Lyda Morehouse recently started a discussion here that Kelly McCullough continued here about self-promotion over on the Wyrdsmiths blog.
The Wyrdsmiths have had elements of this discussion before. Generally, they have been of the opinion that a writer gets more out of their time by writing than they do by trying to market what they have written. Generally, I would agree.
What makes this discussion interesting to me is how I believe the answer to this question is changing along with the shifting landscape of the publishing industry.
Let's start by taking the case of traditional publishing. Within that framework, the publisher typically takes on the responsibility of publicizing and marketing. Now, we could argue about the effectiveness of their efforts, especially regarding the difference in the way publishers treat mid-list authors versus more popular authors, but I don't want to go down that rabbit hole in this post. Let's say, for sake of argument, that they do market your work. In that case, I completely agree that it makes sense for publishers to do the marketing and for writers to do the writing.
Now let's consider how the publishing landscape is changing. E-Books are exerting major price pressures on publishers (read this by Mike Shatzkin). Every e-book sold means one less book sold within the brick and mortar distribution channel. This in turn means increased returns and price pressure from both sides of the equation. Furthermore, brick and mortar booksellers, already under siege by the economy, are going out of business (e.g. Borders’ bankruptcy). It's only a matter of time before publishers start ordering smaller print runs, which means more cost per unit, which means even more price pressure on already low profit margins.
I could go on, but I think at this point it's easy to see these are major concerns for both the publisher and the author. Publishers are going to have less money. That means, among other things, less money for marketing. There will also be less places for someone to see an author's book on a shelf and buy it. That means less sales. Can anyone say, “Vicious cycle?”
As the publishing landscape changes, I think the question about self-promotion will necessarily change as well. I think it will shift from, “Is it worth it?” to, “How do I do it effectively and with minimal investment of my own time and resources?”
While I don't think there is anyone who can say for certain what the effects of these changes will be, one thing seems to be clear: authors are going to need to learn how to compete with cheap e-books. If you are an author who has chosen to traditionally publish, can you continue to rely on your publisher to make a case for your book vs. the $.99 e-book when your publisher is forced to make do with less and less money? If you are self-publishing, how do you get noticed?
I think these are the questions that are going to shape this debate as it evolves over the next months and years.
Now I just wish I had some answers. Stay tuned!