Guest Blog Post: Self-Promotion–Starting Too Soon?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Self-promotion: a subject much on many writers’ minds. All across the Internet, new authors are urged to be proactive in publicizing themselves and their books–to build a “brand.” But what to do? And how much? I blogged about that a few months back, focusing on the uncertainties involved, and the fact that, ultimately, no one truly knows what works.

But there’s also the question of when to start. The day after you make your first sale? When you start submitting? Even earlier? Is it possible to begin your campaign of self-promotion too soon? In this week’s guest blog post, author Alyx Dellamonica takes a look at this issue.


by Alyx Dellamonica

What would happen if you spent a day reckoning the price of everything you purchased in terms of the time you spent earning the money?

If you earned a dollar an hour, a 99-cent music download would represent an hour of your life. A movie would come to a day or two of solid work. Whatever you’re earning, groceries, rent and luxuries all have a cost. This can be counted not only in dollars but–unless you’re extremely wealthy–in their impact on your store of time, that precious thing you can’t get back. This is why it hurts when someone cons us, and why Writer Beware offers such a valuable service: a fraud artist doesn’t just make off with some abstract chunk of your material wealth. They’ve stolen, in a sense, an irretrievable piece of your life.

As writers, we tend to place a premium on the time we get to spend working on our fiction. This is as it should be–we write because we love it, so writing is one of the highest and best uses of our precious time. Those hours can be hard to find and jealously guarded. And yes, we all fritter them away sometimes, and lament them later.

But are beginning writers being encouraged to toss them down the drain?

Recently I’ve seen a growing number of my writing students pouring time into branding and marketing themselves… in many cases, before they’ve sold a single word of fiction. This activity is a reaction to wisdom percolating across the Internet, to the effect that you have to get your name out early, start your Twitter feed, set up your Myspace page, and market-market-market. I’ve seen people make web sites and even trailers for unfinished manuscripts. On the less extreme end of the spectrum, writers whose careers haven’t properly begun are nevertheless counting followers, evaluating possible pseudonyms and working–hard–on their public profiles as authors.

As with any activity, the rate of success varies. Some join the thronging electronic masses, jumping up and down yelling “Look at me!” into the void. Others–Lia Keyes, for example, with her popular weekly writing discussion, Scribechat–have built themselves solid followings. Have they been encouraged to waste their time? Keyes freely admits to having devoted herself to promoting Scribechat using a carefully researched 1-2-3 punch of Twitter, Facebook and a blog… until she had to rein herself in, and put her writing time first. Does she regret those lost hours? No, because she fully expects the effort to pay off.

The idea of establishing a brand isn’t coming from people who are naive about publishing. In a recent online interview, Maggie Stiefvater, bestselling author of Shiver, states that while she would have sold her novel without a web presence, she believes she would have gotten a smaller advance. Agent Laura Rennert says much the same thing on E.I. Johnson‘s blog, A View from the Top: marketing is important, even for writers who haven’t broken in yet.

Let me be clear. None of these people is saying “Don’t Write.” They’re just saying “Do this, too.” Ultimately this question is part of the greater river of debate over marketing in book publishing. Does it work, how much energy does it deserve, and how hard should one chase that brass-ring dream of going viral? We all grapple with this. Kelley McCullough, author of the WebMage series, has blogged about the costs and benefits of keeping self-promotion to a minimum. Even if you accept the idea that building a profile is the way to go, when do you start? Before your book is written? Instead of writing a second book as an editor ponders buying the first? These are the questions that make me uneasy.

I see the allure of having a web presence at the top of your writing career. What a tremendous thing to exploit! Imagine having a solid core of fans, ready and waiting to buy your first novel before it so much as hits bookstores. And I’m no Internet hermit. I have the usual cluster of online spaces–web site, a blog, a separate blog for my book Indigo Springs. I have the Facebook page and a Twitter feed. But the lion’s share of work on these sites came when I not only had a contract but a publishing date for my first book. Why? Mostly it was because I was busy with what I loved most: writing a bunch of other books. I was also following a contrary bit of advice, one I’m not seeing as widely bandied about teh Intrawebs: my editor told me flat-out that building buzz too early might be as bad as not building it at all.

Of all the conflicting advice I could have gone with, why was this the piece I took? Obviously, it was coming from someone I know and trust, someone I have met face-to-face, someone who has far more experience in the industry than I. But this concern about starting the hype well before I had a book to put in readers’ hands also made intuitive sense to me. It may be hard to gain the fleeting attention of the Internets, but it takes energy to keep it, too… and you’re only shiny and new once. Having someone ask “When can I buy your book?” and having to reply “In two years, I hope” …well, that’s a bucket of cold water on their hopes and yours. Unless it’s your Dad, they may eventually stop asking.

So is the answer to write, write, write and ignore the internet entirely? No. If you’re getting fiction written and you’re enjoying the blogging and networking, I’m guessing you’ve achieved a good mix. But if you’ve got a well-built web presence and you’re frantic about finding writing time, or you have nothing to put in front of your eager fans and well-wishers, then it’s maybe worth stepping back to evaluate where your energy is going.

Alyx Dellamonica is a graduate of Clarion West. She writes novels and short fiction, mostly in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and also teaches writing online.Her first novel, Indigo Springs, is available now. Alyx lives and works in Vancouver, Canada.