Three Destructive Cliches About Publishing

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?


14 thoughts on “Three Destructive Cliches About Publishing

  1. sally apokedak

    Very interesting post, Dorothy. I came over from the ACFW loop to read. I’m not sure that I agree that these are harmful cliches, but I do agree that they are not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    Your point about timing and the way good books don’t succeed while mediocre books sell wildly, is valid. Your points about marketing and building a tribe are also valid. And yet, I think we need to be aware. We need to try. We need to do all we can do to write well, and to market well. And we need to pray. And then we need to leave it in God’s hands and be content in whatever circumstances.

    That’s my take, for what it’s worth. I’ve never managed to sell publishers any of my novels, let alone sell them to the public, so I’m speaking as an observer, not one who has been in the trenches.

    But I have written a wonderful book that it didn’t sell, largely because my timing was off. So I know that some things are outside of our control.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Kat, Traci, Rebecca and Cathy, thanks for chiming in. Sally, I completely agree with you that authors must try to constantly improve their writing, and must do all within their power to market their books. One of the things my team at Thomas Nelson does so well is to connect the marketing and publicity strategy to some aspect of the book. As the author I’m certainly in a position to know what the opportunities are and to make suggestions to the team. But since I’m not trained as a media or marketing pro, I must depend upon my team to set up blog tours, arrange for media interviews, represent my books to retailers, and so on.

      The view from the trenches is a different one that the one from outside, that’s for sure! Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your thoughtful reply.

  2. Kat Heckenbach

    YES! Thank you! This is SO true. I get completely frustrated by people who act as though there is some single standard of what makes a “wonderful book.”

    And book marketing cannot be the sole responsibility of the author. It just can’t. We may know our work best, but that doesn’t mean we know how to reach the readers who will love it. And truly, *me* saying my book is awesome, please read it, has about 1 millionth of the power of *someone else* saying my book is awesome, please read it. Word of mouth by readers seems to be the number one marketing tool, and we as authors have no control over that.

  3. Traci

    I love this post! Thank you for writing what so many of use were thinking. I just finished Goden’s “Purple Cow” and was amazed that he thought none of the rest of us were trying to “be original” which was the gist of his whole book. Be original. Why didn’t I think of that!

    And the tribe building is especially annoying to me. But you said the reasons why. The social media technology is constantly changing and the people who design and run it want it to remain social, so just as soon as you learn how to market effectively on it, they will change that function. It is for socializing, in the main, not marketing.

    On the marketing/writing side. The authors I now who are the most successful just write more books. Period. They don’t do any marketing. And…they are indies so they don’t have a marketing team behind them at all. They just write and publish books people seem to enjoy. If I had half the focus they have…well…I would be working on the next book now instead of reading blogs! lol.

    Again, thanks for this post. I really appreciated it.

  4. Rebecca DeMarino

    I think you have touched on something many of us feel deeply but are afraid to express! I think authors, by nature, are an isolated group and to many of us that is our comfort zone. It’s one of the reasons we can drop into our create selves and write.

    I’ve been having a time figuring out Facebook, but I think you’ve just explained it. I often wonder why I haven’t seen a post in awhile from someone I like to read about!

    I’m lucky in that my publisher has an excellent marketing team too, and I’m ready to do my part with social media :o) but I do know that if I’m not in my little space writing, I’d much rather be meeting people face to face at a book signing!

    Thank you for your insight! I think you are spot on!

  5. Cathy Richmond

    Amen! RWA research shows readers buy books
    -not because of Facebook,
    -not because of Twitter,
    -not because of blogs,
    but because another reader recommended the book!
    And the best way to increase book sales is to write another book!
    So, back to work!

  6. Rich Bullock

    Good post. Godin has some good points now and then, but he’s not God.

    Except for a few people, I think the whole Twitter/Facebook/Social Media thing is mostly writers talking and promoting to each other (not fans and readers). Way overblown, and I fear it’s only begun.

    In my mind, the No. 1 best place to promote books is reviews on Amazon. Just sayin’.

    I decided that if I’m expected to do most/all (depending on the publisher), I might as well go ahead and do that. So I’m independently publishing instead of waiting on the clogged pub industry. Not right for everyone, but at least I’m getting books to fans who love them instead of proposals to editors who don’t.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Good thoughts, Rich. And you never know, your indie books might pave the way for a traditional publisher, if that is your goal. I sure wish you great luck with your work, regardless of how you ultimately get it into the hands of readers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  7. Ann Shorey

    Great post, Dorothy! How true. Nice to hear someone speak up on the whole “build your tribe” issue. We do all we can, but writing the actual book takes most of our time! As it should be.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Hi Ann! thanks for commenting here. Of course we have to reach out to our readers, try to get more readers, but to what purpose if we don’t have quality books to give them? I agree that the work must come first, and then the tribe building. I hope we can figure out more effective ways of doing so than through FB, which I would gladly give up in a heartbeat. 🙂

  8. Virginia

    I agree with the last two VERY MUCH. I think people believe you can market your way into the bestseller lists. But the fan base has to start somewhere and that somewhere is a group of readers who enjoy your book enough to talk/write/blog about it and then share it.

    The first one I actually find comfort in, when the marketing crazies start up their drumming. I want to write a greak book, the best book I can. So I remember that the very first step is to WRITE A GREAT BOOK. I try to focus on that and block out the rest of the hooplah about trends and what’s hot or not or whether it would fit the right genre.

    I think that writers are being fed a line by an increasingly strapped and frantic publishing indrustry that WE must sell the book. We can do our part, whether signings or being reachable or having a blog, etc. But the biggest seller will always be the book.

    I love that my publisher encourages its group of authors to support each other, rather than pit us against each other. ThThat’s the best tribe I can think of joining: like-minded writers and their readers!

    1. dorothy Post author

      Hi Virginia, Thanks for stopping by. I agree–we have to write the best book we can, every time out. Marketing is a huge challenge and one that I think will grow more difficult for print books as e-books continue to gain ground. It’s a challenging time to be an author.

  9. Ethel Gore

    I read everything you write. It makes me feel closer to you. And of course I think your writings are wonderful.

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