First, the freebie: the above link will take you to a page on Donald Mass' website where you can get a free pdf download of his book, The Career Novelist. The book is over ten years old now, but it's still full of good advice. Full refund if you're not completely satisfied. If you're not familiar with Donald Mass, he's one of the biggest literary agents in New York, and he's written three books (that I've read) on the subject of writing (the one above, plus Writing the Breakout Novel and the companion Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook).
As for thoughts, I generally try not to think too much, because it usually gets me it trouble, but I was discussing The Career Novelist with some other writer friends, particularly one passage where Mass says this on the subject of self-promotion:
The rewards can be great, but the truth is that few authors—and even fewer novelists—succeed at the self-promotion game. Perhaps you are one of the few who have the right combination of skills, savvy, and enthusiasm. Perhaps not. Whatever your path, though, be sure that your first priority remains writing irresistible stories. Promotion is worthless if you have nothing to sell.
Mass's quote generated quite a bit of discussion, some pro, some con. My thoughts are this: I talked about self-promotion with Kevin Anderson the other night and he said that if he didn't spend so much time on the road, he could probably write another book a year (like four or five per year isn't enough). On the other hand, he also said that promotional tours, while they were very, very difficult to tie directly to book sales, were necessary in order to keep the fan base excited. Of course, he has a base of fans to keep excited; he has four billion books published. And he's got a publisher willing to pay for him to go on a 19 city book tour. The rest of us probably have neither, so while I am willing to do some self-promotional things (I've got five book stores lined up for signings in the first few months my book is out, on top of the 8 or 10 sf conventions I go to every year)), I'm not willing to go into debt just to make sure that fourteen more people read my novel. Its a balancing act, to be sure.
P.T. Deutermann, who recently moved into the Greensboro area and writes Tom Clancy-type thrillers and mystery novels for St. Martins, once told me that the thing he does that he considers to be the most effective is simply keeping a case of his books in his car, and every time he drives by a bookstore, he stops in. If they have his books in stock he takes the time to talk with the staff and autograph the copies they have. If they don't have his books, he gives them copies of one or two of his novels (for free) so they can become familiar with his work.
This ties in nicely with advice I got from a friend of mine who worked for many years as a sales rep for Baker & Taylor, the second largest book wholesaler in America (after Ingram). She said that what a new author wanted to do was develop relationships with the people who run (or at least work at) as many independent bookstores as possible. She said that while the Barnes & Nobles and Walden Books and Borders of the world are run by a bunch of shelf-stockers and cashiers, the independent stores are still full of people who love books and have relationships with their customers. She said that even if you only have a mediocre book, if the independents like YOU, they will recommend your book.
Obviously it's not practical to go to every independent bookstore in America, but even mailing copies and a nice note to a select group of them will have a lasting impact. And even if it costs you $10 a pop, and you send/give copies to 50 stores, that's only $500, less than it would cost to take out an ad in a lot of magazines (that might or might not be noticed in the one month it runs).
There are a lot of ways to go about promoting your work, with no guarantees as to what will be effective. I'm just taking a serious look at the advice of people who have been where I want to go and achieved what I want to achieve.
So, what are your thoughts on the value of self-promotion by authors? What do you think works, and what do you think is a waste of time and money?