Guest Post: Raising a Novel – Writing and Marketing in Today’s Publishing Climate

Hello, hello!  Welcome to another guest post.  Today we welcome my friend and fellow Odd Stones Alliance member (the writing group we’re in), David Simms.  Between parenting, playing in a band, teaching, and many other awesome things, he’s managed to complete and publish his second novel.  Here, he shares some of his experience with the whole process from writing to publishing to marketing.  Read on!

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Raising a Novel – Writing and Marketing in Today’s Publishing Climate

The birth of a novel in 2018 is a vastly different experience than it was just ten years ago. It begs the question, when you spend years toiling over your story and nobody cares, or reads it, does it count? With the market today, too many authors take the route of simply dropping the book into a forest where nobody will see it, hear it, read it, or know about it. The gestation and birth is easy – barely anyone teaches writers how to raise the damn thing. When I embarked on the adventure to pen my second novel, Fear The Reaper (Crossroad Press), I knew it would be a different experience. My first novel was a blast to write. Sure, it was painful at times, but the writing was pure bliss. The research was 90% imagination and the rest drew from experience.

This time, I decided to take on the behemoth of a mental hospital down the hill from my new house. After learning its dark history and discovering that no other writer had ever published a novel on this topic, I dove in headfirst and cracked my skull on the task of writing a historical thriller. A true historical fiction piece scared me bad enough, but wrapping one of America’s darkest, dirtiest secrets around a fast paced story sounded much more enticing. After poring through several nonfiction texts, studying the town’s historical society while fending off dusty spiders, and interviewing former doctors, nurses, and relatives of patients, I had my story.

Writing the beast of the novel felt like bliss. Getting every detail of clothing, cars, food, drink, and sports team correct felt just right. By the time I hit the finish line, 109 thousand words glared back at me, daring me to edit them. No problem. It took several months, but editing it happened. Mostly, it was a pain-free experience.

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Postpartum (a term meant sarcastically, as I’d never be able to handle that experience), the book sat in my hands and I realized that books need to be raised, like petulant children. In this literary age where it seems a million books are published every week, writers must become warriors to get anyone to read it. Unless he/she is blessed to be with paired with a god/goddess of a publicist with endless funds, the writer must go ballistic and strategic if success is going to hit.

Without an agent or army, I hit the trenches alone and launched the second career of an author – the marketing. This is just as time-consuming as writing, yet without the fun. Thankfully, I’ve met and/or befriended many of my favorite writers, which helps networking – tremendously. Most of this has occurred because of the band I’ve played for. Follow that up with reviewing for four high profile venues and even more doors open. When it came time to secure blurbs for Fear The Reaper, I reached out and nailed down four out of six quotes. That’s better than most newer writers but it happened solely because of connections, not because I’m an amazing writer (I’m not).

My advice here: bite the bullet and social anxiety. Go to cons. Friend fellow authors on Facebook. Talk to them. Ask them for advice – most of them will happily oblige.

The second round hit harder. With a million books out there multiplying like germs in the Oval Office, how could I get my novel to stand out? My publisher is great but doesn’t do much marketing, which is normal (wish I would’ve know that earlier). So I reached out to people who know marketing best. Surprisingly, some self-pubbed authors really nail this aspect of the career. “Run a Facebook ad,” said one. So I did, and it sucked. Then I ran another but was bright enough to share it with a few who had much more experience with it. When I began receiving comments from across the globe, I knew it worked. Leading with one of the blurbs from a NYT best-seller obviously helped. Comparing my book to others (Shutter Island crossed with The Firm with a touch of The Shining – not my words) drew in even more readers.

Does this mean I’ve sold a ton of books? No, but it does mean I’m free from eating cat food for a few months.

I noticed that several of my “successful” writer friends kept posting news of their book tours, multiple signings, and interviews (online, radio, television).  How does one accomplish this on a budget, I pondered. An extreme, teacher budget. Some suggested a publicist. Sure. Once I learned that most of them only asked for my first born and random organs, I decided not to go into deep debt. Upon further investigation, I discovered that much what they offered wasn’t substantially different than I could accomplish on my own. I asked about television. They countered with radio. Does anyone still listen to talk radio anymore? If so, how many would purchase a novel after hearing an interview? Not many.

Yet the other avenues still appealed and seemed within grabbing distance. I sent out swarms of press releases to newspapers, television stations, colleges, libraries, bookstores, and that creepy guy who stands on the corner downtown. Even he ignored my requests. For a book of this importance (the subject, not my writing), one might think there would be interest, especially since it was a local book tackling a horrible part of history that most aren’t aware of. After so many cold shoulders, the offers did trickle in – at glacier speed. But still, I persisted. 

Five interviews later, most reaching across the world, I’m pleased. An invite to a black tie event where I’ll be paid? Sure. A dual signing with an author from California in NYC and DC? Definitely. Selling books by the side of the road before my ghost tours? Awesome.

It seems that there’s a course for just about everything in writing, except for how to actually get people to notice that your book is alive and out there in the wild. The ones that are in existence, that are legit, are harder to find than a unicorn riding a leprechaun. Maybe that should change. For those of us who spill blood on the pages for years to conceive these extensions of our souls, getting the world to notice them would be pretty nice.

But it’s possible. I’m proof of that. Keep reaching out in the dark. Eventually, you’ll find something. Hopefully, it doesn’t bite.

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Bio: David Simms lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, son and trio of furballs after escaping New Jersey and Massachusetts. A special education teacher, college English instructor, counselor, music therapist, ghost tour guide, and book reviewer, he moonlights in the Slushpile band on lead guitar after co-founding the Killer Thriller Band with several best-selling authors. He gives workshops in three states on using music to help students of all ages to learn and de-stress, getting teens to write, and combating burnout for teachers in schools. He has sold several short stories which have been published in various anthologies, such as TERRIBLE BEAUTY, TRAPS!, and DARKNESS RISING and academic publications on music therapy, creative writing for teens. DARK MUSE was his first novel, a YA musical dark fantasy. FEAR THE REAPER is a thriller that’s mostly true story about the eugenics movement in America – basically, how we directly influenced Hitler and began a truckload of horrors right here in the states.

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