“The party’s over…”
Anyone who’s ever worked long and hard on a project that demanded creative vigilance, relentless effort, and savvy timing, who’s reveled in a successful launch, a great rollout, the subsequent afterglow, and then the slow… slow… slow… lessening of… interest… energy… attention… response… excitement… etc…. knows this moment:
The plateau. The dreaded plateau.
It’s that inevitable turn when things quiet down. The ebb to the flow, descent from the summit, deflation of the high. The moment you realize the thrill is gone.
Not yours, certainly. Not even the people’s, whoever your people might be. But the zeitgeist’s. The zeitgeist’s thrill, which is temporary, ephemeral, and looks something like this: You’re six months in, your primary people have all read the book; the publicity campaign is over and you can’t afford another round. Whoever was going to leave a review probably has. The ones who said they would and didn’t probably won’t. “Influencers” on Instagram aren’t making great memes of your book anymore. Bookstores still responding to your inquiries mention, “we’re keeping the focus on new releases,” and no one is chasing after you for interviews.
It’s the plateau, baby, the one that happens after the hoopla’s gone.
It’s not that your creation is any less applause-worthy, any less “a remarkable achievement.” It’s not that readers don’t like it anymore or have stopped thinking you’re “an astonishing writer.” It’s not that you won’t sell more books or inspire additional reviews. There will likely be occasion for another podcast, you can surely wrangle a “post-launch” bookstore event, and a $1.99 ebook sale pushed by BookBub would definitely perk your Amazon rankings.
But like most romances six months in, the chemicals have cooled. Your book is no longer a “shiny new thing.” Other, newer, books are getting the heat, and you know you can’t keep chattering about yours on social media or “overshare exhaustion” will set in.
So what do you do?
The first thing many (most) purveyors of book wisdom will suggest is that you start another book… which doesn’t answer the specific question of what to do with the one you already have, the one you just finished and just put out into the world. Telling someone to assuage their postpartum blues by leaping back into the procreation cycle ignores natural attachment to the one “just birthed.”
And though I’m all for “continued creativity,” and conventional thought does say the best way to succeed in publishing is to write lots and lots and LOTS of books—I’m of the heretical belief that the only time to write another book is when you’re absolutely compelled to do so. When a story literally begs you to sit down and breathe its life onto the page. But you can argue that amongst yourselves. As for your plateau?
I’m not so arrogant as to think I have all, even any, of the answers; I do not. In fact, I’m currently wandering around my own plateau after the April 2019 release of my third novel, The Alchemy of Noise. In fact, it’s the driving need to prevent my own literary depression that’s pushed me to figure out how best to endure the slowdown. And since I’ve come up with a few solutions that are and have been helpful to me, I thought I’d pass them along in the event they are to you as well:
1. Start writing your next book. I know, contradictory. But despite my disclaimer of above, I have to put this at #1 because if you are so moved, it is, frankly, a good step. There really is a wonderfully distracting, creatively exhilarating, pleasingly accomplished element to getting back to work on a new book and letting the baby sit alone for a minute.
2. Activate post-launch book promotions/advertising via sites like Women Writers, Women’s Books, BookBub, IndiesUnlimited, Author Marketing Experts, and BookLife. These are great sites, amongst many others, with abundant information, so explore and take advantage of every opportunity they offer, particularly those designed for “beyond the launch period.”
3. Subscribe to selective newsletters that alert writers to promotional and marketing opportunities, jobs, and contest suggestions. Some excellent ones are Erica Verrillo’s Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity, Jane Friedman’s content-rich site and newsletter, Adam Cohen’s Winning Writers, and Hope Clark’s Funds For Writers. In fact, not only avail yourselves of their copious suggestions, but submit content if it pertains, ask questions where appropriate, and when you do, always mention your book. Look for every chance to engage and bring authentic attention to you and your work.
4. Enter contests. There are millions, it seems, and it does take work to sort out which are viable, valuable, and worth your time, money, and book copies, but they are excellent plateau-breakers. So do the research, compare notes, then enter your book into as many as make sense or you can afford. Additionally, crank out some sparkling short stories and enter contests for those. Write first-person memoir pieces and do the same. While your beloved book is learning to walk on its own, you can stir up interest in you as an author by winning, getting honorably mentioned, or becoming a finalist in any number of chosen contests. Plus, those wins will give you something new to talk about, which is exactly what you’re going for.
5. Book clubs. Reach out to everyone you know who belongs to one. Go to MeetUp.com and explore their many book club groups; put up a request on Facebook, Twitter, all your social media for “interested book clubbers.” Suggest your book, gift free copies to club leaders; offer to conduct a giveaway; commit to an “author’s appearance,” whether in person or via Skype (or whatever online format you use). People need content for book clubs always and forever, and they’re not stuck on “recent releases.”
6. Wrangle up some friend/family interviews. This one might sound silly, but it’s actually fun and very effective: carefully select knowledgeable, book-savvy friends or family members, invite them to present you with a list of questions they have—about you as a writer, your process, your book; why you wrote it, what you hope to accomplish, etc.—then follow-up as you would any interview request. Once it’s done, and with your interviewer’s permission, post it on your website, your blog, your Facebook page, etc. It’s amazing how questions from an industry layperson can offer refreshing insight outside the norm of marketing folks. Your readers will definitely find it interesting and possibly quite charming.
7. Write articles about books and publishing… like I’m doing here! Then send them out to top book sites, get them published and/or publish them on your own site/blog. Always find a way to mention your book (as I did! 😊), but be sure to offer honest, authentic, and useful information. If you do, odds are good that people will start asking you to provide additional content and that’s a boon—your online bio will always mention and link your book. But mostly you’ll be contributing positively to your community and that builds goodwill. Goodwill is good.
8. Host book parties. Think Tupperware. Scented candles. Arbonne. There’s never a bad time to organize gatherings devoted to commerce and wine, just as there’s no cut-off as to when you can throw a soiree to promote and sell your book. Ask a friend to host or host yourself. Maybe involve other authors to make the event even more festive. Send out invitations or choose a place big enough to accommodate the wider net of Facebook friends. Provide snacks and drinks, plan a short reading and Q&A segment, a drawing for a book or two. Have your books and a Square (card reader) at the ready. Be candid about requesting their reviews after reading, outright about asking them to help spread the word. Hand out bookmarks. Give them book cookies. Do it up. They’ll remember and I guarantee it’ll be a good memory.
9. Get involved in book fairs and festivals. Almost every city has a book event or two during the year. Two of the best in the Los Angeles area are the LA Times Festival of Books, and, in nearby Long Beach, the The Literary Women’s Festival of Authors. But there are countless others around the country, and, depending on your budget and ability to travel, you can stay close or get out there. The main idea is to get your book in a booth and in front of interested new readers. Tables can be expensive so get together with other writers in your area (there will likely be plenty of “plateauing authors” just as excited as you to be involved!). Split the cost of the booth/table, the advertising, whatever ancillary costs come up. Have lots of books on hand and be up on all necessary sales/tax info that applies. Be ready to maximize the opportunity to enthusiastically put your book in front of the thousands of readers who attend these events. Golden.
10. Perform! I have a friend who started her own YouTube channel filled with videos of her interviewing other artists and writers she finds interesting, and, of course, she always concludes with clear verbal and visual information about her own book. A couple of other friends are now starting podcasts, intending to interview artists of every ilk and, of course, promote their books. Whatever suits your sensibilities, get out there and make some noise. I actually saw a woman on the Venice Boardwalk who played guitar and sang, had a tip jar out front, and a table in back stacked with her books. She was ready for anything, which I thought that was pretty darned innovative!
There are, no doubt, lots more ideas (feel free to add them in comments) but this is a good head start. The bonus is, once you have new things to talk about—awards, events, published articles, etc.—you’ve got brand new spanking information to share, which always presents new opportunity to talk about your wonderful book.
But, mainly, remember that your baby has a long life expectancy, and hoopla is not required to keep it alive. A plateau can offer space to breathe, reassess, re-strategize. Take that moment when it comes; refresh your mind, hustle up some new ideas, then start climbing again.
It’s the journey… it’s always the journey.
Photos in order:
Nicole Honeywill / Sincerely Media on Unsplash
MILKOVÍ on Unsplash
Other photos via LDW
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.