The Myth of “Just An Author”

by | Aug 11, 2009 | Book Marketing | 122 comments

As you may have heard, Thomas Pynchon’s new novel INHERENT VICE was published last week, which is newsworthy for many reasons, but my favorite tidbit is that the notoriously publicity-shy Pynchon actually lent his voice to his book trailer and provided a playlist of songs for Amazon. It is indeed 2009. But other than these activities Pynchon is remaining completely out of sight as he has for virtually all of his life — there are hardly even any photographs of him.

This got me thinking about a perpetual debate among authors and publishing types: Can you be “just an author” these days, pecking away at a typewriter in a basement somewhere but otherwise completely eschewing publicity and remaining out of the public eye, Salinger- and Pynchon-style, writing in a bubble-like Platonic ideal of authordom?

I think a few authors can probably pull it off, particularly those who are already established. But it’s increasingly rare for authors breaking into the business.

Every author is a product of their time and had to deal with the realities and constraints of their publishing industry. Hemingway found his way to publication in part because he knew the right people (namely F. Scott Fitzgerald), and his success owed a great deal to his larger than life stature, a literary self-promotional archetype dating back to Byron and beyond. Herman Melville became famous because he wrote travelogues about far flung locales during a time when technology and trade was opening up the world, then crashed and burned when he tried to write novels about silly things like white whales, which didn’t even sell through its 3,000 print run.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the authors we most associate with seclusion and anonymity became popular in the late ’50s and ’60s, the time when counterculture and anti-establishment sentiment was running highest. Let’s face it – Pynchon and Salinger are some of our best writers, but the whole seclusion thing just added to their mystique and cred during a time when a popular phrase was “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Pynchon and Salinger mastered the “drop out” part.

But setting aside what was true in the past, can an author today expect that they can write in, drop out and leave the publicity to the publisher?

Probably not.

As we all know, these are tough times for the publishing industry yada yada yada. Sure, publishers are buying fewer books, but they also have to make difficult decisions about which books will receive precious marketing dollars and the all-important “push” that can make the difference between obscurity and bestsellerdom. How do they make these decisions?

Often they go for bang for the buck. And one of the best ways to get bang for the buck is to start with an author who is doing everything they can to help out with publicity, thus multiplying the publisher’s efforts.

As Lisa McMann’s interview from a year ago describes, she received a push and lead-title status from her publisher for her novel WAKE in large part because of her self-marketing efforts. And, sure enough, WAKE wound up on the bestseller list.

This creates a self-perpetuating cycle. Authors who have platforms and who are savvy with their web presence and who are professional and composed and plugged into the industry have a better shot at receiving promotional dollars and marketing pushes from their publishers. Sure, there are exceptions, and let me state loud and clear that writing a great book is the most important thing.

But still, all things being equal, the edge goes to the plugged-in author. Take it from a real life sales assistant at a major publisher: they want you doing stuff. We can debate whether this is the best strategy or how many books blogs actually sell or whether this system is right or wrong until we’re hoarse, but the fact is: this is the way the business is right now.

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

Melville lived in a time when the world was physically opening up due to inventions like steam power, Hemingway and Fitzgerald lived in a time when radio and movies were helping create global celebrities, and Pynchon and Salinger became popular during a time of discontent and the rise of a powerful counterculture.

We live in a networked time. The Internet is quickly organizing itself into tribes of far-flung, plugged-in, like-minded individuals and shaping how we learn about the stories we consume. Popular books from THE SHACK to TWILIGHT spill out of highly devoted and connected small groups who then spread their passion to the population at large. The authors who engage their audience and inspire devoted clans of fans have a leg up over those who sit back and let the publisher take care of that whole promotional thing or who hope lightning will strike on its own.

There’s no such thing as “just an author” anymore, and I suspect there never was.

Just remember: even Cormac McCarthy went on Oprah.


  1. abc

    Nathan, so bizarre, as I was reading the post the words "even Cormac McCarthy went on Oprah" popped into my head. And then I got to your last line. Coincidence or psychic connection?

  2. Sonia Ayoub

    But Oprah's not returning my calls

  3. JohnO

    Well … when you make it back, Nathan, you really make it back.

    I was at the Willamette Writers conference last weekend, and some fellow writers and I had a good chat about brand equity.

    The basic formula: An author is a type of brand, and a brand needs equity, and you can't build equity without marketing. (To put it in 2009 bizspeak.)

    It's hard to write a book, and harder still to get it noticed when it's competing for attention against thousands of other books. So Willy Loman was right: It's contacts, Biff, contacts!

    Any author who wants to be successful (and that's a truism, right?) ought to keep that in mind.

  4. Ryan Potter

    Thanks for this Nathan. As a soon-to-be published first-time author (novel release in early 2010), I'm learning first-hand just how important it is to be doing all that I can from the promotional end.

    In fact, I just posted a blog entry on this same topic less than 5 hours ago!


  5. RW

    As you imply, the marketing and publishing edge goes to the author willing to get out there, but some writers feel the writing edge stays sharper by staying at their desk and off the phone. I suppose it's rare for writers to be totally reclusive, but it seems pretty common still, if less common, for writers to prioritize the work over selling a public persona and even over selling their work. Among my small collection of literary autographs is a letter from one of my favorite writers declining my request for an interview because she "just didn't have time." (I wasn't asking just as random fan — I had actual press credentials, and she would have gotten legitimate publicity.) Her publisher probably hates decisions like that, but I definitely love the work she produces.

  6. Kiersten

    When my agent signed me she visited my blog and was thrilled to see that I was, to quote her, "young and cute." Perks when writing for teens, apparently. The day of the invisible author truly is over, as you said.

    And frankly, I think it's exciting. I look at authors like John Green, who manage to build entire communities of like-minded fans, and it's genius. A lot of work, but the idea of books connecting people like that is a wonderful thing.

  7. Anonymous

    I don't know. I don't go on author blogs anymore. When I do, I'm disappointed. When I read a book, I want to read a book — not have the author's real life persona popping into my head.

    Using John Green, as someone above me stated, as an example — It's made me stop reading his books. Because after reading his blog I came to realize his main characters were Gary Stus. Seeing the writer in their work exposes the machinery of it and makes me not care. But it's not just John Green, it's many other authors as well.

    Book tours, signings, or reading reviews, sure. I'm all for it. But a daily presence of needing people to think you are funny/brilliant/profound, through blogging, twittering, and a round robin of every moment of your life being recorded for all of the internet to witness… it just feels gross to me after a while. The same kind of gross I feel when someone is trying to sell me something I don't want by convincing me it is something it's not.

    Isn't anyone's BOOK enough for anyone any more? It can't just be me…

  8. Mira

    I think these are excellent points. You're right – we all need to deal with the time and the culture that we are dealt. Actors used to be able to live in isolated mansions, wear sunglasses and remain mysterious. Not in these days and times; every intimate detail is up for grabs.

    There's another way to look at this, too. Which is that we're lucky to have so much access. Free marketing opportunities abound on the internet. Just a couple of decades ago, it was very difficult to get information out. Now,there are so many ways to connect. Authors and publishers are lucky in that way – information channels abound.

    I do think a new profession will spring up because of this. Marketing experts that authors can hire, especially authors who self-publish, because not every author is going to be good at marketing; many will not be. So, what do you do when you're not good at something? Hire someone who is.

    None of this contradicts the fact that publishers should put more money into marketing by actually hiring experts to do it, but a smart author will deal with reality as they find it. Reality for now, anyway.

    Interesting topic, Nathan. Thanks.

  9. Nathan Bransford


    I agree that not all author blogs are created equal, but they're really just one tool in the shed, so to speak. The book is really important, but there are a lot of really good books languishing in obscurity. It's all about getting the books to the people who want to read them.

    Some of this, as I alluded, is self-perpetuating. The author self-promotes, the publisher then decides to promote more, book catches on, who is to say which element was the biggest factor in the success of the book?

    More important, in my mind, is that publishers now expect it. It's kind of a fait accompli.

  10. Elaine 'still writing' Smith

    Oprah, or Ellen, tricky choice but one I'd be happy to make!
    I've made tee-shirts for my cold readers! Start that publicity early!

  11. RW

    Nathan, there's lots of opportunity out there for us to self-educate on how to do this kind of promotion, but it would interesting to have a post from yourself or another expert sometime on what the state-of-the-art is — sorting out the obvious ideas, from the goofy ideas from what publishers are finding actually works.

  12. Dawn Maria

    I agree with the points here that you can't "just write", but I also feel like it's too easy to get caught up in the marketing side and lose sight of the goal- writing the best book you can.

    I struggle with time management between creating and promoting. I blog, on my own site and somewhere else, I use Twitter, I follow industry news, but I still need to keep writing and creating new work. With a job and a family and promotion, that gets tricky.

    The balance equation for me will be different for someone else, but we all need to find it.

    As for author blogs, I love them. Haven't found one yet that I don't enjoy.

  13. Nathan Bransford

    Let's try that again.


    It may have gotten lost in the post, but this link from Pimp My Novel is a great summary of things authors can do.

  14. Regan Leigh

    I love the link that describes Lisa McMann's self-marketing efforts! I think she has it completely right. When you put in the amazing amount of energy it takes to write a book, why would you NOT want to self-promote? I'm especially surprised if authors don't jump at the chance to do their own part of the marketing process, when the internet makes it so convenient. And this is coming from someone that is used to self-marketing in another career field and HATES it. 🙂

    It's hard to sell yourself as a brand or persona, but I can imagine it's a little easier to sell your book as a product.

    Great post!

  15. RW

    Brain cramp.

  16. Thermocline

    I keep waiting to figure out which stage is the hardest. First it was Completing My First Draft. Five more rewrites got progressively harder. Trying not to check my email for agent responses is killing me.

    Nothing posted here makes me think it will get any easier for a looooong while. Ah well. I'd rather keep at it than chuck my MS in a drawer.

  17. Yvette Davis

    Did you ever see the movie, "Haiku Tunnel" by Jacob and Josh Kornbluth?
    The line "just a secretary" seems to apply here.
    Is anybody just a secretary or just an author?
    Also, the lines, "Go back to your desk, settle down, focus, and catch up!" could apply as well. Especially for authors!

  18. katieleigh

    Fascinating topic and discussion. I'd love to believe I could be "just an author," but I do know better. And as a bonus, some of this social media stuff can be fun. And I agree with Dawn Maria – I love author blogs. They're often hilarious and almost always compelling.

  19. Misssy M

    Right now it's not a huge worry fact because I'm not published yet, so it's a worry I wish I had but I don't want to turn my blog into a sales pitch for my book if it ever happens for me. Because nothing kills a blog like a blogger with a book deal banging on about it all the time. I've seen it happen hundreds of times, somone whose writing you loved starts making all their posts about their book, what's happening with their book, why you should buy their book, and it becomes tedious.

    People came to my blog because they found it funny and they enjoyed reading my stories. they'll soon go elsewhere if I start bleating on about getting published. So I'm going to be very careful about how I use my blog if I ever have to promote a book.

    I'd like to think that if I keep writing my blog like I always did that I won't have to be all "buy buy buy" and "here's me signing books in Borders" all the time. With the right approach my readers (both blog and book) will migrate to the other medium because I've kept the quality in both up.

  20. nkrell

    I enjoy reading other blogs. I especially enjoy reading how long it took other authors to get published. It helps keep things in perspective.

  21. Reesha

    Great links. And I agree.
    Besides, who would even 'want' to be just an author anymore?
    I personally am looking forward to the self-promoting and marketing and getting myself out there. I don't think I would like to be an author and not be able to connect with those who are reading my book.
    Though I do like the mysterious aspect sometimes.

    Word Ver: desty = an adjective describing someone who has self-promoted and is bound for destiny? hehe

  22. T. Anne

    LOL you managed to squeeze Cormac McCarthy in at the last second.

    Yes, what you say is true. We must step into our 'authorhood' and connect with the masses if at all possible. An Oprah appearance wouldn't hurt either. Just sayin'…

  23. Anonymous

    I'm curious about what everyone else has to say.

    But I do see a great deal of over-promoting happening these days, too, with newer authors. Which might be a good blog post for the future. I used to be guilty of this myself, but I've pulled back. I was starting to annoy myself. And there are is list of new authors who are starting to annoy everyone.

    And yes, I'm anon with this. I don't want to be lynched.

  24. CKHB

    I think a novel would have to be BEYOND genius for the reclusive writer act to work nowadays. How else to avoid the critique of, "Who do you think you are, J.D. Salinger?"

    Although… the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series has gone bestseller, and the author (sadly) simply isn't around to be anything but the author of those previously-written words, so obviously the words on the page are enough for those books.

  25. MeganRebekah

    We were talking about author advances on my blog today (with links back to some of your old posts incidentally), and this ties in fairly well. Marketing and publicity are important for a new author, so much in fact that I would forgo a large advance to get more promotion.

    We live in a connected world, and naturally readers want to feel that personal connection to authors.

  26. Kristi

    @ CKHB – Although sometimes the death of the author adds to the mystique and popularity of the book.

    I loved Lisa's interview which gives hope to introverts like me. Thanks!

  27. Andrea Cremer

    Great post, Nathan. I'm in the midst of this reality at the moment, just got a book deal and am now building an author web site to join up with my blog. It's an unexpected publicity adventure for this introverted girl…

  28. gumbo writers

    I think that now more than ever it is so important as an author to stand out among other aspiring authors. Your book may be great, but with so many other books to sift through, you need a hook. Great post and so true…

  29. Steph Damore

    Mira- I agree with you; there's two ways to look at this – every intimate detail is up for grabs, but we're lucky to have such access.

    I for one am plugged in. To me, it goes with the territory and increases my chances of finding an agent and becoming a successful published author.

    Plus, I've found that I love writing a blog (and the marketing side of publishing). Who knew I thought about publishing and writing so much? Seriously, a new blog post pops in my head every hour. It's madness I tell you, madness!

  30. Book Maven

    Ah, but MeganRebekah, the marketing budget, at least in the UK is in direct proportion to the size of the advance. i.e. the bigger the advance, the bigger the promotional budget.

    Sad but true and we need to be realistic.

  31. PurpleClover

    Ack! I just vlogged for the very first time and then began reading your post. DELETE! DELETE! DELETE!

    Oh but wait a minute. Being "plugged in" is a good thing. Phew!

    You know, you could really write articles for the paper. I don't know why you haven't?? When is your book coming out by the way??

  32. MeganRebekah

    Book Maven –
    That's part of the problem though isn't it? Publishers are paying more for books than they can actually afford. So they focus all their attention on the "big" books they acquired, almost like a Hail Mary pass, hoping that the gamble pays off and they can recoup some money. But only 3 out of 10 books earn out. It's crazy!!

  33. Jarred

    I think blogs need an "I like this" function now. Great post.

  34. Anonymous

    So as an agent do you want to know someone's marketing plan? For example my family owns a billboard company; would that make a difference on whether you took on a client? Would it make a difference to a publisher?

  35. Kate

    I live in Portland, Oregon along with a large number of successful authors. There is something about the constant rain that forces a lot of people to hide behind their computers and fervently type. Every single published author I know puts serious effort into their own marketing. Many writers spend just as much time promoting their books as they spend writing their books. The only exception to this rule that I know of is Chuck Palahniuk. Chuck is only an “author” on Thursdays. The rest of the week he is a “writer”. If people want to talk to Chuck Palahniuk the author, they have to find him on a Thursday. As far as I know, this one day per week limit to his self promotion didn’t come into play until after Fight Club made it onto the national library’s 100 best books of all time list. So for aspiring authors, I think the equal time to writing and promotion figures are a lot more practical.

  36. Nathan Bransford


    Not right away. It all starts with a great book, so we can talk about the marketing once the whole "great book" thing is pinned down.

  37. Mira

    I did have one other thought about this. As authors become better at marketing themselves, and e-books and more accessible self-publishing options rise up, this will increase author independence from publishers. I don't know if publishers have thought about that aspect of things…..

  38. Vacuum Queen

    And now it seems that even if the author doesn't have presence, the marketing team sure should. My daughter is ALL OVER anything Fancy Nancy and just this morning she asked if there's going to be a t.v. show of it because it would "be stupendous and marvelous!"

    And sometimes it seems that the schtick is what helps the sale. Can it be a series? Can it have game cards involved? Will there be an interactive website? All of these are super cool, especially in kid lit, but it seems that maybe they don't have to be spectacular writing, but rather a spectacular package. Of course, it's all subjective as to what is spectacular.

    And anything that keeps my kiddos reading makes me happy.

  39. Steve Fuller

    Anon @ 12:58,

    I completely agree with you. What Nathan is saying is true (and sounds similar to my contest submissions that lost twice…you'll be hearing from my lawyer, Bransford), but in the age of social networking, there is a fine line between skilled self-promotion and annoying the crap out of people. I have dropped Facebook friends because all they do is promote their book, movie, etc.

    I am actually planning to interview a social networking expert here in Cincinnati soon and asking her those questions. People have to be studying this stuff right?

    If you guys are interested in her answers, let me know and I'll post the link after I write up the interview.

  40. Mariana

    You know Nathan, I know you're right. The publishing market has changed, the world has changed as well, but I still don't like the fact that these days the author has not only shape a perfect book (work enough) according to the recent trends (completely unpredictable), but also has to do something that seems to be of the publisher’s responsibility. Marketing, really?

    Fact is, it does not good to complain and of course I’m facing our reality and working on the famous platform, and once I get a contract I obviously will do everything I can to help the book marketing… I think I just needed to vent out my disagreement on the extra burden our times put on the authors shoulders. Sorry about that.

  41. Jamey Stegmaier

    I wasn't going to post because I just mentioned TypeTribe on your blog the other day, but then you brought up Seth Godin's Tribes, and I couldn't resist. Below is a blog entry about what I believe to be the future of promoting your own work in a way that engages readers before your book is released. It's just a concept right now, but the real site should go live this fall.

    For all those authors who are willing to be more than just authors, I'd be interested in your thoughts about this concept.

  42. RickNiekLikeBikes

    So then what? I guess the average publisher is still the best method to push a book, but self-promotion is more important than ever. What are the best self-promotion ideas?

  43. Newbee

    I'm one of the masses when it comes to being a reader. My arm was twisted into reading Harry Potter, Twilight, all the Dan Brown books ect. I'm not like most of you out there. Unless the subject of the book is something that interests me…I'm not interestedin the book at all. If the marketing, the buzz, and the publicity wasn't out there, I don't think I would be even writing a book. Ten years in retail sales makes the extra portion of the business exciting for me. Count me in!

  44. Stephanie

    Hey Nathan! Such valuable info. I was proud after reading it-I'm putting all the pieces in place I possibly can to better my chances of representation and a book deal. All the hours in front of my laptop feel validated after reading this post.
    Thank you!

  45. Kristin Laughtin

    I agree; it might be easy to stay out of the public eye now if you established yourself a while ago, but it's going to be harder, if not impossible, for new authors to do so. I'd venture that the ease of remaining low-profile will be inversely proportional to the popularity of one's book.

    I feel like the last person to know Cormac McCarthy went on Oprah (I work when her show is on, so I have no idea who goes on it), and now I rue having missed it.

  46. Vegas Linda Lou

    Okay, so authors who have a platform, or are willing to build one, have a better shot at receiving promotional dollars from their publishers. But let's step back in the process a bit–how much does the author's platform matter to an agent considering a project for representation?

  47. Anonymous

    But don't most of the wannabes' blogs have, at most, a couple of hundred readers? And that seems like the high side. So is that really a "web presence" that matters? I mean for having somewhere to contact you, fine. But that isn't marketing; that's getting an agent-ing. People seem to spend A LOT of time on their blogs, and then leaving the perfunctory comments ("Great post! I love it!") on other people's blogs to get them, you know, to keep commenting on your blog. This cannot be the self promotion of which you speak?? To maybe get 50 books sold?

    Plus it seems a little dangerous–for example, when a blogger accidentally reveals her racism. There's no way I'm buying her book. Not. Ever.

  48. Yat-Yee

    What are the introverts of the world to do when one of the most isolated and gloriously solitary vocation is requiring all this networking stuff…

  49. Rick Daley

    Just as pertinent:

    The myth of "Just an Agent"

  50. KayKayBe

    Marketing 101: tattoos on young women. That's what made Twilight big, isn't it? (google twilight tattoos) Everybody will be lined up at the bookstore when I get published, or they'll have a great story! LOL

  51. Nathan Bransford


    I don't know that anyone in publishing is necessarily expecting that authors are going to come in with a major built-in audience that's going to sell thousands of copies off the bat. More important is that there is somewhere for the author to get out news about their book, to interact with fans, and that the author's name is Google-able, etc.

    I too question the wisdom of devoting too much time on a blog and don't ultimately know how many books they sell, but at the same time, I do think a solid, professional web-presence can definitely help build an author's brand and certainly helps with fan devotion. All it takes is a small core group of fanatical book evangelists to start spreading the word about a good book.

    It's all about getting a foothold through publicity, then the book and word of mouth does the rest.

  52. Jonathan Lyons

    N- Definitely check out Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, if you haven't already. He talks a bit about some of this.

  53. April Henry

    Thomas Pynchon was on The Simpsons. Voice and all. And he was a publicity hog.

  54. katiebowden

    Hi Nathan – love the blog. Thank you for it!
    This post has motivated me to comment because I've been debating with myself about including my profession in my query letters. I work at an ad agency, and as a result, am pretty plugged in to social media and all things Internet. Would this be considered a bonus in the self-promotion department?
    Thanks again!!

  55. Robin

    Terrific post, Nathan. I agree that nowadays you can't just be an author. When there is a lot of good product out there and limited shelf space – the best way to get the eyeballs is promotion. That's why they say that even bad publicity is good publicity. Personally, I would never seek out bad publicity but there are minds that go there.

  56. Haste yee back ;-)

    The Internet and all its' machinations will eventually be one big… HEY, LOOK AT ME!

    (if it isn't already)

    Haste yee back 😉

  57. Pamala Knight

    Awesome post, Nathan. And I love the last line because really, if self-described 'gregarious loner' Cormac McCarthy can go on Oprah, then there is hope for all us wallflowers.

  58. Anonymous

    Your sample is skewed. You look at successful writers and see that 90% of them are into self-promotion and say, 'Ah-ha! What a correlation!'

    But if you looked at unsuccessful writers, you'd see that 90% of them are into self-promotion, too.

    And if you look at the Big Successes, you'll find that they engaged in heavy marketing -after- the book took off. Not before. In the majority of cases, they hit the jackpot and then pushed like crazy to increase their winnings. They didn't push themselves into the jackpot in the first place.

    If you read the Pimp My Book post, you'll find these marketing ideas:

    Buy that mega sweet domain name.
    Blog about yourself and your book.
    Tweet about it.
    Change your latest Facebook employment to "author" and announce your good fortune in your status.
    Network, network, network.
    Let your critique group know.
    Go to literary events. If you don't already know the booksellers at your local stores (national chains and indies) by their first names, now's the time to start.

    Total sales 31.

    Consider hiring your own publicist. He or she may be able to work wonders for you.

    Total cost? Thousands. Total sales? Less than thousands, in almost every case. (Excluding the lottery-winning chance of getting on Oprah.)

    Order business cards.
    Call your bookseller friends. Ask if you can do author events, readings, signings, everything, anything.
    Ask friendly established authors to blurb or promote your book, allow you to guest-blog for them, read with them at area book stores, and so on. You can't do too much of this. You really can't.
    Blog, update your website, tweet, guest-blog, readings, tours, podcasts, blog posts, e-mail blasts, local radio shows, infomercials, impromptu subway performances, &c.

    Total sales: 24.

    Those numbers are just averages, of course. You can raise them if you make marketing a full-time job, and step away from the writing.

    The Dynamic Depressor

  59. Bradley Robb

    Ah, the internet, where a nit picked over a throwaway phrase can be supplemented with video evidence.

    The phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out," is not merely a call from a bygone era, but actually the title of the latest single by 90s alt-rockers Cracker. The track is currently quite popular and is actually quite representative of a group, let's call them neo-luddites, who are rejecting the always-on, constantly connected, digital world that so many of us say will be the democratizing force which will some how save all of us.

    Not that doing so will make you a better writer, but there is something to be said about finding isolation with art.

    And now, the video evidence.

  60. Marla Warren

    As a bookseller I have some experience with what drives people into a bookstore looking for a particular book. Word of mouth is the number one stimulus, followed very closely by the author appearing on Oprah. (When a book is featured on Oprah, customers call to have copies held before the show ends.)

    But I often hear readers say they want to buy a certain book because they saw the author on TV, heard him on the radio, or saw an article on her. (Once a customer wanted a book because of an article about the author in USA Today. He didn’t know the author’s name or the title but he did know it was in Wednesday’s edition. I ended up diving into the recycling bin to retrieve the newspaper.)

    I think nonfiction authors have an advantage when publicizing a book. A nonfiction author has expertise on a certain topic, and can give talks and interviews based on that subject. A novelist can perhaps do a reading, but some books don’t shine based on a short reading. And I don’t see many interviews with novelists whose books are not yet selling well.

    One good place to publicize a book is Book TV on C-Span2 on the weekends. I keep up on what authors are featured because I know customers will be asking for some of the titles.

    I’ve had very few customers ask for a book because of the author’s blog or something they saw on the web. Perhaps the readers that discover books and authors on the web tend to order books online.

  61. joelle

    I think a few people can get away with it if they just have to. Iain Lawrence, a YA writer lives on the same island as me here in Canada. He does zero public speaking, almost no interviews, does not have a website except what Random House has put up for him, but he's got a career. Granted, it might be a lot bigger if he worked it, but sometimes it depends on what you want out of life. He won the Govenor's General award a couple of years ago (Canadian comparable to the National Book Award), which I'm sure certainly gave all his sales a boost too. But that said, not being out there promoting your books does have its negative effects, even if you sell well to libraries. For example, he lives a couple of miles from me, I run into him in the grocery store occasionally and we chat, and I didn't even know he had a new book out until the librarian mentioned it to me. I could name ten or fifteen books from other authors that don't come out until next year but that I know about from the web (people are already blogging about mine and I'm a debut author and it doesn't come out until May). I think, especially as a newbie, you really have to put yourself out there. And I think it's fun, so that makes it easier for me. Iain didn't even go to collect his GGA because he was too shy! But he's got a life he seems to love, so I think he's doing everything right for himself.

  62. Cynthia Reese

    Back to the old guilt-inducing question: Should I be blogging and FBing or should I be writing? I suspect your answer will be that frustration-inducing catch-all solution, "It's all about BALANCE."

    Even if it's true, it makes me feel all the more guilty when I realize I can't balance very well, either. Can't I just clone myself and do everything at once? 🙂

    Thanks, though, for reminding me that no writer is an island.

  63. Richard Lewis

    I think that the key to self-promotion is to impress your publisher, not the great net-worked public. I have to say, having been through the cycle four times, my sentiments are with the Great Depressor. SELF-promotion doesn't amount to anything close to what your PUBLISHER can do if they get behind you. So your first and biggest impression should be made on your publisher (which means, among other things, on your PR work with your publicist and editor, loop everything through them–and use all the platforms your publisher gives their authors for promotion, such as publisher-sited author blogs. Don't ignore these.)

    But still, I suspect that the big breakouts owe most of their success to the random Black Swan effect. Google Grumpy Old Bookman for a very interesting discussion on this. I have to take kids to school now…

  64. Walter R.

    I'm an aspiring author and a fairly private person; just yesterday I asked another literary agent if a writer could succeed while using a pen name to remain otherwise anonymous. [I guess that makes me part of the networked brain too.]

    If the price for fame and fortune as a writer is my privacy then I'll just have to pay up (or shut up). With enough fortune I'm sure I can learn how to cope. 🙂

  65. Nathan Bransford


    I'm almost with you and I think impressing your publisher is a valuable distinction to make, but that "impressiveness" also extends to bookstore buyers when they're placing orders, and that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So all of these lines are blurry.

    I do think there's something to be said for a motivated core audience, which can be built through effective networking and self-promotion. From there it's a matter of word-of-mouth catching, and of course that all-important publisher push.

    So I wouldn't discount personal networks entirely. You're right that the publisher can probably make the bigger difference, but it's not an either-or situation. Every little bit helps.

  66. Steph Damore

    anon – Maybe blogging, tweeting, blurbing and reading won't secure me thousands in book sales, but these actions make me feel like I'm taking an active role in my success.

    That succeeding in the publishing business isn't all about luck. That I can do something to increase my chances and focus my energy on another aspect of the business. It's not all about writing and editing. This is my career and marketing is part of it.

  67. Matthew R. Loney

    Thanks Anonymous, for having the balls to speak up.

    I'd rather it take a lifetime or two for my writing to be recognized than to peddle myself as a brand sans content.

    Everyone seems to be in such a rush to make it huge, without considering whether or not their hype is sustainable.

  68. Terry

    This is a post near and dear to my heart.

    Fame, even teensy bits of it, leads to too much attention, which invariably leads to trouble.

    Add to that, I can't stand the culture of celebrity of any kind. It gets more obnoxious all the time.

    However, I'm sure you're right.

    We need to whore ourselves to survive. It makes me think I not only should I never have left art school, but I should have taken men up on the absurd amounts of money they offered me for sex.

    You said it: "The authors who engage their audience and inspire devoted clans of fans have a leg up…"

    And wrapped around too, no doubt. So true.

    Great post. Put ever so much more tactfully than I ever could. Thanks.

  69. Mira

    Phew, Terry, that's alittle intense.

    You know, I was thinking about this, and I think that as writers, there are some creative marketing tactics that tap into our strengths.

    For some reason I still don't understand, it just sort of happened, I went onto a website once as a character of mine. She was an overnight sensation. When she would come onto the blog, word would spread and everyone would flock to her posts. She was famous. Hundreds of people go to this site. It was bizarre, I've never had an experience like it. If I had a book that had featured her, I would have created a huge following right there.

    This is absolutely true. I could point you to the website. I left that site because it time consuming. I still plan to write a book based on that character. And then I'll go onto sites as her. 🙂

    My point is the internet is a playground, and we've just begun to tap it. Character blogs, Story blogs, Advice blogs, Role-playing blogs, or websites. Going onto other sites in character. Or sites set up with multiple authors. There are all kinds of things. And the nice thing about the internet, for us introverts, is that it's all creative writing.

    Anyway, just a thought.

  70. Harry Connolly

    I don't think there's anything wrong with author's promoting themselves (if they're classy and respectful about it) but I'm not very good at it myself. I don't talk comfortably with strangers and am wildly uncomfortable when I talk myself up.

    I'm the worst job interviewee this side of that guy who says he ought to be hired for the bomb he packed in his briefcase alone.

    A little word of mouth would be nice, maybe some decent reviews. If it's all up to me and my charm, I might as well go back to sweeping floors.

  71. Steph Damore

    Mira said:
    And the nice thing about the internet, for us introverts, is that it's all creative writing

    I've thought about that too. I'm not sure if I'd say it's all creative writing, but it's definitely practice. And you know what they say about practice…

  72. Mira

    I said that terribly.

    Thanks Steph.

    I agree. The internet is good practice. And I also think marketing on the internet plays to our strengths. Or it can.

  73. Richard Lewis

    Back. Kids grumpy about the lunch Mom packed.

    Yup, you will definitely increase your chances of being struck by random lightning if you go out and vigorously wave a tall metal pole. That's one of the images I have concerning blogs and websites and Facebook and so on and so forth and whatever next new thing comes along(and alas, I haven't updated website in a while).

  74. V

    You make very important points, Nathan. It all starts with a great novel. But really, there are many great novels out there… or potentially great ones, anyhow. So how does the author make him/herself stand out as a good prospect for the publisher? Even if what an individual can accomplish using the internet and social networking is not that impressive (the commenters who point out that blogs often have increasingly limited readership and are full of potential pitfalls have a point, certainly), just showing that you are savvy and interested and willing to go the extra mile… that has to make you more worth betting on, right?

  75. Terry

    Hey Mira, It's a tongue-n-cheek thing. I don't mean to be intense, but, now that you mention it, I could be, maybe a little.

    But I'm talking about ourselves, like our own bodies out there. Never mind our poor little minds.
    I'm all for any playground, and I'd love to tap into it, as long as I can be the make-believe person you talk about. Fine. Virtual playgrounds, yea.

    But in real life, it can get a bit crazier than that.

  76. Malanie

    Hi Nathan!

    I have to admit I have become a hermit this summer – spending eight to twelve hours a day working on my book and studying the craft.

    Not that I always plan on being a recluse, but for now I just want to focus on creating a phenomal debut novel. (I have developed the perfectionist disease!) When it is close to being done (Very soon – Woohoo!) I will network like crazy!

    I have fallen in love with the craft of writing. It's been an amazing journey watching myself grow these past eight months. I love this ride!

  77. PurpleClover

    Nathan –

    Have you ever considered posting about the breakdown of marketing costs? What actually goes into marketing?

    I take it that much of the cost needs to come out of the advance, but wonder what kind of marketing you can get for the levels of advances (a nice deal vs. a very nice deal).

    Just curious.

  78. mkcbunny

    Crap. I don't know why that's cutting off. And I can't delete the comments. (Sorry Nathan! Feel free to delete that duplicate, bad post.)

    The end of the url is:
    … road/road_book_synopsis

  79. ElanaJ

    I agree completely. With the "easy" way it is to befriend people on Facebook and twitter, authors need to be out there building up a readership. It takes a lot of time, but the day will come when it will be worth it.

  80. Richard Lewis

    One final comment on a great post that's echoed with me.

    There is the intriguing question of personality and how it correlates to self-promotion. Wouldn't extroverts do better at self-promotion and platform than others (myself included) who are introverts? I think it's easy for introverted writers to feel that social networking is an unfair burden and not an advantageous opportunity. We are susceptible to brooding over the fact that the success of one's book is more and more these days dependent on one's personality. (If there are psychologists following Nathan—surely there must be—I think a lot of people would be interested in your observations on this topic).

    Even with the faceless nature of the Internet, I have found it difficult to promote myself. There are several things I keep in mind (although lately the writing of a new novel has so possessed me that I feel I'm in the middle of a metafictional ghost story—and which raises the separate issue of time management but I digress…):

    1) Don't consider it as "self-promotion" but as "helping others." You know, ask not what a writer's site can do for you but ask what you can do for the writer's site.

    2) If you've written something you're passionate about or deeply interested in (and generally speaking, that should be part of any book), then parlay that passion and interest into your on-line presence.

    3) If you don't have the gifts to wing it, then prepare prepare prepare. I was a panel speaker at the 2nd Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali (which this year is featuring a terrific lineup, including Nobel laureates JM Coetzee and Wole Soyinka ) and boy, did I botch it. I was horrible, terrible, floundering, tongue cloven to roof of mouth. I so thoroughly embarrassed myself that when I was invited to be a speaker at a conference on Literature and Fundamentalism* in Germany, I spent two months working on a 20 minute talk that in the end was tremendously well-received (in part because I told jokes after a series of heavy academic presentations). The point being, if PR efforts don't come naturally, then they can certainly come easier if you work at it.

    Sorry for the comment length…I've tried to be as brief as possible.

    * This was for my first YA novel THE FLAME TREE about the son of American medical missionaries in Java and his friendship with a local Muslim boy, set against the events of 9/11—my most appreciative audience turned out not to be teens but their parents. The title was out of stock but is now available on Kindle – if you liked KITE RUNNER, you will enjoy this book. And believe me, it goes against my nature to post this blurb about myself, but on other hand, I do passionately believe in the themes of tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness. (Kirkus slammed the novel as being a disgrace to Islam but in fact one of Indonesia's largest Muslim organization picked it up for their university's English department as a respectful and thoughtful view from the other side of the fence, which led to the conference invitation).

  81. Nathan Bransford


    I think your original post largely boils down to expectations. No writer has to do a lick of self-promotion. But I don't know that they should then expect a large audience or the promotional backing of their publisher. If a writer is content with whatever audience they're going to get just by putting a book out there… that's perfectly respectable. Prostitution metaphors need not apply. But authors who want the best odds at breaking out — some preparation, professionalism and self-promotion can go a long way.

    In The Wire they talk about The Game. The Game might not be right or fair, it just is. It's just reality. Publishers expect what I described in the post out of authors they're going to back. They're picking between great books and favoring some over others. It may not be right or smart or whatever else, it's just The Game. The authors that know how to play it win more than the ones that refuse to play.

  82. Nathan Bransford


    I think that's a really great point about thinking of it as "helping others" rather than self-promotion. The Golden Rule absolutely applies. I can think of a lot of authors who are incredibly supportive of their fellow writers, and not only does it make the world a better place it does also make people more inclined to read their books.

  83. Nathan Bransford


    That would be an interesting post, although we might need a marketing specialist to do a cost breakdown. Publisher marketing activities can vary a lot, from the very obvious/usual (sending out review copies) to the very creative (viral marketing campaigns).

  84. Diana

    Speaking as a micro-publisher with no marketing or publicity budget, the more the contributors help promote and sell the journals their stories appear in, the more money I take in to pay contributors and expand my lines. It just makes sense for a writer/author to do what they can to help sell publications regardless of whether it is a fledgling micro-press or one of the big publishing houses. Not doing anything to help sell the book, journal, magazine one is published in is biting the hand that feeds you.

    My two cents on the subject.

  85. Kia

    Ah, this old conundrum. I used to be really naive about marketing. My first publishers wanted me to do a photoshoot to sell books. While I was flattered that they thought I had 'trade-worthy' looks, I insisted that I wanted to sell only my words. For years, the 'gallery' on my website just had a quote from Daphne du Maurier: "Writers should be read but neither seen nor heard".

    This time around? I've let them doll me up like this for the release photos (to fit in with the dark feel of the book) and in the interim, the gallery looks like this.

    Authors today simply can't afford to be retiring wallflowers. *Sigh*

  86. Carpy

    Years ago I developed a very enthusiastic marketing plan for a fictional series, but have since learned each book in a series has to stand alone. If anything, my marketing plan is a good motivator to stay on track with a little tweaking here and there, plus it works as outline to envision the whole picture, whether the book is done or not.

    The hermit-writer is the romantized image I grew up with, typing on a glass-keyed clunker in a cabin-setting, but authors who can manage time to write and market their books are equally inspiring. Meeting an author or watching an interview definately makes me feel more connected to that author. Meanwhile, until an author is actually there in front of the headlights, researching a marketing plan is great way to learn more about the business of writing.

    Nathan, is it correct to assume that queries for non-fiction books should include a marketing proposal, but queries for fiction, should keep the marketing plan to a sentence or slip it in with your publishing credits?

  87. Hat Man

    If you have an established audience for your work, I think you can be "just an author." You know, Steven King, Joyce Carol Oates, Elmore Leonard, people like that.

    For the new writer, I do not believe you can be "just an author" anymore. Too much is against you. You have to be your own content creator, producer, and publicist. How you do it depends on what kind of audience you want to have.

  88. Thea

    Self promotion is all well and good, and of course, you can no longer trust the publisher to promote their investment, but with all this energy going toward promotion, when does the author have the time/energy to write anymore?

  89. Terry

    Sorry Nathan, But if you think my post boiled down to expectations, you missed my point completely.

    Reality, was essentially the point, actually.

  90. Anonymous


    "Even with the faceless nature of the Internet, I have found it difficult to promote myself."

    Hell, I have a handful of novels out, and just got an offer on a two-book deal. (A small offer, but still.) And I'm sitting here writing this as 'The Great Depressor!'


    If you're gorgeous, you'd be a fool not to use your looks–even if they wanna dress you up like a scary goth! I look like a cross between Jack Black and a cantaloupe, but if I were Sebastian Junger (or Nathan friggin' Bransford!) I'd never wear a shirt. Let 'em come for the beauty–then stay for the words.

    The GD

  91. WitLiz Today

    "I vant to be alone," says the most reclusive actress of all time, (or is purported to have stated. Or was that a line from one of her movies? I get confused between what is fact and legend)

    But what I do know is this; that's a sentence I would never want engraved on my tombstone. First place it started with "I", followed by words I would never pen, much less say and live.

    To be a successful author over the long haul these days, requires that you do whatever your employer, the publisher, asks you to do.

    And taking it a step further, it would certainly behoove a newbie author to take the initiative and market and self-promote their own book, if the publisher doesn't make the book a high priority, and it lands somewhere on the dusty backshelves in Oz, instead of the holy grail of placement at B & N.

    Don't get mad, get even. This is the best kind of revenge because everybody benefits.

    I live by three Do's as a beginning writer: DO Write. DO Read. DO Write.

    I also live by three Do Not's: DO NOT complain. DO NOT be an idiot on certain days of the week,(ie M-F during business hours). DO NOT piss off my chance at publishing by willfully disobeying the rules of publishing etiquette, and/or its requirements.

    As an author, put your shoulder to the wheel, and make a good faith effort to do whatever's asked of you to market a book you've been paid to write. No matter your circumstances.


    Oh yeah, there's a fourth DO. I knew I was missing one.

  92. Nathan Bransford


    My mistake. I read sarcasm into that, but I think I misread.

  93. Anonymous

    Nathan, what about those who blog under fake names (like WriterWoman or LisaWrites–just made those up, sorry if they match someone's real blogger name, or just one's first name) as so many do? Most people, I assume do this for safety/privacy reasons. Is the idea that the Big Reveal will come when the blogger sells a book? In that case, do you recommend a straight author website with a link to the prexisting, but not eponymous, blog? Or do you suggest a blog with the author's actual name from the start?

  94. Anonymous

    These are two separate issues–marketing post book sale vs getting an agent, but you say the author should be google-able, so does that mean full name blog from the submission stage is best?

  95. Dara

    As much as I'd like to hide away from the world, I know it's not possible. I just wasn't born in the right time for that!

    Though I think some people have an easier time of it than others–namely ones that are more outgoing to begin with and don't stutter and ramble on like a fool when they're in front of people…

    LOL, if anything, I'll make a name for myself for being rather unique in my speech and mannerisms. 😛

  96. Terry

    Nathan –

    Sorry. Maybe my wording was off. I didn't mean it sarcastically.

    The truth, I really wish I could be a nobody, who makes money writing fiction. But unfortunately that's not the way it is. At least not the money making part.

  97. Lillian C.

    For someone like me–deathly shy and almost anti-social–realizing that, yes, you do have to market yourself is terrifying. That's why I take small steps–start with a blog, try to connect with people, and above all, don't let myself think about it as marketing.

    I think I've failed to grasp the genius behind the Cormac McCarthy line. Perhaps I lead a sheltered life.

  98. Nathan Bransford


    Given the varying reasons for blogging anonymously I don't think I could come up with an answer that could cover every eventuality. It's up to the blogger/author to navigate all that however they think is best.


    Yes, I personally think an author should have a google-able presence when they're looking for an agent. It doesn't have to be a blog, it could be a web page or even a facebook/myspace page. Just something so that they can be found if needed.

  99. Bane of Anubis

    Yes, I personally think an author should have a google-able presence when they're looking for an agent. It doesn't have to be a blog, it could be a web page or even a facebook/myspace page. Just something so that they can be found if needed.

    Why? More to show that the person's sane, has tech skills, and/or to provide you with a sense of his/her personality?

    I can understand the above reasons, but if it's a reason more along the lines of 'person has a pre-existing reach across the ether,' I'd be a bit confuddled. Or even if it's the reasoning 'person is out there selling himself already or has potential marketing capability' (just seems like it's putting the cart before the horse).

  100. Nathan Bransford


    "My own personal feeling is that every author out there is doing themselves a disservice if they don't have some sort of a Google-able web presence with an e-mail address. Often I'll come across a short story or an article that strikes me (ouch!), and I'll try and track down the author, sometimes to no avail. Avail, authors, avail! You know what they say, opportunity can't knock if opportunity can't find one's Myspace page."

    From: Author Websites

  101. Bane of Anubis

    Ah – got ya — I need to start availing 😉 … And, once again, but never enough, thanks for all your time and efforts here.

  102. Anonymous

    As for the risks of blogging, aren't they the risks of just living these days? If you were to google my name, you could find out to whom and how much I contributed in the last presidential election, charities I have donated to, volunteer endeavors at my child's school, book reviews on Amazon, etc. In short, maybe the blog places your views neatly in one place, but it's not that hard to piece together otherwise.

  103. Anonymous

    Anon 11:42 a.m.

    No, it's not just you.

  104. PurpleClover

    Nathan –

    Thanks for response. I think it would make for an interesting & helpful post. Keep us in the loop if you plan on it. I will have to bookmark that baby.

    Now, I'm off to read today's post.

  105. Lucinda

    You did it this time, Nathan!

    You made me think and rethink and think again. (all this thinking is my excuse for such late posting to your wonderful blog – had to think before I yammered on)

    Up until recently, I dreamed of being "just a writer" while the world left me alone.

    After reading books on writing, on getting published, and what hoops to jump through, I was a little nervous to think about success.

    But after reading this blog topic, I rethunked (new word here) it all out.


    1. Wanting to be a “drop-off-the-planet author” secluded and private is somewhat selfish. If we want the world to read our writings, we should be available. People naturally want to know “who said that?” and will want to search us out.

    2. When writing for a living (big dream) without a time-clock mentality, it is a good idea to have some distraction to maintain balance. Some authors become regular gym-rats to work off tedium. Marketing, signings, and travel would definitely be a great opportunity to break routine and tedium while writing that next novel.

    3. Hiding inside our caves creating the next bestseller limits our resources. Hob-knobbing around the globe provides great opportunities to experience life, meet new people, see new places, and add more writing material to our future bestsellers. Even disastrous or embarrassing moments are a wealth of writing ideas.

    Thanks again, Nathan for a great blog.


  106. Jen C

    I think marketing is fun. I also think seclusive writing is fun. I'm a Gemini – thank god for my contradiction-laden nature.

    As an aside, I read an awesome book by a debut author a couple of weeks ago which I'd heard about a couple of times in interviews (not with the author) online. When I went to buy it there was about 7 copies in the shop (that's a lot for a no-name US book in an Aussie bookstore).

    After I read it, I Googled the author – she doesn't even have a webpage! No blog, no Myspace, no Facebook. Just a listing on her publisher's website, with no additional info than is on the book jacket.

    So, I guess self-promotion isn't the be all and end all of everything! I've no doubt she's the exception to the rule, and I'd be excited to be out there marketing my book! I just thought it was interesting.

  107. Donna Hole

    Ok, begin again.

    By the time I finished the comment it was a novela, and best left to the obscurity of my own blog.

    Terry: I happen to agree with your sentiments. Seems to me (despite Nathan's clarifications) that a novelist cannot hope for publication unless they're "plugged" in to the cyberworld and all it's networking wonders. I want to be an author, not publicist or marketing specialists. Viscious circle, the world of publishing. You need a publicist to promote your work and if you don't happen to be partnered with a computer savvy, internet fanatic, or raising one, you need to hire one. Hiring one takes money which, you won't have until the novel sells.

    Ah, the joys of the 21st century!

    word verif: verice. I'd like it better if it wanted averice. That one I know.

  108. Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah)

    And now I know why I was in marketing and communications in a previous life. Whew, it wasn't all for nothing after all!

  109. wendy

    I notice that even wildy successful authors like J.K. and Stephenie do the marketing and self-promotion thing. I'd be happy to do the internet site, blog/facebook/twitter and book trailer, but the face-to-face thing would be tough. Living a solitary life in the country, and being a shy person anyway, doesn't exactly give the skills to do speaking engagements or appear in broadcasted interviews. Although…I do like talking about myself, so maybe it might not be so bad. *g*

  110. David Macinnis Gill

    "Can you be "just an author" these days, pecking away at a typewriter in a basement somewhere but otherwise completely eschewing publicity and remaining out of the public eye"

    Why would you want to be? Meeting readers is most of the fun of being an author.

  111. Stirling

    And I'm sure McCarthy will regret that appearance for the rest of his days.

    The thing you don't mention is that readers refuse to just be readers. Celebrity culture and its toxic vibes infect many wounded and needy people who will not go away. Isn't it enough to put your work in front of the public without having to compromise yourself, your personal space and your sanity.

    If the work is great, that should be enough.

  112. Sarah M.

    Fitzgerald didn't meet Hemingway until after he [Fitzgerald] had written his own publisher to inform him of Hemingway as a rising artist–based solely on Hemingway's early work!

  113. Kamilla

    Hey Nathan! If you have a sec, check out my website/book trailer. I think this is what you're talking about…and I had an absolute blast doing it 🙂

    Thanks for your inspiration!

  114. Nadia

    Nathan, you write that you suspect there never was, but Pynchon is still seriously in hiding. We don't really know what he looks like, let alone who his influences are, where he lives, etc.

  115. virtualDavis

    Great post. Seems to echo what I'm reading all over: no more poet in a garret… Write and write well, but don't neglect your platform.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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