Successful authors, I once believed, focused on what they did best. They wrote. They rearranged words on the page. And once their first novel was accepted for publication, they’d pop open the champagne, do a couple of book signings, and work full-bore on their second novel.
That was in my younger and more idealistic days – like, last year. My bubble was burst in spring 2013. At the time, WiDo Publishing was considering whether to take on my comedic novel, The Opposite of Everything. As part of the review process, WiDo asked me to submit a promotion blueprint, built around social media, detailing my plans for building an online presence. Creating buzz. What was my strategy for reaching out to reviewers? Garnering media coverage? What about my book tour?
Something inside me rebelled. Doesn’t the publisher do these things? Welcome to the reality of today’s book industry, several authors informed me – especially if the publisher is small and the author unknown. I wasn’t sure where to even start. My online social presence up to this point consisted of a bare-bones Facebook page with few friends. Would I now become a publicist? For twelve years, as a reporter for The Associated Press, I scolded publicists to stop hounding me. I sometimes hung up the phone on them. Would I become what I once loathed?
I gritted my teeth. I googled “book promotion plans.” I cobbled one together and submitted it. A few weeks later, WiDo offered me a contract, which I signed.
Take it one step at a time, I reassured myself. A conversation with WiDo’s promotion manager, Shauna Bray, stuck with me: “Do what you’re comfortable with.”
It took time to process her advice. I reached out for help. As a technophobe, I was afraid to push the wrong button. A friend of my wife’s, a professional photographer, drove up from his home in Washington DC to help me construct my author Web site, using Wix, the free service. He shot fifty promotional photos of me. I uploaded several to the Web site and others to my Facebook author page, which he also helped me set up. Another friend taught me the Twitter ropes. I fumbled my way through Goodreads, setting up an Author account. Some things I learned by trial and error; others I reached out for help. The experience was exciting and humbling at the same time.
After I set everything up, I thought: What now? I had precisely zero Twitter followers, several dozen disengaged Facebook friends, and a Web site known to myself and few others. Do I post pithy quotes on Facebook? Do I Tweet my favorite ice cream flavors? Share baby photos? And how does this help sell books?
I had conversations with other WiDo authors. I remembered Shauna’s advice – do what I felt comfortable with. What I felt comfortable with was writing. That’s what I’ve done all my adult life. Why not apply skills from the part of my job I liked to the part that gave me the heebie jeebies?
Maybe I’d blog. Sounded like a good idea. A friend taught me how to use Tumblr. Naturally, my first blog post ever was entitled, “A Reluctant Blogger.” I wrote: “I’m probably the worst candidate in the world to start a blog. The last thing I want is to stand on a soap box. Until recently, my incoming Facebook invites went straight into the spam folder, and one of those invites was from my wife.”
I cultivated a wry style. I wrote about my experiences as a social newbie, my writing process. I ruminated over crabgrass that’s overtaken my lawn – the dearth of monarch butterflies this year. I shared my blogs on my Facebook page, which slowly grew friends, and got 30 or 40 hits if I was lucky.
In September, six months before my book launch, I hit a minor jackpot. I pitched the Times Union, the Albany capital region newspaper, to become part of its community blog site. After several back and forths, the paper’s blog boss invited me to join.
Today, my twice-a-week blog, entitled The Ruminator, attracts, on a good day, several hundred readers or more. A month ago I posted a popular four-part series – factual retellings of excerpts from my novel. My second post in that series drew my highest readership ever – 668 visits in one day. So far, since I started with the Times Union in September, I’ve amassed more than 10,000 hits. After every post, I click obsessively to see how many hits I attract.
At the bottom of every blog post I include something to the effect: David Kalish is an author whose comedic novel, The Opposite of Everything, will be published in March. Whenever I mention my novel, it’s a clickable link to my author Web site, which in turn links people to my Amazon page where the novel can be pre-ordered. I also post the blog on my Facebook pages, my Goodreads author page, LinkedIn, and Twitter. And I often email posts to a contact list of several dozen people not active in social media.
As the weeks wane to my March launch, I plant more and more mentions of my novel’s publication in my social networks. But since my blog goes out to newspaper readers, I hesitate to blatantly pitch my book there. Instead, I weave it into the context of posts. The blogs take a lot of work and time, but the rising numbers and readers’ comments keep me going, reminding me of the purpose of all this: to build a fan base.
These days I spend tons of time soliciting reviews. I send emails to bloggers, top Amazon reviewers, and traditional reviewers to see if they want an advance review copy when it comes out this month (January). At the same time, I’m crafting presentations for my upcoming book launches – in Saratoga and Brooklyn – and other book events after March 11. Fact is, I’ve never gone on a book tour, let alone organized one. I’m not much of a public speaker. I’m stepping way, way outside my comfort zone. My hope is to write a “stump speech” – something I can use again and again, with minor tweaks – that weaves in my journey as a writer and how that influenced my novel.
It’s a tough road ahead. There’s much to learn. Since my novel is about a thyroid cancer survivor, based on me, I may donate a portion of my royalties away to the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association. I plan to host a panel at Thyca’s annual conference next fall on how the therapeutic value of writing, and perhaps the group will let me sell books there.
I keep coming back to writing. I remind myself I’ve not strayed too far from that which I know. I know too that talking about my fears helps. For that, too, I thank my blog, for several well-received posts have dealt with my awkward entry into social media. My readers have helped me talk through my fears.
You can do this. I repeat this to myself a lot. I’ve overcome most obstacles so far thrown my way. One day, for sure, I’ll finish my second novel. It will be easier to sell because of my first. By then I’ll have paved a rocky path through social media to the bookshelf, whether virtual or bricks-and-mortar. Between now and then, I’ll try not to grit my teeth too much. And hopefully sell a lot of books.
About David Kalish
A former journalist for the Associated Press, David Kalish switched to writing fiction and earned his MFA at Bennington College’s Writing Seminars. His short fiction has been published in Temenos, Knock, Spectrum, and Poydras Review, his non-fiction in the Writer’s Chronicle, and a short film of his, Regular Guy, won honors in film festivals here and abroad. David says he works through most of his story ideas as he walks his dogs in the woods near his home.
He’s currently working on a second novel and a play that is a Latin version of A Christmas Carol. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, daughter, and two dogs.