The Weird Thing About Shilling Your Books

So you prooooobably know my debut novel FLEX is out by now.  Probably.

There’s, like, a 40% chance you know the sequel, THE FLUX, is available for preordering as we speak and will be out in October.

Which is the weird thing about publicity, really: done properly, it punishes those who are paying attention. Because I’ve mentioned that the sequel is available for preorder at least five times on this blog, maybe more.  Those of you who were super-fans of me registered that fact, then committed that fact to memory.

Those who weren’t – and most of y’all aren’t – probably weren’t reading me on the day that I mentioned “Hey, the sequel’s dropping in October.”  Or you did read it, but you hadn’t read FLEX yet and didn’t give a crap about a sequel to a book you hadn’t even read yet.  Or you read FLEX and were vaguely interested in a sequel, but your cat was knocking over a glass of milk when you read me mentioning it and so you forgot.

The paradox of book-shilling is that to some, you’re talking about this book too damn much, and to others, you’re screaming PR at the top of your lungs and yet they have yet to hear you.  Yeah, it seems like The Avengers merch and advertisements were everywhere, but that’s because you were already keyed in to watch The Avengers movie: to the average joe on the street, they may not have even been aware the movie was coming out until the week beforehand.

And it’s not entirely a punishment, because if you’re Avengers-friendly, then you’re probably not too upset to see another Avengers trailer or another Avengers movie poster.  Still, the fact is, as an Avengers fan, you get pummelled with Avengers advertisements, all because someone who doesn’t care about the Avengers needs to see that damn trailer six or seven times before it triggers the “Oh, yeah, maybe I should see that” button.

(Truth: Most marketing studies show you need five to six impressions before you make a sale.)

So I try not to hammer on Mah Book overmuch – I talk about it a lot because it’s What I’m Doing these days, not as part of a marketing scheme – but there’s this weird conflict where I risk annoying the people who were paying attention in efforts of drawing the attention to those who weren’t.

Yet the weirder thing still?

That only gets people to buy your book, which is in and of itself pretty useless.

Thing is, I have a shelf full of books I bought from people I liked, and there the books sit.  And sometimes I even read the books and go, “Okay, that was decent,” and then I never mention it again.

The marketing these authors need, which only the quality of the book can create, is to have me going, “Oh my God, I am halfway through Ramez Naam’s Nexus and fucking loving every line of this book.”   There are only a few authors who have me handing out their books like candy, touting them on Twitter, recommending them to friends who I think I’d like.

The word-of-mouth where people spontaneously recommend your book without you nagging them?  That’s the key to long-term success.  And you can’t control that. All you can do is to write a good book that’s something you’d be excited to read, and hope that it catches fire.

Because I’ve written stories that I loved, but disappeared without a trace. And yet Sauerkraut Station, a tale I did almost no PR for, got handed around enough until it got nominated for multiple awards.  When you’re an author, you come to realize that only some of your tales stick enough that people tell their friends, and God, if you knew how to do that consistently then you would, but you don’t, so every story is a crap shoot where you go, “Okay, I can get people to read it, but are they going to love it?”

So when I see people recommending FLEX, I’m still a little weirded out.  I didn’t remind them that the book existed, I didn’t ask them to do anything, they just liked my book enough that when a friend said, “What should I read next?” they leapt to their keyboards and said, “Haaaaave you met FLEX?”

That’s how books really sell, though.  You can get asses into the theaters for Avengers. You can get them excited in advance. You can get a blockbuster opening weekend.

But when the people come out of the theater, they start to tell their friends. What they tell their friends affects how the movie’s going to do in the long run.

That’s the real marketing, and that’s why you get things like The Princess Bride, where it wasn’t a big success at first, but people kept telling their friends. And I’ll bet you dimes to dollars that Princess Bride has now made way more money than Three Men And A Baby (the #1 box office of 1987), but that took time.

So it’s weird. As an author, you do what you can to remind people that your books exist. Then they take on a life of their own, one where you find it growing into fanfic and fan theories and all these other delightful things I’m slowly exploring, and I’m glad someone’s liking it.

More importantly, I’m glad they’re liking it when I’m off doing not a thing at all to remind them that it exists.  That’s the sweetest thing of all.

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