Since I have been submerged in the murky process of building a buzz for Autumn Colors – seeking reviews, sending out press releases, getting the word out on-line – I’ve begun to feel a bit like I’m sinking into quicksand. No matter what I reach for, it’s always just a bit out of range. The deeper I get, the less I can do. I’m too late for this opportunity, to early for that one, too unknown for the bulk of them. The opportunities for new novelists, particularly new novelists who are not celebrities (and not independently wealthy), to achieve any meaningful level of publicity are slim. Even the tried and true recommendation to work the local angle first has proven to offer up more dead ends than golden bridges. If I had $100 for every local and regional publication who responded to review requests with “Do you have any idea how many books come across my desk every week?” I’d have enough to hire a top level public relations and marketing firm. But no one’s handing me $100 every time they say no.
You’ve heard of the headless horseman? I feel like the nameless novelist.
It’s hard enough to get publicity for a non-fiction book – say, a how-to book – when you’re new on the author scene. But at least you can offer yourself up for lectures and use those events as an opportunity to sell your book. My friend Gloria, who writes historical novels, does presentations on the research process, and on aspects of the history she includes in her novels. But if you’re a contemporary romance or women’s fiction writer, as I am, what can you say that people will want to hear, and what are the chances it will create a run on Barnes & Noble or Amazon to buy your book? It’s possible, as one person suggested to me, to offer yourself to libraries and community organizations to do talks on the process of writing a novel, or options for publishing, or even running a series of classes that function as a moderated critique group. It seems unlikely that would attract large crowds (though feel free to contradict me if you disagree), and equally unlikely that all that work would lead to a surge in book sales. But I haven’t ruled it out. At the moment it would be a time challenge, especially the series of classes, because you can’t just show up there without a plan. You need to be organized and have a curriculum of sorts prepared. Even if you’re not charging, if people are coming to your program in good faith, you have an obligation to be prepared and have something worthwhile to offer them, something that fulfills the need they have that brought them to your class in the first place. And how will it all fulfill your own need to spread the word about your novel and your name? And even with that, how far reaching can you be? Most new novelists work full time jobs and some, like me, have long commutes and travel at least some of the time for work. And still have to do other forms of promotion and write book # 2. And what about family obligations? Just how thin can you spread yourself?
Stepping stones – one activity builds on another. But at that rate any chance I’d have to build my name as a novelist would come posthumously.
My publisher (and every other source I read about promoting books) said I should send out as many books as possible to potential reviewers – review organizations, periodicals, media, celebrities – because the return would be small, but a few really good reviews by big names could make the book’s success. I sent out well over 500 books over the last four months. I followed up on all the media and review organizations (some were nice, but most were curt and dismissive). I received some very nice notes from secretaries of a handful of celebrities and well-known authors politely declining the opportunity to read my book (but not, you should note, returning the free book). And some threatening notes from agents of another handful of celebrities warning me not to ever try to contact their clients directly. And after all that? Less than a 1% return. I obtained three reviews.
So where is all this rambling going? I have a need to do something constructive for the novelists of publishers who don’t contribute much, if anything, to your novel’s publicity. A local blogger suggested starting a forum for peer reviews.
I’m open to suggestions for guidelines for submission and an approval process. Remember, we want to generate respectful but honest and meaningful reviews, which in turn would generate some publicity for each book reviewed. Should we, like some reviewers, only publish positive reviews and choose not to publish a review on a book that is deemed to be poorly written? What other questions should we be asking ourselves about this process?
But my primary question to all of you is: IS THERE ANY INTEREST IN A PEER REVIEW PROCESS FOR NOVELS PUBLISHED BY PUBLISHERS WITH SMALL PUBLICITY BUDGETS AND POSSIBLY SELF-PUBLISHED NOVELS?