We’ve heard them so often they’ve begun to sound like a broken record and they are decidedly unhelpful. Here are three cliches I wish would go away.
Write a wonderful book . Well, we all intend to write a wonderful book every time out, don’t we? I’ve never heard a single author say, “I think I’ll write a mediocre book.” But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In our case in the eyes of readers, including reviewers. What one reader lauds as fabulous, another criticizes as hackneyed and boring. What one reader praises as a book she could not put down, another confesses she could not finish. And so on. In bookstores and libraries, mediocre books that became huge hits by virtue of luck, timing, or brilliant marketing sit side by side with well- written and well- reviewed books that sank like stones. A “wonderful book” is highly subjective and impossible to define. If we all agreed on what a wonderful book was, then editors would buy and publish only those books that fit the definition. Nobody knows which books will somehow break out of the pack and become “wonderful” . It really does not help struggling authors to tell them to “just write a wonderful book.”
You are the best marketer for your book. It’s true that authors know the content of their novels better than anyone else. And it’s vital that authors work alongside the professional marketing team at the publishing house to take advantage of every possible marketing opportunity. My publisher does a fabulous job of this and I am eternally grateful, because like most authors I’m not a marketing professional. Most of us don’t have the training, the contacts or the financial resources to develop and execute an effective marketing plan. Many are not proficient in managing social media venues which seem to multiply faster than rabbits at a carrot growers’ convention. Putting the responsibility for marketing a book on the author’s shoulders only adds to the pressure generated by the admonition to write a wonderful book.
Recently a publishing executive wrote ” If your book does not do well, the marketing director will go on to another project, but your career is on the line.” (Emphasis mine) This seems to imply that an author–with little or no background in marketing–must somehow find success in the marketplace if he or she is to continue writing and publishing. If authors are truly superior to formally-trained marketing professionals and if successful marketing efforts are the author’s responsibility, one has to wonder why publishing houses simply don’t do away with their marketing departments. What do those folks do all day if it’s the authors who are out there desperately trying to gain traction in a crowded and increasingly noisy marketplace?
Build your tribe. A few years ago everybody jumped onto Seth Godin’s bandwagon. Authors were asked to read his book Tribes as a blueprint for developing a readership. I read it. I underlined passages. I understand the idea of becoming a “leader”–someone readers will want to follow. But as a practical matter this little book, so disorganized and random, is not very helpful to fiction writers. It might be of benefit to small business owners who need to learn how to motivate and inspire their workers, but for an author? Not so much. Just look at the changes that have taken place on Facebook–a major venue for so-called “tribe building” — in the past several months. First everyone was forced to the new Timeline ,whether they wanted it or not. Then all users received new email addresses. Then the “promote” icon began appearing on posts, offering to distribute the post to more of one’s followers…..for a price.
Did you know that a Facebook user may have thousands of “friends” on a profile page or thousands of “likes” on an author page but because of the way Facebook manipulates the posts, something called EdgeRank, only a fraction of those will actually see any given post? For example, I have around 2200 “likes” on my author page, but only a few hundred of them see any given post unless I pay Facebook to “promote” that post and even then, it does not go to all 2200 people.
Of course it’s important to grow a readership. No one wants to write books that nobody reads. But readers are fickle, and increasingly less discriminating in what they read. Unwilling to pay for books, they prefer to read whatever they can download for free or nearly free. I’m not sure what the answer to growing a fan base is. All I know is that when I am told to build my tribe through social media I want to run screaming from the room.
What about you? Have you heard these cliches? How do you feel about them? Helpful? Or Harmful?