BJK Factoid #147: When I have to put a number in a story and when what the number is doesn’t matter and when I don’t have a specific number in mind, the number I use is usually 147. I have no idea why this is.
During yesterday’s rampant … um, rampage through literally dozens of different sites and articles about promotion and so forth, I came across the word combination ‘social proof’. At the time I didn’t think much of it, possibly because at that point in the proceedings I looked almost exactly like this:
Yes, that is what just READING about self-promotion does to me. Trust me, you don’t want to see the effects of actually doing it.
Anyway, later, after calming down a little and wiping the froth from my mouth, that word-combo came back to me. Social proof. That’s what someone with a ‘bestseller’ has. That’s what someone with a book in the top 100 has. That’s what someone with a dozen five-star reviews has–to a point. “Other people like this; it’s okay for me to like it as well.” Lots of people think like this, the vast majority of people think like this–of course, you and I don’t, but that’s because we’re independent free-thinking iconoclasts who march to the beat of our own bongoes. But many people do. It’s a huge barrier for the beginning author, and not one that’s easily surmounted. But there are ways. Because ‘social proof’ isn’t just about partaking of the known, it’s also about knowing of what you are partaking–or at least thinking that you know. That’s why personal journals are important, because they allow a glimpse of the person behind the book. The thinking here, I believe, is more along the lines of, “Oh, I know them, so it’s okay to like what they’ve written”.
Of course all of this is generalisation. But I think there’s some truth in it. Part of what makes successful writers successful is that they’re already successful. Also possibly because they don’t use the word ‘successful’ three times in the same sentence. But this isn’t a new observation, it’s pretty much just common sense.
Let’s break this down. As independent authors, we want social proof–actually, we need it, because without it people just aren’t going to buy our books, and if they don’t buy our books they’re not going to read our books, and if they don’t read our books well then there’s just no way they’re going to enjoy our books. Bestsellers have it built-in. We’re going to have to manufacture our own. We can’t say “Try my book, lots of others have” because that’s not true. But we can act upon another facet of ‘social proof’, that of sharing our own love for our work. “I wrote this and I think it’s good; you might too.”
There’s no easy path to success, but the good news for all us struggling indies is that there is a path. It takes time and effort to travel it, but if we persevere then the end must necessarily be reached. We will find our audience. We will succeed. Not today or tomorrow or even next week, but eventually it will happen. And the first step? The first step is using completely excessive italicisation. And the second step isn’t actually a step it all, it’s not even an action. It’s an inaction. It’s ‘not giving up’. It’s sticking to your guns and trudging on through all the bad days or weeks or however long it’s been since you sold even a single book, it’s putting your head down and writing every day, no matter what else is happening, it’s having the guts and the will and the self-belief to say “I am here and what I have created has value”.
Even if you say it very quietly just to yourself in a darkened room. That’s okay. You have to start somewhere.
Lately I’ve been trying to push myself into admitting that what I write is good, because I think that lies at the core of my problem with self-promotion, this taboo against ‘bragging’, this cringing embarassment of pushing something worthless on people who don’t need it.
But I’m not worthless, and neither are my books. And if you’re an indendent author then you’re not worthless either, and neither are your books. They have worth to you. They will have worth to someone else. You’re not selling rubbish that no one needs. You’re telling people about something awesome that you’ve made and offering them the opportunity to share in that. Do you hesitate before telling people about an amazing book you’ve read? Or a TV show you watched or a movie you saw or a restaurant you ate at? If you do, then, wow! You’re pretty timid. Even more timid than me. You’d better work on that, actually. But if you’re like me and you cannot wait to tell people about awesome things you’ve experienced, then turn that on yourself. Think about all the hours you put into your book, think about all the decisions you made, think about the characters you love, the revelations that made you grin when you thought of them and the gasps they will elicit from your readers, think about the mysteries left unsolved and the speculations they will spark, think about all of the blood, sweat and tears you poured into the book and then realise, realise that people want to know about this. To bring it back to ‘social proof’, to that first little bit of human nature, “Other people like this; it’s okay for me to like it too”, realise that YOU like your book and so it’s okay for OTHER people to like your book. Then reverse it; if you come off as not even liking your own book, why should other people care about it? “The author isn’t even enthusiastic about it; I can’t see why I should be.”
You love your book–you love the story, you love the characters, you love the ideas you expressed, you love the setting you chose, you love the words that you used. And if you don’t, then why did you write it? Why did you spend so many hours working so very hard on it? Oh, sure, after proofing run after proofing run you might be sick of the sight of the silly thing, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still love it. So share that love, show, don’t tell–let me repeat that, SHOW your love for your book. Allow yourself to be enthusiastic, and others will follow your lead.
That’s my resolution. I’m not going to be defensively self-deprecating about my books any more. I’m not going to put my head down and mutter ‘oh they’re okay’, I’m going to raise my head and say, ‘Yes, I worked hard on them, and I’m proud of what I made’. I may not take myself seriously, but from now on I take my creations seriously.
And if you have a book, or a song, or a painting, or really, anything that you’re proud of, that you made yourself and that you love, I hope you do the same.
Good night, good luck, and good creating.