Writing and Well-Meaning Friends

A friend — another writer — sent me an email, which she said I could post here on my blog. She asked:

How do you resist the efforts of (I hope) well-meaning friends who want to manage your writing career for you?  As an example, a friend of mine happened to see a copy of my novel on the bookshelf while she was over.  Questions arose–How many copies had I sold?  Why wasn’t available locally in the bookshops?  How did I expect to sell millions of copies if it wasn’t marketed?

I tried to explain that writing was an end to itself, and I had no expectations beyond that.  I don’t expect to make any serious money writing, and I don’t want to be well-known, especially in my home town.

She looked at me like I was crazy and then launched into a bunch of suggestions about what I “should” do — like visit the local bookstores and sell my book to them, or have a local autograph/book launch party.

No, no, no.

I’m a private person.  I HATE speaking in front of people I don’t know, or otherwise putting on a show.

And these well-meaning lectures happen all the time.  Basically to the point where I don’t want to tell people what I do anymore.  But my kids or my husband usually chime in–because they are proud of what I have accomplished.  So I am, but I am happy with the level of success I have achieved.

Any thoughts?

My response:

That’s an interesting question. My publisher (Second Wind) is new,  so for now the authors are pretty much on their own for promotion. Many are haunting bookstores, (or trying to get their courage up to do so) trying to line up booksignings, and they can’t see beyond that. But . . . 85% of books in a bookstore sell less than two copies. Most people who go to bookstores buy what they went in for (though they may browse) and usually what they buy is one of the 15%. Most people who impulse buy, buy online. Which makes sense when you think of it. When do people have time to kill? At work. And so they browse the internet.

I totally understand about being a private person. I may have to do a booksigning/talk at the local library (the librarians have been very good about getting me the books I needed) but I have no desire to be a local celebrity. Or a laughingstock.

Nor am I interested in traveling around doing booksignings — you spend more than you can make.

The way I see it, our books are available on the internet. (Or mine will be when I’m finally out of copy-editing hell.) So that’s what any promotion should be geared for.

One of the benefits of being published by a small press is that most do not expect you to become a public person. Most (especially if they publish on demand) are even willing to keep the book on their lists indefinitely, which is good. It takes three years for a book to take hold.

But this does not really answer your question. It just explains why the questioners don’t know what they are talking about.

I don’t know how to answer pushy people. Never have. Maybe the best thing is to put a smile over gritted teeth and say, “I’ll let you know when I do.”

Odd, when you were published as an e-book, you weren’t a real writer. Now that you’re in print, you’re not a real writer because you haven’t sold a million copies. But you know that you are a real writer, a real published writer. And no one can take that away from you.

How would you respond to the author’s question?

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19 Responses to “Writing and Well-Meaning Friends”

  1. Edward G. Talbot Says:

    Hmm, the problem is that I’m slightly pushy myself, so I would deal with it by pushing right back. Obviously not your style. When this happens in your life with things other than writing, what do you do? Ultimately, I avoid people that repeatedly try to tell me what to do – other than my mother-in-law, of course :).

    At a minimum, ask your kids and husband not to say anything. They should be willing to do that.

  2. Lena Austin Says:

    I do believe in self-promotion, whether you’re an ebook writer or a print writer. I’m both, and I’m just as shy as most authors.

    I’ve noticed most pushy friends who are sure if you’d “just” do as they say, you’d be a millionaire famous author, are immediately shut down if you say something like, “Lovely ideas! You’re hired to be my marketing coordinator and set all that up for me. I’ll pay you when I get that rich. Thanks so much!”

    You see, they want you to do the work. They don’t want to do the work themselves. They’re great at the ideas, lousy on the execution. If they have the intestinal fortitude to say they haven’t got the time, then of course the author’s answer is, “Neither do I. So, unless you want to pay a publicist for me, I’ll go on as I have. Thank you for your suggestions.”

    You see, I happen to also be a paid professional Marketing Coordinator, and I don’t have any more time than anyone else. LOL!

  3. Lori Callaway Says:

    Have you been listening in on my private thoughts ? I cannot find very many people that comprehend I still want a private life, especially with children. They do not comprehend why I use pen names.

    I saw the other night when a well know author stated he was done with 2 days of editing and was going to play a video game live online. I was the only excited about him being done with the editing which meant the book could move along….their were so many others what wanted to play the game online with the author, what version was the author playing, had they tried this game or that game…..the whole stream of conversation became centered around playing an online video game with an author and that was all that was discussed for sometime. The author had made a slip of the lip and was going to be stalked playing an online game. Thank goodness they had not let out their player name, they’d have to ditch it and never use it again, create a new character and be very careful after that. While many of the conversation participants did praise the author of their work, the majority of the conversation centered around the video game. Incidently, the game had nothing to with the authors books. I felt bad for this author. If its this bad in a chat room, what must real life be like ? What would that sort of attention to me do to my children if it happened publically? I shudder to think. My mind is firmly made up though, it’s pen names for the next 10 years until my youngest is 18. Maybe even longer than that, we’l see how it goes.
    Lori Callaway

  4. joylene Says:

    I’m also a private person. Actually, I know few authors who aren’t. But last summer I ran myself ragged. I marketed like there was no tomorrow: book signings, readings, interviews, radio readings, Library readings, touring town etc etc..

    As winter descended upon us, I stopped. Just like that. I do my online networking thing, but I doubt that really impacts sales. I feel a bit like your friend. Writing isn’t going to make me rich, and heck if I’ll go into debt touring.

    When well-meaning friends suggest I do this and that, I smile and say, “Would you like to be me and do all those things in my name?”

    Of course not.

    There are some online who really known their stuff when it comes to marketing. Bravo to them. I’m more interested in getting my next book published.

    God Bless you, Pat.

  5. Laurie Foston Says:

    If your friend had known you very well she would not have proceeded with the instructions on how to make your book a bestseller.

    Here’s a comment that I borrowed from a New York Times Bestselling author, Rebbecca Brandewyne. She’s in my top ten most favorite authors. She’s the real deal in self-promotion. Anything she could join, create, or pass a test with flying colors to enter…she did!

    This is her version of some well meaning responses to your work when they find out you’re an author. I get this all the time.

    “The vast majority of people think writing is easy and they, too, could be a writer — or, at least, a storyteller. In fact, put a published author in a crowded room, and invariably, almost everyone in attendance will have a story to tell that ‘would make a great novel!’

    Inevitably, as well, they are ‘going to write a book someday, whenever they find the time to get around to it.’
    A ‘few months — or even weeks — ought to suffice.’ But then again, upon reflection, they ‘really just don’t have the time, and in all honesty, they were never that good in English class, besides —‘

    Frequently, at this point, the more enterprising of those present will actually offer to ‘let the author write it all down for them, sharing the proceeds fifty/fifty….’

    Virtually every published author alive has experienced the above scenario — or some other version of it. The truth is, however, that far from being so easy that everyone could do it, writing is a highly demanding, competitive career, requiring a tremendous amount of self-discipline and solitary hard work.”

    I would add here the obvious…they unwittingly want to reduce your joy to ashes…your hard work and success of the actual finished product to ” nothing-to-it.”

    Knock yourself out then! Go ahead…bet ya can’t even get one page written down even if I gave you the plot.

    Am I being harsh?

    Before your publisher will take your submission for editing, you must read it three times. First for concept, then for plot holes, and other editing problems and then a line by line edit to make sure you didn’t let the word “two” get through as “too.”

    As your book goes through production with your publisher, you will get the manuscript back and forth until you and the editor finally come to blows one way or another. It’s either going to be their way or yours. ISo who do you think will win?) When the final proof comes, you must get someone to proof it besides yourself and YOU must read it twice.

    Then you must find some way to survey it to make sure post production errors are corrected and sent back before too many people decide you can’t write. This takes another line-by-line editing to get the get the post production errors that people have found. (Family and friends will let them pass)

    A quotation mark is backwards…there is a sentence repeat on such and such page, a run-on sentence slipped past twenty editors…and the list goes on.

    This is hard work and if authors follow these steps they deserve their titles. Let no one try to steal your crown. You put up with the tattered nerves, fear, hair loss, intimidation, and struggled to stay above water while people acted as though writing were a mental disorder rather than a gift as they asked where you were while you pounded away at the keys.

    Here’s the link to her writings tips.


    Seriously, this type of reaction form people makes me rant and rave.

    Laurie aka wolflady

  6. Sheila Deeth Says:

    Actually, I’d love to go round and do talks, but not sales talks. Unfortunately, without sales, why would anyone think I was worth listening to? But if a book really does take 3 years to take hold, maybe I shouldn’t give up yet. Thanks.

  7. James Rafferty Says:

    Pat, good post. Your friend has her own reasons for writing and nobody else has the right to question that. I sense most writers love the writing first and perhaps tolerate the public part. As per Ms. Brandewyne as quoted above, writing is hard and solitary work. Getting out and promoting your work is a whole different slice of life. I ran the promotion gauntlet when I had my own business and can shmooze like crazy if there’s a good reason to do it. But each writer has to decide for themselves how much promotion makes sense and in what form.

  8. Kat Sheridan Says:

    Outstanding article, and the comments from others were even more valuable! I’m still in the writing stage, wondering about promotion. It helps to know what I could run into!

  9. Smith River Says:

    “But . . . 85% of books in a bookstore sell less than two copies.”

    I’d like to see the source cited for this? According to Bookscan, only 11% of all books sold are sold online, so we have an up is down take here. It just isn’t true. No expectations are the way to go though, no question.

  10. Pat Bertram Says:

    Smith River: I’m sorry, but I don’t remember the source for that statistic. And yes, I’ve heard that only 11% of books are sold online, and I’m sure it’s true. But the 89% of offline books are not all sold at bookstores. They are also sold at grocery stores, discount stores, kiosks at airports, drugstores, newsstands, hospital gift shops.

    (Also, comparing the two statistics is like comparing apples and cauliflower. They mean two different things — the 85% refers to a percentage of books in a bookstore; the 11% refers to all books.)

    The point we are both trying to make is how hard it is for an unknown book to sell.

    I have never seen a chart showing the number of books sold by the major authors (like King, Koontz, Roberts, Patterson, Steele) compared to all the rest of us put together, but I’d like to. (No, come to think of it, I wouldn’t — would be too depressing.

  11. Pat Bertram Says:

    Wolflady: Thanks for depressing the heck out of me. I read Brandewyne’s article, and I might as well give up! I’m one of those doing the ineffective things like blogging and social networking. But if I weren’t, I would never have met you. 🙂
    Nor would I have met the author who sent me the email or any of the people who responded to this blog. That’s something I would not have wanted to miss out on.

    Odd that Brandewyne is sold on television, radio, newspapers. I’ve known people who have done those things on a local basis, and didn’t sell many books.

    Maybe promotion is something each author has to figure out for her/himself.

  12. Smith River Says:

    “are not all sold at bookstores. They are also sold at grocery stores, discount stores, kiosks at airports, drugstores, newsstands, hospital gift shops.”

    I believe this is considered the same thing i.e. a physical copy on a shelf somewhere. This is the key. It’s why serious writers pursue commercial publications with companies that place the product there. That’s the prize.

    Barring that, the effort will most likely not be very fruitful. Blogs are a vanity operation. Only a few have earned clout. The news is old but bears repeating: You have to have more than a pdf file listed online. That is not publishing as it it is known professionally. I don’t think it ever will be. There are just no short cuts in publishing or life.

  13. readwriteandedit Says:

    I have a relative who’s planning to travel with me to book signings when I make it big. I just laugh when she reminds me of that and I let her dream big dreams for the two of us. As for those who comment about every other aspect of my writing life, I consider the source and deal with each as the case demands. Most have no idea of the intricacies of writing. And that’s okay–I know nothing about quite a few fields myself. If they seem interested, I’ll give them enough info on publishing to cross their eyes. But I’ve found most to be enthusiastic in their curiosity. They want me to succeed.

    Their most common complaint? They wonder why it takes so long and why I don’t just present myself to an agent or publisher and have done with it!

    Yes, I love my friends and family.

  14. Wanda Says:

    I don’t know how I would respond but when it happens to me I’ll let you know what I come with. LOL

    What I do know is that you’re a real writer. And I can hardly wait until I have both of your books in my hot little hands!

  15. Laurie Foston Says:

    Forget the naysayers…..

    Get online! Get online everywhere!

    I hope everyone understands that only the comments with the quotation marks were actually off of Rebbecca Brandewyne’s site. The other ravings are those of my own. I could add to hers so easily. If people really knew how hard is was to work with publishers and sometimes editors to come to an agreement they would not think so lightly of their book resting on their bookshelf. That is an amazing accomplishment. But others need to know about it.

    This is not a downer but it starts out with a touch of gloom!

    I was on TV the day of my first book signing. I sold two books that night and those were to the same relative. My book came out at the wrong time….December 16th and the people going through the mall never even stopped to look at me. They ran past me as fast as they could to the Harry Potter books. ;*)

    My first press interview, they talked more about John Grisham’s house across the street than they did my book. Then they told the wrong name and pseudonym.

    I believe in holding a foot in every corner. Network, set up signings, join everything you can on the Internet, hook up with celebrities and watch them progress from 15 to 500 friends in one month’s time. What did they do to attract? Just be themselves! Be human! Sometimes we all get riled up! After their friends add up to more than they can handle…they get themselves a webmaster. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)

    I have bought most of my books from Amazon’s forum discussion board authors, Facebook authors, or people who write me from Facebook and tell me about a good book. I buy from looking at their picture. I bought a lot of Rebbecca Brandewyne’s books because she boldy posed herself on the back as the Damsel in the story when she first started out. She was just s-o-o-o-o a part of the story that she had to have herself in it. I bought it hook, line and sinker. Then loved the books.

    Then I get on Facebook and see some authors who look like they may have a story that I haven’t heard before. Their picture tells a lot.

    Take Pat Bertam’s picture for example. Pat’s picture and the kind of blurb on the back of her book match up. Sounds weird? She’s got the look of, “Rythm-Rythym-arie, I see something that you don’t see!” She’s spunky and has a spark of fire in her smile! Then I go to her book title, “A Spark of Heavenly Fire” and “More Deaths Than One.”

    I’m sold!

    Incidentally, Pat, you could have piggy-backed your title “You Only Die Twice” and with your knowing look in your photo, you would have sold it that way too.

    What? She looks like she knows something…she does!

    I go to Amazon forum to Amazon Shorts ( always sign into Amazon people…get on a thread discussion…forget the naysayers…go to a forum! Everytime I jump into the middle of an arguement in a religious forum, I sell a batch of books. I always speak on the defense of the Lord, of course! I never have to say I am an author. They look up my name and there it is.)

    Then I see a free short story advertised. (Still on Amazon right at this point!) I read it and I’m sold on buying the novel after I read the short story and see the picture of the author. He had a look like he had been in orbit.

    If you have a book and don’t want to peddle bookstores, get on as many networks as possible. AOL, Yahoo, whatever.Amazon. It will still be standing when brick and mortars tumble. Does your publisher have a web site that authors get on to exchange ideas? Get on there. You’ll learn how they promote their work and it will rub off on you.

    Do you want privacy from the main public and want to keep your group small? Get on a Think Tank and the only people who can access that are the people you invite. Let them coach you until you are ready to take on the industry. If you have a message in your book, you have not finished what you were destined to do. You have to tell people about the message. Otherwise, it stays in the bottle and no one finds it out there in that huge sea of books.

    People who have not authored a book have no expertise on the subject of how to promote a book. Your demographic area has a lot to do with local sale. However, you can take it to the bank from authors that you DO need to network and advertise to sell it no matter how big the publisher is or how long it has been out.

  16. Laurie Foston Says:

    One more thing. In the case of Rebbecca Brandewyne, the media works for her because she has degrees in journalism and communication. Unless you have a platform already on the media you will not be able to use the media as a first time author in the same way she did. I tried the media. I have a niece who was friends with the new channel hosting the “Morning Show.” They heard about the book and called my niece and asked her for the chance to interview me because my publisher called them first. This made them look over my name and see that I had a family member working for their news channel. Thus one thing led to another and I was on that show. Things clicked together. Still the interview on TV did not affect my sales. I had sold all of my book stock to family and friends before the books came out to the public. John Grisham sold books out of the trunk of his car and even his platform in the House of Representatives could not land him an interview on TV for his first book. Media is great! Radio is great! But you need contact with your buyers. The greater salesmen will tell you that face-to-face sells more than a billboard!

    If you want to sell without the media…the networking is the best source. John Grisham has a fan club on Facebook.

  17. ~Sia McKye~ Says:

    To Smithriver and other naysayers like him, what I say is this: TIMES CHANGE. The basic methods of publicity/marketing remain the same but the focus of the methods change. To be successful you must CHANGE with the times. Or get left behind.

    These days, a great deal of shopping is done online, including for books, music, movies, clothes, house wares and appliances—even cars and houses. Online is a HUGE mall and that’s the way you have to look at it. No it hasn’t replaced concrete stores but that doesn’t reduce the validity of online sales. Or online promotion. Why? Face it, we’re a techie generation and the technology is there in ever-increasing numbers to facilitate selling and buying. While I don’t have the figures at my fingertips, there are studies that track how much time the average person spends online in a given day for things other than work. It’s huge. Computers can do about anything a TV can—provide you with the latest news, music, TV shows, movies, and books. Cell phones can hook you to your computer and access the Internet. C’mon. The Internet isn’t going anywhere unless some catastrophe happens to eliminate it. Naysayers have to get with the times. Which is why e-books Print on Demand, and traditional published books provided in e-book format isn’t going to go away, no matter how many opinions on what constitutes a “real” book there are.

    If online sales weren’t valid why is every paper catalogue put out there, have an online store? Why are even major manufacturers providing online presence and a venue to sell their products? Everyone from attorneys to roofers sell their services on line. Hollywood sells their products online. Products = their stars, their producers, their movies, TV shows are the same and so does the Music industry. Just about everyone that sells something has a website. It’s real. It’s today, not yesterday.

    For instance, Hollywood of old. Anything that got the actors, producers, and the movie/show in the paper was publicity. It was encouraged, it was “leaked”, it fabricated. Paparazzi are still everywhere with hopes of catching something to write about and sell on the citizens of movie/TV industry. But now, it’s not the papers that get it first, it’s the Internet and the publicity grinders make sure their people are on the internet. Same method, different focus. Actors get known on the screen by the body of their work—if that was enough we wouldn’t see them in print or on the Internet. Personalities sell products. People want to get to know something about the actors not just the shows/movies they’re in.

    If you’re an author, if your product is good, you are going to sell it—if people know you HAVE a product. How are they going to know? Today, it’s the Internet. Authors have to have an Internet presence. Social networks (no doubt there will be other ways in the future) provide a way for the authors to become known to build a readership and name recognition. If the author is a known presence, then people will know their books and buy their books. They will have sales both online and in bookstores or where ever books are sold. Name recognition will help sell that book or books. I’m not discounting the other avenues such as booksigning events, newspapers, radio, and TV, but as Laurie Fuston points out in her comment. Unless you have a platform for it, unless you already have name recognition, this may not increase your sales appreciably. Getting known on the Internet will. Over night success, pffft, not usually, in fact rarely. It takes time and work to garner success. A lot of work.

    My thinking on it this is if you go to all the trouble and time to write a book what’s the point if you’re not going to take the time and work to sell it?

  18. Joan De La Haye Says:

    I get this all the time from family and friends. At first I tried explaining things to them, but now I simply smile and say “What an interesting idea. I’ll see what I can do.”

    Joan De La Haye

  19. Scotti Cohn Says:

    The publisher of my children’s book One Wolf Howls (Sylvan Dell Publishing) encourages all of its authors to market-market-market their books — online, through personal contact, through public appearances — every possible way.

    I don’t mind doing this. I have done it to one degree or another for my previous 5 books (nonfiction, for adults or older children). Did it do any good? I honestly don’t know.

    So far, I have made two public appearances with One Wolf Howls (at my two local libraries), and attendance was very low. I sold 6 books at one event and 1 book at the other event. I’m scheduled to do many more events this year, and I can only hope that I have a few sales and/or raise awareness of the book, creating a ripple effect.

    I wrote a ton of stuff — books, poetry, stories — “just for myself” in my younger years (as a teenager and in my 20s). These days, I want to be published and having achieved that, I want to increase awareness and purchases of my books. I want recognition.

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