I receive several emails every day asking me for advice and I always do what I can to help. But a few months ago it occurred to me that if I were to respond to these emails in a more public way, more people could weigh in on the conversation–and more people might benefit from it. I duly changed the message on my contact form, to warn people that their message to me might end up on my blog (anonymised, of course): and here’s the first one. There might be more. I hope it’s a help. Here we go.
I’m an aspiring novelist and recent graduate with a B.A in English. Thus far, I plan to head to get an MFA in Creative Writing in order to network with different authors and beef up my reputation, but I would like to ask if you had any advice for someone wanting to market their book online in order to create an audience. I’ve sent out query letters and of course have been rejected so I posted my book on bookcountry.com to get feedback and created a Facebook page for it. Are these steps in the right direction or am I being naive? What else can I do to help spread the word about my novel?
Years ago, I took an MA in creative writing at one of the more well-respected Universities and graduated with a distinction. I met a few writers there, but have now lost contact with most of them; and despite all the praise that it attracted at the time, my first novel remains unpublished. I’ve not yet found an agent or publisher who has been impressed by my expensive and hard-won qualification, although some have been impressed by my writing. And yet I think that the MA was well worth taking. Because although I didn’t get published, find an agent, or become firm friends with any famous or infamous writers as a result of it, the MA improved my writing no end and taught me a lot about writing and publishing that I didn’t know or understand.
The biggest thing that I learned from it, though, was how many really good writers there are out there; and how it doesn’t matter how good a writer you are: you’re never going to get published if you don’t finish the books you’re writing, if you give up submitting after the first stinging rejection, or if you send nothing out.
By all means take your MFS: but don’t expect it to help you when it comes to querying. The only important thing when you’re querying is the strength of your query, and the strength of the book you’re querying.
You write, “I’ve sent out query letters and of course have been rejected”. Why that “of course”? It implies that you know your writing isn’t good enough for acceptance. If you really think that, you need to stop querying, stop worrying about how to market your unpublished book, and work on making it better–or on writing a new and better book. It could be that your query isn’t up to the job (in which case spend some time reading Query Shark, and join AbsoluteWrite.com where you’ll get a lot of help and advice). But if you think that your book is good enough, then have more faith in it. If we, as writers, don’t believe in our books, then no one else is going to. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your work, but it’s hard when all you’ve had is rejection.
Should you continue to work on promoting your book online? I wouldn’t. Wait until you have an agent, at least; or even until you have a publisher. At the moment you’re promoting a book which doesn’t exist, as far as the reading public is concerned. Even if you find a publisher for it right now, the book is unlikely to be published for at least another year and when it does appear it might have gone through some significant plot changes, it could have dropped a character or two, and it could even have jumped into a different genre. And your publisher might want to change the title you’ve given it–that’s often the case–in which case all your efforts will be for nothing. Do you think that you’re going to be able to maintain people’s interest in it for that length of time? And if so, how much effort is that going to take? Might that effort perhaps be better spent in writing a new and better book?
Very few writers get their first books published. Some don’t get their second, third, fifth, ninth or twelfth books published either. Some never get published at all. Keep writing. Focus on your craft. There’ll be plenty of time to promote your books once they’re published. Now is not the time.