Your Book Is Not Pepper Spray That You Must Fountain Into My Eyes

Dear People Who Have Written Books:

I don’t want to be advertised to.

Or, put differently: I don’t want to be strapped down while you advertise all over me in some acrid, splashy golden shower version of “marketing.”

I awake daily now to find that someone has posted a photo of their book to Facebook and tagged me in the photo. Not because I had anything to do with the book. Not because I even know this person, but just because they want me to see it. I am frequently tagged with other writers as if to say, “Hey, guys, look! I wrote a book!” And the book is frequently some dubiously-covered author-published book which may be awesome, or may be a total cube of wombat poop.

(Yes, wombats poop in cubes. THE MORE YOU KNOW.)

Listen, I get it. I understand. It’s hard out there for a penmonkey. You gotta scrap and struggle and kick and scrape to get noticed, lest your book — released with a publisher or released on your own — land softly and unseen, as if it had never been written at all. And you think, I have these social media tools available to me, so I must use them to their fullest.

I’m sympathetic. As I noted yesterday, I’m an inky-fingered dude trying to make it, too.

The problem is, the social media tools you’re using?

They’re hammers. And I don’t want you to hit me with a fucking hammer.

Now, I get it, someone out there will say that familiar refrain of first world problems, and yes, this is very much a first world problem — and is in fact a small subsection of the first world problem, an artist’s first world problem. People are starving and economies are stumbling drunkenly through gauntlets of paddling politicians and people keep writing open letters to Miley Cyrus, I know. Just the same, niche as it may be, it’s a problem, and here’s why:

Your little advertisement isn’t the only one I’m getting today.

I’ll get more of the same on Facebook throughout the day.

Someone will “invite me” to their book launch on FB.

Or they’ll “invite me” to the same on Google-Plus (sometimes both).

And inevitably someone will DM me on Twitter about his book.


Or they’ll email me at one or two or even three of my email addresses.

(All from people I don’t even know.)

So, your one little piece of advertising detritus gloms onto all the other rancid bits.

And by the end of the day I have a vertiable fatberg of your spammy spamness clogging up my social media feeds and, worse, filling my brain with rage.

Admittedly, this practice seems to come up more often with author-publishers than it does with traditionally-published authors, but the trad-pubbers do the same shit, too, sometimes. And worse is when actual publishers or publicists choose to try this same dubious bullshit which is just, ugh. (A new favorite is writing me as if I’d be blessed by some divine librarian’s hand to review a book or host a guest blog by an author or write a guest blog for an author — no free book, no it’s not a favor, it’s just my good fortune to be receiving this request.)

To reiterate: I get it. I do!

This realm of social media is relatively new and we’re all just trying to find a way to peddle our creative wares and, you know, not starve to death. I genuinely understand that.

The trick is, stop being a sentient spam-bot.

Start being a cool author person.

I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t talk about your book. You can! And should!

You have an audience and whether it’s 300 or 300,000, and presumably the people in that audience follow you with some understanding and expectation that you talk about your work and occasionally — not always, certainly not every fifteen minutes — drop a link or ask them to buy or review a book. I do it. Other authors far more impressive than I do it. There you’re talking to the audience that has gathered around your soapbox. Instead of, say, running out into a city park and bludgeoning random passersby with your book.

Your book is not a fist, a hammer, a Taser, a stream of hot urine.

You do not make me want to read your book by clumsily thumping me about the head and neck with it. FUMP FUMP FUMP READ IT IT’S A BOOK LOOK AT IT NO SERIOUSLY LOOK IT HAS WORDS YOU LIKE WORDS FUMP FUMP FUMP. Ow! No. Not cool, author-person. Not cool at all.


Be cool.

Write more books.

Write fewer invasive advertisements.

Thank you, and good night. Er, good morning.


110 responses to “Your Book Is Not Pepper Spray That You Must Fountain Into My Eyes”

  1. But if my book is a fountain of pepper spray to your eyes then I can get a huge worker’s comp claim when you tell me I’m being pushy, right?

  2. Is there a way to disseminate this post to every other industry that has ever heard of the internet?
    (Besides, well, pepper-spraying it on every social media channel ever invented?) Because it’s not just book spam. Every time I open my inbox, it’s “like my hotel on facebook!” “follow this lampshade!” “retweet this blender to win useless kitsch!

    The social disease is becoming an epidemic. Nuclear measures may be called for,

  3. So, Here’s how I found this blog. I was trying to explain metaphors and similes to my 9 year old (it’s how we roll in our house) and googled them. Up came your explanation, which I used selectively (don’t think she’s ready for all of the content … or is it I am not ready to explain some of the content?) Anyhoo, I loved your article, so now I have bought three of your books and signed up to the blog.

    There you go, a real life example of how to spread the word without massive in your face selling. Just entertain me.

  4. Ah, the BUY MY BOOK! Yet another pre-scheduled 140 character excerpt from my book! Yet another link to yet another fab review of my book! More RTs of everyone else’s content coz I have nothing interesting of my own to say! HAVE YOU BOUGHT MY BOOK YET? Twitter feed.

    Aren’t they tedious as sitting through a three-hour long school prize-giving in a really uncomfortable seat? Not to mention a waste of time when, like me, you’re so fed up with being “marketed to” ad nauseam that you refuse on principle to even check out their book.

    Hey, wait ’til you start getting requests from writers to make them a cover for their book. For free. Yanno, just because you have nothing better to do with your precious writing time–not to mention all that spare money to buy licences for their royalty-free stock art etc etc.

    DH says I’m far too polite when I decline, and I need to “mean up”. Sigh….

    My favorite marketer? Grammerly. That dude just will not give up!!!! No, I don’t want to promote your product on my blog. No, I don’t want you to set me up with an account so I can trial your product… but you did it anyway? Fabulous. No, like I’ve already told you, I don’t want you to give me a gift certificate so I can do a giveaway on my blog to promote your product. Sheesh. Didn’t you get my email asking you to stop contacting me? *snarls into her coffee mug*

  5. Um…. *climbs down from her high horse* I am kinda interested in that book about Wombat Prostates though. Would make an excellent Christmas gift for a special someone. @jamescurcio tweet me when it’s available!!!

    • We’re still working on all the full color illustrations, and raising $10,000,000 on kickstarter, as is required to encase all of the books in gold leaf.

      But seriously, it IS very challenging to advertise your projects without pissing people off. There are a lot of catch 22s that are a great deal less interesting than wombat prostates.

  6. Yes. This. Exactly. Hammering from all sides. To all accounts. From several people. Every day. My eyes! In fact, it makes me fear the promotion I’ll have to do when my own book gets published. *sigh*.

    Still waiting for you to write a space opera…

  7. I heard from a few trad-published authors that their publishers are requiring them to obsessively tweet about their books. I expect that kind of idiocy from author-publishers who don’t bother to do their research into Marketing 101, but trad-publihers? Damn it, there just dead set on destroying all my faith in them!

  8. When I published my first short story, I emulated all the other indie authors I was following on Twitter because for a few moments I thought I was supposed to do what they were doing – even though I work in marketing for a living and KNOW better…

    I still peddle a ware or two, sure, and I talk about my writing, of course, but I calmed the hell down and remembered this is about engaging people, building an audience of people who think I’m interesting (I hope), and hopefully, maybe, convincing them I’m worth $0.99… 🙂

  9. Just to let you know writer-person, in an article about Kickstarter and author-marketing in general, I used you as an example and linked to this blog as an example of “yur doin’ it rite.” Build a following by being interesting and personable. Share selected bits about yourself to said following and build camaraderie. Pass out drinks. Put mood-altering drugs in the next round of drinks. Mention your books. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Seriously, there are some writers that I feel like if I showed up at their house with a pizza and a six-pack the response would be, “hey, be right there, you know where the glasses are.” (Now, I don’t do that. Well, at least not until the statute of limitation expires on that little misunderstanding.) However, it is a skill. For some reason, the other day I had someone ask me for advice on marketing her self-pubbed book. I told her to quit marketing her self-pubbed book and concentrate on making friends.

    Oh, and by the way, thank you for the blog. Since I cleaned out my ears and started listening to those who art for a living, people have been giving me money and awards and shit like that in exchange for my words. I mean, how cool is that?

  10. There’s another issue that you haven’t touched on, here, Chuck, which is the way friendship and solidarity with other authors can lead to pepper spray tendencies.

    I’m involved in a co-operative publishing venture at the moment, and so want it to succeed for the sake of the other authors on board. I don’t want to feel like I’m letting down the team, or not pulling my weight. This is a powerful motivation for me, and when I can’t manage to do the whole promo thing right, I tend to do it *wrong* rather than not do it at all. Still searching for a solution on this one.

    Meanwhile, a mega-volcano erupting under Yellowstone, three-metre rises in sea levels or the end of viable antibiotics may be the only cure for… well… anything.

  11. I can totally understand your frustration, Chuck – although I confess it’s not because I have it happen to me much (I’m pretty much regarded as a ‘who?’ in the literary world at the moment.) Jeez, I am officially an utter wuss then – I can’t imagine how people even have the NERVE to spam like that. I’d be way too afraid of ticking people off to even try it!

    Having said that, I do remember contacting a self-publishing house recommended on the interweb when I started writing my current w-i-p. I told them quite clearly that I was only about a quarter of the way through Draft One, so I was nowhere near ready to publish and wouldn’t be for a long time yet but I was just making some tentative enquiries regarding what services were offered, what price roughly, etc. OH. MY. GOD. For the next THREE MONTHS they called me about three times a week, emailed me almost every day… all with the ‘let us help you to publish your book’ spiel (but with NO mention of prices for doing so, natch.) Bearing in mind they hadn’t seen a single word of what I was writing, I was an unknown and had already told them I was probably at least a year away from even FINISHING the book yet. If that’s not a company absolutely DESPERATE to part a fool from their cash I don’t know what is!

  12. These people need to read some Kristen Lamb, buy a Cluedo set and get a clue. It’s up there with people who tweet in capitals. Stop yelling at me dude! It makes me paranoid, wondering what I ever did to you to make you yell at me about your book or whatever.
    By the way Chuck, I love your obsession with wombats at the mo. But no, unfortunately, we don’t keep them as pets here in the land of Aus (terribly disapointing, I know, but there you go.)
    Keep up the great blogs. I love to share them around – learning with hilarity. What a great concept.

  13. How about those who get their knickers in a knot because they’ve liked your FB page and you haven’t liked them back? It’s pitiful… I can hear the whining request in my sleep… “I’ve liked your page so pleeeeeeese like me back.” Um… no, especially if your page has absolutely nothing of interest to me or is totally out of whack with everything I believe in. It’s not because I don’t want to be supportive of fellow authors (I am… really!). I just believe that I should read a book and/or actually know the author before I endorse them. And, no, I’m not going to Tweet about you and your book just because you’ve @tweeted me a hundred times in the last two days! Yeesh! I roll like Jackie above… If I like what I see, I read the reviews, follow blogs AND buy the books.

    Thanks for the rant Chuck… I giggled all the way through.

  14. Another thing that doesn’t work? Pity-based marketing. I’ve seen some authors whose book promos are along the lines of “So, um… I wrote this book, and no one’s buying it at all, or paying any attention to it, and I don’t really know how to get people to read it, but I put a lot of work into this book that no one is reading and it’s making me really sad, so please, please, please buy my book?” All without telling you anything whatsoever about the actual book, other than the fact that apparently no one wants to read it. Oh yeah, I’m going to rush right out and buy that one!

    I always feel bad for them, because I suspect they got sucked in by all the “Write a book in 30 days and self-publish it and the world will beat a path to your doorstep!” hype and honestly can’t understand why it’s not working out that way for them. But feeling sorry for someone does not generally result in a strong desire to buy their sad, lonely, unread book.

  15. I didn’t do it! I I am only here because you save my life about twice week. I sit and read your 500 ways to be a better writer along with 250 things you should know about writing. I switch them up and sit giggling at my kindle like some crazed window licker. My children now think I have lost it by the way… the eight year old runs over, “What mommy, what is so funny?” then I have to hide it so that his mind does not become warped! lol

    I am writing, but my book is heavy, you know… my bad childhood, near death exp. and all the thick drama. So I go to your books when I am almost about to slit my wrists and it saves my life! Thanks and Write a new one soon please! Otherwise I may not survive my book! 😉

  16. Buy someone’s else’s books: Let’s Get Visible, by David Gaughran and Intent to Sell by Jeff Marks. They will help you sell books without acting like a self-promo Jiffy-Pop colostomy bag…

  17. I didn’t even realize authors would be getting hit with the spam crap / stream of hot urine that is the authors trying to cockslamtheirbookdownyourthroat. I don’t even get how they could think the way they are going about it would ever be a good idea…

  18. Full disclosure, I have occasionally tagged a famous hero of mine as if they were my best friend and totally interested in anything I had to say. But that is mostly because I am an attention whore. Self-promotion requires more finesse than attention whoring. The problem is not that people are using hammers, but that they are hitting people in the face with their hammers instead of hitting the nails in their platform.

    • @amanda Well, I think writers in general are prone to be introverted attention whores. So we’re all maybe guilty of that.

      But there are ways of doing it, and ways of doing it. 😉

  19. I haven’t had a problem with this anywhere other than Facebook, which is one of many reasons I left Facebook.

  20. Aaaaaaannnddd this is why I ran like hell from all of my social media accounts and am now holed up at my blog, which is now my only online presence. I still get writers spamming me from out of the blue in the comments of my posts, which, by the way, aren’t at all related to their genre, audience, books, etc. While I can’t rid myself of them completely, at least they’re way, way less than what I used to put up with over at Twitter, Facebook, etc. And I can delete their butts or mark them as spam.

  21. I don’t even check PMs on my Facebook page anymore. Out of about 50, 1 is an actually message for me, the rest are authors trying to get me to like their page or buy their book.
    Really, guys? Are you sure I’m your target audience?
    Lately, I have been mostly absent from social media. Instead of sorting through endless amounts of spam, I have decided to write! Better for my sanity.

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