I have a writer acquaintance who works very, very slowly. Whenever we discuss the craft or business of writing, I’m always amazed at the amount of time they put into every stage of the process: The research, the outlining, the drafting, the revision. They’ve been known to work on a single short story for years.
A running joke I have in my informal writing and social media is the title of my eventual memoir. For a while, it was going to be “Blondes, Bombs, and Bourbon: The Jeff Somers Story.” Then it was “Confidently Incorrect: The Jeff Somers Story.” Most recently, I’ve settled on “Who Needs Pants, Anyway: The Jeff Somers Story.”
Whether you’re talking to agents, editors, or publicists, one of the critical elements in any promo plan is “comparable titles” also known as comps or comp titles. At some point in your publishing career, you will face this dreaded challenge. Traditional publishing leans heavily on them to minimize their exposure and shorten lead times, but even self-publishing uses them for publicity and market expansion.
When my first novel, Lifers, published, I made almost zero plans to promote it. I thought that promoting the book was the publisher’s responsibility, so I basically settled in for a nap and waited for the royalty checks to come in (spoiler alert: this didn’t work). Then, a few weeks later, Lifers received a capsule review in The New York Times Book Review. My wife and I ran out and bought every copy of the paper we could find, and I settled back to take a longer nap and waited for even larger royalty checks to arrive.
We may be living in the future in terms of technology, but promoting a book remains a surprisingly personal exercise. No amount of social media savvy and fancy cloud-based apps have managed to replace that traditional standby: The interview.
Imagine your phone is ringing at this moment. You answer it and on the other end, an eager television producer or magazine columnist or documentary filmmaker asks if you’d be interested in talking about your work to a few hundred thousand strangers. Who doesn’t love free publicity, amIright? That’s a hell of an opportunity and one that would absolutely put your work into new hands you’d never otherwise reach.
A good rule of thumb for any self-promoting author (or any creative trying to cut through the noise) is to lean into your natural skill set. For example, I like to talk. I like to talk a lot. I go from zero to pontificating within moments. I like talking so much I talk to myself—to a disturbing degree.
Before the pandemic, I was seated on a panel with a bunch of colleagues speaking to an audience of about 200 savvy genre readers. As often happens at the end of such events, the organizers took questions from the audience who good-naturedly kept the conversation going and flowing. Naturally, someone asked the authors, “What are you each reading right now?”
This week I thought I’d talk about the process of soliciting reviews. As periodicals have begun to falter and media noise begun to outweigh signal, the power of reviews is shifting. The online vendor economy encourages every consumer to rank a title and lard those stars with opinions about a book’s relative value. That’s a great and terrible both, but it means that the only thing worse than a negative review is no review at all. Every author and publisher has to develop a healthy professional relationship with reviewers who know how to do their job right.
When I published my first novel, I made the common mistake of assuming my work was done. The logic was reasonable: A publisher had just paid me real, actual money for the right to sell my book, surely they would support that investment by aggressively promoting and marketing it. I could pour myself a drink and get to work on my next novel while I waited for the fat royalty checks to roll in (sadly, I’ve since come to realize that any strategy that begins with pouring a drink and waiting for money inevitably ends in tears).