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.
I 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.
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