I’ve been following several authors who have been successful in their self-publishing pursuits. We can tell how successful by their placement on the sales list. You’re moving a lot of books if you’re on the Top 100 at Amazon. Several of these authors talk about the value of self-promotion. Most say that an author needs to spend at least twenty percent of their time promoting their work. Requesting reviews, blogging, chatting, and interfacing with anyone who will talk about them in any way so their name is out there. They are quick to point out that not just the books, but you as the author, are the product. And you better be able to pimp the product.
But how do I do that? That’s contrary to how I was raised and how I’ve spent my life. My parents taught me not to talk about my accomplishments. No one likes a braggart. I can tell you who I am and what I did, but I can’t tell you how freaking wonderfully I did it. That’s never been part of my skill set. An NCO’s job is to do what’s right for his troops – not for personal gain. The mantra for those of us who are true believers has always been “take care of the troops and the mission will take care of itself.” I’m not sure that I can change a lifetime of saying “It’s not about me” in order to sell a few books.
Don’t ask me to tell you that I’m good at something. I can’t. I can talk about how great everyone else is. I can tell you that E.P. Brown continued to give his brothers in arms 110% even though his commander made it his personal mission to treat him like crap. That Kevin “Gunny” Collins didn’t just show up even as his body began to argue with him at every turn, he pushed on and continued to lead from the front, ignoring the pain because he’d made a commitment to do so. And that, even though we gave him zero guidelines in competing for Instructor of the Quarter, Steven Jones-Johnson set the standard when he gave the finest program presentation that I have ever seen in my life. In retrospect, I realize that it wasn’t in their DNA to do anything less than they were capable of. They were all simply incredible NCOs who I’ve never forgotten. I’m thrilled to tell you about those NCOs, but I’ll avoid telling you what my role was. It was never about what I did – it was about what they did.
So, where does this leave me in the world of selling my books? My books are personal. There’s a good chunk of me in every one. I can tell you what I do by writing about why I do it, and even addressing some of the questions about the process. But I can’t tell you that I’m freaking fantabulous at what I do. In fact, I’m so uncomfortable with the whole process of promoting that when someone tells me they’re buying one of my books, I have to suppress the urge to lower their expectations. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable when people talk nice about me. I want to warn them that I’m not a bad writer, but I’m not God’s gift to word craft. I’ve learned to just shut up and pray they won’t think I’m an idiot.
I’m incapable of spin. I once knew someone who proudly proclaimed on her website that she was a bestselling author. I was totally impressed until I realized that she was one of only three authors at a small start-up publisher and she was selling 20 books a month, which was 5 more than each of the other authors. She wasn’t lying. She was the best seller for that publisher, but I felt like she was cheating me as a consumer. I publish under my friend Dean’s business banner. He’s the brilliant guy who does all my covers and handles the pain-in-the-ass process of getting my books out there. I’m his bestselling author. But, I’m also his only author. However, at under 30 books a month, I’m pretty realistic about what that means. I’m in the lower 2 million of Amazon’s top seller’s lists. I’m incapable of spinning bullshit into fairy tales so you’ll never see those words in a sales pitch unless I make it onto Amazon’s Top 100. Hell – the words sales pitch brings on the cold sweats and a slightly light-headed feeling.
I can post the news that I have a good review and thank the person who wrote it, but I can’t help worrying that my friends will think I’m acting like a braggart. But apparently that’s what I’m supposed to be if I’m going to be in this business.
Truth: I have no fear of getting up in front of 200 genealogists or historians and talking about military records. If you want to know how to figure out what all that stuff is in your ancestor’s compiled service record, unit history, adjutant general’s reports, Civil War Pension files, and court martial records, I’m your gal. I am also capable of speaking for well over an hour about the historic economic factors that most affected your ancestor’s migrations and help you apply that information to your research.
But none of those things are about me. I’ve been speaking publicly for over thirty years, and I still don’t know where to look or what to do when I’m being introduced and the emcee says nice things. My urge is to tell the audience not to get too excited – it’s just me. I’m no different than they are. I’m simply a well organized genealogist who’s unafraid of public speaking. Although, I do admit that every time I think I’m ready for a speaking engagement, I remember Jones-Johnson’s presentation, and I go back through my notes, check my facts again, and I practice one more time. I’d like to be half as good as he was that day.
It’s kind of the same thing with the books. I’m just a reader who is able to share a story. As strange as it sounds coming from a person writing about themselves on their own website, I’m simply incapable of screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” I’m not even really comfortable linking this blog to my Facebook page. That makes me feel like I’m imposing my work on my friends. Too bad I can’t summon one of my many other personalities to be the writer, then I could sing her praises instead of my own.
Those big selling authors have told me that my sales will never take off if I don’t work at this part of the process. That I’m losing sales now and the longer I wait – the less money I’ll make.
Well, folks… I wasn’t making any money when I got into this. And I’m sure as hell not making any money now. But I don’t recall starting this to make money. I just wanted to write what I wanted to write and have a book and a cover that I could be proud of. My ten faithful readers haven’t complained, and I haven’t hurt anyone that I can think of.
Would I like to sell more? Hell, yes! I’d love to be discovered and pick up some coin.
But am I likely to change who I am to do it? Hell, no!
So, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be right here, writing instead of pimping.