I’ve always been a bit of a Grinch. The more people want me to be excited about the holidays, the more hostile I tend to become, which has led to a steep decline in party invitations in my life. As it turns out, being the Grinchy curmudgeon who likes to make 10-minute speeches about the commercialization of the holidays does not make you popular, which is information I could have used twenty years ago.
The answer for a lot of writers is “I don’t know.” And, frankly, that’s a legitimate answer. Many of us started writing when we were young out of a natural instinct, a desire to tell stories, and an innate love of language and words. Even if we’ve tried to analyze our process, chances are we don’t know as much about our inner lives as we might like. There’s a reason a lot of writers refer to “the muse,” a mysterious source of ideas and inspiration: Whatever subconscious process goes on to deliver ideas to us often seems like a message from beyond, some kind of cosmic beam we’re somehow tuned into.
I have a writer acquaintance who works very, very slowly. Whenever we discuss the craft or business of writing, I’m always amazed at the amount of time they put into every stage of the process: The research, the outlining, the drafting, the revision. They’ve been known to work on a single short story for years.
A running joke I have in my informal writing and social media is the title of my eventual memoir. For a while, it was going to be “Blondes, Bombs, and Bourbon: The Jeff Somers Story.” Then it was “Confidently Incorrect: The Jeff Somers Story.” Most recently, I’ve settled on “Who Needs Pants, Anyway: The Jeff Somers Story.”
Whether you’re talking to agents, editors, or publicists, one of the critical elements in any promo plan is “comparable titles” also known as comps or comp titles. At some point in your publishing career, you will face this dreaded challenge. Traditional publishing leans heavily on them to minimize their exposure and shorten lead times, but even self-publishing uses them for publicity and market expansion.
When my first novel, Lifers, published, I made almost zero plans to promote it. I thought that promoting the book was the publisher’s responsibility, so I basically settled in for a nap and waited for the royalty checks to come in (spoiler alert: this didn’t work). Then, a few weeks later, Lifers received a capsule review in The New York Times Book Review. My wife and I ran out and bought every copy of the paper we could find, and I settled back to take a longer nap and waited for even larger royalty checks to arrive.
We may be living in the future in terms of technology, but promoting a book remains a surprisingly personal exercise. No amount of social media savvy and fancy cloud-based apps have managed to replace that traditional standby: The interview.
Imagine your phone is ringing at this moment. You answer it and on the other end, an eager television producer or magazine columnist or documentary filmmaker asks if you’d be interested in talking about your work to a few hundred thousand strangers. Who doesn’t love free publicity, amIright? That’s a hell of an opportunity and one that would absolutely put your work into new hands you’d never otherwise reach.
A good rule of thumb for any self-promoting author (or any creative trying to cut through the noise) is to lean into your natural skill set. For example, I like to talk. I like to talk a lot. I go from zero to pontificating within moments. I like talking so much I talk to myself—to a disturbing degree.
Before the pandemic, I was seated on a panel with a bunch of colleagues speaking to an audience of about 200 savvy genre readers. As often happens at the end of such events, the organizers took questions from the audience who good-naturedly kept the conversation going and flowing. Naturally, someone asked the authors, “What are you each reading right now?”