Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guest Post by Andrew Leon: Damn It, Jim...

I'm taking it easy this week, so enjoy the insightful wisdom of the great Andrew Leon.
“Damn it, Jim, I'm a writer!”
Yeah, that's how I feel an awful lot of the time when it comes to dealing with things related to writing. I feel this way because I self-published, but my understanding is that, really, this is how writers are feeling more and more these days as even the big publishers leave the writers to fend for themselves once the book has been published. Unless you're a Rowling or a King or a Martin, the publishers don't have the time to deal with you and selling your book. After all, more than 80% of books that are traditionally published never make back their advance or sell through their first printing. Why should a publisher put out money on marketing and other things for something that's never going to make them any money?
So they leave it for the authors themselves to do.
Some publishers, even large publishers, want the author to take care of all the editing themselves, too.
Looking at the state of the publishing industry, why would I want to pay them (since they keep most of the money once the advance has been earned back (and it can take an awful long time to earn the advance back since most of the money coming in doesn't count toward the advance)) for my work?
The problem, then, is that I'm a writer, and I don't really know that much about marketing other than to know that most of what most people are doing doesn't work which leaves me with a problem: how do I sell my book?
I mean, I thought writing the book was difficult, but that was so much easier than everything that comes after the writing is completed. Fortunately, I'm a (really) good editor, because there is no way I would have been able to hire anyone to edit for me, but most writers can't say that. Most writers do need an editor, and a good editor costs.
Then, there's the cover. Man, that was a tough one. When I first released my book, The House on the Corner, I blew off the whole cover thing. Naively, I thought, the writing should be able to stand on its own. Ideally, I suppose, that should be true, but that's not how it works. I discovered very quickly that people didn't take the initial release of my book seriously because of the lack of art. They'd ask me, “When's it coming out?” and I'd say, “It is out. This is it.” This, with it's plain gray cover and black lettering. They'd give me that “Oh...” look. So I found a great cover artist that would work for cheap! (Actually, he does covers for me, and I edit for him, so it works out, although I owe him a lot more editing!)
After all of that, after you finally have a product in your hand, you have to sell it, and that's the point where I really just want to say, “No! Someone else please do this! I'm a writer, damn it!” Selling is hard, and the skills that go along with selling are completely different from those that go along with writing, but it's something you have to be able to do if you want to get to the place where you don't have to do it anymore, which is kind of unfair, but there it is. In some ways, it's like asking an EMT to do open heart surgery right there on the street.
I've been at this a while, now (the current edition of The House on the Corner is just turning 1), and, still, I have no good advice for anyone out there trying to sell their books. Well, that's not true. I have one piece of advice: keep writing. Seriously. I don't know for sure, yet, but I'm almost convinced that the only real way to sell your book is to show your audience that you have more than one book in you. People seem to want authors they can follow, not just individual books. The biggest reason, though, that you should keep writing is you're a writer, damn it!

You can see a complete list of what I have available hereor on my blog.


  1. I'm still writing even though I really only wanted to do one book!
    I think I panicked when my publisher told me to get my butt online to promote. They do all the physical stuff - review copies, promotions, dealing with stores and libraries, science fiction conventions - but online was all me. Not sure I ever figured it out, but my books are still selling.

  2. Here are all the things I think you could do to help sell your books:

    1. Be on Twitter.
    2. Don't be on Facebook. It's stupid.
    3. Go to conventions with a pile of books.
    4. Have a blog and be entertaining.
    5. Have another blog where you talk about your kids a lot with some mostly-pointless stories that always, always, end up involving toast because it turns out you are obsessed with toast.
    6. 5. is really just for me.
    7. Put some ads on Youtube. I did that. It's fun.
    8. Write to bookstores and ask them to stock your book. I did that. It's no fun.
    9. Put your book in the local library. It won't help SELL your book but most libraries take donations and it's kind of neat to go in and see it on the shelves. Plus, with the Patriot Act and all, you can guarantee that at least 2 members of the NSA will read your book.
    10. Offer to send your book to people if they will autograph it. I did that for a while, too, but it came to a screeching halt when Neil Gaiman never responded to me. That's too bad, too. I thought he was cool.
    11. Write your book as though it were fan fiction on Reddit and hope it gets voted up like that one guy who used his lunch hour to write a story about a troop of US Soldiers getting transported back to Roman times and now he's writing a script for a movie.
    12. Send your book to reviewers and hope they post about it.
    13. Get Katy Perry to hold a copy of your book while she "accidentally" flashes people at a waterpark. I haven't tried this one yet because of the restraining order, but come July, 2017, Katy can expect a letter from me.

    After you've done all of those, and lightning has struck and your book is a bestseller and selling hundreds of thousands of copies, one of the large publishers will come along and offer to sell your book for you and you can then feel like a "real" author. (Paging EL JAMES!)

    In all seriousness, I do very little to market my books, and I sell on average about 10 per month, mostly based (I assume) on people clicking on the wrong link and accidentally downloading my books. Sales is sales, as Stephen King claimed Abraham Lincoln said.

    If all of

  3. Alex: I think you must be doing it pretty well, all things considered. I think I still don't really have the online thing figured out.

    1. But I don't want to be on twitter! And, you know, really, you don't want me to be on twitter either. It would take even more time out of my writing.
    2. But I'm already on FB. Actually, I sold my very first copy of my book on FB. (I wasn't given a choice about FB, btw)
    3. Have you done a convention. I haven't even been to a convention in almost longer than I can remember :(
    4. I have to be entertaining?
    5. I can barely handle one blog, and I don't have that Darth Vader toaster, yet.
    6. Do you have that Darth Vader toaster?
    7. At some point, I'll figure out the whole youtube thing.
    8. Tried the bookstore thing. They all suck.

    Anyway, 10 copies a month is way more than I do, right now, so, maybe, I'll call up Katy Perry. Or is she fading? Who's the next big thing coming up?

  4. Yeah, I think you underestimated the power of a good cover on your first foray with the novel. People really do judge a book that way. You were lucky to find Rusty. He's a very talented artists, and awesome that you two are able to work out a deal.

    I don't look forward to marketing either. I am on Twitter, but not really very active. And I do have a blog I enjoy, but beyond that I have no idea how to get the word out about a novel. *shrugs* I think I'll sink a load of money into a good eye-catching cover though. :)

  5. L.G.: Oh, yeah, I definitely did. I was being naively foolish in believing that people would rely on the, um, actual writing in a book to decide if they want to read it. heh
    And I was completely lucky to get Rusty. He's awesome!

  6. Perhaps it's just easier to never finish a book.

  7. I think you are doing fine Andrew. And your covers look amazing thanks to Rusty :)

  8. Good stuff. I think the real dream of an author is to find a superfan that goes around and does all your selling for you. From there it all starts to blow up.

    Thanks for the plug. I need some praise after a rough week.

  9. Liz: That may be true, and I know many people who have taken that route. While I was writing my first book, I kept thinking about how hard it was, and it was, but, man, it was nothing compared to what it was like after I'd finished.

    Michael: I appreciate that Michael. And, yeah, I don't really know what I'd be doing if I hadn't met Rusty. I'm tempted to say it was fate.

    Rusty: Yeah, I need some super fans. The only problem with super fans is that they, also, have to have people that listen to them. heh

  10. HaHa! This marketing stuff does take some work and I do enjoy it for the most part, but it takes me away from writing. I could be getting so much more done. The writing world has changed so much. Cute post, Andrew:)

  11. Gwen: I don't disenjoy it so much as I hate all the time it takes up, which is considerable. I'd have had my next book finished already if I wasn't busy with all of this extra stuff to get my first book out there and seen.
    Glad you liked the post :)


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