The Job of a Writer
Twenty-five years ago, the writer’s job was a relatively simple one. You wrote the book, tried to find an agent and then, if you did—and some people thought it was easier to find an agent than to sell the actual book—it would be his or her job to find an appropriate editor who would then buy you book. After that, you were pretty much home free.
Today, the work just begins after you’ve written the book, and it’s the kind of work most of us writers are ill-prepared for. In this extremely competitive environment, which is even tougher since the advent of self-publishing, the writer has to arrive on the scene with not only a built-in audience but also a plan on how to get the word out there about their new book.
With non-fiction this is a little easier because it’s simpler to identify your audience and establish what’s called a “platform.” With novels, it’s a real uphill battle. And we need help.
This is why with my last book, Swann Dives In, and with my new one, Devil in the Hole, besides hitting social media myself, I hired professionals.
I began the process a few steps ahead of other people. I’d already written more than 20 non-fiction books and after teaching writing for years, I had a data-base of former students, many of them more successful than me. Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada, would be a case in point. She came to having written pretty much nothing since college, but the first thing she brought into class to workshop was an essay about her first day at work—and she entitled it, “The Devil Wears Prada.” She had no idea she had the makings of book, but it didn’t take long for me to convince her she did. Once she sold the book, for a sizable amount, the publishing company did the rest. But they had a hook—not only was it a roman a clef about her days at Vogue, but the tagline was priceless: the boss from hell. Everyone’s had one and millions could identify. This gave me some name recognition, as well.
But how to use that database and name recognition? That’s where professional help came in. For Swann Dives In, I hired a publicist. She was terrific, but I don’t think it necessarily paid off in sales.
This time, I hired a social media expert which not only was more economical but a little more hands on. As it turns out, it was one more woman in my life who was talling me what I was doing wrong, then ordering me around, and for this I was paying her.
I was already on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, but she showed me how to use it effectively. The idea was to brand me and my book. I was no longer just a writer, I was a “crime writer.” And she banned me, for instance, for posting anything that had to do with or used the word, “teacher.” No longer could I post work published by my students. They were now to be known as “friends,” or colleagues. Why? Because she was not branding me as a teacher, she was branding me as a writer. And, as such, she insisted I have a separate Facebook page, Charles Salzberg Author. From here I was supposed to post relative items having to do with writing and crime. She advised me, “think of your page as a magazine, with links to interesting articles, essays, writers.”
On Linkedin, she started linking me to people who were writing in the same vein, or working in the publishing industry, and having me post only at particular times, when viewership was highest (this was true of Facebook and Twitter—in the morning, lunchtime and dinner time, when it seems most people are on those social media sites.)
On my own, I signed up for a blog tour with Partners in Crime. So far, they’ve lined me up with more than a dozen reviews (and so far they’ve been terrific) and other opportunities to showcase my work. I also networked with other crime writers—I suggest joining professional organizations, if you can. And I found a list of newspapers that review books and sent our nearly 70 advanced reader copies, all at my own expense.
The obvious question is: does all this work and is it worth the time, trouble and expense?
The only real gauge would be sales, but that’s hard to come up with this early in the process. But if perception is the forerunner of reality, then I would have to say, yes.
How do I know? Here’s how: weeks before the book was even available, friends and acquaintances were going out of their way to congratulate me on the success of Devil in the Hole. Strange and otherworldly, since the book wasn’t even out yet.
Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, New York magazine, Elle, Good Housekeeping, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times, GQ and other periodicals. He is the author of over 20 non-fiction books and several novels, including Swann's Last Song, which was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, and the sequel, Swann Dives In. He also has taught been a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, the Writer's Voice, and the New York Writers Workshop, where he is a Founding Member.