Friday, October 16, 2020

Author's Note: Public Relations

On October 24th, the Book Market in Crest Hill is hosting a book signing, and I will be selling and signing copies of my novel, The Book of Cain, along with a few anthologies I have contributed to. These are always enjoyable events, and I definitely like getting a chance to meet readers and talk about what their interest are and so forth. Signing autographs is also cool, but it’s so much more interesting to speak with my fellow humans.

When I do these book signings, I get the usual set of questions: What do I like to write? Which authors do I follow? What got me started as a writer? All of these are good questions and I have answered many of them somewhere during the history of this blog. However, one question that came up at a recent signing caught me off-guard, and I decided it was worth writing about. It was a simple question, but it had a lot of gravity in it:

“Are book signings really necessary?”

The answer, in short, is yes. But this brings up a bigger subject: Public Relations (PR). I know a lot of people who toiled for years to create the perfect novel, and only after it was finished did they start thinking about how they were going to promote it. This is a common mistake – and also a rite of passage – and writers have to realize that not only do they need to work on PR with the same kind of passion as writing, but unless they sign with a publicist, PR is largely their own responsibility.

(Note: This is only important to the writer who wants to get published and build up a career as a writer. For those people who just want to work on their process and develop their skills, PR does not have to be too high on their list.)

Now, the whole public relations game is not as difficult as it sounds in its first stages. The most important part about the PR game is just meeting other writers – networking with anyone any everyone who is interested in writing – and you can do this before you’ve finished a manuscript. Most local libraries have writing groups or workshops that take all comers, and many have programs for local writers. Community centers often have similar programs, along with local bookstores and coffee shops. Once you start looking through community sources, you will be surprised at how many resources are available for networking.

As your network grows, you will start hearing about chances to present smaller works – character sketches, poems, short stories – in a public forum. Take these chances. This takes you from being just someone in a writers’ group to that person who did that great piece the other day, and it is a huge boost to your confidence. As people start seeing you as a writer, you start seeing yourself as a writer as well. More importantly, you can reference those works you’ve presented as good examples of your work. In short, people start connecting you with your writing. At that point, when you eventually say you have a book coming out, your built-in audience is ready to snap it up and recommend it to others as well.

It should not be surprising when I say this takes a long time, but that’s the important part – since it takes a while, it’s important to do this while you are working on your process, voice, and style. The people you meet and the feedback you can get from them will help you grow as a writer, and your network will become just as important to your development as any study group or workshop.

Now, for those of you who are thinking this is a lot of work, well, it is. As regular readers will know, public speaking is not my favorite thing, and I am not a social butterfly when it comes to building a network. However, I do it because it is part of the hard work that comes with a career as a published author. It is uncomfortable at times, nerve-wracking, and even makes my hands shake (which does not help when I am signing books). And through all that, I know it builds my network a little bit more each time. If you don’t believe me, come to the Book Market in Crest Hill between 2-4 pm on October 24th and see just how I manage it.

And we can talk about writing too, if you want.

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