Road to Publication: Asking for Help

In my day job I sell people on the merits of my employer; that is what we do in public relations. One of the things I like about PR is that I’m promoting work that is not mine and people who are not me. That is much harder to do when the product is my book and the author is me.

Speaking of marketing, this likely will be the author photo on the book's dust jacket. It was taken by my daughter Marisa, who is present in the book on the part of the road trip through the Southeast; her passion for photography is part of one of the book's narrative lines.

Speaking of marketing, this likely will be the author photo on the book’s dust jacket. It was taken by my daughter Marisa, who is present in the book on the part of the road trip through the Southeast; her passion for photography is part of one of the book’s narrative lines.

Quick story: Despite being pretty shy in person I decided to run for Senior Class President of my undergraduate college. There were three candidates. On election day, about two hours before the polls closed, I ran into two close friends of mine in one of the school’s dining halls. We had a great time, chatting about this and that over cafeteria-style food. I thought “I should ask them if they remembered to vote,” but it seemed rude and insulting. I lost the election by one vote; my two friends had forgotten to vote.

The story ends well; some great things happened my senior year that would not have been possible had I not lost. But I’ve been thinking back on that long-ago election as the publication date of my first book–Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Roadapproaches. I know I have friends near me and online who would be happy to help were I to ask, just like my two friends in college who were mortified when they realized they had forgotten to vote, but also peeved at me for not reminding them.

In discussing this the other day with a friend visiting from out of town, she helped me take the pressure off of myself somewhat by pointing out the publication of a book is not like an election. I don’t have to have everything happen on one day. The book first becomes available in mid-October directly from the publisher, but then is available broadly in November (ebook, online and physical stores, etc.), and will continue to be available–as books are–in December, in 2015, and beyond. Ask one person to help now, she recommended, and maybe someone else in a few days or weeks. Take it slow.

And so yesterday I started slow, responding to two requests I had already received to help market Committed. I emailed a copy of the uncorrected proof to one blogger who has offered to review it, and I responded to a q&a that another blogger sent me that she’ll post on her blog. I have a few more outstanding offers to respond to; at that point I’ll get up my nerve to start asking others.

How do you feel about the need for artists in the digital age to promote themselves?

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

30 Responses to “Road to Publication: Asking for Help”

  1. I absolutely dread/would be delighted to get to this stage of promotion. I’ve seen writers who do this very well and I’ve seen writers who do it halfheartedly. As an introvert, I’ve learned to function as an extrovert when needed. It’s a skill that I think is necessary at the beginning (and likely middle) of one’s career in writing. It’s all part and parcel of what it means to be a published writer today. I wish you the best as you navigate through this process – and hope to learn a little as well!

    • There are worse problems to have, to be sure!

      Curious as to your thoughts, but I think this may be a bit more endemic to writers and visual artists than, say, music performers (vs. songwriters) or actors. If your creativity has you front and center in front of people it may be easier to promote yourself. (With acting, for example, it’s in part about your head shot.)

      When I read Joan Didion’s memoirs written late in her career she will casually drop a reference to getting a call from The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly asking her to write a piece on a topic of her own choosing on a schedule convenient for her. That’s where you probably reach the point where you don’t have to market yourself quite as much, but surely she did some of it getting there!

  2. Patrick… yes, we obviously need to promote ourselves, and you’re doing that by doing what you’re doing on this blog. Are you guest blogging on other sites? As for myself, that would be my main strategy — getting news of my book in front of the thousands of readers in blogs more popular than mine. I have a book coming out hopefully within the next six months, and it is only now that I’m thinking of amping up my presence on the Internet. I know writers who are loath to extrovert themselves for promotional purposes, but isn’t the Internet built for just such a thing? It was invented so that ideas could be shared. Perhaps one has to feel confident that one’s book is worth sharing. Do you? Of course you do. Go for it.

    • Yes, I’ve been building a platform here since the road trip ended, and that didn’t result in a published book for four years. There’s a bit of lean-back with a blog, though; post it and they will come (one hopes). You don’t need to directly ask someone for help.

      Yes to guest blogs. I’ve received a few invitations and will take them up on it; some of them are with pretty popular blogs, and some are with bloggers who have already appeared here, so it’s a nice case of reciprocity. What I really liked was the two I mentioned in this post; one will read the book (no lift for me, I already wrote it!) and the other sent me about a dozen questions, and answering them was easier then generating an entirely new post.

  3. The short answer, Patrick? Scares me to death.

    I’m a long way off from actually having to do it yet, but when the time comes I know it’s going to feel like visiting a gynecologist who only sees his patients in a public auditorium and sells tickets to his consultations (apologies if that analogy’s a little too ‘visual.’) Having grown up in an environment where talking about yourself in even a SLIGHTLY positive way was regarded as ‘showing off’ (and therefore a swift knocking-off-your-uppity-pedestal-young-lady was administered before you could morph into a megalomaniac of society-threatening proportions) self-promotion is something that fills me with guilt as much as dread. Completing a Performing Arts Diploma helped – but only inasmuch that I can be confident as long as I’m playing a role and being someone else entirely. Maybe that’s the answer; appparently Beyonce ‘becomes’ her alter ego Sasha Fierce to get though her performances onstage. I sure aint no Beyonce(!) – but maybe I could be ‘Sushi Slightly-More-Assertive’ or something…

    Your insight and friendly charm in your blog posts have won us all over on this site, so I’m sure if you just be yourself when you’re promoting ‘Committed’ you’ll work the same magic on the book-devouring public.🙂 I’m excited for you. Go forth and multimedia!

    • You must have grown up in Canada.

    • LOL! I’m with you Wendy… That’s how the idea feels. I am uncomfortable at openings and have to resist the ‘deer in headlights’ effect.

      Patrick – I agree with Wendy. Your blog has won us over!

    • Oh dear to your analogy!🙂

      As to the talking-about-yourself angle, I agree with that. I completely expose myself in this memoir, however, so I guess I’m past that point. I like the alter ego; I think Garth Brooks did that as well (of course Anthony Weiner adopted Carlos Danger, but I won’t be sending explicit selfies to anyone!). Of course it’s more the mindset of being someone different. I did that as a reporter to get up the nerve to approach someone and ask tough questions; it wasn’t me, it was “hard-boiled reporter seeking the truth.”

      And thank you for your kind words!

  4. I think often it’s hard for writers to promote themselves. Even weirder, I think people who do marketing or PR for a living seem to struggle even more. I know what to do for clients, but struggle when it’s for me. Shyness plays a role, but there’s something else that’s harder to explain . . . I’m still trying to figure it out.

    • Interesting on the PR angle, that I may not be alone in that. Many in PR, like me, started out as reporters, and we tend to be introverted as well (see my response to Wendy as to how I dealt with that).

  5. Difficult but necessary. And also, more than happy to help!

  6. I see it as another necessary act of creative vulnerability!🙂

  7. This is the hardest part about being a writer, for me. It’s just goes so against my grain to ask people for things, but I *know* it’s part of the job. I wish I could say I’ve gotten better about it or have discovered some sort of trick, but honestly it’s something I still have to make myself do. Hopefully someday it will be easier.

    • It’s interesting to see how common this is among writers. I will say when I’ve seen you tout a new story or other career success I’ve been quite happy for you, so you have the balance right on how to do it without being bothersome.

  8. I know exactly where you’re coming from! I own a marketing agency and yet I find that I abhor marketing my own books. It’s ridiculous really, but I’m quite shy at asking people to read and review my work. I will take this as my personal kick in the pants to do more marketing/promotion. I just had a new book out last week, and it needs it! Thanks.

  9. I smiled when you talked about starting slow–responding to a few people and then getting up your nerve to start asking others. That’s exactly the way I feel. It’s so hard for me to ask for help that after I’ve asked two or three people, my “asking muscles” are all worn out for a while. I read articles advising me to send out twenty requests for reviews in a single day, and I wonder how anyone can do that. Today I’m being interviewed on a popular blog … which is wonderful. But tomorrow I need to make some more requests. If my “asking muscles” have recovered, that is.

  10. Patrick, it’s something that, from the very beginning of having to think about it (MANY years ago), it makes my innards twist like a tornado. It makes me uncomfortable because all of it, including even the “selling” in queries, etc., goes against my nature. Of course, I’m becoming a bit more receptive, or should I say “adaptive” to the unavoidable fact that it’s something we now must do and are expected to do. I know, for me, I feel like I’m imposing or perhaps putting someone on the spot. I guess it depends on who I’m asking and what I’m asking of them. It’s not an easy thing to get around, but the points you make are very valid.

    I think that, regardless of how uncomfortable it may feel, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to asking friends for this type help. It’s better to ask than not, just as your friends told you about not reminding them to vote. We are wrong to assume. It’s only once we ask or take that step that we give a person the chance to say “yes” or “no.” *sigh* a tough subject for me!

    • You know, I’m doing a final line edit of the manuscript for the publisher right now (looking for typos, etc.), and I just read a sassy quote by Lillian Cauldwell, an indie author I interviewed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I don’t have the proof in front of me right now, but it’s basically “I learned along time ago you might as well ask. All they can do is hang up, slam the door, or tell you to get lost twice.” Exactly!

  11. I think publishing the first time gets difficult, but at the end maybe it might turn out great or good.

  12. Marketing is the part most of us don’t enjoy as writers, but we have only ourselves to share our work. Who better? And great photo!🙂

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