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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Pick Me, Pick Me!

I heard a preacher once say, "What's the first thing you do when you look at a group picture that you're in? Raise your hand if your answer is: Look for myself." Guess how many hands were raised?

All of them, including mine.

A couple of days ago, my 9th novel, The Promise, came out. Always an exciting time, for the most part. If you're still waiting to be published--especially if you've been waiting a long time--you might think, "What do you mean, for the most part? You've signed a multi-book deal with a major publisher. Something you've written is being made into a book and sold in stores all over the place, and you're getting paid for doing something you love? How can there be a downside?"

For me, there kinda is.

Take a look at the picture above. What do you see? These are all the Christian fiction books being released in September. Just September. And just through traditional CBA publishers. If you add in the books from smaller, independent houses and self-published books, it would be way bigger.

The good news book (The Promise) is among them. The bad news? My book is among them. You can find it...just keep looking.

When I first saw this, I was excited and instantly scanned it to find my book. Then I started looking at books from author friends, happy to find many I recognized (and happy for them, that they have another book coming out). But soon I started seeing this pic from a different angle, from a reader's POV. Man, that's a lot of books. SO many books to choose from. What's the chances they'll see my book in the middle of this huge pile or pick mine as one of the few books they'll buy this month?

Then my marketing-self kicks into gear (reminds me of those old cartoons with the little red devil on your shoulder). How can I get people to pick my book, and not all these others (well, they can buy a few others)? How can I stand out from all the rest? There's way too many books to choose from. I've got to do something, anything, to make a splash. How could I make it go viral? Maybe do something on YouTube. No, that won't work. I'd have to hire a ridiculously good looking model to pretend he's me. Besides, there's too many pics of the real me already out there. But I need to do something that'll cause my book to become a runaway bestseller. The book everyone is buzzing about.

I hate marketing.

Can't I just write? Can't I just focus on the stories and the characters? Can't I just spend my time doing the creative things I love and interact with people for all the good and right reasons? Can't I just be glad to have a seat at the table and not care which table I'm sitting at, or how close my table is to the front of the room?

The answer is...Yes. Because I'm a Christian. Because I belong to God. My writing life is not a separate compartment from the rest of my life. It, too, falls under the jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Even the marketing parts I hate. Anyway, from everything I'm reading and learning about marketing, there is no science to why one book takes off and another one founders. Some great works of literature wind up going nowhere and some dopey books sell a million.

Instead of desperately crying out to that mass of fiction readers, "Pick me, pick me!" I can let it all go and put my energy and focus on the things I'm gifted at and do best. I'll still do the various marketing things I'm supposed to do, but I'll leave the results in God's hands. It's too big for me. He's the One who sets my boundaries. That's how this is supposed to work.

(A sigh). You know, I feel better already. do you all deal with this stuff?

Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 9 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, Remembering Christmas and The Dance. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Six of his books have been Top Picks on RT Reviews. Two were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take long walks. To connect with Dan or check out his books, go to:


Donna Collins Tinsley said...

Because your books speak for themselves and you have so many fans that absolutely adore your work, I wish I could say, just let us do it for you. Just let us post on Facebook and tell our friends and talk about your work as some of us were doing last night at church:)

But I also am learning that there is that part of "paying your dues" that is expected from the publisher and as you have mentioned before they sometimes look at who is getting more attention from Facebook and all kinds of social media.

I love talking about your books because I know the heart of the man behind the words, a heart that served people in ministry for many years. Then by your sweet wife's encouragement the Lord opened up a wonderful door for you through writing. Your story of how God connected you with Gary Smalley is priceless and it encourages us all, especially the beginning writer. Keep doing what you are doing, brother, you are doing it great!

Ane Mulligan said...

Good article, Dan. FInding a way to make your own book stand out in the crowd isn't an easy task!

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks so much, Donna. What a wonderful way to start off this chat.

Dan Walsh said...

The other side of it is, having such good writing friends and not wanting to see them as "competitors" for that share of the pie.

Cecelia Dowdy said...

Wow, that's a lot of books! Glad to see yours is among them, Dan!!

Nicole said...

Dan, when you figure out what exactly to do to make those books stand out among the crowd, you'll be able to write another book about how to market fiction. Sounds to me like you've accomplished the most difficult part by gaining and securing an audience who looks forward to each release of a new novel. Congratulations on your new one too.

So many efforts to market fall by the wayside and do nothing to sell an author's book except reduce his/her pocket money. Fiction is not easily marketed precisely because of that huge proliferation. How, as you asked, do we get readers to find us? You nailed it with the assessment that it's ultimately up to the Lord after we've done all that He's asked of us. And I do think it's essential to do what HE asks, not always what we think we SHOULD do.

Good post.

Dan Walsh said...

Me too, Cecelia. It's staggering sometimes when you consider how many get published. But I am very grateful to be at this table.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks Nicole. Sometimes I see a picture when I consider this dilemma. It's a guy in a small sailboat on a huge lake, and the wind isn't blowing. He's got oars in the boat. But it will take forever if he has to use them. That wind blows, and everything changes.

S. R. Karfelt said...

You worked really hard to get that book out. Yay! You've got a book out!

^I try to embrace that mantra, and not read daily rankings daily, and hope that my Mom's efforts to foist my book postcards on every shopper at all the Piggly Wiggly's in the south really works.


Truthfully some days I hit the marketing parts hard, and some days I shut my door and write. We can only do so much, and we can only do so much before our writing suffers because of it.

I'm looking forward to reading the answers to this question.

Dan Walsh said...

Thanks for stopping in. It's nice having a mom do that for you. My mom's in heaven now. But she was one of my biggest fans.

S. R. Karfelt said...

My Mom has possibly handed out more post cards than I have. I did get in a little trouble for the kiss on page 211 though!
I'm newly published and family and friends are enthusiastic. I think they'll all give me another month before asking why I'm not in airport bookstores yet. Likely soon after that all marketing will rest on my shoulders. In the meantime I'm writing as fast as I can.

Gina Holmes said...

Great post, Dan. Good analogy. I've heard the oar metaphor as the author rows one, the publisher the other... but you're right, the wind does a much more efficient job!

Dan Walsh said...

I think the model you described Gina is what we're following now...when the wind isn't blowing, which seems like the greater part of the time. But when it blows, it makes a crazy difference.

Hard to wait on it, though. Those oars start looking like they're all the help you're going to get.

Dan Walsh said...

The writer stereotypes on TV and movies give people that impression, like Castle. After my first contract, my kids were asking when I was going to buy them a house. I told them I hoped it was enough to remodel the kitchen.

Gina Holmes said...

Yeah. I guess sometimes we row and sometimes we have to give our arms a rest and hope the wind shows. Good post.

Michael K. Reynolds said...

I am a Christian novelist...yes...but I also have owned a marketing agency for more than fifteen years. So I LOVE it...every aspect of it. I love trying different approaches, measuring results, tweaking, adjusting...and then sharing and teaching this with other writers. Marketing is is is is technology...and it's a wonderful way to share our love and passion for Christ. I work with a lot of churches and they tell me, "we can't do's 'unchristian'." Then I say, "What about communicating? Are you okay with communicating?" "Yes, of course," they say. "Great, says I. Let's call marketing "communicating" from here on out and off we go."

Dan Walsh said...

Michael, I'm glad you love marketing. I have no gripe with people who work at marketing. I'm glad the marketing people who work for my publisher (many on my behalf) are there, doing everything they do. I don't believe marketing is bad. The joke about the devil on my shoulder was meant to convey the affect having to market my own work can have on me.

I don't even mind marketing the work of other writers, like you for example (Folks, buy Michael's two novels, some of my best reads this year!).

I just don't like marketing my own books, and how much time I have to devote to it and, sometimes, where my heart and mind go when I buy into the message that it's all up to me.

Truth is, I like the marketing done by others so much, if I did become a "runaway bestseller," I'd hire someone just like you to do all my marketing, so I wouldn't have to.

Does that clear it up any?

Michael K. Reynolds said... you know, I'm already a big fan of yours (so much so you're featured on the cover of my latest book!). But even when I am hired by folks, I try to help coach them through to get to a certain comfort level in the marketing process. It takes fundamentals of marketing to get readers to turn the next page and the next chapters in their books. So if your books are "page turners" (as yours are) you're already a a master salesman. In fact, writers already have mad tools to be successful with marketing and that's part of the fun when I speak on the subject to help them look at it all a little differently. The thing that makes them squeamish (understandably) is thinking marketing is all about "talking about themselves"...which is actually, very poor marketing. There is a reason why a writer writes, and the key to powerful marketing is sharing that passion and building relationships. Anyway...great topic! Appreciate you.

S. R. Karfelt said...

:D - It is a crazy stereotype that I think only writers recognize. Right now I'd be thrilled with enough to have a massage now and again to repair hunchback writer damage. ;)

Dan Walsh said...

I need to take your class.

Dina Sleiman said...

Thanks, Dan. I needed that today.

Gina Holmes said...

here-here! ha.