Q4 ANSWERED – How can I do self-marketing and self-promotion as a new writer?

How can I do self-marketing and self-promotion as a new writer?


This is a challenging question because as a writer, you devote time, energy and focus to your craft. Unfortunately, to sell your work, you must somehow market and promote your material. Many writers either do not make the time for this energy- and time-demanding work. The writers with deeper pockets buy the services of publishing companies.

New writers disadvantaged
New writers are disadvantaged from the outset. Nobody knows them, they have no published persona, they aren’t on any bookstore shelves and likely not in any library. For these authors living in Canada, a double whammy: not known and not promoted by anyone in the industry. Read what the founder of Diaspora Dialogues writes about the disadvantages facing authors who are about to publish.

Don’t judge a book by its coverage

HELEN WALSH
CONTRIBUTOR

Recently, I listened to my first episode of “Agent Provocateur,” a publishing industry podcast. The topic? Celebrity book clubs. The consensus: they’re the antichrist, feeding pablum to intellectually lazy readers, a.k.a. “entertainment consumers,” who read popular books for fear of missing out.

The famed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami once said: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

I don’t disagree. My work running Diaspora Dialogues is devoted to mentoring emerging writers across a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, genres and writing styles. The mentorships are free-of-charge, and specifically designed to be accessible to young, emerging, newcomer and low-income writers. Participants often write challenging, compelling stories involving race, gender, and migration.

The podcast used the Murakami quote in a different context: to disparage book clubs (along with book bloggers, social media influencers, and makers of book lists) as being not good for literature.

I think literature can take care of itself. What concerns me are opportunities for writers, in particular debut and unknown writers, who are disadvantaged at every step of the publishing process. And that entrenched Canadian attitude against anything populist or commercial doesn’t help.

There are myriad big challenges facing publishing, all of which have a knock-on effect for authors. Ongoing consolidation of the multinational publishers narrows potential markets. Canadian-owned presses, quaintly referred to as the “in-dies,” face issues of scale, access to capital and inadequate government support on the global arena.

Of course, there are also COVID-related challenges — and more recently, supply chain issues that will affect the availability of books well into 2022.

As the podcast noted, influencers and book clubbers have real power now, part of the disintermediation of traditional gatekeepers and lipo-suctioned book review sections. Whether you see that as a positive or the end of civilization depends on how much you benefited from how things used to be. And that’s informed by how well-known you are, the extent of your network, and how rich your publisher is.

Blogging, newsletters and social media posting are essential to raising awareness for books in ever-busier publishing seasons. Many writers don’t want to invest their time that way. But the upside is building community and readership, versus a lottery chance of being reviewed in a major publication or being showcased in the window at Indigo.

Let’s face it: many facets of this mom-and-apple-pie industry are monetized. Prominent placement on bookstore display tables. Inclusion in holiday gift-buying guides. Some reviews. All buzz is created, and publishers with sizable publicity staff and higher ad budgets have an advantage.

Books are a popularity contest, and not just by celebrity book clubs. Publisher sales teams, booksellers and the media are powerful gatekeepers, who can make or break a book from a new or unknown author. They are influenced by books showcased in industry trades (often American) and book fairs that happen months before publication. Too often these gatekeepers make conservative choices, trending towards the proven bet.

It’s easy to understand why. As readers, we all eagerly anticipate books by authors we love. We gravitate toward sequels and series. But what that human instinct translates to on the industry side is disproportionate attention paid to books published by multinational publishers and to established authors.

Imagine a world where bookstores (and media) actively promoted lesser-known authors. Where festivals always matched high-profile writers in events with those starting out. Where Heather Reisman used her considerable power by picking titles by debut or small-press authors for the “Heather’s Pick” program.

In Indigo’s quest to differentiate itself from Canada’s biggest bookseller (Amazon) and leverage its homegrown brand identity, it could make being a bold talent spotter of new voices a priority and a hallmark of its marketing strategy.

And while we’re at it, let’s revamp our bestseller lists to include eBooks, audiobooks and books sold globally (where the foreign rights are held by a Canadian publisher), none of which are currently captured. Those lists influence book buying and book reviewing and should be more accurate.

I read hundreds of submissions a year from emerging writers. They don’t feel constrained by old arguments about literary versus commercial, or the value of a newspaper versus Instagram review. Let’s meet that bold energy with a more level playing field and an expansive view of what’s possible.

Authors who offer up new worlds, new perspectives and new writing styles are those we should hear more from, not less. If you only read the books that everyone else is reading…

HELEN WALSH IS THE FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF DIASPORA DIALOGUES, CANADA’S PREMIER LITERARY MENTORING ORGANIZATION. SHE LIVES IN TORONTO.

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