Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writing and Prostitution?

Writing is like prostitution
First, you do it for love
Then you do it for a few friends
And finally you do it for money.

I wish I could remember who said that. I used to have it on a poster, hanging in the home office I rarely used. There is some truth in what appears at first glance to be a humorous statement.The selling of the author is, in a sense, very much like prostitution.

A fellow writer recently asked me how to promote his novel. I was giving some thought to this when I agreed to do a blog interview--in which that same topic came up. I have to admit that I came to self-publishing with no idea of what to do at first. I was accustomed to having the publisher's publicity department do that for me. Advance bound galleys were sent out for review. Slick sales brochures were handed out to buyers from the bookstore chains. Press releases were issued. In some cases there were book giveaways. Interviews were arranged for me.

The smart writer also did things independently. For example, some authors go into the warehouses in their hometowns and spend a day applying Local Author stickers to their books. (I never did, because as a reader, whether or not an author was from my neighborhood had zero impact on whether or not I would buy their book.)  And if they're really smart, they get a bunch of writer friends to help, with the offer of reciprocation.

The late Jacqueline Susann was one of the best promoters I've ever seen. She would go to the warehouses and spend time with the truck drivers who took her books out to the stores. She'd go armed with coffee and donuts and she'd win them over. They'd go out and give her books the best possible placement because they liked her. No star attitude--she was one of the guys. They wanted her to succeed.

One of my fellow local authors decided to try Susann's method. She got a small group of us together and we spent the morning stickering her just-delivered books at the ARA warehouse. Then, during a break, she told the group at large that she wanted to go out and talk to the truck drivers. Eileen spoke up: "Better send Norma in a blond wig. You use too many big words."

I looked at Karyn. "You do realize she just took both of us out with the same bullet."

Eileen was teasing Karyn a bit. Karyn was a very talented writer, but she was sometimes too intelligent for her own good. Billy Graham has always said he wrote his sermons on a fourth-grade level to reach the largest audience possible.  Karyn was one of those writers whose books sometimes needed to be read accompanied by a dictionary.

In selling one's books, the author is also selling oneself. Making a good impression on distributors, bookstore staff, reporters and ultimately, readers, has always been essential to making sales. Some things have changed over the years. Others have not. These days, an author can be interviewed by a dozen reporters in a dozen different locations, speak at half a dozen book clubs and never leave his house, thanks to the internet. High visibility can be maintained via social networking, blogging and online writers and readers' groups. Publicity and promotion that once meant spending a large amount of money can now be achieved for little or no expense.

These days, we can publish our own books in a fraction of the time conventional publishers would take. If we find it's not working, we can rewrite it and put it back on the market. We can change the title and the cover. We can take it off the market completely in the press of a button if we so choose. We can keep a much larger chunk of the profits than we could with a conventional publisher.

There has never been a better time to be a writer....

PS Please...stop by Maria McKenzie's blog, Reading, Writing, Romance and catch her interview with moi! And while you're at it, check out The Life of a Novice Writer.


  1. Great blog Norma! Yet again, your advice is golden. I feel confident now, that I can reach so many more people with your approach, then the way I was doing it before. It doesn't gain very much if it is still stuck on my computer. I will most definitely check out your interview!

  2. What a super post !
    Love the quote can be applied to many different professions...

    cheers, parsnip

  3. Great advice! I've heard it's better to start w/an agent 1st because if you try to self-publish, they might not want to push your book after you've already tried and failed...but change the title and cover, and voila! It's a brand new submission anyway.

  4. So true! It's still about making connections with people, putting in the effort and showing appreciation - even if it's online. And good blog title. Caught my attention right away. ;)

  5. I've been tagging along looking at some of the things you're doing for promotion. I really appreciate your candor and suggestions. You've been encouraging no few writers while letting us in on the journey.

  6. Terrific blog, Norma, and very timely advice. I love the anecdote about being at the warehouse and the blond wig... did you get Eileen back for that one?

    I didn't know that Billy Graham approached his own work in that manner, but come to think of it, that seems to make sense, of what I know of him.

  7. Great blog! Loved it. More and more, I'm convinced this is the way to go.

  8. Okay, I love that saying. Does that make me a prostitute?

  9. If authors are prostitutes then I started my career in this business as a Whore House Madam! First job out of college...PUBLICIST!! I spent all my time pushing other people's goods (or goodies ;)

  10. What a great post. I guess with all the useful networking tools at our fingertips, we have it a lot easier than writer's used to have it. Oh, and Becky, I think Whore House Madam is just a trumped up way to say pimp;) Go girl!

  11. @TC: "It's hard our here for a pimp!" The lyrics are so much funnier if you imagine a small, pregnant, white girl rapping them!


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