Monday, May 9, 2011

Grassroots Promoting

Over the years, I've struggled to come to terms with my writing. That may be an odd way of putting it, but it more accurately reflects my feelings. Writing was never just something to do, rather it was more a part of me, and as one matures, a natural part of the process is the struggle to understand the different aspects of self.

As such, my writing wasn't something I was really ready to share until I had grown used to it. Confidence is something that I think every writer is going to struggle with at some point or another, but there's a tipping point where you start to win more than you lose. That's precisely where I've just passed. Fortunately, another trait common to writers is harsh self-criticism. Thus, where I set the bar was probably a lot higher than an outside observer may have set it.

The problem with attempting to "break in" to writing, as I see it now, isn't so much with your confidence as a writer. There are a plenty of writers that develop a healthy confidence in their talents and never succeed in selling anything. No, the problem for me is when it comes to promoting. It's becoming easier for me to share my musings with people. The more I blog, the more fiction I write online, the more feedback I get... the more comfortable I am in my growing writerly body.

Promotion is something I'm new at, however. How can I, in good faith, ask people to pay me money for simply expressing a part of myself? I struggle with the idea of promotion. I'm pretty realistic I think when it comes to my writing. Some people are going to like it. Others, not so much. When I write my stories, I keep a very narrow audience in mind. It stands to reason, then, that I'm not going to please everyone. So how can I do the self-promotion thing if I really don't believe my stuff is for "everyone?" (Some days I still have a hard time believing it's for "anyone," but that's a confidence thing.)

I mean, I feel uncomfortable asking someone to read my books. That is a problem. But to me, reading is a very intimate relationship between reader and author. Like a vampire at the door, the reader must invite the author in, and with the invitation accept a certain amount of vulnerability. In my mind, I can't shake the vision that asking someone to buy my book is the same as going up to someone in a bar and asking to suck on their neck for a bit. It's just so personal.

The solution I've found has to do with framing. Psychologically speaking, we can do a lot of things if only we frame them correctly. As long as I look at the topic of self promotion through the eyes of a vampire, I'm going to shy away from it. As much as I may day dream of being an immortal, I'm really much too nice to force myself on people like that. Plus, I'm not really selling a good, rather I'm selling an idea.

So I looked toward the masters of idea selling: politicians. I'm sure you've heard the term "Grassroots" before. As in: "Oh, it's a grassroots movement." These type of political ideas tend to start of local and gain moment through the promotion of the members within the community, often through simple word of mouth. It's simply people talking to people, connecting on the common ground of the shared belief or idea.

I want to take a "grassroots" approach to promoting. It's not the quickest route to big sales, but I'm not going for quick. I'm shooting for loyal. I'm shooting for a community of readers that simply enjoy what I write and want to see more of it. That's what you'd be investing your money in: a cause you believe in. I'm not trying to drain anyone of blood, I'm trying to provide entertainment in the form of stories.

This mentality really reflects itself in the production of my books. I don't have a bunch of money to throw at the venture right now. I can't afford to spend a thousand dollars on a professional editor, or hire a publicist, or whatever. This is DIY. This is self-publishing as a "night job." (This is NOT an excuse for poor quality!)

When I took my first tentative steps on this road, I realized I didn't have any friends "in the biz." I don't know any editors or agents, or even anyone in a local writing group. My social network isn't plugged in to the "right" people. So I went outside the box. What did I have? I know a lot of teachers. I know a lot of avid readers. Those are the folks I'm going to for help. English teachers are really good at marking up a paper. Avid readers have seen a lot of successful novels and can give great feedback about what works and what doesn't. Art teachers can help me hammer out a cover design. Now, I know theses aren't professionals with professional experience, but they are what I have, and if I'm asking them to believe in me, I should start by believing in them. It's grassroots. That's what this is all about.

I'm sure I'll learn to be better at promotion. Along the way, I hope to gather and connect with people that can help me be the writer I want to be. But I don't expect it to happen quickly. Some of the best dishes are made by slow roasting over a careful tended flame. I don't need another pressure cooker in my kitchen. Life's got enough of those as it is.

I guess I just wanted to let you guys know where I'm coming from and how I'm approaching this. A lot of the successful self-publishers out there are advocating putting a lot of money into your book to try and get an extremely professional product. It's a great idea... if you have the money. I'd like to think that, with the support of the smart and talented people I already know, we could do just as good of a job. Nothing against the professionals, this is just where I'm starting. Maybe it grows into something bigger, maybe not. The point is that I've found a process I can believe in.

And I'm learning. Always learning.


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