Panic

That’s what comes right after the sudden realization that you have a book coming out in three weeks. Panic because at that point there really is very little you can do to affect how your book will perform. The main things you can do for a book’s initial sales happen months to years before it ever hits the shelves.

The things that really matter happen every day at the keyboard as you try to produce the best book you possibly can. They happen in the revisions and polishing you do before you ever show it to another human being. They happen in the days after you get comments back from your first readers and from your editor, when you strive to take the things they have told you and make them your own, because all the kudos and all the blame belong to you. They happen in your relations with your editor and your readers.

Oh, there are things you can do to promote the book as it comes out. You can blog, as I am doing here with CodeSpell coming out in just a few short weeks. You can write press releases and arrange signings. You can give interviews. Your publisher can send the book around to reviewers. All of which I do. But no one really knows how much good any of those things accomplish.

They say that ninety percent of promotion is dross and ten percent is gold and the person who figures out which is which is going to make a fortune. Writing is a non-linear business, books can make anywhere from five dollars to five million dollars and some of that is promotion but more of it is luck. Neither of which I have much control over. And that breeds panic.

What calms panic is discipline and professionalism, working to control the things I can, letting the things I can’t go, and finding the wisdom to know which is which. So when I think about the upcoming book and my heart hammers in my chest, I remind myself that I have written the best book I could. That I worked hard and showed it to readers and listened to suggestions (though I didn’t take all of them). That I can and do strive to turn books in early and to be professional in my relations with my publisher and my readers.

I remind myself that no matter how well any individual book performs, what will make or break my career in the long term is how well I perform.

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  1. 1. Simon Haynes

    I’m in the same boat – exactly 16 days to the book launch, and three weeks until the official release.

    I’ve been planning my campaign for some time now, and May is action month. I’ve talked my publisher into (something I can’t announce yet, curses) and I’ve also employed Google adwords (cheap), and I’m doing a fridge magnet giveaway (costly, but 1200 spoken for so far, all in my target audience.)

    There are also school visits and lit festivals to attend, which don’t have a lot of impact on sales but do give me a chance to be a bit more visible.

    Over the past three years I’ve steadily built up a mailing list of 1000 people, and because I only update them once every 2-3 months they’re pretty patient with me.

    There’s also the monthly book draw I’ve been doing since 2005. That list has 2500 names on it, and it’s easy enough to give away half a dozen books now and then. They all visit the web page to see whether they’ve won, and that’s a chance to slip in an announcement or a link. Again, it’s not cheap, since I post many of the winning books internationally, but my publisher comes to the party with free books from time to time.

    Like you I’m writing a series, although I’m aiming for 10-15 titles overall. Therefore, every little effort now is likely to have a snowball effect with each release. Yes, I could leave it all to my publisher, but I’m not going to.

    And now, back to the design of my new bookmarks …

  2. 2. Jeri

    As someone whose book releases tomorrow, I can relate. You reach a certain point where you realize, like you said, that you’ve done all you can, and it’s up to the readers now. Time to focus on that next book (which tends to be due around release date, anyway, publishing being the sadistic business that it is. ;-)

    It’s like planning a big party or a wedding–prepare for what you can control and take the rest as it comes. And most important, remember to enjoy yourself!

  3. 3. Kelly McCullough

    Simon, yeah, it’s so tough to decide what you should or shouldn’t do in terms of promotion. I’ve tried to limit myself to things that are inexpensive and I don’t do anything I don’t actually enjoy on the grounds that if I’m not having any fun chances are the people who are interacting with me aren’t having much either.

    Jeri, the wedding’s a good analogy, especially the part about remembering to enjoy yourself. This business is such a crazy mix of incredibly slow and drop-dead sudden it can drive you crazy some days. There’s no job I’d rather have, but it does have its pluses and minuses.

Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.

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