Monday, August 29, 2011

How I Became a Published Writer – Part 6 of 7

An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #6:

Written by Alan Chin

In October, 2008, a seed I had planted and nurtured and worked toward for several years had finally flowered. My first book, Island Song, was published. As I held a copy in my hands, I said to myself, “You’re now published, and what you’ve written will have an effect on readers. Who knows how many people will read this?”

My euphoria wore off in only a few days, and reality settled in—if I really wanted many readers to be effected by my novel, then I needed to let them know about it. Up until that point I had thought the whole writing/editing/publishing effort had been hard work, but now I needed to market my book, and I had no idea of where to start.

I read a study that claimed over 80%—over 80%!!!—of all books published in 2006 sold less than one-hundred copies. They attributed this sad statistic to the fact that most publishers do nothing to promote books unless well-known authors write them. Add to that, most writers are dismal at marketing. They sell a few dozen books to friends and family, and give up due to lack of confidence or lack of effort. I became determined to sell several hundred copies, perhaps even thousands. But how?

I knew that many authors spend hordes of money traveling to book expos and bookstore signings to peddle their books, but I didn’t have the confidence that sinking that much money into promotion would pay off in the long run. It seemed to me that spending time on the Internet—direct mailings, writing blogs, literary group discussions, chat rooms, review sites, Facebook and Twitter—was a cheap way to get my name out there. It could also be the most effective way, my publisher informed me, if I was willing to put in the time and effort. Luckily, being retired, I had plenty of both to spare.

So I began to split my time between two tasks. I spent mornings, generally 8am to noon, working on my third novel, Match Maker, a story of gay tennis players battling homophobia on the pro tennis circuit. I would break for lunch and a few hours with my husband, be back at the computer by 3pm, and would work the Internet in whatever way presented itself until dinner at 7pm. That became, and still is, my pattern—four hours of writing in the mornings, four hours of marketing in the afternoons. It’s been a fulltime job since 2008. So much for retirement….

It didn’t take long before my hours upon hours of working the Internet felt like screaming into a black hole. Nothing came back, and the sales figures for my first two books confirmed that my efforts produced little results. The thing that effectively boosted sales was book reviews, and I was fortunate to gather a number of five-star reviews from prominent reviewers. But there were only a handful of sites that reviewed lgbt themed books. So in 2009, I began reviewing lgbt themed books and posting them on my writer’s blog. That led to creating two other review sites, including managing an LGBT literature column for here in San Francisco. I quickly found that I enjoyed reading/reviewing other writer’s works, and I felt I was offering other writers new outlets to promote their books. It became a win/win situation not only for me, but also for the writers I admire. It also put me in contact with dozens of writers and publishers whom I never would have met otherwise.

Today I review thirty to forty books per year, and my reviews are read on six different literary sites, including Lambda’s literary blog. Even though more readers were seeing my name here and there, sales were still sluggish. When I published my third novel, Match Maker, with a different publisher, Dreamspinner Press, my sales took a very satisfying jump. I believe this happened for two reasons. First, the book was very well received by readers and reviewers. Second, Dreamspinner Press helps its authors promote their books. Since switching publishers, my books sales have been steadily rising, and I’m pretty thrilled about it.

But still I spent four or more hours per day promoting my books, all the time thinking there must be an easier way. Then a fellow writer told me I should become a screenwriter if I didn’t like promoting. Screenwriters write movie scripts, sell them to studios, and the studios do the promotion. That sounded great to me. And how difficult could it be writing movie scripts? I mean, I’ve sat through volumes of movies thinking: I can do better than this….

Let me say, I couldn’t have been more wrong. But more about my journey down the screenwriting path in the next installment.

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