Rating Self-Promotional Techniques For Authors And Their Books

*writes my book’s name on a hundred hammers*

*hands out hammers*

*crowd runs around bashing people with hammers*

BUY MY BOOK

BUY MY BOOK

ONE OF US

ONE OF US

GOOBLE GOBBLE

GOOBLE GOBBLE

*clears throat*

Okay, yeah, don’t do that. Mindless head trauma is not an effective self-promotional delivery system, as exciting as it may seem. And just the other week I listed out for you what I consider to be the 10 Commandments of Authorial Self-Promotion. Ah, but you may be saying, “So, if my MURDER HAMMER promotional technique will fail me, gosh, what will work?” To which I respond with an eager and hearty shrug and then I flee back into the woods from whence I came. But that’s probably not a very good answer, is it? No matter how enthusiastic the shrug, the (not entirely inaccurate) answer of “Sorry, no idea!” is not helpful.

As such, I have written this post.

In this post, I will tackle (with regrettably short shrift) some of the varying THINGS YOU CAN DO AS AN AUTHOR in order to promote yourself and your work. Some of these I’ve used. Some of these I’ve seen only in implementation by other free-range penmonkeys. My thoughts will be imperfect and incomplete. This will not be an exhaustive list. Which is where you come in. Am I missing anything? Do you disagree with some of my shouty assertions? Then slingshot your derriere down into the comments section and say so.

Let us begin.

Endless Spambarfing

We’re going to get this one out of the way up front: there is literally no value in you frothily screaming the same ad copy / tagline / book cover across your social media channels again and again. You look at some author feeds and it’s just a parade of BUY MY BOOK tweets or updates, with nary a breath in the middle for the things that form the backbone of the Internet: food photos and cat videos. The worse version of this is not just endless shouting, but endless directed shouting — the author tags others across social media channels and just punches them again and again in the kidneys with their self-promotional effort.

This can take other forms, of course — unsolicited emails, unsolicited direct messages, forcing someone to join your BUY MY BOOK Facebook group, breaking into their house and clogging their toilets with leaflets for your latest epic fantasy.

Spamming will find new forms in the future, because it is a nasty little shapeshifter.

But it always feels the same, doesn’t it? So gross. Just so gross.

Self-promotion is a sniper’s bullet. Spamming is a machine gun spray.

Effectiveness: 0/10.

Thunderclap

This sounds like a particularly violent venereal disease.

It’s not. It’s a way to get a message out.

It seems clever, on the surface — as a service, it asks that a number of people sign up for a Thunderclap movement, and those people all agree to “get the word out” about your latest book / widget / protest / photoshoot / bowel movement, timed together so that it forms a singular “thunderclap” (get it?) of promotion.

It’s a shout, not a whisper. That’s right there in the name — it’s about volume from quantity.

You can use the Thunderclap service, or orchestrate one yourself.

This is not a thing I like. It is a thing that feels irritating, at least to me. It’s still spammy, but diffuse — it’s not the author shouting alone like a lunatic, but now the author and the author’s cult shouting like a gaggle of lunatics. It won’t burn the author so completely, because it’s a many-headed creature. But it can still come across as annoying. You’ve got 500 people shouting about a book (they likely haven’t yet read) — it’s noisy and insincere. Turning everybody into roaring, branded racecars for a short period of time doesn’t seem like an effective self-promotional strike, but your mileage may vary. Some people have expressed how well this works, so — try it if you like. (That said, it’s effectiveness won’t last. I’ve seen a sharp uptick of authors talking about this technique lately, which is a sure sign that its bubble will burst.)

Effectiveness: who cares, it’s annoying.

Guest Posting

Ahh, the venerable guest post. Where you pick a topic and go mouth off on somebody else’s space about it. And then in the process, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, buy my book.

This works if — and it’s a big if — if you’re good at blogging.

Kameron Hurley can do it well.

Delilah S. Dawson can do it well.

A lot of you cannot do it well.

“Blogging is not fiction writing!” Captain Obvious shouted obviously. So, just jumping on somebody’s website and stitching together some shoddy, meandering promo-waffle about this or that won’t really be that effective. But if it’s a good post? Now you have some juice. If it’s a good post that isn’t explicitly about buying your book (because, honestly, people don’t like to be sold things)? Double juicy. If it’s all that and it runs on a blog with some real reach? BOOM. TRIPLE JUICE. Which was also my nickname at Sex Camp back in the late 1990s. “TRIPLE JUICE,” the Sex Coach would say. “YOU KNOW YOUR WAY AROUND THAT FUCKTRON-909 ANDROID.” I’d give a pair of finger guns and boy howdy would my teeth gleam.

Anyway.

It’s effective if you do it right and find the right host.

(It becomes less effective the bigger you get as an author, mind you.)

Effectiveness: 5/10, but with +1 modifiers based on good / not exploitative / strong blog, and likely with negative modifiers the bigger an author you have become (at which point, you should probably have your own established blog or social media channels).

Book Blog Tours

This is the weaponization of guest posts. You don’t just write one. You write five. Or ten. Or twenty. For blogs big and small. It’s you running laps around the Internet like some kind of Johnny Contentseed,  pollinating blogs and their reader-bees with your precious book dust.

I think this is less effective than doing a few strong guest posts, and here’s why:

You start showing up at a buncha blogs all at the same time, everybody knows what’s up. HEY SOMEBODY’S GOT A BOOK TO SELL, they all groan collectively, and then go back to doing whatever it is they were doing before: eating Pop-Tarts and masturbating probably? It isn’t spammy, but it can start to feel that way. You’ll reduce that feeling if every guest blog you release in this fusillade is top shelf content, mind you — but that’s also tricky. Because now you don’t have to write just one crackin’ guest post, but like, thirty-seven of them.

And really, shouldn’t you be writing books?

(Note: if you can monetize this, then that rocks. Kameron Hurley, as I understand, does these blog tours but then aggregates her posts to sell them. Which is smart authorin’, if you ask me.)

Effectiveness: 4/10, but with +1 modifiers based on good / not exploitative / strong blog.

Bookstore Tours

The mainstay of authorial self-promotion:

Leapfrog across the country from bookstore to bookstore, signing books and talking to readers and shaking babies and kissing hands. (The young adult version of this is visiting schools and libraries. If you write board books, maybe you tour a bunch of daycares? I dunno.)

And with every book tour arrives the inevitable stories of spectacularly failed events. “I travelled 400 miles to promote my new book. I showed up at the store with party hats and a trained chimpanzee accordion band. But nobody else showed up. The bookstore people were mean to me and hit me with dictionaries. I read my book aloud to four cockroaches that wandered inside. I ate the chimpanzee band. My life is a dismal, existential pit.”

Bookstore events are tricky. I’ve had good luck with them — and no horror stories, as yet, though I know they will come — but I also don’t do a ton of them, either. Further, publishers don’t often pay for these until you’re at a certain point. Self-publishers will have a hard time because bookstores are notably and understandably hesitant about dealing with self-published authors.

Seems that a bookstore tour is not unlike a Kickstarter campaign — they’re effective if you have an audience there to support you already. Otherwise? Not so much. Big authors can get a lot of mileage out of tours or even single bookstore visits. Smaller authors have a harder shot of bringing people in the door (which is why some events put a few authors together for such an event).

Effectiveness: 7/10 if you’re established, 3/10 if not.

Conventions and Conferences

You go to a con, you sit on panels, you sign some books, you press the flesh and try out your elevator pitch. It works in part because the crowd is already there — and while they’re not there to see you, they are there to roll around in the sweet grease of pop culture goodness. AND YOU EXUDE JUST SUCH SWEET GREASE.

It works, I think. I’ve met a lot of great people this way. Met a lot of great authors, too.

Consider me a fan.

Effectiveness: 7/10, add negative modifiers if you’re an asshole.

Newsletter / Email List

I don’t have a “proper” email list — though I do have over 7,000 subscribers to the blog, which means they all get these posts in their inboxes (full text, no links) whenever I post ‘em.

It’s pretty effective for me, and I’ve heard that authors with newsletters and email lists find it effective, too. Some services like MailChimp give you good analytics that tell you how many folks opened the email or clicked the links or printed out the email to use angrily as toilet paper.

It’s a good way to speak to people who are your audience or who want to be.

It’s a good way to also not be spammy, because they consented to be on the list.

Effectiveness: 8/10

Swag

Bookmarks! Stickers! Mugs! T-shirts! Temporary tattoos! Ball-gags! Hand grenades! Live tigers! All emblazoned with your book and tagline and cover and web address! IT’S SWAG, BABY.

Swag: free promotional shit you give away.

Does it work?

You know, I dunno. Some people are swaghounds. They sniff out free swag. You ever go to BEA or Gen Con or anywhere like that, there are whole roving packs of people who vacuum up every free piece of garbage hanging out on every table. They will, and this is no exaggeration, pick up everything at the table and ask if they can have it. “This pen? This book? This laptop? This child? Is it free?” And then sometimes before receiving an answer they will pitch the thing into the bag and merge back into crowded superorganism from whence they spawned.

I wish I were kidding. I’ve seen people walk away with books. With signage. It’s absurd.

Anyway.

Here’s the thing about swag:

If it’s cool, people will want it and they’ll remember it.

If it’s ennnh, people will want it but probably trash it soon after.

Bookmarks are… fine, but maybe only so functional. It feels a little like giving out buggy whips — so many folks read on e-books that you gotta wonder what the value is of a bookmark. And not all physical readers use bookmarks. Whatever it is you give, too, it has to be a thing not only of some utility or interest but also has to effectively sell a book. It’s gotta feature a hook or a great cover or something that creates that vital bridge between “I am holding this FREE THING” and “I will now go and purchase that person’s book.”

And then the other side of it is:

Swag is free for them, but can be expensive for you.

Sometimes it’s a nice reward for established readers, though.

Effectiveness: 5/10, but with negative modifiers based on cost

Free Copies

Word of mouth is the finest, sharpest, most functional form of promotion there is. Because, ha ha, it’s not self-promotion. It’s somebody else legitimately, earnestly promoting you or your book. “I love this, so you will love it too,” someone says. We believe that kind of outreach. It feels sincere. And so, we listen. Buzz about a book is hard to orchestrate — you can feel when it’s artificial. But real-deal buzz? When people are just… talking about a book? That’s something special.

And you cannot engineer it anymore than you can piss lightning.

But, you can maximize it a little bit — er, the word-of-mouth, not the lightning-urine.

If you want people to talk about your book, you need them to read your book.

And if you want them to read your book, sometimes you gotta give it to them.

For free.

Now, free is a word that rightfully makes a lot of authors clench their sphincters up so hard they risk causing a full body implosion. (“Floomp!”) They start freaking out about piracy or not getting paid or dogs and cats getting married and suddenly it’s the apocalypse.

But free books in a targeted way is a good path to getting the word out.

Publishers do it. They send free copies all over the damn place.

You can do it, too.

At cons. In giveaways. To reviewers.

It should be a targeted effort, of course. Some people just like free things and yet, do not respect free things. They get it because of the dopamine rush, but then view it as being worth what they paid to get it — which is to say, nichts, nada, bupkiss, bullshit. “YAY, FREE STUFF,” turns swiftly into, “WELL IT’S PROBABLY NOT THAT GOOD.”

So, targeted free things has value.

Get the books into not just any hand but the right hand.

Effectiveness: 8/10

Buying Ads

Yep. You can buy ads. At Goodreads. Across Twitter or Facebook. On some blogs.

Worth it?

I’ve never done it personally, so I have no guarantee of its effectiveness. I know this: when I see an ad on Goodreads, if it looks interesting, I might click. Or, if it’s reminding me of a book I wanted but didn’t realize it’s out, I’ll click. Same goes with social media ads to a point. I’ve seen a book advertised on Facebook or Twitter and the first time I see it, I think, “Okay, sure.” And then I see it again and again and again and then I get irrationally irritated at the book and the author (even if the publisher paid for the ad). Again, there’s the rub: in our social media channels we bristle against too much promotion, don’t we? We expect ads in certain places, and the interiors of our social media feeds just isn’t one of those places.

Ads do work somewhat, though I can’t speak to how valuable it is against cost. When the publisher pays for it — well, hell yeah. I had some Kindle screensaver advertising that was epic in terms of how many books it sold. Goodreads ads were far less effective, but still effective.

Effectiveness: 5/10, unless somebody else is paying for it, then whee

Earnest, Sustained Outreach

Biggest and best self-promotion:

Be the best version of yourself online.

Just be you. And sometimes that means occasionally talking about your books.

This won’t be a magical solution. It will not turn you into a bestseller overnight, if at all. It will not move heaps and mounds of books off of shelves and into hands. But it does slowly-and-surely gain you audience. It interjects you and your stories into other people’s ecosystems. Suddenly, you’re just there. Like a cat they didn’t mean to adopt. Like a smell — and hopefully a nice smell, like baking cookies or the fear-sweat of your enemies.

It’s not at all effective in the short term.

But I think it’s very effective in the long term.

I’d argue that self-promotion isn’t about selling yourself but rather about being yourself.

Do that, and people will watch, and talk, and laugh. They’ll come to hang out with you.

And one day they’ll click buy.

Effectiveness: 1/10 short term, 9/10 long term

Write The Best Book You Can

Well, that one’s just obvious, I hope.

There is no better promotion for one good book than another good book.

Write more books, bookmonkey.

Effectiveness: 10/10

What About You?

What worked? What didn’t? What forms of self-promo don’t you care for? What am I missing?

* * *

The Gonzo Big Writing Book Bundle.

Eight books: those pictured, plus 30 Days in the Word Mines.

(Just $20.00!)

(See? Self-promotion!)

(Did you click?)

(Why didn’t you click?)

(*cries onto pile of self-promotional sex toys*)

90 comments

  • I put up the first third of each novel on Gumroad (https://gumroad.com/) about a month before it comes out. It’s a free download, the caveat being that Gumroad collects email addresses from customers to receive this download (e.g., https://gumroad.com/l/qaqW). Gumroad also offers batch emailing to these collected addresses: I use this feature VERY infrequently, and only when a book comes out. It’s been wonderfully effective as it targets readers who have already expressed interest and isn’t overly spammy.

  • “Whatever it is you give, too, it has to be a thing not only of some utility or interest but also has to effectively sell a book.” This.

    I have a pen I’ve used every day for the last month or so, and literally had to look just now to see what the author’s name is on it, because I had no idea. It’s just background noise.

    On the other hand, I frequently pick up flyers/postcards at cons for books that catch my eye, come home and download the samples onto my Kindle. Yes, I then recycle the flyer/postcard–but who cares? It did it’s job and got me to take a look at the book. Just because a reader hangs onto something for months doesn’t make it a good promotional item, and just because a reader tosses it in the recycle bin doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good promotional item. It all depends on how effective that item was in engaging my interest in the book.

  • You left out the part where your attach your cloaca to the reader’s ears and lay thousands of tiny BUY MY BOOK eggs that hatch into #hashtagged tweets and swarm at midnight on launch day. 9/10, cloaca will be sore.

  • I’m still trying out new stuff. I have done paid ads. They did result in sales but the ROI wasn’t there. Doesn’t mean I won’t try it again but I think that for indies you have to be prepared to part with the cash with necessarily seeing a return. So far my best efforts come from just talking to people in person.

  • I’ve found a line of dialogue from the book or a short teaser posted on Twitter can be effective. The trick is getting followers and being retweeted. The 144 word limit keeps it brief and punchy and keeps you from being obnoxious.

  • After wading through various authors giving away ‘the secrets’ your post summed it up perfectly. I confess I fell into the trap of SHOUTY Posts (FB groups) until I soon realised it was a poo-flinging contest and it was only other indie-writers seeing who could fling the most. I left, slightly ashamed. But this Newsletter/email lark seems like a good punt – on my Task List for August as it must be good quality and I need some prep time. I’m trying to be visible or audible – what about radio/video posts? Not tried myself yet – on local radio this week and I know it’s a small audience but it’s a start.
    thanks for sharing this.

  • You mentioned going to conventions and sitting on panels. Is it feasible to expect that you (that is to say, I), as a pretty much unknown indie author, am going to have a chance of getting on a panel? Is it considered bad form to ask (say, at a small con)? I’ve thought about doing this (I’m a gaming freelancer and actually have a published novel coming out soon in the universe, so I’m a little step up from “who the hell are you?” but not much), but I don’t know the etiquette of asking vs. “if they don’t ask you, they’re not interested.” Thanks.

    • My friend/con table-mate wrote a pair of Tolkien parodies, and at the last Wizard World in Chicago, convinced them to give him a panel for a Tolkien trivia contest. He gave away silly prizes like nose-flutes or little figurines painted gold. To his surprise, he attracted 90 people. While it didn’t generate many sales THAT weekend, people did come up at C2E2 this PAST weekend to talk about how much they enjoyed the contest. So, there’s some name recognition, and people had a good time.

  • My novel isn’t finished to market yet, but I will say that some freebies can make a reader feel a part of the authors world. My truck has an Evanovich sticker on it. (Won’t put anything on my new Yellow Kia Soul. It’s too pretty all new and shiny!) But I have a small beach ball from one author on my bulletin board that keeps me engaged with another author. I think freebies, for your established readers, can create a feeling of appreciation. So maybe not at cons, but on your blog, where people are already somewhat engaged. Just a thought. No proof to offer.

  • My least favorite version of the Twitter self-promo guru: author who has thousands of followers and their “following” count is roughly equal. They mass follow then unfollow those who don’t follow back, but all they Tweet about is self-promo. It’s like a modern horror story.

  • A truly awesome post in a sea of awesome Chuck Wendig posts. I just linked it to someone who accepted my friend request (680 mutual, so it had seemed like a good idea) and then spammed me with a link to his zombie novel, with a suggestion that I buy it. Maybe he assumed I was a fan, but it would be nice to find out first, yes?

    Personally, I’m cheap, so I don’t go in for methods that cost me money. I am doing my first book event in July, so that will have me out of pocket, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve also done well with judicious freebies.

  • So… I have permission to post an image of a cat showing off a pecan pie it just made, and INSIDE a slice of that pie we can see a piece of paper which reads ‘BUY MY BOOK!’? I’m thinking it covers all bases.

  • My first book was published about a month ago. I’m really just trying to figure out the self-promotion thing now, mostly by paying attention to how I like to be sold.

    I agree with all of your suggestions and especially love the last two. As a nature loving granola crunching hippie-ish chick, I adore the concept of growing organic connections and friendships over time. Of discovering quality and nourishment while selling our ideas and books.

    And I’ve noticed a sizable lack of “have a good product” in the articles and videos that give marketing tips. Sure, it should be a given, but some of the stuff I’ve read kind of shrugs it off as unimportant. Yikes! Me no likey!!

    Thanks for putting together these tips!
    Oh, ya, and I did click on your book bundle link. Your self-promotion always works on me because I’m always all excited about the mood I get from your writing and crave more! (And the only reason I don’t always buy is because I usually only have, like, four bucks. Plus, I don’t like reading ebooks. I’m a tactile person and crave the delicious feel of a paperback and a big ass cup of coffee. Not very “hippie chick” of me I guess, because I like trees. But…. my coffee is fair trade organic! Why can’t I stop judging me?! tee hee!)

    Thanks again!

    • “…a sizable lack of ‘have a good product’…” Isn’t that the truth? I actually saw one ‘marketing guru’ who said, and I quote, “Don’t worry about the product, product doesn’t matter. It’s presentation that counts.” Wow. Talk about noise over substance, or something. His statements discouraged me more than pissed me off, it was just a real downer that a lot of people seem to think that way.

      • I agree, it’s more disheartening than anything.

        Which, again, is why I loved Chuck’s last two promotional tips so much. Be yourself and gather honest interested readers, and write your best stuff. True, we’ll have to also do more than that if we want to sell books but if those two are a comfortable habit then we’ll more likely bring quality to all the other tools we choose to use.

        I’m guessing. I dunno. I’m totally new to this!

  • In addition to promoting their own books, a lot of tweeting authors retweet a lot of links to other authors’ books and also writing advice columns. While this seems like it could be good, many are retweeting many times an hour, way more stuff than they could possibly have read. I’ve often wondered if there’s some sort of automatic service that does this for them, and for all the other authors involved. It drowns out everyone else (including whatever they themselves might have to say) and so I take them out of my “Writers” list and ignore them.

  • Well Chuck, you sold me. I’m buying one of your books very soon. But which one?
    Thanks for all your tips, especially the one for me means take a deep breath, be yourself and just wait it out. In the end you did a wonderful job, learned a lot, advanced yourself in some way, so smile. I’m smiling!;)

  • “Self-publishers will have a hard time because bookstores are notably and understandably hesitant about dealing with self-published authors.”

    I have had success doing book events at supportive independent book stores by making the event a fund raiser for a worthy cause. For my first book, all proceeds to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, which ties into themes of the book and generates a more salubrious audience. Second book/event benefits a homeless shelter in Baltimore which is also a location in the novel. You get the idea. The key is to generate a greater good than selling a few books. Everybody enjoys, everybody wins. Alcohol helps.

    Also, book clubs. Book clubs are great and always looking for authors who are willing to talk/bring doughnuts. Your local library has a book club. Give them a call, volunteer to speak about your book. Instant, interested audience.

    Cheers.

  • This has been a really helpful post. I can testify to the ‘send an informative e-mail that encourages you to hang out with the author’ being an effective technique. This blog attracted me because it didn’t seem too pushy and the personality of the author shone through. I found the link on a compilation of great blogs to subscribe to. I’m at the stage of thinking about setting up a network – I’m a little over half way through my novel – so the suggestions on this forum have been excellent.
    Someone asked about the effectiveness of videos – I know KM Wieland does an e-mail/video posting most weeks. I think if an author can speak engagingly then the video thing might work.
    Another site that seems to work is ‘Noisetrade’ – they allow users to pay for promotional campaigns – not sure how much. I’ve cottoned on to a few authors that way.
    A question I have: A lot of blogs seem to be followed by other writers. What sort of proportion of subscribers would folks out there believe were avid readers only?

  • “And what do you do Ms. Dunning?” asks the brand-new acquaintance, Bob.

    “I’m a writer,” Ms. Dunning beams with confidence.

    Bob’s eyebrow arches. “Truly? What do you write?”

    “Books! I have books! and a blog, and–”

    “Genre?”

    Ms. Dunning’s confidence goes through a paper shredder. Inner-saboteur takes over brain. “One of each. My mother is calling. Gotta run!”

    So yeah. I’m still working on the ability to talk about my writing. I have given myself permission to do so, but being painfully shy gets in the way all the time. At least I learned to say “I’m a writer” with confidence. Because I am. Two books and a blog. I write. Therefore, I’m a writer.

    But self-promotion? Still trying to find my big girl pants for that one.

    Anyway, thanks Chuck! Your post mirrors what I suspected about self-promotion techniques, so it’s nice to know I’m on the right path.

    *buries 99 hammers in backyard*

  • I indirectly found your blog from a daily ebook deal. I don’t remember which book, but it was about writing, and it mentioned one of your “25 things…” posts, which lead to me one of your books that you were offering for some discount (250 Things You Should Know About Writing), which lead me to your blog, and I’ve been a fan since.

    I’m joined up on both Buck Books and Bookbub. Both are email services that for a fee offers your book in a daily subscriber email. Book bub allows anything from Free to some other price, Buck Books allows no more than $1 for a book (or a set of books for a price that puts each individual book at $1 or less).

    I might try that sometime when I get something published.

  • Bookbub. If you can get it, of course. They tend to treat me like a one night stand, they hit it and quit it, and once they accept an ad, it seems to take over a year before they’ll accept another and hit it again.

    Talking to readers works. On Goodreads. Because its fun.

    Giveaways. I make it rain. You want a book? I got a book. I have never turned down a request for a free amazon download of my book (this includes you, Terribleminds visitor). And forget that noise about emailing a mobi copy, here’s an Amazon voucher. Get your goods straight from Amazon to your kindle. It costs me 2-3 bucks, but I get 70% of the money back, so its really just a dollar. Amazon vouchers are much more convenient for the reader, and the downloads help lubricate the amazon algorithm. Probably not a sustainable business plan, but I’m just a professional hobbyist who only hopes to write shit that does not suck and pay the electric bill with the proceeds to fuel the laptop for further works.

    I’ve had a few book signings that turned out great, but then my family wants to go, and I write all sorts of weird shit that makes them look at me cross-eyed at Easter dinner.

    I’m also pro Kindle Unlimited program. Odd thing is with KUL, if you want more borrows or KUL units just raise the price, and they will come.

    • Easter dinner, OMG! This past Easter, several relatives were in, ones I don’t see but once or twice a year. Overall, the whole family is very supportive of my writing, but they all wanted to see my latest short story, which I just sent out.
      Let’s just say I should have made them wait til after dinner. That was one quiet table. What a disaster.

  • I just tried to exude some sweet grease. Oh my God, what have I done???!!!

    My favorite bit: Be the best version of yourself online. Hey, who knows, it just might carry over into your non-virtual life, formerly known as life.

    Great tips, King Chuck. Glad you landed.

  • Blogs too! If I come to read a fantastic blog, I generally check out their published writings too. Take yourself…I must admit I did check out both Under the Empyrean Sky and The Kickass Writer. I also read food blogs a lot, so I’ve picked up a whole bunch of cookbooks that way. LOL

  • From everything I have read the best self promotion isn’t promotion at all. It’s individual interaction. If you are able to get someone interested in you as a person then they might be interested in what you have to say or write. If they like your book then they will tell others like “Hey my friend from twitter/that convention/sex addicts anonymous wrote this. I think you’ll soil your shorts over it.”

  • Dead on!

    I somehow ended up as last mod standing on a small writing group on Facebook. Yeah. I know. We’d let people in fairly easily (I’m a benevolent dictator.) Then the first post would be:

    BUYMYBOOKOMGBUYMYBOOK

    A quick look would show they joined 147 groups the same day with presumably the same message.

    Our rule was “introduce yourself first, add some value, and then on SSPT (Shameless Self-Promo Thursday,) lay it on us.” So, I would warn the offender and give them the opportunity to reform.

    One woman in particular, her spam post was an all-caps canned image about her nano-press released book.

    I learned something then. Evidently in the advanced spam class you learn that not only do you join every group remotely related to books, you bring along 2-3 sycophants who will immediately comment on your spam, “OMG, this looks awesome!” “I downloaded this last night and didn’t sleep a wink finishing it!”

    So, I called the spammer out and she assembled the clans by name and they collectively flounced, leaving behind a message about how they had better things to do than hang around such a small group. After all SHE’S A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!

    I, of course, immediately researched her “agent” and “publisher.” Both were kitchen table organizations. The agent’s poorly spelled blog had cut off a year earlier.

    Well, they had evidently left behind a mole, because nothing gets you laughed at faster than a flounce. Nothing. She found out about the roasting because the messages started showing up about how I’d better leave her alone or she will SUE ME FOR SLANDER. Then a woman who I determined to be her mother started messaging me. At the time, all I had on Amazon was a craft/art book for my collectible business (the Johnny West coloring book to be exact.) Mom rolls with a thinly veiled review-bomb threat. “Nice little book you have there, it would be a shame if something happened to it . . . .”

    I don’t remember this chick’s name, but I did download her sample. Typical self-pub dreck. One of the secondary characters was described as “Her semi-potty-mouthed friend . . .” Well, fuck that. When the spams from her occasionally pop up, I revel in derision. Like now.

    So, despite what some self-purported self-promo gurus say, Facebook groups are not a good choice, especially not as a shotgun spammer. Now, in a like-minded group, I will occasionally put my book into notice, kind of pushing it out there when the conversation turns to some related. “Hey, if you like that, you might like this . . . But that’s it. And it usually results in a half-dozen sales.

    And, of course, the NUMBEH ONE commandment: Thou shalt not be a social media asshole because the innerwebs never ever forgets.

    Terri

    PS: Also, never tell a mod, “Well if you don’t like my posts, you just don’t have to read them.” Just don’t.

    • Terri, I nodded with recognition all the way through your comment. I’m one of the moderators of a no-promo-ever group. We have done everything possible to make that policy clear. And still people will post ads (often poorly-spelled, which doesn’t bode well for the books themselves) as their first posts to the group. Then they get offended when we boot and ban them.

      Your NUMBEH ONE commandment should be made into a cross-stitch pattern. *looks at her cross-stitch equipment and speculates*

    • I’ve unfollowed (or at least stopped notifications) for a lot of groups because of the BUYMYBOOK/READMYBLOG constant spam. How can writers honestly think this works? Does it work for them when others do it?

      I’m on an Authors group on Facebook that offers special self-promo days. On Thursdays, you can post a link to your Facebook page, and people will like it in the hopes that you’ll like theirs. But even then, a few authors go overboard, posting their links over and over again, with some silly wording to excuse it…”Okay, caught up now. Liked everyone up to here,” which of course everyone on that page knows is a lie, because they *know* you didn’t like their page.

      I just wish writers would treat other writers as colleagues again, not potential buyers. Because if that’s how people treat potential buyers, they might as well become telemarketers. It’s just as annoying and invasive.

  • For the longest time, it wasn’t a matter of what kind of self-promotion to do, but being able to do it at all. Shyness, feeling unworthy, fear of the Fraud Police showing up – take your pick. What finally got me going was Neil Gaiman’s advice about “pretend you’re someone who knows what they’re doing and do what they would do”. So I started pretending I was Felicia Day.

    Being a perky redhead with a charming smile makes the whole thing a lot easier.

  • This was super helpful. Only thing I would add, more as a question than as a statement of fact: podcasts? I’ve guested on a couple of podcasts when I had books coming out in the past, and I’m looking at doing it again in the future for the next one, Maybe they sorta get lumped in with guest blogs, with the same caveats about how not everyone can necessarily give a good interview, but I think (hope?) that they have the potential to reach places that I wouldn’t ordinarily reach.

    Thoughts?

  • Here’s what’s worked for me:

    Guest posts: I’m at a low enough level recognition-wise that these work well for me at places that not only have a large audience, but a broad audience. I’d rather post at a site with 500 reader who have never heard of me than one with 10,000 readers who already know who I am. This holds true for blog tours as well. I had a lot of success with a targeted approach instead of draining all of my energy writing for a ton of places that had smaller audiences than my own site.

    Conventions: I really recommend going to conventions at least 10 years before your first novel is published. This is how I did it and because of that (and not being an asshole…mostly) I was able to cultivate a supportive community for the eventually release of my book as well as getting to know big name authors and reviewers when they were just starting out. Three of the blurbs I had for my first novel are from NY Times bestsellers, but I’ve known them all for at least a decade or more which helped with the process immensely.

    Swag: I found postcards worked well. They’re cheap, easy to mail and work great for spreading the word around town about your book. I was against bookmarks until an influential bookseller told me to get them. She said if authors leave behind bookmarks after a signing the bookstore will put them in comparable titles to cross promote. I though that was pretty smart and the booksellers I visited all shared the same philosophy.

    Bookstore Tours: This is another one where having 10 years of conference connections under my belt helped. I’m also lucky to be writing in a field (crime fiction) that still has a robust network of specialty bookstores. I did three (with one more still to come) in-store events at large indie mystery bookstores where 1) I had a decent chunk of family and friends in town to support me and/or 2) I signed with two other authors who were far more charming and well-known than myself. In addition to selling books, which these visits did, posting about them on FB and Twitter and my website gave me an excuse to talk about my book without blatantly talking about my book which was nice.

    Free Books: Given a lot away, seen decent results, especially in garnering Goodreads and Amazon reviews.

  • Also, I love your idea of setting up the blog subscription as a de facto newsletter. I know it’s important to have some sort of means of distributing your content that you own rather than just relying on social media, but I couldn’t think of anything to add to a newsletter that I don’t write about on my website. So I set up a subscription link on my website. That way people who want to guarantee they get my posts and don’t want to have to rely on Twitter or Facebook to know when I’ve posted something new have an option.

    Thanks!

  • As no one has mentioned podcasts, I’ll say that I’ve had many downloads of my clown noir thriller, “Honk Honk My Darling”, which I record chapter-by-chapter as an old radio serial. Fake ads, music, the works. Now, I’m an old ham and love to overact, but I also enjoy the mixing (which does take time). I just Twitter and FB about it. I get anywhere from 50-100 downloads a month, and I think the exposure does seep into the book-buying crowd.

  • Interesting about swag. Something I’ve noticed where authors gather and attempt to sell books — and maybe this is just all in my head — the more swag, glitter, confetti, big signs that proclaim “PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!” and blinking neon arrows pointing to said author, the less quality I find in the book itself. It seems to me a nice table with a neat display (and prices clearly marked) and a warm, approachable author is a better draw. Also, it never hurts to engage with your readers and potential readers. There’s no shame in complimenting a lovely necklace or a cute baby. Since many of my books are for kids, I focus on them rather than mom or dad, ask about school, if they have siblings, if they have pets, what’s their favorite color, what is their most favoritest thing in all the world, etc. Being friendly and real works wonders. I guarantee those children will remember me, the author, when they are in their nineties, if they can remember anything at all by then.

  • Consistent branding: meaning– your logo, book covers, graphics, etc. all look like they belong together, are creative/interesting, professional, and unique.

    Teasers on social media– graphic with a quote from the book (for bloggers/reviewers, etc. to share when reviewing your book)

    Giveaways (so, free books) with liking/sharing on social media as entry requirements– this is only effective if using an eye-catching graphic/teaser in conjunction with the giveaway post.

    Advance Read Copies to Goodreads reviewers and other authors (related to write the best book possible/free books) — use to build interest prior to book release.

  • I thought I could piss lightning once, but the doc said it was just Thunderclap.
    *sigh*
    From a reader’s perspective, I find I buy quite a few books from authors who have done guest posts on blogs I follow, that mention the book, but aren’t about the book. If the post gives me the feeling that I now understand something about the author as a person, I then have an idea of whether or not I’ll like their writing. Not a fool-proof method of choosing books, by any means, but it seems to work better than trying to divine the quality of a book by the back-cover blurb. Hell, I bought Murder Boy because of Bryon Quertermous’ post, so, case in point.

  • I told my gamer friends that I had a short story published. This turned into a creepy game of find-the-author. 1/5 bought the anthology, two more visited other authors’ sites trying to figure out if it was me, and all five had a good laugh for a couple hours.

    While good for the the other authors in work seen by new audiences, it was probably a bad idea for me. I trust these folks a lot… But who knew an IP address tracer can get closer to your house than a peeping Tom?
    Overall: 3/10 for others, -3/10 for me

    • I’m confused. Why did they have to play find-the-author, or was this by mutual agreement? Did you not tell them your pen name, so they could check out your story? This comment is not meant to criticize, I am genuinely confused.

      • No, I didn’t tell my pen name. They said “which is yours?” I said, “Guess!” because I thought it would be obvious from the author profiles. They…guessed. It got funnier. Eventually they figured it out, but about half the authors in the anthology were “Not me!” Also, we had been talking about availability of private details on the internet before that.

  • Guest posts are a great thing indeed. I’m just building a creative writing blog and they work very well for me. There are a couple of tricks that make the experience a lot more rewarding though.

    For one, the blog has to have a minimum size, say, at least 20.000 visits per month. Second, the more engaged the readers are, the more likely they are to follow a backlink to your website. You can recognize websites with very engaged readerships by the amount of comments a post gets (for example, this blog here: mile-high engagement). Also, the more readers come over search engines, the less engagement you have. Check blog size and percentage of readers coming in via google at http://www.similarweb.com.

    Build an email list and a landing page on which readers can subscribe. Lists are important to stay in touch which (potential) readers of your work.

    Of course, like Chuck says, write a killer post, give away golden nuggets of undeniable wisdom. And if you can, make it fun. Because fun is always more fun.

  • I think a pretty effective tactic is actually selling books anywhere you can OUTSIDE of bookstores. Not, like, literally on a bookstore’s doorstep or in their parking lot, I mean, but in a non-bookish place. Especially if you’ve got a book that hits up a specific demographic, like a cookbook – sell it to people at a kitchen supply store, at a food truck or local restaurant, at a grocery store, at a farmer’s market, at other places that people who like to make or eat food go regularly. Get creative and hit up a group that isn’t just made up of other authors.

  • Re: going to conventions: I’m still pretty new at this game, but I was working with a group of other indie authors this past Norwescon to sell our books in the dealers’ room there. I wound up being one of the best-selling authors on the table, and what helped me was being prepared to have a short, pithy description of my series. And also postcards to hand out. With coupon codes on the back for a discount for the download of the digital editions. ^_^

    I also tried to make a point of asking folks who stopped at our table how their con was going, AND to be prepared to talk about other books on the table, too, since this was a group effort.

    And yeah, I’m a fan of just being myself online and if I’m going to jump into a conversation, have something constructive to say. Like, say, on this post!

  • What if just being you isn’t someone people would like to buy books from? I’m not saying I’m an asshole or anything, just that me the person isn’t all that interesting. I like to think my writing is interesting, and I do have a few good review from people I don’t know personally who managed to stumble across my books, but frankly, trying to be someone interesting to strangers just isn’t in my genes, even if I were to try to fake it a la Bryan Fields/Neil Gaiman. I have a hard enough time being me around other people, without trying to be interesting on top of it.

  • Went to an event for writers that are not me–romance writers. I knew I needed swag that didn’t just stand out but had SOMETHING. It was a Christmas party, so I made tiny stockings with a malted milk ball, French vanilla marshmallow and peppermint Hershey kiss in them to eat in one bite like a shooter. I managed to shove a peppermint tea bag in there too, with a tea light that had a tiny sticker on the back with a one-liner from my first book’s sequel. I tied a good looking business card/book cover mini on it. I shoved these at people and said, “THIS TASTES AND SMELLS LIKE RUNNING HOME FEELS, TAKE IT.” I made a lot of fans that day of me personally and sold some books and they aren’t even my crowd. Boom.

    Love,
    Princess Turts
    Julie Hutchings

  • In the SHORT TERM, giving away free books has not worked for us. We gave away around a hundred (?) e-books and ten paperbacks of my clone’s first novel, and got a grand total of 11 reviews as a result. In the long term… Who knows? That first novel came out a little less than a year ago.

    Swag, at least in the form of bookmarks… Eh. Couldn’t give the things away, at the one convention we took ‘em to.

    I have a blog on which I talk about all sorts of things, mostly but not entirely related to writing (for some reason, people really enjoy my “grammar rants” — I think it makes them giggle to see a middle-aged guy totally lose his cool over homophone glitches), and I mention my clone’s novels from time to time. This has actually gotten more attention for his novels than anything else I’VE done so far. (How did I become the social-media clone? I’m not social — I’m a gregarious hermit! Arrghhh!) Being active on Goodreads also seems to work, plus, y’know, all that pleasant interaction with interesting people who read the same kinds of fiction we like.

  • “Bookmarks! Stickers! Mugs! T-shirts! Temporary tattoos! Ball-gags! Hand grenades! Live tigers!  ”

    Bookmarks: I have had some success with bookmarks, back when you could put them in a book. Now I find them folded up and used to balance shaky tables.

    Stickers: Never tried them, but I suspect they would end up on people’s backs, in place of a “Kick me” sticker.

    Mugs: Mugs? People have that kind of money? I thought we were writers, not investment bankers or pornography vendors.

    T-Shirts: This might work for Hooters, but writers? Maybe I should hire a couple of Hooters girls for my next book signing?

    Temporary tattoos: Wimp! Why not go for the real thing? The author of Shark Fins Soup, Susan Klaus did! Now that is dedication. She has a tattoo of her protagonist. That is an author that believes in her work. I’m waiting for Bill Bryson to get one of his sidekick, “Katz.”

    Ball-gags: I don’t think Fetish people are into reading all that much. Then again, they might be useful to give out to all those BuyMyBookBuyMyBook authors.

    Hand grenades: Discreetly distributed, they could also be useful with the BuyMyBookBuyMyBook proponents. Shipping and handling could prove to be an issue. Maybe mugs are not such a bad idea?

    Live tigers: I once tried that. The PETA folks got all bent out of shape. They liked me freeing up the animals, but the branding iron and tattoo didn’t go over so big. Failing that, I tried stenciled cockroaches. I figured they would get lots of news coverage, and I’m told that even bad publicity can be good. Not so much. The roaches all headed for the local Chinese restaurant and either nobody noticed them, or they couldn’t read English (the customers, not the roaches!). Maybe I should get my book translated into Chinese. Then again, it is probably already available on one of their bit-torrent servers.

    Seriously, I have found a few of your suggestions helpful. I’ve found Twitter to be a great way to find readers and other authors. Those other authors prove to be great allies. My book(s) are about outdoor adventures, hiking and ham radio and I have found that those various news groups, Facebook pages, and social media sites have been very good to me. I belonged to most of them before I even had a book and worked very hard to establish myself as a subject matter authority and that can REALLY help. How much of an authority am I? The jury is still out on that one. I like to think that I can survive in the woods, overnight–provided I have a backpack full of Snickers bars.

    The bottom line is: try things, find what works and go with it. Along the way, make certain you’re having fun and paying the rent.

    • I am actually highly dubious of “business cards” for authors. It’s useful when you’re looking for freelance work or, sometimes, agents/editors/other freelancers, but in terms of audience, you’ve gotta give them something cool on the business card to make that interesting. Otherwise, it’s trash. I get writers who hand me business cards all the time and I’m like, “Why do I want this?” I tell them I will throw it away if they persist in me having it.

      • Maybe it is the genre? I tend to have a lot of personal contact with hikers, radio enthusiasts, etc. and can see the results of handing out cards. Other than “team building,” giving them to other authors doesn’t do much. I would never “force” a card on anyone. Why should i? They cost money. Whatever works for you.

        A card can be an engaging conversation starter. When hiking across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, my business card said: “Retired dragon slayer, author and adventurer.” Inevitably, the “dragon slayer” would break the ice. Even though there haven’t been any dragon sightings there in a while, people were curious.

        Oh Chuck, do keep this stuff coming, you really are an inspiration and a voice for authors.

      • I love business cards at conferences, because I meet so many authors at once that, when I get home, it’s nice to have everyone’s contact info in front of me, and I do follow up. The authors I meet who didn’t give me a card, or who scratched their email address onto someone else’s card? I lose track of them. Give me an easy way to follow you, and if I found you interesting and liked what you had to say, I will.

        I love the bookmarks in lieu of business cards too, because I still read physical books. And I have bought the books promoted on bookmarks, but only because the book seemed spooky and I really liked the author.

        Since writing is a business as well as an art form, I think investing in an awesome-looking business card is a sign that you’re professional and take your business seriously. I’ve definitely been asked, “Do you have a card?” a lot at conferences, and was so glad I didn’t have to scribble my website on a napkin or piece of toilet paper.

      • Business cards are so easy to design and cheap at sites like Vista Print, it’s ridiculous to NOT have some on hand.

        Do you have to make them cool and interesting? Well, I thought the people here were creative writers…..

  • As a veteran conference organizer (the now defunct Cape Fear Crime Festival) I know that writers’ conferences are a great way to connect with other authors, learn new ways to market yourself and have a great time being among your own kind. But you’re not going to sell a lot of books, We had so many new authors leave the venue disappointed because of little or no sales. If you go to a conference expecting to learn something and network with other authors in your genre, you’ll get a lot out of it. But if your reason for going to the conference is to 1. Sell your books and 2. Get on a panel so you can sell your books, then you’ve wasted your time and money.

  • I haven’t published anything, so I can’t speak as an author, but I can speak as a reader. When an author I like and respect recommends a book/author, I will often take a chance on them. I don’t click on ads. I rarely even see the many social media posts flooding my Twitter/Facebook feeds. I just don’t notice them anymore, unless they are so annoying that I am compelled to unfollow. I mentioned in a comment above that I have purchased ONE book as a result of a Twitter post, and it was because the “teaser” was witty and contained keywords that piqued my interest: Whiskey, methheads and monsters. And guns, I think. Sold. But that was one time.

  • When it comes to forming relationships, you have to make sure you’re genuine or it will backfire. I met an author at a conference last year who seemed really nice. We had a few great conversations, and seemed to have a lot in common, including a love of stories about people leaving everything they know behind to live in a foreign country.

    Based on that connection and our shared interests, I bought her book. She made a lot of promises about keeping in touch, and even signed my copy of her book, “See you on Twitter!” So when I got home, I followed her on Twitter and tweeted that it had been nice to meet her. Did she follow me back? No. She also unfriended me on Facebook for no apparent reason and then pretended it didn’t happen. (I wasn’t stalking her, I swear! No, seriously, I don’t have time.)

    I couldn’t understand why she was so different outside of the conference, but whatevs. I read her book, liked it, and told her so. Her response? She hit me up for a review. A review, when she couldn’t be bothered to follow me back on Twitter. I don’t think so. And that’s when I realized that she had no interest in being friendly and keeping in touch–she’d just been trying to sell books! I won’t buy any more of her books now, even though I enjoyed the first one.

    I don’t expect authors I meet at conferences to become my instant BFFs, but if you say you’re going to keep in touch and are all excited to interact on social media, please mean it. Don’t pretend there’s a connection if there isn’t. Because that definitely backfires, and not just with me.

  • I have found Facebook events to be, for the most part, great for promotion. It’s true, some of them are flops and you do nothing but spit your words into the empty void of space, but most of them are really great for meeting new people who might otherwise have never heard of you or your books. I’ve picked up some solid fans since I started to participate and have seen my sales rise significantly. I usually give out one or two free books at these events.

  • Thanks for this. Really helpful post! It’s really reassuring to see that I’m on the right track, because I frequently wobble and think “should I be buying ad space?!”

  • Question: For folks like me, who use Feebly or some other push service for their blog-readin’ needs, do you, the author, get stats from those readers as well? I know you do with ChimpMail, but do push services interfere at all?

  • Giving away free stuff? How about printing the first 5 pages and giving it away at the Con? (I’d like to find a place that makes refrigerator magnets, because everyone uses those.)
    I think the bottom line is there is really no good way. It is a bootstrapping thing. As a newly self-published author I don’t have legions of fans to promote myself so I will have to be content with selling a book here, a book there… I have announced my publication to most of my facebook groups & friends, and that’s about it. PS people hate ads even more than they hate promo. Most people use Ad-block. So how can Ads be effective?

    • I recently listened in on a webcast by Tim Grahl. He is bery experienced in the area of self-publishing and one of his main thrusts was focusing on the e-mail list of your fans/followers/readers. He said that if you invite your audience to engage with you e.g. give away a freebie in exchange for them signing up, then this builds a relationship with them that is more likely to lead to sales. Twitter and facebook followers/likes will then follow. Worth checking out his website, most of this information is for free.

      • Tim Grahl may be very experienced, but the email list building, even following all the advice, was an exercise in futility for me. I ended up with a whole bunch of obviously fake email addresses and not much else. I never did figure out why on earth someone would use an obviously fake email address to sign up for an unknown author’s email list, but I’m proof it happens. Oh, and the freebie in exchange? I’ve had a grand total of *three* downloads out of over 300 of these “sign-ups.” And when I sent out my first (and only so far) newsletter, offering *another* free story? Two, count ‘em two, downloads. I call phooey.

  • June 21, 2015 at 7:56 AM // Reply

    You’ve covered everything. EVERYTHING. And lo, it has made me clap my hands with joy and smile to bursting. And, I think I love you.

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