For nine years I worked for an online publicity firm for authors. The company was one of the first, if not the first, dedicated solely to online publicity. When I joined them, in 2000, none of the major publishing houses had online publicity departments. Some of them didn’t yet have company email or Web sites. It sounds archaic, by today’s standards. Publishing, as an industry, had not yet seen the potential for online book marketing, or the migration that media was making to the Internet.
What a difference a decade makes. By the time I resigned in 2009, we were competing with dozens of other online only firms. We were competing with all of the traditional publicity firms who had incorporated online marketing into their campaigns. We were even competing with our own clients, the publishers, who had created online marketing departments in house.
The internet had captured the lion’s share of many marketing budgets and discussion time at meetings. Newspapers and even television had almost taken a back seat. Or, at least, they were riding shotgun.
What the internet has done for writers is a double edged sword. Published with a major house, or self published, a writer is open to taking the helm on much more of her/his own promotion than it is possible to imagine. Billions of potential readers are out there and the writer can connect to them, personally. But the road is littered with vicious petards. I recall one author, several years ago, that made the New York Times, not for the quality of their book, but for the shame of spamming millions of internet users with unwanted advertisements. It was a career death sentence. Other authors have sunk themselves by shilling for their books, surreptitiously, on message boards, sabotaging competing books with bad Amazon reviews or simply annoying bloggers, by not knowing the professional way to approach them. A writer has to think of themself as a brand, even if they don’t want to. A writer has to remember that everything that leaves their computer has their name on it and it could remain online for all eternity.
For self published authors, like myself, the duality is even more distinctive. On the right hand, a writer who decides to publish themselves is able to write, edit, publish and market from their computer. They can reach the infinite number of readers out there and decide what direction they want to go. There are a lot of success stories for the writers who have done it correctly.
On the left hand, there is the stigma still attached to self-publishing with the media. Although that stigma is dissipating, it is not gone. Many major media outlets, even a lot of middle of the road media, will not touch a self-published book. As someone who worked on the other side, I can tell you exactly why.
I read the statistic once that 52,000 novels were published by respected houses every year. Most every editor, online, or in traditional media, was probably offered or sent a copy of each one. I worked with these people every day and they were stressed by the amount of books coming in to them. It was a monumental task to decide what to ask for, read and write about. I don’t know how many self-published books are created every year, but, it adds to an already staggering amount of work for these folks.
And the truth remains that there are a lot of self-published books out there that are pretty terrible. Hence the reason they could not find a publisher. Sadly, there are also a lot of great ones. I never read any, until I became a self-published author. Since then, I have come to realize that there are a lot of people, like me, who have self-published because they got frustrated with the process of finding an agent and publisher. They spent seven years on a novel and didn’t want to wait two more for it to be available. Some just didn’t want to share the deep cuts into their work that an agent and publisher take to publish. Differentiating yourself from the pablum in the crowd is incredibly difficult, but, for some, that is worth the potential reward. We owe the Internet thanks for making that a small possibility.