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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68 comments

  • Thank you, Chuck. I just put out my first book, and I feel like such a sleazy, egomaniac trying to point people toward my work. This really put it into perspective, and maybe now I can approach the whole thing feeling a bit less like a used car salesman.

  • (I think an early version of this went out to readers and subscribers. Apologies! The website refreshed and my browser shut down and suddenly — I think an early draft published. WTF.)

  • Man oh man, thank you for this, Chuck. I have attended way too many workshops and read too many articles exhorting me to “build my brand.” I always got stuck on step one – “defining my brand.” I was always, like, um, writer?

  • Yup. Pretty much this. Every couple of months I do a post count on G+ and make sure I don’t talk about my own books in a promo way more than 10% of the time. And I’m pretty consistently under that, with the exception of a release week. For me, it’s all about be authentically myself. And once I figured that out, the whole pressure to promote fell away.

  • The serendipitous timing of your post is truly… er… serendipitous. Thank you for this. I will resist burning all my intarwebz social media sites with teh fire and hanging myself for at least one more day. Or a week. Depending on my pizza and beer intake. Right now that’s a lot – so I may be good for a week and a day.

  • Thanks, Chuck. You’re so totally right. It would be really cool to feel comfortable in the shoes where I get to share my awesome story with the masses, yet not come off as a moron.
    My stories are so cool. People deserve to know about them.
    They just might make someone smile.

  • Thanks for including the ‘author-publisher’. I often think it’s harder for us to avoid that slimy feel. This made me feel not so slimy!

  • Beautifully stated as only you can do, Chuck. Funnily enough, I followed you on Twitter because a friend had followed you somewhere along the line and I happened to see some witty remark from you that pulled my attention. Then after a while, I found your blog. And now, probably a year later, I just started reading Under the Empyrean Sky and also bought your new book Blightborn not because I loved the first book (I had just started it) but because I love your blog and your wit and your advice. Even if I didn’t like the young adult series, I like the great parts you put on display.But not the Lego bits. Besides if I liked the Lego bits, my husband would have to kill you and that would really piss me off because then, well, no more Terribleminds. That said, thanks for being you. I certainly appreciate it. And laugh. A lot. As you said “slow and steady wins the race”.Cheers. *Clink*

  • This makes so much sense. I always feel like I’m floundering around trying to promote my books and use social media to my best advantage.

  • This was a great post! It IS a slow and steady build of promotion and visibility. I just took a week off from the social media merry-go-round and it made me realize that I need to (and it is possible to) prioritize my social media approach.

  • Chuck, you make me giggle until I snort. I read your blogs because you’re intelligent and always have an interesting POV. I read them before I read anyone else’s because of the giggles. Lines like this–“It’s not, BOOM, THERE, I TWATTED ABOUT MY BOOK, NOW IT’S TIME TO RETIRE ON THE ROYALTIES.” Yeah, huge giggle snort there. No idea why. Maybe it’s the words BOOM and TWATTED in the same sentence. Who knows? All I know is that every time I read it, I giggle. Oh, and I also keep seeing your face on the inside of my monitor, giving me a cheesy grin, waving like a loon. Which also makes me…you guessed it…giggle. :)

  • LOL! I am with Jane up there! Floundering around and wondering what do I do?

    Thanks for the post! I like the ‘marathon, not a sprint’ the best. It leaves room for improvement. I think we authors feel like if we don’t “get it right” right when that book drops we’ve failed entirely. But there are always new opportunities, and the chance to learn and do a little better each time :)

  • I so needed this post! My book is about through editing, and I somehow have to promote it before it’s actually released, which is awkward because I feel like I’m pushing something that doesn’t yet exist. My publisher provides “marketing support” for the first year after release, but who knows that that’ll look like.
    btw Chuck, I’ve bought and read a few of your 500 Ways and 250 Ways books as well as Kickass Writer. They’re awesome and anyone on here who hasn’t read them needs to do so, post haste.

  • Mwahahaaaargh! Loved this. For what it’s worth I know your approach works. The book sale I am still most proud of was someone on the Amazon forums who told me that because she’d seen me around on there for years and I’d not tried to sell her my book she was going to buy it. She did and she liked it and wrote a review. Which was nice. So there you go proof it works…

    Cheers

    MTM

    • That’s nice that she bought your book, but you really do need to try to sell them. Like Chuck says, don’t be annoying about it. Spending years on a forum for one sale isn’t practical either. It’s a balance for sure, but if you don’t put your work out there at all it’s not going to be seen. I think his 25% rule is good. Trying to go under 25% isn’t helping you I don’t think.

  • I just wanted to thank you, Chuck, for another informative post that comes at just the right time. Also, for, ““THAT’S NOT A BOOK, THAT’S AN IMMERSION BLENDER.” “WELL WHATEVER I THINK YOU’LL LIKE IT.”,” which is a perfect description of Amazon.

  • Loved the post Chuck – only been on twitter a few weeks, since I started my blog, and most of the time my feed is just a list of authors repeating ‘look at me, look at me, look at me!’
    I know you need to sell yourself, and I do to a degree, I just try to make sure I’m human with it and engage in conversations from time to time. It’s a slow road but I’m getting there.

  • LEGOs, my Aunt Fanny, Chuck. You’re still playing with DUPLOs. Admit it.

    But on the book discovery thing, you are correct. As a reader, I prefer hearing from someone I know about what I might like. Or walking up to a register at a bookstore with a book in hand and having the clerk say, “Did you know she started out by self-publishing and now she’s a huge success.” Someone knowledgeable. Not Amazon’s algorithm.

    So, I’ll follow writers on Twitter. Join their e-mail list. Listen to them, then often buy their books after a while.

  • Thanks for this article, it’s very helpful. I’m in the fledgling stages of establishing my social media presence, and have to, as you say, “finish [my] shit” before getting something published, but I know this advice will come in handy starting now. I shared this article with my fellow writers, because I know many of them struggle with social media promo and finding a balance.

    Also, I appreciate the style in which you write your articles. They’re clever and funny and helpful all rolled into one!

  • Thanks so much, Chuck! I was just having a week of hating the self-promotion thing. The twitter hustle, especially, is so soul-sucking and inauthentic!

    I was actually wondering how you feel about the twitters and the “amwriting” and “follow friday” stuff going on? I really hate it, but I’m curious to know if you think it’s useful. I’m trying to make twitter work for me, but not be obnoxious any annoying. Everytime I see #FF, I want to gag. What is the point if writers are just following other writers all the time? Isn’t the point to find readers?

    I know that you tweet a lot to fellow writers out there. Is there some sort of balance that you’ve found? Or do you find your audience online, primarily, to be other writers?

    • I don’t mind #amwriting or #followfriday long as they have context and are funny or engaging. If it’s just a list of names to follow or a word count, it’s maybe a little hollow — but, that author is certainly welcome to tweet whatever he or she wants, and it’s my responsibility to decide if I wanna listen.

      In terms of balance — I don’t really think about it. I just tweet to have fun and talk to people and try to respond to people whenever I can.

      — c.

      • Got it. It’s the lines of names that gets to me, and the idea that I now HAVE to follow people back when they follow me. I feel like my feed is just full of noise and not real engagement. It could be that I’m not tweeting in the right circles yet. :)

        I guess I’m going to have to figure out how to do Twitter in a way that doesn’t make me feel gross while still using some of the systems that already exist. The mantra is gonna be, “Be cool, like Chuck, damnit!”

  • “Be the best you”?
    It’s funny, My blog’s concept is entirely founded in honesty. “The story of people and how they scare me”. I share my own insecurities and my thoughts of human psychology in action and try to be completely honest. I think it works well and is one of the reasons I’m the one many of my friends comes to for honest advice :P

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. I so needed to read this. I have been having nightmares about how to effectively market myself as an author. My very first book ever is coming out soon and I have been researching and asking questions to anyone who would listen on how to do this. Thank you for making me feel better about talking about my own work. I think I found a new blog to follow.

  • I don’t claim to know what I am doing and my Kickstarter campaign, although ultimately successful by the mercy of an old family friend, was painfully awkward. Howeveh, somebody even noobier than I asked this question in a group. My response, based on my experience as a reader and social media dweller, was:

    1. Do NOT join 500 FB groups and drop a steaming load of drive-by spam. I am last mod standing in one of those groups. You get one warning. (One told me that if I didn’t like it I didn’t have to read it. I agreed. *cocks mod ban-hammer*)

    2. Hang out on like-minded blogs and contribute to the conversation in the comments. Do not flog book. Be the best darn you as possible and people will click through to your profile and learn just how cute and cuddly you really are. If you make a point that gets picked up and linked in a blog post by someone prominent, it can break your website. But the first step in that is to say something interesting.

    3. Do not lead with how many reviews you’ve gotten. You may not like the one I leave.

    4. However, do not ever post your book on social media without a link! I see so many pros doing this. “Hey, my cool book about alien lawyers who battle cybernetic hivemind judges using crowd-funded nanobots is 99 cents today!” With no link, you can’t trigger my curiosity and impulse trigger finger. And that would be a cool book. Truly . . . *scribbles notes*

    5. Hope you can depend on friends for help and lay the groundword by giving help. Do not get pissy when friends don’t help. It happens.

    Now, when my opus drops in a month or so (see what I did there,) it will be interesting (hopefully not in a painful train wreck kind of way) to see how thoroughly I step on my own tongue trying to follow my own advice.

    Terri

    • Right on to all the suggestions.

      Most important to me is that when you’ve gotten me to the great cover and title–don’t fuck it up with the worst synopsis ever.

      I admit that I’ve purchased a book just on a great cover (Green by Jay Lake) but have bypassed more because of a synopsis that sounds like it was written by my 9 y.o. grandson.

  • But I already have the book you’re promoting at the end of this post!!! How can I be lured by your awesomeness if I … oh, wait. I already have all your books.

    WRITE HARDER. FEED THE MACHINES!!!

    Also? Thank you for a brilliant post on a topic that will always need reiterating.

  • I think this is ignoring the inner strengths people have. There are some people (like me) who fail miserably at marketing, advertising, selling, and PR work. Heck, I had a pretty steady job lined up in the PR field and I ran away like a little child because it just wasn’t my strong suit or my interest.

    Yes, if you want to give it a try, go for it. But you have to WANT to do it, not because someone said you should. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, it might not be because you “aren’t doing it right,” but it might be because the ability to do these things are pretty low on your strengths list.

  • Perhaps just starting my own pseudo religion would get me more devoted followers than a publicist.
    Sooooo I’ll… be back shortly.
    Oh, wait! I already did that. :)

  • Thank you. The worst part is that half the people who are face-punching with spam aren’t the type to read this and realise what they’re doing wrong. :/ I’ve dealt with more than a few people on Twitter who look interesting in a first conversation, so I follow them, and then about 90% of their Tweets involve, “Hey, buy my book!” It makes me want to do the opposite. So far as I can tell, there’s nothing to them but advertising, and that doesn’t make me think that their book will be good. It makes me think that they wrote a book. That I’m probably not going to read, because I’m getting tired of hearing about how I should be buying it.

  • This is why I hate the whole process with a passion. You have to do it even though you hate it. And I hate it. I’d rather not do it at all. Period.

    But that’s only when I’m depressed and don’t give a shit. And that happens way more often than usual.

  • Another good post, Chuck. And very useful to me since I’m at the pre-launch stage for my first book. I’ve been working on the “hi, this is me, I’m a nice person” step since I don’t have anything to sell yet. Truth is, I genuinely want to connect with readers and other writers, because writing can be a lonely business. I know I need to build my brand, and according to what you wrote, I think I’m on the right track (early stage).

    I was uncomfortably pondering having to go all 100%: “Hurry, hurry, hurry, step right up folks, MY BOOK HAS LAUNCHED” when that time comes, but now that I’ve read your post, it will be much more easier for me to handle 10% to 15% instead, and mostly rely on nice-normal-social me than obnoxious-used-car-salesman me (which is not me at all). So thanks for that good advice.

  • I needed a kick in the pants so thank you. I hate the thought of self promotion and since I am now 66 years old – social media is really not my thing. I started a blog and now a better facebook page – I can learn new things – I can. I will. So thanks.

  • As always, engaging and helpful. On the same topic (kinda) I just got a promotional blurb via email from Blue Ash. Any opinions on this outfit?

  • Thank you so much for writing this, Sir Wendig. Whenever I think of self-promo my default instinct is to hold my index fingers up in a cross and hiss. After reading this, not only am I putting my hands down but I’m inspired. Slow and steady wins the race; I can do that. I am turtle. Hear me…uh, whatever sound turtles make. Thank you!

  • 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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