Tweak and Try Again

I am a Goodreads newbie and am still in the process of digesting all of the material that is available on the website. One thing that I have found is that many authors report on their results from trying things like giveaways or other promotional ideas. This is good info, and I am glad learn about what has happened in the real world. I have noticed, however, that some reports include comments along the lines of “It was a failure; I will never do that again.”

Of course, there is no magic bullet that guarantees a wide readership, and time is an author’s most precious commodity, but it occurs to me that something from my own experience might be relevant here.

Now, I want to very clear. I am not using this post so that I can brag about things. The actual details are entirely irrelevant. It is an observation about what happened that I want to talk about.

I did my writing over forty years ago, in the infancy of computers and just the beginning of the internet. Back then, one typed a manuscript, put it into the box that a ream of typing paper came in, crossed one’s fingers, and physically mailed it off to a publisher in New York with return postage enclosed. About three months later the box would return with a rejection letter, and one would send it to the next publisher in line.

I had written a fantasy and in the 1970’s had just four targets, the first of which was Ballantine Books, now a subsidiary of Penguin-Random House. Sure enough, it came back, and I followed the established routine. A year later, I had my manuscript back for the last time, and nowhere else to go. I was not going to be a published author.

Some time passed. I don’t remember how long, when I learned that Lester del Rey, the science fiction author had been hired by Ballantine to be their new fantasy editor.

On a whim, I decided to submit my manuscript to Ballantine again. No changes in the text. No change in the cover letter. No mention that I had tried with them before. Sent to the same address. I may have added “Attn: Lester del Rey” to the address label but this many years later I am not sure.

Son of a gun, I got an acceptance letter back from del Rey. I was going to be a published author after all.

The point is that circumstances change. They did so in the 1970s. In our computer-enabled age, they certainly do so now. So it just might be worthwhile to try something again – but perhaps with a little tweak like ‘Attn: Lester del Rey’—that can make a world of difference.

Another example is one related by another science fiction author, Friedrich Pohl. At one point in his career, he was working for a publisher whose business model was to use the US mail to send out solicitations to purchase books. Yes, crazy things like that happened back then.

Anyway, there was a coffee table book – something like ‘Birds of America’ – that just would not sell. Pohl used all sorts of enticements but none worked. Finally, in desperation he tried “Do you need a big book?” This worked and the book inventory started to fall.

The moral of the story is that giving up after one try might not be the only option to consider. Perhaps trying again with some tweak could produce better results. You have already gone through all of the steps once. The second time around will take a lot less effort. Obvious candidates are things like the blurb for a giveaway, or the text in the email asking a blog reviewer to look at your book, or …

Keep track of the results for each try to see if you are on the right track. Who knows, maybe success is just a little tweak away.

Just a thought.

© 2016 Lyndon M. Hardy