The Trap of Self-Promotion

I was inspired by a comment left to one of my posts about a month ago, about how author self-promotion is a myth.  It’s been something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot ever since, and it’s encouraged me to work harder.

To explain…

I wrote my first novel in 5 weeks when in was 22 years old in 1998.  I made it up as I went.  It had several titles, eventually I went with “El Presidente.”  It was more of a test to see if I could actually write a novel–I tried starting one when I was in high school, but I couldn’t put together a story on paper that was intricate enough to warrant 50 000+ words.  After that first novel though, I wrote another one in 4 weeks that same summer.   It was called “Well Past Midnight.”  This one, I thought was going to it.  It would be published.  After all, how many people actually write novels?  And good ones, at that?!

Of course, it never got published.  It wasn’t good, but more importantly, I didn’t have a clue about how to get a book published.  But I was young, I was full of ideas, I could type quickly, and kept working.  The next year, I finished my third novel in three months–a long, drawn out process, I thought at the time–a science fiction novel, “How the World Ends.”  This one, I really focused on the editing, revising five, six, seven times.  This was unheard of for me.  All told, I spent a year on it, and felt that this might be my masterpiece.  I’d already accepted that my last couple novels were crap.  This was it.  I’d learned how to submit to publishers, I thought.  And of course, nothing happened.  So, I spend a year and a half on my next novel, “Decaf,” and that seems like a really long time.  Surely, this will be the one.

I wrote my fifth novel a year later, “The Affluentials,” but it took me nearly a year to write the draft, then a year to edit it.  I felt that this had a better chance at getting published.  It wasn’t science fiction.  It was about a man who worked in an office.  And I’d never once worked in an office.  So, unsurprisingly, it was never published.

I started to get the point.   It wasn’t easy to get published.  My next novel, I spent a year writing the draft, and a couple of years editing it.  “The Importance of Being Keegan,” it was called.  I still like the title.  The book, not so much.  Tried getting it published, no luck.  I’d realized that writing is a long, drawn out process.  There was no need in rushing things.  If was ever going to be published, it would be one something that I had really taken my time with.  I used to write every day, every other day, but soon I was writing once a week, maybe once a month.  I’d start a new draft and give up on it.  I had many false-starts after this.   I didn’t want to write for the sake of writing.  I wanted to write something I felt strongly about.  And so, I stopped writing.  I always thought of stories, but I didn’t write.

In this same time, I worked on and off on “The Adventures of Whatley Tupper,” with my friend, Daniel Pitts.  We emailed back and forth, but it was leisurely.  Again, there was no rush.  This book would probably never be published, so why hurry?  This book took three years of writing, two years of editing.  Five years to pen 100 000 words between two people.  Hardly efficient.

Things changed slightly with when I wrote the draft of “The Year We Finally Solved Everything” in the first half of 2008.  It came to be faster than any book in years.  But I still couldn’t publish it.  I had more bites than ever before, including some fantastic editorial advice from Arsenal Pulp Press, but no contracts.  I wasn’t surprised, it was just a fact.

So, when I learned how easy it was to self-publish, suddenly everything was up to me.  I could release anything I wanted.  I could blame no one else.  I started with “The Adventures of Whatley Tupper” because it seemed like an easier sell.   I would spend hours a day online, trying to find ways to promote it.  I became obsessed with checking sales reports, checking forums, checking my inbox, checking Amazon discussions, checking, checking, checking.  Excited when my sales count would tick up.  When someone expressed some interest in my book.

But I wasn’t writing, and that’s what I need to be doing.  After years of not expecting to get published, I forgot how to write each and every day.  But, if there ever was a time to write for the sake of writing, this would be it.  Now, I know that I will be able to publish my next book.  The only question is, will it be any good?  Well, I won’t know until I write it.  And so, I need to keep writing.   I need to find that spark, that energy I had when I was 22–not because I was young, because I’m still young–because I was oblivious to the hurdles that faced me.  There are no hurdles anymore.

OK, this was rather long-winded and off-topic, but these last few weeks, I’ve written more than I have in years.  And, more importantly, I feel good about what I’m writing.  Whenever I feel tempted to check out KindleBoards, I think I should write instead.  Hell, there’s only so much self-congratulating one man needs to read.

There’s no better promotion than someone reading your book, thinking it’s great, and telling someone else–whether in person or online somehow.  The more books an author has, the more this will happen.

3 thoughts on “The Trap of Self-Promotion

  1. rudykerkhoven says:

    Two reasons why I won’t publish those older novels. One, I don’t think they’re worthy of being published. Two, I actually don’t have any of them anymore. I lost a bunch when my laptop was stolen 7 years ago, and then the last couple… well, I don’t know. Between getting new computers and copying files, they’re gone. I know there are printed versions around, but I’m not going to retype them. Like I said, it’s for the best they are unpublished.

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