Writers who do way too much

Note: Sorry for missing my posting day last week. For the explanation, see Phase Three, below.

Everywhere I go, I hear it: Authors are cutting back on book promotion.

At conferences and on blogs, I hear published writers announcing that they are “scaling down” the time and dollars they spend flogging their books. They’re chopping their advertising budgets, attending fewer conferences, and abandoning blogs. In extreme cases, they’re even turning down contracts for new books—which guarantees that you won’t have to do any promotion.

In a world where most authors get little promotion budget from their publishers, some writers who previously spent tons of time “getting the word out” about their books are becoming more like Greta Garbo. They vant to be alone. Alone, in the company of their word processor.

I call this process the Quitclaim Syndrome. The syndrome usually progress in the following phases:

Phase One: Writer gets published, then spends first year in a giddy travel/networking/book signing spree.

Phase Two: Writer spends so much time promoting Book One that s/he risks falling behind schedule on producing Book Two, but manages to make the deadline by dint of superhuman effort. By now, Writer has spent more money on promotion than the combined advances for all the books, which haven’t even been paid out yet. Royalties are hiding somewhere in a La-La land called FutureWorld.

Phase Three: Writer begins to experience the physical tics of over-multitasking: chronic fatigue, self-medication therapies gone wrong, and desk rage, if she has a day job. Medical intervention may be required. Writer is so exhausted that she plans the promotion of Book Two with a more realistic—even jaundiced—eye. Kind of the way a guy regards the prospect of paying for a fourth or fifth failed date in a row. What’s this worth to me? he asks himself. For way less money, I could have more fun sitting at home on the couch with a beer and a copy of Debbie Does Dallas.

Phase Four: Writer reaches a fork in the road. To continue breathless promotion efforts, or not? Whereupon Writer either A) keeps promoting herself, but not nearly so breathlessly, or B) stops most promotion efforts except for the bare necessities.

Phase Five: Writer returns to more isolated, less frenzied writing schedule, and greater productivity.

Is anyone else seeing this as a trend? Is frenzied book promotion just not worth the effort as much anymore, because the costs are too high and there’s not enough payoff in terms of book sales? Does the whole thing interfere too much with the time it takes to write?

10 thoughts on “Writers who do way too much

  1. I hear you Kathryn! Not sure what stage I’m at (probably the denial one!) but the promotion issue seems to just take over doesn’t it? I too want to find some balance so I can be more productive doing what I love – the writing! It’s exhausting and I wish I had the answer.

  2. I’m with you about the exhaustion, Clare! Writers don’t know what “pays off” and what doesn’t in terms of helping a book take off (besides good writing, of course!). I know some authors who are total high energy self-promotion machines–how they can keep that up plus have a day job and some semblance of a personal life, is beyond me! I hear other established authors saying, “You know, it’s just too much. My books will just have to grow on their own. I’m back to writing and only writing.” Maybe someplace in the middle is the healthy balance?

  3. This is really good information to know before I get sold. Maybe if you ladies, and anyone else who posts to this come up with some recommendations new folks like me won’t get wiped out in the jetwash when we hit whatever “bigtime” comes out way.

  4. This balancing act is a tough one, for all the reasons you list in your post, Kathryn. I remember when I was in Phase One about 12 years ago, my editor at the time gave me great advice: “Never let being a writer get in the way of actually writing.” He pointed to Truman Capote as the poster child for letting promotion take over his life, to the detriment of his writing. Of course, being a bajillionaire eases the blow a bit.

    I confess that over the past few years, I have dialed way back on promotion efforts. As I launch my first series, though, beginning in June of ’09, it’s time to dial it back up a bit. I’ve hired an independent publicist and I’m remaking my website–or, more accurately, causing it to be remade. I’m volunteering to judge a major competition and I hope to contribute to an anthology. I’ll attend my share of conferences and teach a course or two and make as many speeches as I will be allowed to make. All this as I write the next book and continue with the day job.

    The traditional book tour, though, is off my radar screen if it has to come out of my pocket. There are a handful of independent bookstores that really know what they’re doing and cater to my kind of book, and I’ll certainly try to put something together there, but as far as I’m concerned, my days of sitting in a shopping mall bookstore directing people to the Harry Potter section or the restroom are over.

    It truly is about balance, I think. But unless and until a publisher makes a commitment to promoting a book, absent some lightning-in-a-bottle serendipity storm, I don’t think there’s amuch an author can do on his or her own to affect sales velocity.

  5. That sounds like really great advice, John. I call that sitting-in-the-bookstore thing being put in the “gilded cage.” I’ve been surprised that I’m actually pretty good at selling books to people who are merely passing through the store. It’s much better, however, when you go to a venue where people show up who know your work. Basil, I wish exhaustion syndrome were merely a sign of having hit the “big time.”! It comes on when you first get published, and if you absorb the message that all progress from there is a sink or swim proposition. The writing, though, is still always there, and that’s why we do it. We are writers.

  6. OMG yes. I killed myself promoting my last book, and honestly don’t see any way I could maintain that schedule ever again, as the strain almost killed me. Plus now I force myself to turn off my wireless connection when I’m writing, because along with the constant background drone of all the marketing I could be doing instead (I swear I hear little voices a-la-Logan’s Run chanting “Promote! Promote!”), there are way too many other distractions on the web. I check social networking sites weekly instead of daily now, and only skim the various newsgroups I’m in unless I need something specific. But my greatest frustration involves not knowing exactly what worked with each campaign, if I could narrow that down it would save me a ton of time and effort…

  7. Thank you, Michelle! I know what you mean about that constant drumbeat. It’s like having an annoying little publicist sitting on your shoulder, going, “Why are you writing? You should be selling books!” (grin) And yes, feeling much better now, thanks!

  8. Timely post, Kathryn! After 2 years of pouring time and money into promotion, I’m revamping my marketing plans. I spend less time on the road and weigh bang for buck value of each trip I do take. I’m still spending a lot on promotion, but now I’m doing more promotion that doesn’t require me leaving home and my writing schedule. Once an author has a good foundation of readers, I think it works pretty well to do it this way. Authors still need to be seen by their readers, but in more productive, time-thrifty, ways.

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