Life Writing

Zen and the Art of Book Marketing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the first couple of years after I sold Prophecy of the Sisters (in 2007). I had an old blog on blogger, and excited about my news, I was fairly good about posting regularly, something that’s always made easier when the good publishing news is plentiful, as many of you know.

Then came Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Pinterest and Google Plus. For awhile, I was all up in your internet. I was was on Twitter throughout every day. Ditto Facebook. And while it took me awhile to get on Pinterest and I was never super great at marketing my books there (I was too busy with recipes and fashion and quotes), it was part of my social networking repertoire. I’ve so far resisted Tumblr, though I wonder on an almost daily basis how long it will be before I succumb to the temptation of MORE FOLLOWERS! NEW READERS! UNTAPPED MARKET! I did epic giveaways, attended online chats, retweeted everyone else’s stuff, and basically just did all I could to be visible at all times. I answered EVERY single tweet directed my way, every email. I doled out writing advice to anyone who wanted it and blurbed books as often as possible, trying to pay forward my good fortune.

Because it wasn’t all about selling books. I just felt so LUCKY, so damn fortunate to be writing for a living, so GRATEFUL for the faith placed in me by my publisher. I wanted to do my part. At the very beginning of the self-promotional blitz that is now par for the course, I didn’t want to sit back and count on the publisher do the marketing work.

In 2009, shortly after Prophecy of the Sisters came out, my editor said (about my marketing pace), “You will not be able to keep this up forever.” And I said, “I know, but I’ll keep doing it as along as I can, or at least until Prophecy has a solid readership and I can take a step back.”

But then something terrible happened. Prophecy never quite gained the footing everyone expected. Despite critical acclaim, multiple starred reviews, sales in over thirty foreign countries, it fell short of the extremely high expectations my publisher had for it. Whether marketing choices, three cover changes, and/or lack of promised rebranding on said covers had anything to do with the numbers is something we’ll never know. Because the truth is, the stuff of big hits is still something of a mysterious alchemy. Some books just don’t hit the way we expect them to. And while Prophecy sold extremely well for any book in the marketplace at that time, the fact that it didn’t meet the enormously high expectations set for it is still a smudge on my publishing record.

And it left me feeling so disheartened. I had truly done EVERYTHING I could. Beyond writing the best books I could (the Prophecy trilogy really is the story of my heart, at least thus far), I marketed like a madwoman, gave all kinds of shit away, tweeted my heart out, connected with anyone and everyone on as personal a level as possible. I signed stock all over the country, was away from my children for two tours covering twenty cities. All while being a single mother to four teenagers. But it didn’t matter. None of it seemed to matter.

I started to wonder if all the naysayers were right. All the people who said whatever we did as authors to supplement the publisher’s marketing efforts would never be enough to effect a measurable difference in sales. Talking to some of my fellow writers at a conference, a couple of them said they’d done the figurative math and determined that we could maybe sell another hundred books through an active social networking presence. It was a quandary that left us all feeling a little bit helpless.

So I withdrew. I rarely tweeted and only posted on Facebook because it had begun to feel more personal (my kids and family and friends are there). Last year, I gradually stopped doing giveaways, and this year, my blogging has been hit and miss at best. More than just doubt about how much of a difference it all made, I was busy. Busy trying to keep my writing career afloat, trying to work my way into other areas like TV and film, trying my hand at digital publishing with a small press, strategizing about possible next directions. Because one way or another, I was (and am) going to write for a living. On top of that, I made personal choices that led me away from being online all the time, practicing Buddhism (and with it mindfulness), meditating, doing yoga daily, and generally trying to keep it simple, because I noticed that was when I was happiest. Marketing just kind of fell by the wayside.

But all my hard work and focus this past two years is starting to feel like it might pay off. I have several interesting projects in the works and a couple of already-contracted ones (that I can’t talk about yet). They are all leading me in a slightly different direction than the road I’ve traveled in publishing so far. And I’m really excited about that.

So here I am six years after selling Prophecy, trying to figure out how much I want to do online. How much I can enjoy (because I do enjoy some of it and I love connecting with readers) and how much of it will make any kind of difference in the financial success of my work. I still don’t have it figured out, but I do know I need a little of both. A little solitude and a little connectivity. A little silence and a little collective noise. A little c’est la vie, a little help from outside and a whole lot of Zen. How that mix will shake up in the end remains to be seen.

But the short answer (too late for that! ha!) is that I’m back. For now, I’ll continue to blog when I have a great vegetarian/vegan recipe, when I have something to say that maybe a thousand other people haven’t already said, and yes, when I have news to share or need your help spreading the the word (And I will when THIS WICKED GAME comes out later this year!). And I WILL be doing giveaways again, because that is something I’ve always enjoyed. I’ll still be on Facebook (my online “home”) and will be ramping up my Twitter a bit, though I will never be as active there as I once was, because the truth is; I can’t take the mental noise.

And here’s the thing; I’m a writer, not a blogger or marketer. I am still being paid to write books (thank you, Universe). So that must be my primary objective. And I think I’ve finally learned that for me to write great books I need a few things. Mental silence. Time to ruminate. Walks in nature. Time to read great books. I will have to learn to put those things above everything else, because it’s the only way I can honor the faith my readers have in me and the burden I place on myself to do the very best work I can.

I hope you’ll be patient with me when I disappear to work. Comment here when the spirit moves you. Let me know what you’d like to see. Because I don’t have all the answers. As with great stories, some of the time I have to sit back and let everything take on a life of it’s own. That’s where all the magic is anyway.