When you get into publishing, regardless of whether my choice or circumstance, there are a lot of things nobody really prepares you for especially if you take the independent publishing, self-publishing or like me, the hybrid publishing road. Traditional publishing is a tough nut to crack and I have all but thrown in the towel on that one. It’s a vicious world out there and no matter how good a writer you are and talented in telling a tale, writing a novel, and keeping your reader panting for more, if you don’t have a thick skin for rejection, criticism, and dismal sales returns, it can be disheartening.
Marketing of the book and self-promotion as an author are the two aspects I dislike the most about being a published author. All I ever wanted was to sit down and write to my heart’s content and let someone else do the legwork for me. But landing an agent is an absolute nightmare, and at some point you lose confidence in yourself and your work, questioning your validity as a viable author in the market. OK, if you skip the whole agent chapter and go down the brave and adventurous world of self / independent, you can be an overnight author, but then you also have to do all the marketing yourself and place the books with all the right bookseller platforms. It’s like sending a toddler to buy a mobile phone contract, he has no clue what to say or where to start.
As if promoting the book is difficult and challenging enough, having to milk your social media and networks for every last drop of blood, sweat and iota of relationships is an ugly three-headed purple monster that rears its head the moment you go live with the book. It’s one thing to shout out the news that you’re published but quite another to convince people to buy it, and even more difficult to get them to read the book and leave a review. For this part of the process there is no room for shyness and hesitation and lucky you if you have an active group of people who will help promote the book on their own networks. If you live in a country where there are endless number of small opportunities to put up a small event to sell / promote the book, then be grateful. But if you are like me, living in a country where English is not the main language and you have a transatlantic relationship with your publisher, things get really tricky.
I’ve been observing my fellow writers in various circles and have noticed that the focus is entirely on the book(s), but that is only one side of the coin. It took a photographer buddy to tell me straight to my face that I needed to promote myself as an author just as much, especially if I want to be known as a literary activist. My heart never dropped so fast than that moment. At the time we had this conversation we were discussing my editorial shots and he, rightly so, insisted that I need to own up to the image that came with the name. First step was not to hide beneath a hat, and second, face the camera head on and show the world who is behind the book that uncovers the ugly side of humanity.
I had to let that sink in but by the time the photoshoot came around, I had done a 360 and was convinced of his argument. Interestingly enough, I was at the stage of my psychotherapy where I was also coming to terms with the woman in the mirror, learning to accept the image that stared back at me after all the years of surgery and self-loathing. Self-promotion as an author was never part of my plan when I decided to write the books, and if I had my way I would still be hiding under the brim of a hat. But those words kept echoing in my mind, and when I committed to supporting anti-human trafficking cause, I knew I had to be more than just the pen pusher (well, keyboard hacker). This is where being the photographer and former development worker came in very handy – reaching out to people takes skill, sensitivity, cultural awareness, and by God a thick skin and courage! As a documentary photographer you have to stand by your image and visual story, and a committed development worker faces the skepticism and criticism before the sustainable changes can take root in the community
Promoting a book through the cornucopia of online tools is a piece of cake albeit an expensive piece of cake but there tons of viable options. Whether or not any of them will ever translate into viable sales is whole different matter but you have to take the risk somehow. Catching the attention of someone to do an interview is a whole different ballgame though. Not only does it put you in the limelight, it also exposes you in ways that make you incredibly vulnerable as a person and as a writer, especially when you have to promote your background, your knowledge of the subject matter, and your experience in order to justify the book. The first questions that always haunt me are always “why me?” “What’s so interesting about me?” “What will the others think?” “Am I good enough?” It’s essentially seeking validation from yourself, and giving yourself that much needed pep talk.
It was only last year that I began granting interviews, and even that is limited to those interested in me as literary activist AND photographer. Once the interview is over and I am sent the link so I can use it on the various social media platforms, the nightmare begins all over again. I am very squeamish about self-promotion, and will take eons before I finally press “Post”. Here’s my learning curve though – the book would be nothing without the author, and if you invested months and years in the research and writing, then you have every right to be in front of the book and not hide behind the cover! Although this was a lesson learned this the hard way, but it has also been very liberating.