Saturday, August 31, 2013

Creating a Buzz

I posted a new writing comic on my So You Write webcomic today! Click it to read the big version.

This was inspired by a conversation I had with a guy online some time ago (before I got signed to any agents). He believed that the best way for me to get an agent would be to create a PDF of my entire book and make it available as a download from my website. Apparently if it got very popular that would totally make an agent want to work with me.

Never mind that agents and publishers tend to be interested in work an author has released to the public through their own devices--a.k.a., self-published--VERY RARELY if it hasn't sold a very high number of copies. The figure I've heard is around 5,000 copies sold in less than six months. (Sold. Not given away for free download.) Unfortunately, some people's idea of a lot of copies is around four dozen, and some people's idea of a lot of copies is a few hundred. They don't understand that buying a book without acquiring first worldwide rights is a different thing, and publishers have to believe you're worth it if that's the situation you're in.

You hear about blog-to-book contracts sometimes, and you hear about people getting discovered after, I dunno, getting a deal for writing a bunch of fanfiction and then changing the names so it's no longer technically a knockoff of an established work. These things make the news because they are WAY rarer than most people think. They're like winning the lottery. You don't get these deals by being a fantastic writer. You can't arrange for it to happen to you, though being a good writer and a well-connected social media guru can certainly help your numbers. But they most often happen to good books because of luck. Someone reviews it and it somehow gets back to a celebrity or a person who has a lot of Twitter followers. Or the author has an inspirational situation and the support goes viral. Or the author knows a well-connected author and gets their support. There are tons of great self-published books out there that will never get this treatment. The most likely way for you to get a contract from a big company is still to find agency representation and sell your book to a publisher.

Does creating a buzz matter? Not really, for fiction. That is, not really for getting fiction published. None of the publishers who have considered my work have asked my agent whether I have a lot of Twitter followers, whether I've gotten positive reviews on my short stories, or whether I am hooked into my fanbase on Goodreads. And furthermore, my agent didn't ask those questions before she signed me. Fiction is primarily about the book--and its marketability. The publishers are marketing experts. They know they can generally do a much better job than you can, though your job as an author certainly involves promotional events and social media. They do not make a decision to offer you a book contract based on whether your work is already popular.

For nonfiction, it's completely different. I'm trying to sell a nonfiction book too, and suddenly all that social media and cultural relevance stuff is important here. So my book proposal, designed to show that there is interest, points out my film appearances, magazine interviews, published articles, public speaking experiences, and popularity in my community. (I don't honestly feel like 2,000+ subscribers/350,000+ views on YouTube is a lot--viral sensations would laugh at me--but it's also not small potatoes, so it's reasonable to mention.) I have a decent following on Tumblr (around 1,000) and not so much on Twitter because I don't tweet enough, and I very rarely actively promote anything to try to get followers or subscribers, but just creating content seems to have worked well for me. But if I say something through one of those channels, people generally listen, and the content is interesting to them. Having that is important if you're doing nonfiction, because who the author is matters more than what the author's writing. They want you to already have a platform. For fiction, you rarely hear about platform until after they've expressed interest in your book.

And that's why no, I'm not putting my book up for download on my website. :)


  1. I read the conversation that inspired the comic. That guy was a total douche for sure, but his first message is something I've encountered often, particularly in places like reddit. I try really hard not to be so snotty and judgmental against self-publishing, but there's always That Guy who introduces it like the new, awesome, fool proof way to get super rich without the evuhlllllllll intervention of publishing houses (or, as that Jake guy tried to say, as a way to get discovered). Either @_@ It baffles me.

    But anyways.
    I'll always be glad that author's aren't really expected to have massive followers before seeking representation. I could not do it >.>' The only major social networking site I use is twitter, and most of my followers are high school acquaintances who somehow keep tracking me down and following me. Or people who want me to follow back and unfollow me as soon as they realize I haven't done so.

    So yeah o-o I'm content with leaving 90% of the marketing stuff to the professionals.

    1. Yep, these people who think self-publishing is the easy, slick way to get popular usually have no idea what they're doing. And even though I'm totally against it for my own work, I've repeatedly defended other people's choice if they decide it's what they want (as long as they're not being misled by some company or operating on misconceptions about what to expect). Self-publishing is basically STARTING YOUR OWN TINY BUSINESS THAT HAS ONE PRODUCT. People don't seem to understand that.

      Putting your book up to sell through your own website is a pretty terrible idea unless you already have a big following, though. There's no denying that Amanda Hocking did something that worked for her self-publishing, for example. But if you don't know how to get a following, it doesn't really matter how great your book is, unless you get lucky.

      And yeah, for fiction I was not asked about my following before, during, or after signing a contract.