Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Dreaded P-Words - Nicola Morgan

One of the problems with modern life is too much choice. Choice is offered as a good thing and, on the face of it, it is. Certainly, lack of choice is lack of power and the ultimate lack of power is slavery. But too much choice can be horribly paralysing and lead to great dissatisfaction. 

There's an area of choice in which I think writers are becoming panicky and paralysed. It's the P-Words: Publicity, Promotion, Profile, Platform. Oh, and pro-active.

Time was when a writer wrote a book, waited for Publication Day, was wheeled out for a few signings and tottered back to a hotel for a claret-laden dinner with editor. (Actually, I have no memory of such days, but allow me some imagination.) Now, we have to be pro-active, partly because often our publishers don't do enough or we have better ideas, or simply because there are so many opportunities and our publishers rightly encourage us to use them. We see other authors Doing Stuff and want to Do Stuff too. For a pro-active, interfering, control freak such as me, this is, in theory, great.

In theory.

In practice, it's a flipping nightmare, a feast of choices, incitement to wake in the night with Yet Another Stupid Wheeze Which I Usually Actually Carry Through. And then there's the panic when we hear what someone else is doing - why didn't we think of that? The blog tour, the sponsored marathon, the one-woman festival, the colour-coded Tweet-up, the mail-shotting of the fan database. What?? You don't have a fan database, in a spreadsheet, with the ability to identify each category of reader, by postcode? You mean you haven't set up a Twitter persona for each of the characters in your book? You don't have a special blog, posting every day for six months? You haven't organised a book giveaway throughout all continents of the world? Bad, lazy author.

NO! No more, I say, no more. I reject paralysing choice. I will not be panicked into doing stupid things that sound good but wreck me. Never again will I set a world record of school visits in one day, as I did for Deathwatch. Or organise a blog tour AND set up a new blog, as I did for Wasted. Nor will I ever lie awake wondering what mad things to do for the next book. I will reject panic. I will calm down, be sensible and moderate. We do too much, worry too much, glance in too much fear at other people, fret about what we're not doing instead of focusing on what we can do well.

So, here, for what it's worth, is my advice on approaching publication in a state of zen:
  1. Play to your strengths: do what suits you. If the idea curdles your stomach juices, spit it out.
  2. Focus not on the excitement of the Bright Idea but the feeling you will actually have when you have to put the idea into practice. Will you regret it? If so, stop it in its tracks.
  3. Choose a couple of things to do and forget the other possibilities. You have another book to write and a life to live.
  4. Ignore everyone else: no one is doing everything and most people are not selling as many books as you fear.
  5. If you wake in the night with a crazy idea, go back to sleep. 
  6. Be strategic and time-focused. Six months before publication, make a plan (in conjunction with your publisher); then do virtually nothing till two months before P-day.Then, look at your plan and follow it. This planning eliminates the need to wake in the night in a panic. Besides, you're not panicking, remember?
  7. Remember that what happens to your book will depend mostly on luck and the book, more than how many hours you spent promoting it.
  8. You do not have to have a launch party - it's fun (for some people) but it usually doesn't sell books so only do it if it will make you happy, not if it will stress you.
  9. Do as I say, not as I do. But I'm trying - I really am.

ARGHHHHH.

By the way, in case my publicist is reading this, the book is called Write to be Published. But it's not published till June, so I'm doing nothing yet.

Caaaaaaaaalm. Ommmmmmmmmm.

10 comments:

catdownunder said...

When I first heard about this I very nearly gave up all idea of even trying to get something published. It still may not happen because the idea of having to effectively say, "Hey I have written a book, please buy it" makes me cringe. I am fine with selling ideas to people but not with asking them to part with money. (Probably because I have never had any myself.)
The idea of having a blog (like you did) devoted to a book or even going on a blog tour (let alone a real one) is positively terrifying.
But...

Linda Strachan said...

Good grief, I'm exhausted just reading it!

You make an excellent point, NIcola, it is easy to get carried away with the idea that everyone else (like that Nicola Morgan woman particularly- did I say that out loud? :)) is doing such a lot of promotion for their book(s).

One of the most difficult things can be that life/ work balance when you work from home. As a writer it can be even more difficult to balance the amount of time you spend writing vs promoting vs doing school or other author visits not to mention finding time for the rest of your life with family and friends.

It can be all consuming this writing life and this post is a timely reminder that you have choices and don't let anything railroad you into making them without thinking about how you really want to be spending your time.

Nicky said...

This is rather too timely. My proof copy for my new book -'Wolf Blood', since you ask, has just arrived. I am already paralysed and fatalistic - it will either sell or it won't.

Sue Purkiss said...

Nicola, there must be something in the air. I too have decided to go zen this week. (And I'm not talking Aurelio here, although...) I was trying to make decisions about running writing courses - too complicated to go into, and not interesting for anyone else, and could feel myself getting into a state of prickly panic - then the sun came out and I decided to go zen. I will stop making decisions, said I to my newly wise self, unmaking them and then remaking them: I will be calm and smiley and just see what happens. It's working very nicely so far. Hurray for zen (and Zen).

adele said...

The truth of the matter is: MOST BOOKS SELL VERY FEW COPIES INDEED. This is something I reckon the publishers ought to recognize and deal with somehow. Become Zen about it, perhaps? Your advice is all good, Nicola but frankly, there are folk in publishing houses the length and breadth of this country who are paid money to think of stuff like how to sell your book. The truth of the matter is: only certain books get a publicity budget from the publisher and the ones which don't tend to disappear. Any noise you can make without driving yourself mad in the process can't be a bad thing, but I remain to be convinced that it makes much difference to the famous bottom line in the end. Only do what's fun for you to do, is my advice.

adele said...

And don't repeat yourself when you write..that's good advice I ought to take when commenting. Two Truths of the matter....yurghh.

Book Maven said...

You are a wise, wise woman, Nicola Morgan and a generous one, letting others benefit from your experiences. Your advice is probably too late for me, embarking on a Blog Tour, starting a new blog, selling myself next week in Bologna and generally promoting and profiling like a mad thing, while I am trying to write another novel and help plan a wedding!

But in future, yes, let's all be Zen - and if it means a certain Aurelio drops by in his latest incarnation, I for one shall not complain.

Penny Dolan said...

Thank you for raising this, Nicola. It's always difficult working out what publishers may be doing - often very little - and what one should be doing, and can actually do with any success.

I am beginning to feel that the more I read about Building A Presence the less I'm sure I have one. Scuttles into a spidery corner. :-)

Celia Rees said...

Wise advice from one who knows. I couldn't agree more, Nicola. The key thing is balance, between doing nothing and feeling guilty and trying to do too much to doubtful effect. Our job is to write books. We all know that is not enough any more, but there has to be a middle way and your advice to writers approaching publication is excellent.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks for all your comments, everyone. Glad you agree! Of course, it's all very well *saying* this - you know perfectly well that I won't be able to stay calm or moderate.