APPEARANCE IS ALL
by Ilene Schneider
I have friends (both real and virtual) who think I’m a best-selling author. The corollary is that I must be rolling in dough. The only dough I roll in is when I accidentally spill it out of a mixing bowl onto the floor and then slip on it.
The truth is that I spend a lot more on promo than I earn in royalties. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: the reason there are news stories about authors who come out of “nowhere” and sign multi-book seven-figure book contracts is because they occur so infrequently that they qualify as news. One does not become a writer to make money.
Why the impression that I’m doing so well? For the same reason that I lose so much money on my writing: promotion.
I learned the value of “acting as though you’re somebody and people will think you are” early in my adventures through publishing. I would meet authors at conferences who were on panels; I would read messages on email lists from authors who consistently and constantly posted comments; I would see pictures on FaceBook from book launches and readings. I was convinced they were all highly successful writers rolling in dough earned through their royalties from one of the big New York publishing houses..
Then I would check their Amazon pages and discover they had written only one book a decade ago. Or their recent books had rankings worse than mine, very few reviews, and ratings that averaged two-to-three stars. Or their books were self-published works so poorly edited and/or formatted as to be almost unreadable. So I got to work promoting myself.
I have business cards with my contact info. and a QR code linking to the “How to Buy Ilene’s
Books” page of my website on the front, and the titles and pictures of the book covers on the reverse. I have rack cards with all the business card info. on the front and excerpts from my reviews on the back. I have pens inscribed with “Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries,” my name, and my website address. (Here’s the irony: I order fewer of the cards than pens as I need to redesign them whenever there’s a new book or cover. The pens were a “buy 500, get 250 free” deal. I have almost run out of pens, but have plenty of cards, even after I’ve placed one of each in every book I sell from the trunk of my car. I discovered that even in this digital era, people love free pens.)
The biggest expenses, of course, are the ones associated with conferences. Transportation (planes, cabs, shuttle buses, or gas if I’m driving), food (not all meals are included in the conference fees), conference registration fees, hotel rooms.
Why spend all this money if I’m not making any of it back? Unless I promote my books and network face-to-face with other authors and with fans, unless I participate on panels and ask questions of panelists when I’m in the audience, I will remain even more unknown than I am. And maybe one of the “authentic” big names at a conference will read my books and give me some free publicity.
I don’t just spend money, of course. Some of the best promo is free. It’s when I post online to FaceBook, my blog, my email list about what I am doing, where I’m appearing, what is happening with my books that I get the most exposure. It’s guest blogging on other sites, as I'm doing here. It's when I add my blog site, FaceBook page, and urls for ordering my books to my electronic signature on all my outgoing emails.
I also use some advertising tricks. As Spock once said (I'm paraphrasing), "I'm not lying. I'm exaggerating." My second Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery took first place at the Public Safety Writers conference last year, so it became "the award-winning Unleavened Dead." After two of my short stories took first place at this year's PSWA, I've rechristened (so to speak) myself as "prize-winning author Ilene Schneider." My (non-OTP published) book about Yiddish slang has often been #1 in its extremely small niche category on Amazon, so it is now the "best-selling Talk Dirty Yiddish."
I wonder sometimes if I’m “preaching to the choir,” if anyone who would be interested in reading my posts has already bought my books. I keep hoping that someone will know someone who knows someone who knows Oprah and sends her my books. (I doubt it’s a fantasy that’s unique to me.)
While writing this blog entry, I thought of the “dress for success” rule: Don’t dress for the job you have, but for the one you want. So I will keep posting and promoting as though I’m the best-selling author I want to be.
In the meantime, I’ll keep having fun and remember the other saying: “Be careful what you wish for.”