July 7, 2021

Three Ways Writers Can Create Opportunity

By Paul Goat Allen

One of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw’s most iconic quotes is a fitting way to begin this blog: “Don’t wait for the right opportunity: create it.”

Creating opportunity—it’s a huge deal when it comes to self-published and traditionally published writers alike. Writers may not want to be reminded of the cold, hard reality of things but prospering in publishing—writing, marketing, and selling one or more releases that are commercially successful—is an exceedingly difficult task. Consider the competition—according to Publishers Weekly, in 2018 the total number of print and e-books self-published in America was 1.68 million. (This number doesn’t even include traditionally published releases.) Think about that for a moment—approximately 5,000 titles being released every day!

So how are you going to differentiate your release from all of the other titles being released every week, every day, every hour? Is your title memorable? What about cover art? What’s your novel’s hook? And publicity? Do you even have a plan when it comes to marketing and publicity?

As a book critic who has not only read and reviewed more than 10,000 titles over the last quarter century but has also followed the sales trajectories of many of these titles, here’s a hard pill to swallow: brilliantly written novels—some that I’ve considered towering masterworks—fail every day. They come and go in the night and are forgotten about almost immediately. And, conversely, some terribly written, derivative books become mainstays on national bestsellers lists.

I could name dozens of writers who should be household names at this point in their careers and aren’t even writing anymore because of their past novels’ failures. Honestly, it has been heartbreaking to watch—especially when some of the authors whose releases are crashing and burning have done nothing to stop their books from sinking into obscurity.

So I understand there are numerous aspects of publishing that are simply out of a writer’s control—the ebb and flow of category trends, the economy, etc.—but in such a brutally competitive industry, if you’re an author who truly wants to succeed in this business, you need to create your own opportunities whenever possible.

1. Be Accessible.
Sounds simple, right? But can a reviewer or magazine editor easily track you down? Do you have a website or, at the very least, a social media account on a platform like Twitter or Instagram? I interview authors frequently for major publications and websites—and in the last few years alone, I’ve tried and failed to locate at least ten writers on the Internet to ask them if they’d be interested in an interview or feature of some kind. Not being accessible meant that those writers missed out on free publicity in a major publication—and who knows how many times that feature would’ve been shared online? Not being accessible meant that those writers lost out on so much publicity and untold book sales.

2. Be proactive with promotion.
Just because you’re a self-published writer without the backing of a publicity department doesn’t mean you can’t have major events. Reach out to bookstores that do virtual events (there are quite a few) and see if your release may make for an interesting event. Perhaps join forces with another author and do these virtual events together. Seek out independent bookstores that may be open to do a reading or book signing. Think out of the box—depending on the topic of your novel, have a reading or signing at a museum or a vineyard or plant store. I recently heard of a book signing at a local brewery! Any and all events—no matter how big or small—are opportunities to get your name and your novel out there. These events, even if you only sell a handful of copies, have a cumulative effect. Readers post reviewers online; they recommend titles to friends… It’s like dropping a pebble into a still pond. As those ripples expand, so too does readers’ awareness of you and your work.

3. Embrace community.
When it comes to writing—and writing genre fiction in particular—the extended communities (local, regional, national) can be an invaluable resource. Get out there and talk to other writers. Share your story. Find your tribe. Create and nurture relationships with those like-minded writers. Support other writers and promote their work. Karma is a real thing, and those writers will invariably do what they can to support you and spread the word about your release. Some of the most successful indie writers I know are all part of strong writing groups and/or tight-knit communities. Who needs a publicity department when you have 50 fellow writers screaming about your release all over social media? These groups and communities just don’t help with promotion—their shared experiences can be invaluable when it comes to specific marketing strategies, helping you through a particularly rough writing patch, etc.

There are so many opportunities you can create just by putting yourself out there. While these three tidbits of advice may seem simple and obvious, they work—and it would behoove you to keep these suggestions in mind every single time you’re preparing to release a title.

Paul Goat Allen has been reviewing books for more than 25 years. In addition to BlueInk Review, his work has appeared with BarnesandNoble.com, The Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and more. He also teaches in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate writing program.

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