As a queer reader, I know how nice it is to pick up a book, read the blurb or just look at the cover, and have a pretty clear idea that the content isn’t troublingly heteronormative or, worse, actively homophobic or transphobic. Is it imperative, then, that your book blurbs and promotion clearly advertise a book’s progressive chops and niche market? Or, is there something to be said for a little inveigling and obfuscation? Following on from my earlier post on how to write a book blurb, this time I’m looking at when, why, and how to tell the truth when promoting your book.
Book Blurbs and Promotion
In the run-up to the release date of Colony, I’ve been thinking a lot about my approach to promotion. Like most self-published writers, I do all of this work myself. This means finding and contacting reviewers likely to offer a favourable review, sending them copies of the novel, amassing social media copy and scheduling tweets and posts, posting on Facebook groups, and being sure to respond to comments and engage with readers. It’d be nice to have a marketing department doing some of the work for me, but this is just part of what it means to be a writer now.
All this activity benefits from a well thought out media marketing strategy. And, as always, for anyone not writing hella mainstream books, this comes with some complications. For instance, I wonder if by avoiding advertising the fact that my protagonist in Colony is queer means that a straight, cisgender, reader could pick up the book, get drawn in by the story, and end up reading something that moves them towards being a fan of equality (if they weren’t already).
With my earlier novels, the queer content has been pretty key to the books’ very existence and stories. Things are a little different with Colony, however, as this novel falls into a genre (sci-fi or speculative fiction) that is dominated by straight, white, male characters. There are some obvious, and wonderful exceptions, such as Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, and Ursula Le Guin, but if you read Martian Time Slip (Philip K Dick) or similar works, you’re likely to encounter a horrible amount of unquestioned misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and racism.
What is your book’s truth?
When writing my blurb for Colony, I considered carefully whether to make note of the gender, sexuality, and/or race of my main character(s). Where did I end up? With a compromise. I used Silver’s (female) pronouns, but didn’t explicitly mention her queerness or indigineity. Instead, I gave a nod (is there a progressive version of the alt-right dog-whistle?) to issues of colonialism, and included the name of my second main character (which could flag this character as Nigerian for some savvy readers).
I know that this selective truth-telling runs the risk of having readers buy or borrow the book and feel furious that they’ve been hoodwinked into reading a book with – gasp! – actual honest to goodness homosexuals, bisexuals, genderqueer, trans, and polyamorous folks, some of whom are people of colour. You know what, though? Bring on the bad reviews (more on this below!). All things considered, I think the risk of an ego-pounding or trollish rant or two is worth it for the chance that a few folks will stop to consider their white, straight, cis privilege.
And, for readers looking specifically for speculative fiction with queer characters and/or characters of colour, I’ll be posting plenty on social media and here on the blog to help them find that content. There will also (hopefully) be a handful of reviews in queer publications like Autostraddle, and there’s always good old word of mouth.
Let’s dig into this last point a little more.
Book Promotion for Self-Published Authors
If you’re self-publishing in a niche area and might face hostility from a general readership (and you don’t have a huge marketing team and budget), it’s a good idea to figure out how to front-load good reviews before widening your marketing efforts. So, get some of those good reviews and ratings before putting out a blurb that is more attractive to the general reader.
What I mean is to focus your marketing initially at people likely to give your book a 5-star review before opening yourself up to a greater number of potential haters. If only 20% of folks are likely to love your book right away, while 60% are likely to give it mixed reviews and the remaining 20% will probably hate it for whatever reason, target the 20% first.
There’s nothing quite like a noxious 1-star review on Amazon to kill your sales before they’ve even begun. And, many paid book promotion sites (like BookBub) won’t even entertain your application for marketing help if your book has less than a 4-star rating over ten or more reviews.
What do you think? Should book blurbs and promotion campaigns offer readers an easy out if they have pre-existing prejudices? Is a little creativity dangerous, necessary, both, or neither?
If you have thoughts on this, as readers, writers, and/or publicists, I’d love to hear them; (constructive) feedback and discussion is always welcome!