On Self-Promotion

Self-Promotion is a necessary evil of being a writer. It doesn't matter if you're traditionally published or self-published. Some people like to draw a line in the sand and state that independent authors are extremely guilty about self-promotion, but the honest trust is, the writing career is one that involves connecting with fans and the community.

That, in its own way, is self-promotion.

Some self-promotion is a positive thing. Too much, however, and your audience (both target and otherwise) may become annoyed. If you post a variety of other content they like, be it updates on your life, information about the story craft, or you just being you, most are willing to forgive and forget. Will they look at it? Who knows. Probably not.

People often don't.

This doesn't change the temptation to post often, especially when there is a reason to be excited about what you're promoting. This can be anything from a stellar book review, approaching the end of a fundraising campaign (guilty as charged), launching a new book, and finding people to help beta read a new novel. There are lots of things that make authors want to speak out about their work.

This isn't a bad thing, but it's very easy to abuse. (Also guilty as charged.)

In a way, I shouldn't even be talking about this subject. (See the comments in () above.) I don't know an author who doesn't participate in this in one way or another. However, I do think there is a fine line between good promotion and bad promotion.

So, what are these lines? Can overstepping them be avoided? At what point does someone turn from an active, interesting member of the authorial community to a promotion robot? How much is too much?

Overstepping the boundary between good self-promotion and bad self-promotion is really easy to do, but I do think a balance can be struck. For me, I want at least two solid, strong posts of something that makes me interested in the author to begin with — things about their personal life, writing advice, interesting blog posts. Something that makes me connect with them. I'll forgive a lot of self-promotion, if those gemstones are there. But, in addition to these two solid posts, I also want to see a sprinkling of the mundane. What they had for lunch. A whine. (Yes! Whining about life is OK… in moderation.)

I hesitate to say this, but even posting cute pictures of kittens and puppies and otters is OK too! Pets are a great way for people to connect to each other, and I totally believe that forming connections is what you really want to be doing when you self-promote.

Book sales are nice. As a debut author, book sales are often few and far between. That's to be expected. My novel could be doing better, but it is, for a first-timer with no track record, doing surprisingly well.

I've learned a lot from my first book. I will avoid making a bunch of mistakes for the second book. I'll keep getting better and better at avoiding mistakes, until I'm producing books I can be truly proud of. And I'll go back, fix what I didn't get right in editorial in the second edition of my first book, and move on. I know what to expect, and I have a much better idea how to prevent the problems I had with my first novel.

I hope to do better with my second novel, and even better with my third. Then, I begin a several-year-long journey of completing two different series, releasing one book a year per series. I'm sure I'll be throwing in the occasional standalone novel. It'll be a hard schedule, and I hope I can pull it off.

I digress, though. All of my plans, my desires, and my career are dependent on reaching people.

This is my life. This is my career.

Of course I want to promote it.

When promoting, I don't think just about the money. I know, it's tempting. We all need to eat, we all need to pay the bills, we all want good food on our table. However, think about the people you're promoting to. I do. I'm really aware of the people who have supported me. I want to make the experience special for them, too. I want them to know I appreciate what they've done. That is why, in part, I try to add so many goodies with my fundraising campaigns. That's one way of me saying ‘thank you!!' to everyone who has supported me.

But, think about what you're doing when you're self-promoting. More importantly, think about how you react to others when they promote to you.

Do you like it when authors do nothing but spam you with reviews? With desires for your money? I don't. I'll read posts from people who do promote, and if I feel the person promoting has done a good job of balancing self-promotion, I'll even boost their promotions and share the link with others. Especially if it is a project or book I would buy or invest in. But, if all I see from an author is a constant resharing of reviews they've received, I won't be following them for very long. It's a fine line to balance.

And yes, I'll even support authors I want to get involved with, be it via time, money, or services.

At the end of the day, I'm a person. I want to be treated as such. I don't want to be treated as someone who is just there to give other authors money. And, let's face it, I do want to give other authors money. I may be a little picky about the books I want to buy, however. I grew up in an era where the gatekeepers did their best to provide entertaining stories. Gripping stories. There is a lot more chaff to dig through.

I want to be one of those writers who produces stories people can't help but fall in love with. Am I there? No, I don't think so. Will I ever?

Only time will tell. But, in order to have any chance at all of getting there, I have to reach my target audience. I have to connect with the people already interested in me.

Where do you think the line is? How much are you willing to forgive just because someone is an author?


Leave a Comment:

Heather Dudley says August 13, 2013

On Google- Plus, I’ve been added by a lot of authors who do nothing but promote. I don’t add them back. I don’t want endless blog posts, or buy my book demands. I want engagement. I’m on Facebook, and there is an author there I grew up loving. She added me back, and it thrilled me. I know more about her precious dogs than her upcoming novels, and it works. She interacts.

The other problem is the refusal to engage. When you promote, you need to be ready to answer questions, throw out thanks, and engage with your readers, not just post things and let them sit and be read.

This is a universe of action. Long gone are the times when an author could expect to send off a manuscript, then receive a regular check for the rest of his life.

Now we gotta work. 😉

The line gets crossed, in my opinion, when I am offered only more promotion in return for my time and engagement. If you expect someone to give you money (be it for a book, an indiegogo campaign, or whatever) you have to give them something in return. These days, just the product isn’t enough. If you want me to be a loyal reader, and all authors do (first sales aren’t enough, you need FANS)– you have to give me something for the time I spend reading your blogs, your posts, your social media.

And it had damn well better be something more than “look, something else I want you to give me!”

AJ Maguire says August 13, 2013

I think a lot of the problem is how many avenues authors have for promotion these days. I’m relatively new to Google+ and am still learning the ropes of it, but I do have a line between the writing circle and the private family circle. On Facebook the line is a little blurry because of that whole author page versus regular page and when I started on it I only had the personal page so everyone got a mix of … well … everything.

I don’t know why but talking about my son on Google+ makes me a little nervous. I think maybe my mind is conjuring a false level of professionalism for it, which is why my posts are so few over there whereas Facebook hears from me almost every day. I watch some really talented people talk about all their crafts and fun pens (or moleskins) and I interact in the comments and what have you as much as possible. It just seemed like the better avenue to support others while I’m trying to acclimate to the Google+ environment.

And yes, I’m definitely a “wade slowly into the water” sort of person instead of jumping in head-first. But that’s just my personality and I’m sure it has its drawbacks — like a lack of content on the Googles while I test everything out.

That said, I don’t mind promotion on a once a week basis. Promotion on a three to four times a day basis makes my eye twitch. (That’s not counting book launch countdowns or anything that obviously has a time limit. Those can be fun and entertaining to watch, actually.)

RJBlain says August 13, 2013

You know what the problem with my website is? I need a plugin that lets me +1 both of your comments. Because I totally agree with both of you. 🙂

Daniel Swensen says August 14, 2013

In general, I watch how much other authors pay it forward, compared to how much they promote themselves. An author who seems genuinely interested in other authors, in sharing experiences and connecting — that person, I’ll take a lot of self-promo from. Someone who clearly views their fellow bloggers / authors / whatever as cash cows or marketing resources — those people, I have very little time for.

    RJBlain says August 14, 2013

    Me too. I definitely have a much higher tolerance level for those who are more than just about getting money from me. I’ll put up with a lot from someone who actively engages with the community, with me, and with other readers or writers. But I also have a very low tolerance for those who do nothing but post links to the reviews they’ve gotten on their books, do nothing but talk about promoting themselves. They get uncircled. If they notify me without me asking for a notification, instant block, too!

Add Your Reply