Book Promotion for the Awkward Literary Squad – Chapter Fifteen on Self-Publishing
There have been various quotes in various high-brow media channels along the lines of ‘Self-publishing is all very well for commercial fiction, but it is no place for literary fiction.’ Complete with self-important snorting. This is a bit irritating, given half the reason for collective despair over tradtional publishers is their massaging every last penny out of celebrity autobiographies & the latest fad (see Waterstone’s large section at front of shop featuring not only E.L James but various copycats, it almost make you nostalgic for the Twilight era, eh?).
Before this great big band wagon really hit the road, the words ‘independent publishing’ meant small established publishers. And this was, and still is, very much a place for what folk like to call Literary Fiction. If you have a polished work & are thinking through the various routes, I’d still advise trying that pony. But please, please, do your research first. Look at who they publish, buy one of their books and read it even. Publishing is large upfront costs for certain return. These folk aren’t making a lot of money, they’re doing it for the love. Show respect by not approaching them until: a) your book is very polished; b) you’ve sussed out what they’re about & whether they even accept unsolicited submissions; c) you know all the gory, petty little details like what font/spacing/covering email you should use.
Anyway. I digress. The first problem with literary fiction is attitudes & misconceptions. The Lit Fic readers have a tendency to be snobby about self-publishing & the self-pubbing crowd tend to expect Lit Fic writers to be snobby. So you’re struggling with two prejudices. So a little extra common sense here – make sure you’re book is of exceptionally high standard in terms of editing & design… and be open-minded when interacting with other writers. While my novel Dogtooth Chronicals crosses various territories (environmental science fiction/dystopia/speculative/magic realism), I will admit between you and me, it’s fairly literary. It is character-driven, full of philosophical ponderings & explorations into the human psyche. It’s also full of dialect, very dark humour, swearing and drinking. I don’t expect A. S. Byatt to become my biggest fan.
But while most of my writer & reader friends tend to have read a fair few classics, they’re not literary types. Many prefer Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Crime & Romance. I don’t believe there’s a great divide between what is and isn’t literary (Philip K. Dick, Tolkien, Anne Rice all are, in my humbles), it’s just that commercial fiction (that which fits a formula & is easy on the brain) tends to be ‘genre’.
That discussion aside, how to promote the awkward squad who don’t fit neatly into any catagory?
I’ve mentioned previously techniques to find book blogs which may suit your niche by collecting sub-catagories & areas of interest. No book appeal to all readers, who is your target audience? What else do they read? Where do they live? Do they have a dog? Do they like knitting? Marketing your own work needs to be done in a personal way. There needs to be common ground. What works for another writer will not neccessarily work for you. And again, the market is saturated and many routes are exhausted. I was very excited to discover an e-zine called The Teeming Brain. It ticked so many of my boxes. I put in a request that they review Dogtooth Chronicals (along with a whole bunch of other sites I’ve never heard back from), months later they sent me a really nice reply saying “This looks great, but really sorry we’ve got too big a back log.”
This game takes dogged persistence. It will take a long time, but you need to keep pressing on. There are successful Lit Fic self-pubbers, I found an interview with US writer Terri Giuliano who has sold 90,000 odd books. There are a few tips in it on marketing & much discussion of the difficulty (like here)…
The Death of Literary Fiction on Indie Reader also mentions George Berger, who (with Midnight’s Tale) seemed to find success very accidentally. He’s worth looking up for the funniest author bio I’ve read & generally coming across as genial & self-deprecating. But examining the success of the successful for a pattern is a trail many have trod. There are connections, but ultimately no formula.
One issue with Lit Fic is whether the same play with pricing should be tested. Should we value e.g. a 700 page novel that took half a decade to perfect, at under a pound? On this subject the advice I’ve heard from many is start low in order to build an audience & then put it up to something more appropriate (but still under £5 for an ebook as they don’t incur the same costs as print). This technique is also used by specialist digital publishers Open Road when dealing with established literary authors trying to make a splash in e-publishing. I’ve reduced Dogtooth Chronicals to 98p at the moment to see if I can shift a few & get word going.
I’ve found a few places recommended for promoting literary fiction in general. I’ve yet to fully investigate but there is Awesome Indies, Book Slut which is a literary zine & HTML Giant which seems to be a literary blog you can contribute to yourself. (In that vein I recommend Flaneur Arts & Culture zine, which is also a bit more UK biased). Other general sites include Love Reading (UK) & The Millions but I’ve yet to see how these can be utilised by small-time publishers like myself.
As I’ve oft repeated (with melancholy refrain) most book promotion sites which welcome self-pubbed authors are mainly populated by said authors – the reason I’ve not found Authonomy very useful. Sure they’ve got loads of traffic, but if everyone is there to sell, you’re shouting into the void. And most of these folk are in the commercial fiction field, proffering the advice that to become successful you need to write lots of books. Fast. It is certainly worth dipping a toe in to test the water here & there, but these places will drain you.
So, where are the readers? Apart from on reputable book review sites (who likely already have a huge backlog of books to read) there are literary-specific social networks. The two biggest from what I can gather are Goodreads & Library Thing. The idea is to post about the books you read & hopefully find like-minded individuals. This is of course very time-consuming, I’m concentrating on Goodreads because there are actually people I know who use it. Happily Goodreads frown on the kind of blanket self-promoting that happens on other sites, though this makes it difficult to feel you can just ‘friend’ people who you can tell might like your book according to what they read. Anyway, I found this blog on How to use Goodreads. I’m still working on the etiquette of it all, but if you do join I am at www.goodreads.com/KirstyFox.
Through all this research (much of which was done during a critical bout of insomnia, bygones), I really feel like there needs to be a UK-centric home for independent literary ebooks. It probably exists, I just haven’t found it yet. Being the pro-active type, I’m tempted to make one. But it’s having the time to attend to it. I was considering a facebook group, but self-publishers tend to cluster-bomb these places regardless of their relevance.
….Five minutes later. What the hell, I’ll delete it if it becomes annoying! Come join this FB group Independent Literary Fiction in the UK & invite your friends too.
And please, if you have any recommendations for the Awkward Squad, please add them to the comments…