By Nick Mamatas
My latest book, Love is the Law, will be published by Dark Horse, which is primarily a comic book company with a sideline in prose books, in September. Most of those books are fantasy or science fiction, and Love is the Law is a crime novel, albeit one with a soupçon of the occult. I’m known as a fantasist but am trying to shift over to crime fiction and bring my audience with me, so I’m hedging my bets here. Halfway through the publication process with Dark Horse, my editor left to go freelance. Luckily, everything continued working smoothly, though Love is the Law is literally the first novel my new editor ever worked on—mostly she does comics. I don’t have a publicist, but Dark Horse has more than one—sadly they have forty products (comics, toys, books, etc.) to publicize every month. So, what does it mean to bring out a novel in 2013 if one isn’t a best-selling author?
First: I’ve learned not to waste time and resources on publicity that doesn’t work. Special bookmarks, postcards, and the like don’t seem to work at all. Trying to get book signings at the local Barnes & Noble doesn’t work either—and when it does, it hardly matters if nobody shows up. An event at an independent bookstore can work, if the store happens to be in the neighborhood local to your friends and family. Getting invited to a regular reading series that has built an audience—like the local Science Fiction in San Francisco, or “SF in SF”, series, which I’ll be reading for in Sept to celebrate Love is the Law—or at some other type of event with multiple authors works better. If we can each bring in three people, we might actually read before a “full house” of twelve!
Second: ads don’t work either. Not ads in small magazines, not Facebook ads. In the book trade, ads only work for best-selling known quantities. If an ad isn’t saying, “You know the next book in your favorite series, for which you’ve been waiting for a year? It’s out now,” it really isn’t saying anything.
Third: I must prepare before preparing. That is, I have a blog, I have a twitter, a Facebook, etc. I don’t just talk about the books and stories I have coming out—I make jokes, review movies, discuss politics, I put myself out there. Having 2750 twitter followers doesn’t mean that 2750 people will buy my book, or even that 275 will…but 28 likely will in the first day or two, and then might tweet their own impressions of the book weeks later, leading to more sales. I really enjoy blogging and tweeting, so it’s by no means a burden to slowly build an audience that way. I’ve also learned that the various tricks—following everyone who follows you, going on binges of spam messaging—doesn’t work very well either. At the very least, you turn off some people even as you get the attention of others. What a digital audience offers is ease of conversion: a book is just a click away! Impulse purchases can and do happen. Can I get an excerpt on an important blog, or a review in a good online magazine with an amazon.com or powells.com affiliate account? Can I write a blog post much like this one… (Is it working?)
Fourth: have a book worth talking about. My own book involves punk rock, Trotskyism, Aleister Crowley, and a murder. That’s exactly what I say when people ask me what my book is about “punk rock, Trotskyism, Aleister Crowley, and a murder.” Books worth talking about are often worth reviewing. If you just another murder mystery or just another vampire novel or just another Regency romance…then why does the world need yours?
Fifth: manage expectations. I’m not going to get rich on this novel. Even if it gets reviewed on NPR or another nationwide venue, all that means is that all the copies in the warehouse will sell, and perhaps if there is time and money enough the publisher will print some more. By the time a second printing hits the stores, NPR will have reviewed another five books, however. So I keep perspective and remind myself that of all the problems an author can have, a new book coming out is likely the best possible one.