Posted by


I’ve been trying to develop a particular topic/theme as Pet Topic for Galactic Suburbia for over a month now and it just hasn’t worked out. It needs a lot of research and a lot of thinking and I just haven’t had time to prep it for any of our recent episodes. It is though something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, off and on for a while now.

I’ve described before marketing and promotion of fiction as being akin to standing in a stadium filled with 30 000 people and shouting your name and hoping to get heard. Something that interests me, and a lot of others, is finding a way to get heard. There are many examples of people who have managed to successfully carve a message out over the white noise. We can all think of examples of writers who have managed to gain a platform and use that to successfully advance their own, and others’ careers. And there are many many more examples of those who purport to know the formula to replicate these. Some offer this advice for free and others for a small fee. But the thing I’m really interested in is, of course, what works? And why? And more importantly, which work more than once? Which were one off novelty techniques that will and can only be successful once – that any replication of can only ever be imitation?

A lot of advice I’ve seen around is that if you want something for yourself, you should first give back. The whole “pay it forward” idea. Giving something back benefits not just you (writer/editor/reviewer/publisher) but contributes to building and improving the community you want to be a part of. And supports the idea that to move forward (or upward) we must all move forward and upward – that the community/scene is better and stronger because you are a part of it. Rather, than, I guess, taking what you need from the community and what it has to offer.

The thing is, just because you contributed your time and passion and worked hard, doesn’t mean that you’re owed or deserve anything in return. The reward you get for contributing is in the act of doing it, itself. In the learning all the things that participating or trying something new has to offer. And if you aren’t enjoying the doing, you shouldn’t be doing it. Or in other words, if you’re contributing solely in order to advance your own career, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. And ultimately it shows. The speculative fiction community has so much to offer, is filled with so many talented, inspiring, intelligent and fascinating people and there are so many facets to the publishing industry to discover and learn. If you volunteer for something with the narrow vision of how anything you do must pay off your own career objectives, it’s likely that you will shut yourself off to the serendipitous learning opportunities which might mean nothing to you now but some time down the track might prove valuable. And um, getting to work with smart, cool people is … well, damn cool.

The other thing I’ve noticed in some corners of the internet is a culture of encouraging and rewarding faux-expertise. I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, reading blog posts and visiting websites purporting to be offering advice on the industry only to find much of it basic and uninsightful. I’m not sure it’s beneficial for writers who have never sold a novel to be blogging advice on how to sell a novel, for an extreme example. It’s a Catch 22, I suppose. If you want to gain a platform, you have to kinda just get up on one and start speaking.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these two things. And I think, when it comes down to it, the trick is that there is no trick. There is no quick pathway to fame and fortune. There is no formula for career progression. Blog, don’t blog. Sit on panels at cons, don’t go to cons at all. Write reviews, join a writers’ centre, join a forum or write alone in your room for years. There’s no right or wrong way to make a sale. If you’re genuine and open, people will respond to that. And if you aren’t, they will respond to that too. We’re all well experienced in what it feels like when someone is trying to sell you something you don’t want. Everybody’s story is different and there are many roads up the mountain, what works for one person may never work for anyone else. And sometimes, it’s not how hard you work or how long you work at it, sometimes it comes down to luck and being at the right place at the right time, and there’s no formula for that.

I do think that these days, as a writer, you can no longer get away with relying on your publisher to promote and market your work alone. Big publishing houses have very short timeframes for deciding the sales success of a book. Small publishing houses work on tighter budgets and are understaffed. I’ve observed in my own press the financial difference in sales between books by authors who rely solely on my own marketing machine and those by authors who share the role with me. (It’s more fun in the second instance too.) Which of course means I’ve argued myself round in a circle. How then, can writers/editors/publishers/reviewers shout above the din and hope that pays off in terms of sales and career progression? I still think it comes down to being genuine about who you are. And doing things that you enjoy that also happen to work as marketing and promotional tools. And that that’s the bit that has no formula and the balance of tools to use will be unique to each individual.

I think in the end, I’m arguing that rather than replicating what worked for others, take the time to throw yourself in the deep end and see what you enjoy doing and what brings it’s own reward. Because there is nothing more interesting and contagious than someone having fun.

Tags: , ,