How To Promote Yourself And Your Books On Social Media Without Feeling Like A Soul-Selling, Sleaze-Sucking Slime-Glob

In my experience, most authors dislike self-promotion.

Some downright despise it.

And they detest it for good reason: becoming a marketing or advertising avatar for your own work feels shameless. It feels adjacent to the work — like it’s something you didn’t sign on for.

I JUST WANT TO WRITE BOOKS, you scream into the mirror around pages of your manuscript, the pages moistened with saliva and tears. I DON’T WANT TO BECOME A HUMAN SPAM-BOT, you cry as your teeth clatter into the sink, as your ear plops off, as your nose drops away. In all the gaps, a faint glimpse of whirring machinery, gears turning and conveyor belts churning, all of your mechanisms pink with the slurry of Spam…

Thing is, you’re probably gonna have to do it anyway.

Reasons?

First, publishers expect it, to some degree.

Second, if you’re an author-publisher, it becomes wholly more necessary.

Third, readers expect it, too. That one sounds a bit strange, but trust me — I follow a number of writers and their social media channels is exactly how I find out about their new books. I want to have a little promotion thrown my way because, fuck it, I’m a reader — or in some cases a full-blown fan — and I wanna know when New Books By Awesome Authors exist.

I know. I know.

It burns you.

It burns me, too.

But, you’re gonna have to take a rock to your shame sensors. You’re gonna have to hit them until they malfunction. Until you can comfortably get on social media and talk about your books without fritzing out and hemorrhaging various fluids.

Trust me: you can do this in a way that doesn’t feel spammy.

Let’s talk how.

Be The Best Version Of Yourself

Rule Zero? Exactly what that header says: be the best version of yourself. In all things social media-flavored, you should strive to be the awesomest iteration of your own person. Bring out the good stuff. Kick the shitty parts under the fridge. Don’t be someone new. Don’t be someone different. Be you. Be you, but with all the great parts on display.

Stop Thinking Of Self-Promotion As Self-Promotion

The first rule of Self-Promotion Club is, you have to talk about yourself.

Talking about yourself doesn’t mean shilling your book, or a service, or a blog post, or any of that.

Self-promo can often be as simple as what I said above: be the best version of yourself.

Try to be funny. Or say compelling things. Share ideas. Or tell stories — not stories you’re selling for ninety-nine cents on the Kindle Marketplace, but things that happened in your day. Have conversations. Get into meaningful (translation: not jerky) debates. Post funny animated GIFs like that one where the manatee is driving the Jeep through Wal-Mart, or that other one from the infomercial where the guy steps on a rake and it beheads him.

(I might just be making those up. I hallucinate a lot, so — no promises any of this is even real.)

This works at the simplest level: you, the author, are the standard-bearer for your own work. You’re not a brand — you’re a motherfucking human being and human beings connect well to other human beings. My LEGO bits don’t fit into companies, or platforms, or products. My LEGO bits fit into your LEGO bits. (Er, I mean, metaphorically. I’m not suggesting we, ahem, join our LEGO bits together. Trust me, my LEGO bits are way too filthy.) If people think you’re a bit of all right, they might eventually think your work is a bit of all right, too.

Slow And Steady

Self-promotion is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a long con, not a short game. It is a romance, not a one-night stand. It’s tantric lovemaking, not premature ejac —

Okay, yeah, no, you’re right. I should ease off the metaphor lever. Good call.

Point is:

It’s not one-and-done. It’s not, BOOM, THERE, I TWATTED ABOUT MY BOOK, NOW IT’S TIME TO RETIRE ON THE ROYALTIES. Self-promotion is slow-and-steady wins the race.

You are turtle. You are not rabbit.

The Ratio

A good ratio for your self-promotional efforts? Less than 25% of your daily output.

(Honestly, probably closer to 10-15% is even better.)

Short, sharp shock.

Sniper bullet, not a clumsy spray of machine gun bullets.

Anything more than that… well…

And You Just Got Noisy

You are not a skunk spraying your acrid musk. That’s not how you communicate interest in your book. You’re not like, HERE, I HAVE AEROSOLIZED ALL OF MY ADVERTISING INTO THIS PUNGENT, BLISTERING SPRAY WHICH I WILL NOW FIRE FROM MY NETHERS INTO YOUR EYES AND MOUTH. NOW GO BUY MY BOOK OR I’LL DO IT AGAIN.

Put Down Your Bullhorn

We know you’re going to have to talk about your book. You are a BOOK HUMAN. Books come out of you. You birth story-babies into the world. That doesn’t mean you need to scream about them all the time. Your self-promotional efforts are best when it’s not you yelling at people — but rather, you communicating with people. Self-promotion can be part of a conversation. It doesn’t just have to be an inert advertisement — it can be the beginning of a discussion.

Though, Don’t Get Pushy

Don’t misread that as meaning every conversation is an opportunity for you to not-so-sneakily shiv your discussion partners with a sharpened toothbrush inked with the name of your book. “I like cheesecake.” “I too like cheesecake.” “I think it’s best with a graham cracker crust.” “I think it’s best if you eat it WHILE READING MY BOOK WHICH IS ABOUT SPACE WITCHES VERSUS THE OTTER HEGEMONY and if you like cheesecake I bet you’ll like my book because my book contains all the letters in the word ‘cheesecake,’ so hey why dontcha read it it’s $2.99.”

Every interaction needn’t be an insinuation of spam-juice.

Still: Get Excited!

I am likely to care if you care. Like, if you have a new book out, I expect you to shout about it. I demand you to shout about it. Once in a while, get shouty. Throw confetti. It’s exciting stuff. Be honest, earnest, share your mirth-engorged presence with all of us. It doesn’t feel artificial when you talk about your book. (Again: talk about it. Not yell an advertisement in my face.)

Be Authentic

What do I mean by this? I mean, I can smell an advertisement like cigarette smoke in old clothes. It’s like cat piss in a house — it clings to the carpets, the trim, the old dead lady by the radiator. It’s why I think talk of brands and platform and products and content is highly misleading and threatens to be damaging to an author. We don’t earn an audience and engage with readers through artifice. We do it by putting ourselves out there. Talking about your book should come from you. It should come from your heart. Say it differently every time. Talk about your books in the same voice you used to write the books. Authenticity is about being a human being trying to share your work with other human beings. Once more: two LEGO bricks clicking together.

I am just an author standing in front of a reader, asking her to read me.

(And not Taser me. I am harmless. See? I have a cuddly beard and no pants and elbow patches on my tweed jacket — okay, yeah, you know, I can see now how the “no pants” thing is probably not a good starting point. I will put on pants. For you. That’s how much I respect you.)

Promoting Others

Promote others as much as — or, even more than — you promote yourself.

This isn’t an I SCREAM ABOUT YOUR BOOK, YOU SCREAM ABOUT MINE deal. I don’t mean this as some kind of quid pro quo deal. (It’s shady, for one thing. I’ve had people talk about my books then hit me on the backchannel to get mad because I didn’t promote theirs. The one I didn’t read. Or know about until that second. Uh. That’s not how this works.)

Promoting other people’s work promotes overall reading culture.

It doesn’t reward you directly.

But it can, passively.

And it can actively reward those authors you love.

Sometimes, this whole thing we do is about sharing love.

Sweet, sweet book-love.

Pay To Promo?

Should you pay for promotion? That’s on you. Author-publishers may have to, but it’s also vital to recognize that you have a lot of free avenues available to you, including the Magic and Mysteries of Social Media. If you’re published, then it’s worth talking to your publisher and… well, making them do their jobs. (Publishers: we license our work to you and give you the lion’s share of the money because we expect you to do this for us. If you don’t, we’ll find someone who will. Your reach is far greater than ours. Ours is more intimate, yes, but where we have a lightsaber, you have the cyclopean laser that fires from the Death Star. Kay? Kay.)

Mouthfeel

Book discovery is the name of the game, and in the programmatic sense, it’s terrible. Seriously, book discovery at online stores like Amazon or B&N feel like a bunch of old blind oracles passing around one eyeball. “I THINK YOU’LL LIKE THIS BOOK.” “THAT’S NOT A BOOK, THAT’S AN IMMERSION BLENDER.” “WELL WHATEVER I THINK YOU’LL LIKE IT.”

Word of mouth is the best thing you have. You can’t engineer it, but you can help it along by writing a great book and putting your best foot forward when promoting it.

Measure It

Try new things. And when you do? Measure them.

Social media affords us many ways to see if we’re reaching people — so, check it. It’s not a perfect metric — and it’s vital to not get caught up in sheer numbers, too, because one retweet from a new, true-blue fan is a helluva lot more meaningful than 100 retweets from a bunch of people who don’t give that much of a shit about you. But we can test things. And you can even ask your audience: are you reaching them? Are they checking out your books? Hell, you can even ask: am I becoming too spammy? DO YOU FEEL FACE-PUNCHED WITH SELF-PROMO?

I tend to like to hit promo a few times a day, scattered throughout the day to hit various time-zones and pockets of wakefulness. I know what times work for me to reach people, usually.

Because I watch.

I’M WATCHING YOU RIGHT NOW.

*knocks on the inside of your monitor*

*waves*

When In Doubt: Hire A Publicist

They do good work. Some of them have gotten writers on here. (Though, to be clear, I’ll also note that the writers could’ve gotten here on their own, too — it’s not like I only speak to publicists.) Authors are not Made Of Infinite Time or Concocted Of Perfect Skill — it is totally okay to let other people do the work for you. Er, just, y’know… pay them.

Basically?

Basically, be cool, don’t be a jerk, don’t overdo it, don’t avoid it entirely.

I want to love your book as much as you do.

But you can’t come across as desperate.

Nor do I want you to neg me like you’re some kinda pickup artist.

Your confidence is valuable.

Your cockiness is not.

You’re not selling used cars.

Don’t even think of it as selling.

You’re trying to tell a story.

And you really want people to listen.

Now please endure my skunk mist.

*lifts tail*

* * *

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70 comments

  • I’m a reader, not a writer. I have recently bought books by 3 authors because I like their social media presence. And none of them were people who constantly tweet “Oh my god, this book is so good, I wonder what happens next?” with a link to their own novel…

  • I absolutely have fallen in love with you! Ok, just kidding. No delusional ideas are allowed, especially from someone as myself, diagnosed with schizophrenia and having received the not guilty by reason of insanity “award” from America’s justice system…I’m in the midst of writing my first (and probably only) book-an autobiography and it’s good to know that it’s okay to talk about my book, but not to “toot my own horn.” Thanks for the advice!

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