To Promote or Not to Promote: An Existential Question

It’s no secret that publishers do little these days to promote most books but that there’s an infinite number of steps authors can take to fill the void, from DIY to hiring an outside publicist. Nor is it a secret that even the most exhaustive efforts can potentially get you….almost nowhere in terms of sales.

This may be why many authors opt not to do much promotion if any aside from what their publishers have planned (typically mailing out galleys and ARCs to reviewers) and to focus their energies instead on what they really love: writing.

That’s a perfectly understandable and admirable choice. As agent Donald Maass wisely noted in a comment to one of my recent posts on Writer Unboxed, “The better bet [rather than spending too much time or money on promotion] is to write a killer Book #2.”

In an ideal world that’s what we’d all do. That world would be delightfully zen, free of the complications that come with drive, ambition and a desire for recognition. Free, too, from any need or desire to try to make a living from our craft. Our next book might be that killer or it might not; in the end its destiny is something we don’t control. But it wouldn’t matter and we’d be content to keep on writing.

In reality, though, most of us need or yearn for more. We certainly need to pay the bills, and would love to see our writing play a role there. We may have spouses or partners who are eager (read: impatient) to see us ‘taking action’ beyond drafting and revising to make that happen.

More importantly, though, we also crave some form of recognition and have deep-seated desire to interact with readers, to share with them from that wondrous, visceral place where our inspiration was born. It’s only human. Otherwise, why would we choose to publish at all?

A bizarre catch-22 can even lead writers to lose inspiration altogether in the absence of reader interaction. Not just readers from our inner circles and critique groups, but the total strangers we hope to reach and touch. Pouring our heart and soul, our energy and time into an endeavor we can barely share leaves us utterly drained. We start to wonder: Does our writing matter? Does anybody care? And if not, how can we define ourselves? Does our writing — do we — exist at all?

On the flip side, unexpected feedback in almost any form — from reviews and feature articles to tweets and thank-you notes from people we don’t know — can lift our spirits until we’re giddy with joy and hope. Then suddenly — voilà! — we’re able to solve a disheartening plot-line problem in our new WIP, or the ending shifts into focus.

And that’s where promotion adds immeasurable value. If you crave or thrive on interaction, if you get a buzz or simply profound satisfaction from seeing your book’s cover in print or online and knowing that somewhere out there at least a handful of strangers are seeing it too; if you feel that a big part of the writing journey is spending time with readers out in the world — whether at bookstore talks, conferences or on blogs — and if this nourishes your creative spirit in the way you need to keep on writing, to keep on striving for Killer Book #2 — I’d say that even if it means investing time and resources, your choice is clear.

The same goes if you feel you’d have no real peace of mind or sense of closure if you didn’t proactively do what you could to spread the word about your book, giving it and your writing career more of a chance to suddenly take off. Though rare, this does happen.

If you hire outside help, promotion can bring other gifts as well: support and mentorship, hand-holding, and the comfort of knowing that you have an ally in the often lonely and confusing world of publishing. For self-published authors, this can be a life-saver.

Of course, if simply having an agent and / or an editor and time to write is all you need, consider yourself blessed, get offline right now and get back to work on that Killer!

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