Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about publishing. Not so much the difficulty of self-publishing, with the formatting, the editing, the plot, the characters, the marketing, or any of that. No, what I’ve seen the most is hand-wringing about just hitting that big red “publish” button. They say, “I just don’t know if I’m ready to expose myself to the whole world like that.”
The Good News
You’re not exposing yourself to anybody. When you publish your book, you are not shoving it in the faces of thousands of people. Your co-workers are not going to judge you based on what you wrote. Your mother isn’t going to cluck her tongue at the language you used. You are not going to be recognized on the street as “the one who wrote that terrible story.”
The Bad News
You’re not exposing yourself to anybody. When you publish your book, your book will not be seen by thousands of people. Your co-workers won’t even know you wrote anything. Your mother will buy it to support you, then put it on a shelf and say, “See that, my boy’s a published author.” And most of all, you are not going to be recognized on the street at all.
Drop in the Ocean
The simple fact of the matter is that there are a gazillion books out there. There are a billion more being posted every hour*. Your new book, no matter how much it matters to you, is just one more signal being poured into the blaring cacophony of our media blitz. You are competing with video games, movies, TV, and the bajillion other books out there. If you publish your book and leave it out there, NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW.
So you tell your friends. “Y’know, I don’t want to bother you guys, but if you’ve got a few bucks and want to see this (frankly not that great) book that I, y’know, put together… It’s not even that great. I don’t know why I’m bothering you with this. Do you want fries with your order?”
That doesn’t work. You try engaging a book reviewer, but again, there are big six publishers with a bajillion other books shoving twenties into their g-string, so they won’t even listen to you unless you’ve got two pulitzers and an endorsed letter from JK Rowling stating that she wants to have your illegitimate children.
So you try tweeting a link to your book. I know, people do that “self-promotion” thing all the time, but I’m not going to be like them. I’m just gonna be cool and casually mention it. Just once, so it doesn’t piss anybody off. I’ll just put one link up at 3AM with no text to go with it so I’m sure not to upset anyone. Maybe I’ll post the link on Facebook.
You know what happens next? Nothing. You totally succeed in not pissing anyone off. But you totally fail at your primary goal. Telling people about your book.
Let me throw a couple great quotes at you. First, from Tim O’Reilly, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”
Get that? As much as you’ve heard about the billions lost every second to online piracy*, it pales in comparison to the bigger problem, obscurity. If you are not known, your career will wither on the vine and die. This is a solid, wrought-iron fact. You need people to know about you. And as long as you maintain your “I don’t want to bother anyone” attitude, you will go politely to your death, apologizing all the way.
And now a quote by Matt Wallace, “The hardest part isn’t getting people to read a self-published book; it isn’t even getting them to buy a self-published book. The hardest part is making people aware the goddamn thing exists at all.”
I’m not saying you have to shove this down people’s throats. I’m not saying you have to post nothing but links to your work (in fact, that’s a sure way to guarantee failure). But think about this: You’ve got friends from all over the globe. If you’re selling online, then you’ve got fans everywhere. They are all in different time zones. Every time you post a message, you are guaranteed to miss a lot of your readers.
So you make three posts, separated by eight hours apiece. Now you’re sure everyone read it, right? Wrong. Maybe some people are at work, and weren’t able to see it. Maybe some were watching TV when you posted. Maybe some were eating, doing their taxes, or surfing on a crashed airplane emergency door across a river of molten lava, and didn’t have a chance to check their phone. The fact is, social media moves by people fast. You do what you can to make your promotions interesting, and you sprinkle them in with the rest of your stream-of-consciousness, but even if you have a thousand followers, there’s a really good chance that only one or two are able to see your latest post.
Also, remember that your followers are just that. Followers. They chose to follow you. If you break Wheaton’s Law**, then they won’t be followers for long. But the fact is they know you. They follow you because, at least in a small part, you’re selling things they want to buy.
I’ve been writing for more than five years. I talk about it pretty regularly on my social media streams. The other day, one of my oldest friends said, “Hey! I just saw that you had a book out. How is it I never knew you wrote books?”
All I can say to that is, “I hadn’t reached you yet”.
I have no idea how many more of my followers don’t know about the books yet. And that’s great news, because it means there is always more potential to reach more of the audience. And in doing so, I’m building the audience. I’m building a fanbase that knows me as someone who has something to sell. They don’t hate me for talking about it, because they know it’s just one part of me, and they share the links because they want to share that connection.
So yeah. You don’t have to worry about exposing yourself by publishing a book. You have to worry about whether exposing yourself enough.
(Okay, that sounded a lot less creepy in my head)
*Numbers discovered during rectal excavation.
** Don’t be a dick