The Writer’s Best Marketing Tool Is…

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I had planned to post a long and informative article here telling you about all the great resources I’ve discovered around the business of digital publishing over the last week.

I was going to share excerpts from articles by and about Hugh Howey – the Duke of Digital Publishing who has broken all the rules of publishing, re-written them, and still finds time to share all his trade secrets with the rest of us.

I intended to direct you to Russell Blake, a man I like to think of as the Dos Equis Guy of Authors, and another genuinely good fellow who shares what he knows with the writing community – he started an epic thread on the very useful KBoards.com Writer’s Café forum, and then summarized his lesson plan on his blog here.

I was going to mention the very good books I read by David Gaughran, which ought to be considered required reading for anyone attempting to enter the business; or the most outstanding 2,000 to 10,000, by Rachel Aaron, a criminally inexpensive tome that you should buy if you ever intend to write anything at all.

Instead of giving you all these glorious details, I’m going to leave you with this brief summary (which gives you all the bread crumbs you need to follow to do your own research), and present the single most important piece of advice I’ve learned from all of it:

The writer’s best marketing tool is more content.

I’m already at a disadvantage – I don’t even have ONE novel written, but once I do, I can’t just sit around waiting for my sales figures to update on Amazon or spend all my time trying to sell that one book. 

Because if I sell the one book, and it’s any good, readers will want another one.  And if I have another one to give them, they’ll probably buy that one, too.  And the next.  And so on. 

So I’m going to short-change you a bit on this blog post, and spend a little more time on the novel.  Because that’s hopefully what you’d rather read anyway.

The Journey Begins – In Earnest

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Writing for publication has always been a beauty contest.  Whether you aspire to be a newspaper columnist or magazine features author, you’re going to have to submit your work to editors and publishers who will ultimately decide if your work is good enough.  You can spend weeks researching and writing the most fantastic article on endangered salamanders or weekend travel destinations in Yuma, Arizona, and have to suffer rejection at the hands of the industry’s gatekeepers when it’s all said and done.  Your hard work never sees the light of day, and, worse, you never see a dime for your effort.

I know, because I’ve done it, and been rejected over the stupidest of reasons.  Years ago, I had pursued a reasonably successful second career as a journalist.  I had regular columns in two local papers, and routinely produced features for local and national magazines.  The pay was modest, but I wasn’t in it for the money – I enjoyed writing, and took no small amount of pride from seeing my name in print.  But I also struggled with the rejections that I had no control over; especially the ones that had nothing to do with the quality of my work. 

In 1998, I had written a feature for a local industrialist who had the contract for a very large, very expensive, and very visible public construction project.  It was a fascinating, insightful, and informative piece on a powerful and influential personality that few people even knew about.  And it never got printed, because the subject would not consent to be photographed by the magazine’s photographer, and the magazine refused to print anything without their own stylistic illustrations attached to it. 

I could have sold an abbreviated version of the piece to a local paper or tried to find another interested magazine, but it was a timely article that was rapidly creeping towards its expiration date.  It was never published.

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence.  I knew it, and I accepted it as part of the job. 

But I was not ready to accept it as a novelist.  Because I knew that writing a novel required substantially more work, and had a substantially smaller chance of ever getting published.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I knew the math.  My odds were small, and I wasn’t going to commit the time, even for something I loved, only to deal with the high likelihood of repeated rejection and lack of publication. 

So, over the years, I kept journals, wrote small blurbs, came up with character ideas, world ideas, themes, and plot twists (my actual notes are pictured at the top of this entry), and figured I’d wait.  I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for.  Maybe until I was struck with inspiration, or motivation, or early retirement, and had a ton of time on my hands. 

I’m done waiting.

I haven’t retired from my day job.  I haven’t been given any supernatural inspiration.  I haven’t read any self-help books that suddenly kicked me into gear.  I have made a discovery.

Digital publishing has killed the beauty pageant.

Authors are making good money writing novels exclusively for electronic distribution.  They write their own books, hire their own editors and cover designers for a reasonable rate, and then sell them online direct to the public via numerous popular outlets. 

This doesn’t mean you can build an audience writing garbage.  You still have to produce a good novel.  But it’s up to your readers to embrace or reject it – not an agent or publisher. 

I’ve spent most of my spare time over the last week reading two (digital) books on the subject and reading numerous articles, blog posts, and forum threads on what I believe is the most significant paradigm shift in publishing since the invention of the printing press. 

I don’t think this is an exaggeration – for the first time in history, an author can publish full-length books to an audience of millions without having to genuflect before the altar of a major publishing house.  You don’t need to own the press, or invest in ink and paper, or have a global distribution network.  You just need a computer and an Internet connection.  And a decent book. 

I’m going to walk through the process.  Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll share the resources I’ve found and track the progress I’ve made here on this blog.  And if I pull it off, you’ll have no excuse not to try for yourself, because if I can get it done, anyone can.