Author of the John Chase/Penelope Wolfe Regency Mysteries
Sometimes a world is born when you aren't paying attention. This was certainly true for me when I took a twelve-year hiatus from my mystery series while I was busy raising my daughter and teaching high school English. I do not regret the time spent in either of these meaningful pursuits. But needless to say, I don't suggest that authors pursue this path!
I published the first novel in my Regency mystery series, The Rose in the Wheel, in 2002, my second, Blood for Blood, in 2003. But my third and now my fourth did not see the light of day until 2014 and 2016. If there was extensive social media promotion going on in 2002-03, I do not remember it. I went to the Left Coast Crime conference for mystery fans, had some write-ups in the mainstream press, and put up a website. That's about it. Other authors in the vanguard were likely doing much more, but at that time neither Facebook nor Goodreads nor Twitter nor digital publishing existed. This truly was a different world.
You can imagine the culture shock when I published Die I Will Not in 2014. Suddenly I learned that authors, even quiet, introverted ones, were expected to tackle a list of promotional must-dos that seemed a mile long and strangely exotic, as if I were a visitor in a strange land. And often the advice came across as “do or die” imperatives (ignore the unintended pun on the title of my book, please!).
The imperatives went something like this: You must create a platform to consist of thousands of diehard fans. You must have a newsletter and a blog and tweet x number of times per day. And you must write not one but two or three or even four books every year while constantly “engaging” and showing off your charming personality.
Silly me. I thought it was all about the books. Naively, I thought that books must battle for their audience, be launched to sail away alone in a vast pond, and that classy authors should shut up and stay out of the fray. Hadn't my mother always told me it isn't polite to flaunt your accomplishments? “Don't get a big head,” she used to say.
So I had to learn a brand new approach to the business side of writing. After a while I realized that I could participate more comfortably in this brave new world of publishing if I reframed my idea of promotion, a word I don't much like. Instead of promoting my books (or worse, myself) online, I decided to view the process as joining a community, becoming a literary citizen in order to fulfill the obligations that come with any job.
It occurred to me recently that I behave on social media rather as I would at a party. I look around for like-minded souls and retreat to a corner with them. In my case, this has involved participation on Goodreads, where it really is all about the books, and on several Facebook discussion boards frequented by people who enjoy historical fiction. On Goodreads I have accumulated a small friends list—but these are readers who have similar tastes and interests. I genuinely enjoy interacting with them while also doing giveaways and blogging on the site.
Also, I venture out to do guest posts on hospitable blogs like this one. I still do not tweet, and I post only occasionally about my books. This approach works for me. I have made some friends, raised my author profile, and become part of a much larger community of readers and writers who share my love of the written word. I am starting to try new promotional tools in my own time and at my own pace.
So my advice to anyone just beginning this journey would be that you shouldn't think you have to do everything. Find what works for you, what suits your personality and your aspirations, and do that. Take your time. It's okay to let your author persona unfold gradually. Yes, marketing is indispensable to the 21st-century writer. Yes, we should give our work its best shot by finding a way to let people know it exists. Yes, it's true that no one can be responsible for our careers but us.
But maybe a slow-building career can work in a fast-paced world.
Becoming a 21st-century author…gradually
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