Well, I can say that response to The First Book blog has been tremendous, especially considering that I’ve barely started promoting it. I plan to do one interview a week, releasing them on Mondays. Maybe more down the road, but we’ll have to see.
Someone asked me why I wanted to do it. First, I truly do want to help new writers. A lot of writers have helped me along the way, so anything I can do it pay it forward is a good thing. With a full-time day job, a working spouse, two young children, and the writing on top of it, it’s hard for me to find time to do a lot. But because my day job has me online almost constantly, it’s not difficult to use my lunch hour or break times to do something like a blog.
But . . . I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say I hoped I’d get some publicity myself. Now that I’ve sold a book, I realize that it’s going to be my name in those computerized inventory tracking systems on the line when it’s published, which is a lot different than sharing the responsibility in an anthology of short stories. This is a golden age for first time novelists, because publishers are constantly looking for The Next Big Thing, but it’s also a time when publishers are reluctant to take the time to build an author over the course of many books. You’ve got to start strong right out of the gate, with good sales, or it’s unlikely you’ll find publishers willing to sign you up for more books. (You can start fresh under a new name, yes, but that’s something most of us want to avoid. Every time you start with a new name, you’ve got to build your audience from scratch.)
What does this mean? Well, of course you’ve got to write a strong book. That’s a given. You don’t have a strong book, no amount of self-promotion will help. But unless you’re one of those rare authors a publisher is really going to get behind, your first book probably won’t get a lot of exposure. Self-promotion becomes a necessary evil. You can have a great agent, and a fantastic publisher (I think I have both), but still, no one will take responsibility for your career the way you will.
So then the question becomes, what kind of self-promtion is worthwhile? Taking a cost/benefit approach — meaning, what is the cost in time and money versus the benefit in exposure a particular type of promotion gives you? — helps a great deal. Doing book tours and attending genre conventions (think RWA or SFWA) may give your book exposure, but they also have a high cost. If you enjoy them, or you do them for other reasons (going to conventions is great for networking and learning), that’s another matter, but you should do so being fully aware that getting exposure for your book is secondary.
That brings us to the Internet. It has an extremly low cost (you can do a blog/website for free and even have your own domain for less than a hundred bucks a year), and it has the potential for extremely high exposure. The key word here is potential. While I do think there’s no excuse for a professional writer not to have a website, it’s also true that most of them aren’t going to get a lot of traffic without some effort.
Okay, so then how do you create Web traffic? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Opinions vary, but I think the key is you create value. What can you do that gives value to others? Putting up information about your book does give some value. It educates potential readers on why they should buy your book. Doing a blog that lets your readers learn a little more about you helps, too, because it helps your readers feel like they have a stronger connection to you. That’s a start, but in a way, these things are self-focused. If you focus on others, on how you can give value to them, then it’s far more likely your site traffic will increase dramatically — from what I’ve seen, anyway.
That’s how I came up with The First Book blog. I asked myself, how could I give value to others? What could I do? Well, if I turn the question around, what would I hope someone would do for me? Having recently sold a book, the answer was obvious — I hoped people would help me spread the word on my book when the time came. Was there a website out there focused on first time novelists? Not exclusively, no. If I created one, what would the response be? So far, the response has been terrific, which bodes well for the future.
Helping other writers does many wonderful things. It’s good for the soul, first of all. Never underestimate the power of creating a sense of goodwill among others. It also helps me make new friends in this crazy business — and that, even more than the Web traffic, makes it all worthwhile.