There are fewer words that can make me wince than, “Promote? How do I do that?”
Before I – or any editor – signs an author, we want to know your promotion plan. I can usually tell when someone is just slapping stuff down to make themselves look like they have that promo beast by the short hairs.
But keep in mind that there is always a Judgment Day, that time when you will be called upon to put your promo theory into action. When I refer to your promotion plan, I expect that you have a firm grip on how to go about promoting, so the last thing I want to hear is, “Yo, how do I do that?”
What? Weren’t you the one who sent me your promotional ideas that went on for three full pages? Whaddya mean, “How do I do that? I don’t know what I’m doing.” This makes me suspicious that all those marvelous ideas you put in the promotion section of your proposal was hogwash. Want to guess how many points north that sends my blood pressure?
Fact: Editors do not offer on-the-job-training. We expect that your end is taken care of because we’re busy taking care of the national marketing and store placement. And guess what? A lot of that hinges on the promotion plan. I can have a book that’s been reviewed by Library Journal, blurbed by J.K. Rowlings, and ads placed in Publisher’s Weekly, and the buyers will ask one thing; “What is the author doing to create demand?”
If I bought your book on the strengths of its content and corresponding promotion plan, and you come to me scratching your head mumbling, “What do I do?” I’m going to scream. Loudly. I’ll scream because I gave that promotion plan to my sales folks. They, in turn, will use that to sell your book to genre buyers. If it’s all a house of cards, then guess what? Those books could very well come flying back to our warehouse in the form of returns. And how happy do you think I’ll be?
Publishing is a lot like dominoes. If one block tips over, it affects all the other blocks behind it. That’s what you want. However, if one block is too far away from its neighbor, the rest of those subsequent blocks will fail to fall over. And that equals a lot of unsold books. To avoid this, be a good Girl Scout.
Be the Girl Scout
I keep saying this over and over again – be prepared. Do NOT put anything down in a promotion plan unless you’ve taken the steps to know how to attain those goals. Writing is not a matter of simply barfing out a few thousand brilliant words. Writing is a business, and promotion is a huge part of that business. Gone are the days where we can all be Hemingway and hide out in the Caribbean to write books while slogging too much rum and oogling the Cabana boys who all look like Antonio Banderas. Preparation means thinking ahead.
Think ahead – you may be surprised
I’ve been working on Book 2 of my own series, and I kept hitting a snag. Sure, the premise was rock solid, and the characters well-defined. But I felt my plot had too many holes in it, and I needed something with bigger teeth – a bigger conflict, more to lose. For a long time I considered the Hemingway path of too much rum, but the beagle hid my bottle of aspirin. Then I thought about how I was going to promote it. Who’s my audience? Where am I going to find them? What’s my selling point? My hook? Ah ha! Bingo.
Oddly enough, by thinking about the promotion aspects, the meat and potatoes I’d been searching for for so long popped up like the golden goblet in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
Why should that matter? Think about doing an interview or author event. Do you sit there with your finger planted firmly in you nostril, or do you have something profound to say? If you take that very thought and apply it to your plot, then perhaps one will influence the other, and the promotional aspects will fall into place.
Or you may just stay home and drink too much rum.
I realize I’m speaking borderline heresy by suggesting that a writer should allow promotion to influence his/her writing – and that’s not the point at all. It’s about maintaining a balance so you have your eye on all the balls you have in the air.
I am suggesting that you must keep promotion in your mind while you’re writing because it’s going to become an issue at some point – especially if you have your eye on publication. And then you need to investigate the viability of those ideas. If it’s been rummaging around your cerebral hard drive, you’re going to be more comfortable and creative enough to think of all the possibilities. And in this day and age, that’s a good thing.
He looks good on paper
This refers to authors (and sometimes their agents) who create a promo plan out of thin air to make the author look good. No effort has been put into researching those ideas. Editors hate this because it creates a lot more work and headaches for the us. See, all throughout production we’ve been under the impression you knew what you were doing. Now on top of doing our own jobs, we have to stop to help you do yours as well. Obviously we’ll do it because we want the very best for you and your book, but we’ll be cranky. You do not want a cranky editor. Ever.
It’s like internet dating. The couple exchanges photos and fall in love with each others’ bright blue eyes, trim bods, and dazzling smiles. It isn’t until they meet that they discover they sent each other their old college photos and in reality, they’re thirty pounds overweight, their eyes are rhummy, and their teeth have coffee stains. Thud. Taxi!
Do more than look good on paper. Make sure you’re prepared because there is nothing worse for me than discovering that you have warts on your nose.