Friday, October 16, 2009

Taming the Beast - Selling Yourself, not Your Book by Robert W. Walker

Recently someone asked what I meant about selling “yourself and not your book” or selling it with a look, a wink, a smile and a nod. We were talking books at a virtual bar, having a virtual drink; she had a martini, I had a Jack Whiskey Sour. I proceeded to explain in more detail; did so over the juke box wailing out “Don’t be Cruel” and Elvis was at his best. We had been discussing what a writer has to do these days to gain attention for his work since there are now in the pool of writers everyone who thinks he can write whether correct or not, everyone who acts on the thought ‘I can write better’n that’, in other words: everyone with half a mind to write a book, unfortunately DOES. Leaping in with both feet.

Almost anyone and more people can afford to self publish nowadays, and anyone can digitally publish at NO cost to the author, and besides more people can afford the huge mistake of publishing with some major vanity presses that do nothing in the way of screening or editing even when paid to edit. In fact, there are far more publishing outlets and possibilities now than in the history of publishing EVER. So… while competition for shelf space in bookstores in the real world has always been difficult and tight, nowadays, it appears even greater competition for space in the mushrooming “Digital Stores” where shelf space is also stiff as stiff can get stiff.

So what’s a writer to do? Nothing? A Dan Brown, Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell need do nothing as their books are bestsellers even before the book sees print (preorders). No one apparently needs to read said books to know that they are “worthy” of becoming bestsellers. (It’s about numbers, not quality of writing). Go figure. That aside, ninety nine percent of authors are without a budget and are told by their publishers: (1) ads for books do not sell books, so we’re not going to advertise your book like we do Dan’s or Steve’s or Patti’s (they do not explain this much to the Dan Browns, to Stephen King or Patricia Cornwell as they probably would gasp and insist that their publisher stop this practice and instead advertise all their titles using their budgets—Disney said if you can imagine it, you can do it…).

Number 2 remark mid-list authors hear always: You have to commit to selling your book on your own in any way you can, anywhere you can, anyhow you can at all hours of the day and night. 3) You need to create an online presence. Some publishers will even create a Myspace or a Facebook page for the fledgling author to get her or him started.

And so I have been creating my online personae (my juggling act; on unicycle juggling ten plates at once from the edge of a diving boad) and doing for something in the neighborhood of five years now. I began with various chat groups like, and I added others as I found them; I began with Myspace where I blog and try to keep up and place bulletins; I added Facebook, Crimespace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and Twitter. All in an effort to build a fan base, and to sell not myself but my books, but a strange thing happened on the way to selling a million copies. I have learned that people respond less and less to the overwhelming number of appeals to “read my book” and “buy my book” and “you gotta really read this, my book!” and far more to other things like a smile, a wink, a nod.

Being online as much as I am nowadays, I have come to a full arc from hawking my book to hawking interest in my dull life! HA, to THERE! There you have it…or rather there my eyes were opened. I have always considered my personal life a total BORE, but NOT SO….apparently. It has been quite a metamorphosis within my brain pan, and it has not come easily or quickly but that look….that wink…that smile…the shot of me and Pongo up on my profile page, my jokes, my picture with the cardboard Capt. Jack Sparrow with Miranda flanking his other side, my photo with a similar Will Smith, my having had to neuter Clark Kent—SuperCat—my cat….now that’s what people respond to. Leave ‘em laughing has always been my watchword at conferences and speaking engagments, and it is twice as true on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and elsewhere. But it took me a loooooong time to figure this out. Call me thick.

I am convinced that going direct to a sales pitch is never a good idea, not even at a book signing where it is expected, right? No ask the potential customer what he does for a living, make a remark about the cute grandchild, remark on apparel, the weather, point out when a lady comes into the store with three children that perhaps she needs the “relief” offered by a good story to escape into—then speak of your story, of course.

And the same appears to be true of the internet social networking connections we make. I want to spend some time making responses to the potential reader or fan online by answering their tweets, replying to their Facebook remarks—whether on the weather or about the kitchen fire they’re recovering from or the loss of a pet, or Or OR…. And while the progress appears slow….hey I have been at this for years—it is a way to gain new readers, all of whom have access to others and to review sites and their favorite chat rooms.

I don’t sneak up on people with the wink and the nod and the smile; I am quite up front with the fact I am a writer with books in the trunk of my virtual car as I drive on through what’s being said by whom on Facebook and elsewhere. I still often make direct appeals as when I have had a review or when someone has interviewed me, and I often continue to make an appeal to “read this book!” but the lion’s share of my posts nowadays—as the arc has arrived—go to social remarks, political rants, personal tales of terror as when my stepson broke his nose (talk about bloody), and what’s the deal with Miranda’s deciding to rip up the carpeting and strip the floor, and on and on. What I have learned, which so surprises me, is that people in general love to hear about the mundane backdrop in a writer’s life as much as they might a photographer’s life, a sculptor’s life, a CPA’s life, or a teacher’s life….nurse, doctor, lawyer, candlestick maker. Not to mention a puppeteer or marionette operator. These online sites are like an insatiable unquenchable WE or US magazine only the stars are, well, us’ns.

And so we finish our drinks, and I explain to the stunning beauty on the bar stool beside me, my wife, that it is worthwhile to continue to focus on meeting folks all across America and overseas online and to meet them with a smile, a nod, and a wink. We toast to the brilliance of just being ourselves and know we needn’t be working so hard as we have in the past. We have come of age in the virtual world, old enough to down our virtual drinks where you don’t have to reveal your age.

By the way, there’s been a great review posted regarding my how-to for the disorganized writer in you, a book entitled DEAD ON WRITING at a terrific eZine begun by several young ladies who believe in the power of educating oneself to becoming a writer, folks who believe in craft before marketing. This is at – locate the review under articles. The book itself can be found in all eFormats from the Kindle Store, the Digital Store, Smashwords, and in paper format from That’s Dead On Writing!

Happy Writing Everyone,
Rob Walker

"Dead On takes the reader's capacity for the imagination of horror to stomach turning depths, and then gives it more twists than a Georgia backroad that paves an Indian trail." - Nash Black


Jacqueline Seewald said...


I'm right there with you! Everything you said is dead on!
I wish we could get facts and statistics as what will get our name and message across best. My younger son who is in the business world would totally agree with you in that he says you have to get people to recognize your "Brand" which is your name. The books sell if people know your name. What is it Donald Trump says? There's no such thing as bad publicity. Of course, it helps a lot if your publisher has good distribution.

Jacqueline Seewald
THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print 2008

Jackie Griffey said...

Rob: Great article and I couldn't agree more - so much selling, especially NOW, really involves selling yourself and your interest in others, and the just plain great ability to enterain and network.

Besides, it's FUN :-)

Best always,

Rob Walker said...

Jackie says "besides it's fun" -- Yeah, what else would we be doing? Watching reruns of The Brady Bunch...that's when you know you have lost it.... Will check back and hey, two Jackies are my favorite except for my Jack Daniels.

Tom Piccirilli said...

Excellent piece on how to righteously navigate the internet waters to best present yourself and your books. Nice job, brother!

Amanda Flower said...

You're article made me laugh... and feel a teensy bit overwhelmed. What have I gotten myself into?! Off to twitter, facebook, etc. I go...

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Great advice, Rob. Next you can write an article on time management, because after writing my quota for the day, I don't feel like sitting at the computer for several more hours to do blogs, social networking, etc. How does one find the time to do everything? So far I'm on Facebook but have avoided Twitter and MySpace. It's enough to keep up with the things I do. So how do you manage all these tasks with getting neck and shoulder problems from hunching over a keyboard all day?

Rob said...

Nancy -- I feel your pain. How do I avoid the hunched over the computer syndrome...I got a direct satelite hook up wih a FAT thumb drive thanks to NTelos phone company now so I can get online anywhere in the home, standing or in what is now called the Pat Browning pose--in the L-Z Boy, feet in the air. Not at one station all day does help a great deal.

jenny milchman said...

Rob never fails to nail the truth about all these topics we aspiring/struggling writers hear so much about. I love this--and it feels intuitively true, as well.

However, now I will know what he really means when he tells me my grandkid is adorable ;)

Just kidding, I don't even have grandkids--it'll have to be my lovely blouse, Rob...

Rob said...

Hey but I will mean it, and even if I don't mean it, I will toast to it, you know that. I just have recently accepted the fact my dog, Pongo, in the pic at back of the book sells more copies of said book than I do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rob,
Wonderful post! Although I began blogging seriously (or not so seriously) only in May, I've been tending in the direction you describe, and I agree, people seem to enjoy reading about unexpected, everyday topics. For example, in a recent post I described ushering at a Tragically Hip concert and being groped by an attractive young lesbian (me, an aging, overweight, married-35-years straight woman).

My blog stats - averaging 150+ per day - suggest people like this. Has it translated into more book sales? The verdict's still out, but like you, I'm having fun.

Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso