November 2nd, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
The Best Advice I Ever Got

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the release of my first novel, Kitty and The Midnight Hour.  Which also means one of the best pieces of advice I ever got came four years ago.  First, some background.

Like Lynn, I have some publicity and self-promotion rants brewing.  But whenever I start writing the essay, I end up spewing paragraph after paragraph of irate rambling nonsense.  We’ve already seen that Lynn and I pretty much agree on the value of spending oodles of time and money on self-promotion.  Which is to say — WRITE THE BOOK.  That’s your job.  Do it well.

Here’s the biggest question I always think about when I hear about an author spending loads of time and money pursuing endless routes of online marketing, hiring a publicist for thousands of dollars, and so on:  Have I actually heard of this author?  I mean, apart from the fact that they’ve spent oodles of time and money on self-promotion.  Can I name a title that they’ve written?  Have I ever heard anyone recommending their books?  All too often the answer is, “No.”  How useful then is all that time and money spent on self-promotion?

A couple of things I’m grateful for:  Starting out poor, and a piece of advice I got early on.

I started out too poor to fall for any publishing scams or publicity machines.  When I was trying to get published, vanity presses or pay-to-play agents were out of the question because I didn’t have any money to pay to get published.  I didn’t even have the $300 to go to the local writer’s conference.  I’m really glad about that.  I never felt pressure to do an in-person editor or agent pitch.  Spending money to get a leg up was never an option.  This saved me a lot of stress and agony in the long run.  And when you have no money for movies or outings, you stay home and write.  Awesome.

My goal was always to make a living at writing.  Not just writing, but writing fiction, as much as I was told that was a near-impossible task.  But what do you know, I’ve done it.  I even have health insurance. (It’s a high-deductible catastrophic HSA plan.  But I have it.)  Because I’ve always used my writing income to pay my bills — my mortgage, my utilities, my food — I never considered using any of it for high-priced publicity plans.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to blow a significant percentage of my first advance — $7500 — on something like a book video or hiring a publicist.  I had student loans to pay off!  (I used part of my most recent advance to pay off said student loan.  Huzzah!)

So there you have it:  I’m a New York Times bestselling author who has never hired my own publicist or paid more than a few hundred dollars a year on publicity.  I even maintain my own website.  (With a friend’s help.  I take him and his girlfriend out for steaks after a big website overhaul.)

My conclusions:  You don’t have to spend a lot of time and money on promotion.  Even more important to keep in mind:  Spending a lot of time and money on promotion is absolutely no guarantee of success.

And now for the piece of advice.  My original agent, Dan Hooker, passed away about a month after my first book came out.  It was devastating, because he’d done such a good job for me and I’d been looking forward to a long working relationship.  In one of the last conversations we had, I asked him, “What should I be doing?  What can I do to promote the book?”  I asked because I was overwhelmed, because I saw all the possibilities and was daunted at all the work I thought I was going to have to do.  I’m shy — I didn’t want to go into bookstores to sign stock.  I didn’t want to call people.  I didn’t want to set up book signings.  I still had a day job eating up half my time.

Here’s what Dan said:  “Write the next book.  Make it the best you can.”

This was brilliant because that’s what I wanted to do — that’s all I wanted to do:  write.  It’s worked so far.  And I’m still grateful to Dan for saving my sanity at a critical moment.

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10 comments to “The Best Advice I Ever Got”

  1. Charlene Teglia
     · November 2nd, 2009 at 9:28 am · Link

    That is awesome advice. Like you, I found starting off my writing career poor to be a huge advantage. 😆 Lots of motivation to work hard, few distractions.

  2. Suzan H.
     · November 2nd, 2009 at 2:07 pm · Link

    Mr. Hooker sounds like a wonderful, wise person. Thank you for passing on his advice.

  3. joe
     · November 2nd, 2009 at 4:23 pm · Link

    The best advice you ever got, may be the best advice you ever gave.

    I bet Mr. Hooker would be proud.

    Thank you, Carrie.

  4. David Bridger
     · November 3rd, 2009 at 4:52 am · Link

    Thank you, Dan. And thank you, Carrie.

  5. Janette
     · November 3rd, 2009 at 6:13 pm · Link

    Amen to that fabulous piece of advice. Needs to be tattooed on the forehead of every aspiring writer!!

  6. Rose Gott
     · November 6th, 2009 at 9:24 am · Link

    As a writer who hopes to sell her first relatively soon – Thanks for the great advice!

    Here at my place the kids and day job come first and the money is tight. I’ve been trying to prioritize and figure out what I will do for promotion when the time comes. Good to see another author (besides Lynn) who thinks that a good book IS the best promotion! 😀

  7. SarahP
     · November 6th, 2009 at 9:28 pm · Link

    Right freaking on.

    (followed link from Harry Connolly’s blog)

  8. Raquel Rodriguez
     · November 7th, 2009 at 1:04 pm · Link

    So totally right to write the next book, and the next and next after that one. Thanks so much for sharing your great advice, Carrie! :-)


  9. Brent
     · November 23rd, 2009 at 1:38 pm · Link

    I am a visual artist and started out much the same way as you. I have been solicited many time for promotion of my work and I figure that the work speaks for itself and I try to make the best work I can.

    Thank you for reconfirming this core principal for me.

  10. Liz Kreger
     · December 28th, 2009 at 9:58 pm · Link

    Great advice. Mr. Hooker sounds like he was a down to earth sorta guy. I’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate … depends how you look at it) to have a day job that I enjoy. So my income is steady and I don’t have to worry about whether we can pay that next bill. However, writing full time is a dream I have and one that I’m determined to make come true.

    As far as promotion goes … I pretty much create my own. I don’t spend much money on it at all. Materials, ink and personal effort. And even then, if it takes too long, its not worth the trouble.


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