by Tess Gerritsen
There was a time when all a novelist was expected to do was write books. One book a year, that was what publishers usually wanted from us. And that much, I could deliver.
I remember those good old days. It was 1987 when Harlequin Intrigue bought my first romance novel, Call After Midnight. I had typed it on an electric typewriter. I photocopied it, page by page, at my local office supply store, and sent it off to my literary agent. Months later, when Harlequin accepted it, my literary agent informed me of this momentous event by sending me a letter of congratulations. By regular mail. I was living in Hawaii at the time, and I assume he thought that a phone call would be too expensive, but still — a letter! That's how slowly things moved back in the dark ages. When it came time for the edits, my editor would mail me a revision letter, and I would mail back the revised manuscript. The copy-edited manuscript would follow, and then the galleys would show up on those continuous sheets of printer paper with the side perforations, all of it delivered by the U.S. Post Office.
The whole publishing process moved at a stately,if glacial pace, and I learned to be patient. While waiting for my book to finally show up in stores, I'd turned my attention to writing the next story. I was raising two young sons and working part-time as a doctor, and just getting that next book written was about all I could handle. And it was the only thing my publisher expected of me.
Fast forward to 2009. The age of the internet, faxes, email, and Youtube.
Last week, I read an interview with an editor, who was asked: "How much self-promotion should authors be expected to do?" Her answer: "As much as they possibly can. It's essential to getting your name out there and selling more books."
She's right. These days, being a writer is no longer just about the books. We can no longer slide by like those 1980's slacker writers and turn in one well-written manuscript every year. Now we have to be novelists, salesmen, speakers, and media personalities.
We have to have a website. A fabulous, well-designed website. And since we're now so easily accessible, people send us email — both nice and nasty –and of course we must respond to all of it.
We blog. Some writers love doing it, but others do it only because they've been told they must if they want to "get their names out there and sell more books." Whether you enjoy it or not, blogging sucks up your time — and sometimes your psychic energy as well when your blog sets off a controversy or generates hate mail.
We maintain Facebook and Myspace pages, and this requires yet more attention and more time away from our writing. We do it because we've been told — does this sound familiar?– that it will get our name out there and sell more books.
We waste hours on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, checking our sales index to see how our books are moving, what readers are saying, and whether the latest publicity blitz has resulted in a bump in sales. And now we feel compelled to blog on those sites as well, because — yes — it will get our name out there and sell more books.
We Google, Technorati, and Blogpulse our names way too often. To collect reviews for our files and to see if, indeed, we've managed to get our name out there and therefore sell more books.
We're invited to be author guests in online chat groups, and even though we will probably devote an entire hour chatting online to only four people whose faces we can't even see, of course we always accept those invitations because we want to get our name out there and sell more books.
We feel compelled to design and distribute all sorts of promotional materials from newsletters and bookmarks to postcards and cutesy giveaways like tee shirts and refrigerator magnets. We spend hours — and hundreds of dollars — mailing these materials to people who will probably look at them and promptly toss them out. But we never want to ignore the opportunity to get our name out there and sell more books.
We hear that book videos are now a must-have promotional tool, so of course we have to do one too. Because everyone else is doing them, aren't they? We hire a filmmaker and write a script. Even more important, we write a check. Sometimes a big check. But it's all worth it, right? Because it will get our name out there and sell more books.
We get in our cars and do drop-in signings. Some of us do lots of drop-in signings. We spend days or even weeks on the road and use up tanks and tanks of gasoline driving to stores that may have only five copies of our latest book. We have the address of every Borders and Barnes and Noble within an 8-state radius saved on our GPS. We shake booksellers' hands, sign books, and slap on hundreds of autograph stickers because it will get our name out there and sell more books.
We turn ourselves into glamour pusses because publishing isn't just about writing now — it's about being mediagenic. We get our hair styled and streaked, we get our faces lifted, we get our bodies toned. We buy red high heels. We slather on the makeup for author photos and TV spots. We hire publicists. We want to be absolutely ready to walk on camera when Oprah calls. We are determined to get our name out there and blah, blah, blah.
Meantime, while we're making ourselves insane with all the driving, blogging, primping and Googling, we still have to write those stories. We still have to turn in those manuscripts.
But now our lives are about to get even more insane. Because publishers have now come up with the one really surefire way to get our names out there and sell more books. It's the secret to success, the best strategy for bestsellerdom. And it's this:
We have to write more books. The old one=book-a-year schedule just isn't enough. Authors are now urged to produce two, three, even four books a year. Because there's nothing that will get your name out there faster, or get the readers to buy more of your books, than to have more of those books on the stands.
God, I miss the good old days.