their goodwill. The deal we made when accepting their help was that we agreed to pay it forward. If, God willing, we were able to achieve some measure of success, we promised to help those who followed in our footsteps.

meaning_of_life_1763245I had just such an opportunity not too long ago. A prospective student of mine asked me for advice on the business of independent publishing and self-promotion. My response may be of interest, and I post it here for what it’s worth. I make no guarantees other than that I fully believe everything I’ve said in here is true.

To wit:

Dear <Identities and initial niceties redacted>,

I teach folks how to self-publish. I’m good at it, but when it comes to self-promotion, I’m probably the worst person on Earth to ask! The name of the game these days is “Platform building.” One’s platform is the crowd–hopefully vast–which a writer can influence. You build your platform by being active in social media, through contacts (professional, collegial, recreational, whatever), and by taking advantage of any and all opportunities to put your work in front of people who can act on it. That means they can buy, review, recommend, praise, and/or promote it.

But understand this: the promise you’re making when you embark on this promotional odyssey is that what you’re publishing is top-flight, first-rate, numero uno material. It won’t have sloppy formatting or a wandering storyline. It won’t have lifeless characters or a pointless plot. It’s going to be worth every nickel the reading public pays for it, and more! You’re promising quality, but if you deliver crap–and sadly, all too many indie publishers do precisely that–you’ll condemn your book to failure. Worse, you’ll very likely condemn all your future work to failure, too.

So, make sure you’ve got good stuff to sell, or don’t try to sell it. Make sure it’s thoroughly vetted. If your friends and fellow writers aren’t ecstatic about it, hold off on publishing it. Get another opinion. Figure out what’s wrong, and fix it. You’ll never get it perfect–no one does. But get it as close as you can, because the market is brutally honest. If your stuff sucks, they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms, although they might not say a word, and that’s even worse. The thing you worked on so hard and over which you sweated buckets could just be utterly ignored.

If it’s truly excellent, you might get a few positive reviews. Revel in them! Nasty reviews are much, much easier to write, and disappointed readers are more apt to write them than dole out the happy-talk back pats Mom and Dad give us.

That’s just the way it is.

Best of luck!–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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11 Responses to Dear Josh — an advice column? (Encore)

  1. sonyabravermanaolcom says:

    That’s terrific advice. Thanks Josh.

  2. Gerald Flinchum says:

    Wise words, many thanks!

  3. Dear Josh,
    Your advice is duly noted… and well said. Thank you!

  4. Betty Smith says:

    Promotion? Isn’t that like marketing? I don’t know how I can do that.

  5. Barry says:

    Well said Josh.

  6. Don says:

    As I was reading this after googling the meaning of life a thought (strange) entered my mind which is probably a little out there. It seems taste in music changes by generation (the Beach Boys wouldn’t be popular with today’s music taste) and I was wondering if the same may be true in writing. More subject matter than style but since I read and don’t write it was just a thought Josh. And unfortunately marketing is the vehicle. So how do you become discovered?

    • joshlangston says:

      That’s an intriguing question, and I truly wish I knew the answer. I’ve been told word-of-mouth is a powerful thing, and I have no reason to doubt it. So, maybe the question should be, where does one find the loudest voices, the ones that can trigger a stampede of readers? I believe the good folks who follow this blog are part of the answer.

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