Why I Hate Self-Promoting My Books: A Probably-Not-Helpful List
You gotta do it, they say.
You have a new book out, you have to let them know.
You have an old book out, you have to let them know.
A book sale, you gotta let them know.
You gotta dance the dance. Wave your arms. Shake your hips. Show a little thigh. Wink and a smile. Milk your appendages. Shimmy out of your old flesh and reveal the chromatic scale of your extraterrestrial forebears. HA HA ha what I mean, no, I don’t do those things, I am a humanoid like you, let us go and get… ice cream? People get ice cream, right?
Point is, I mostly just want to whine and complain about how self-promotion is haaaaard, and specifically how it’s haaaaaard right now at this particular point in time. I don’t know what I’m looking for. Pity? Commiseration? A kitten? Someone send me a kitten. And it’s definitely not to eat. Humans don’t eat kittens! Right? *checks the handbook* Yes, yes, humans snoogle with kittens, they do not make soup from them, cool, got it.
Still, I’ll try to offer some counterbalancing points — advice to overcome some of these problems. Let’s see where we land.
1. Selling Stuff Is Different From Sharing Stuff
As I am wont to remind people, my anecdotal information (aka “artisanal data”) shows me that, on this blog, links out to my own books are clicked at a significantly lower frequency than me recommending a book I loved. If I say MUH GOD DID YOU SEE I HAVE A NEW WRITING BOOK COMING OUT AND IT CONTAINS A STORY ABOUT ELK MASTURBATION, people are like, *muted yay* and then maybe they click. If I say, HEY HOLY SHIT I JUST STARTED READING C. ROBERT CARGILL’S SEA OF RUST AND FUCK IT’S GOOD IT’S GOT DEAD PEOPLE AND SHITLOADS OF ROBOTS AND IT’S COOL, you’ll perk those eyebrows up and you’ll click click click.
I don’t think that’s weird. I think it’s natural. I think we instinctively distrust sales pitches. And even if I’m not hawking my wares during some kind of book infomercial like it’s the literary equivalent of the Slap Chop, I think people overall… intuit that a sales pitch is a sales pitch and it’s ultimately driven by self-interest. Whereas sharing a thing I love is a RAINBOW OF DELIGHT emanating from my tummy as if I am an authorial Care Bear.
It’s pure. It’s perfect. It is a band of color and wonder.
Solution: First, talk about the stuff you love. People will appreciate it and it will also help the authors of the books you’ve read that you’ve loved. Second, when the time comes for your reluctant shilling, do so in a way that is as authentic as possible. Not a hey here’s why my book is awesome but instead more of a yo here’s what this book means to me and why I wrote it.
2. Hey Have You Seen The News Lately?
It used to be this thing where people wanted to be respectful and not sell or promote things online during a time of tragedy. “There was a shooting, this is not the time,” someone would whisper at you. Yeah, I dunno if you’ve read the news lately, but it’s basically an endless log flume ride down a chute slick with boiling diarrhea. The news is a constant cacophony. It’s just people yelling bad news 24/7 — and understandably so, because the news has gotten super fucky. Fucky up and down the pike. Fucky fuck-ass fuckery, from snout to tail. Hurricanes! Fires! Deportations! Actual Nazis! The oceans are lava! The sky-knives are falling! The flesh-reapers have begun their apocalyptic harvest! Buy my book before you die!
You want to be excited that you have a book out, but it’s like, “I have a book out, but the world is falling apart, sorry.” *sad trumpet* bromp bromp
Solution: I dunno, do it anyway? Life is stupid and people are always dying, but people always need to read books. And I don’t mean that in a wagging finger way — I mean, books are instructive, books are escape, books are doorways out of whatever miserable dipshittery is ongoing. Just try to be as respectful as you can, and acknowledge if you have to that yes the world is under assault by monstrous forces both human and inhuman, but hey you have a book out and it’d sure be neat if people would take a peek.
3. So Much Noise
Everybody is selling their books. A lot of books and not a lot of time and though your audience is theoretically infinite, not everybody is a reader, not everybody is a book-learner, you know? Sometimes author self-promotion has the feeling of beings crabs in a bucket. We’re all clicking our claws and our mouthpieces are foaming and none of us are actually out of the bucket.
Solution: Try to be different, for one. Look at what other people are doing, and find an angle. A way in. And when that fails, don’t do the thing where you get noisier — being louder and more obnoxious doesn’t help. (Spoiler warning: neither does shitting on other people’s books or other authors. Don’t do pissy-pants stunt marketing like that. It just tells us that your book isn’t very good so you have to noisily poop your pants to get our attention.) Instead, do the thing where you help other people out of the bucket. Signal boost books. Again, not some kind of selfish quid pro quo (or squid pro quo!) nonsense, but just because it’s the right thing to do. Helping people feels good. It will cleanse your soul of the stain of having to hawk your own books.
4. I Actually Don’t Know What I’m Doing Or If This Shit Even Works
I am not a marketing guru. I am not a social media expert. When you say things to me like, “Have you optimized your SEO?” I hear, “Have you slargified your tumgargle?” and then my guts clench up because I don’t really want to know more about what you’re talking about. “Well, with the algorithms and the target audiences and the slargified tumgargles, your book will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.”
Listen, here’s what I usually tell authors: you can, with some earnestness and enthusiasm, maybe sell a few books. Maybe you can even sell tens or hundreds of your book. And that’s not nothing. Every sale of your book is a pebble thrown into a pond, and a pebble thrown into a pond creates ripples that may reach the shore. Meaning, even one person who reads and loves your book might share their love of that book with others — and if they love it, they share it, and on and on. A CHAIN OF LOVE. Like an orgy, but slower!
Even still, your publisher needs thousands of sales. Even self-published authors need those kinds of numbers and those kinds of numbers are difficult without a real marketing plan and real self-promotion — which, generally, is not part of an author’s set of expertise.
Once upon a time I made it clear that authors can’t just be authors, and that remains true. Especially as new authors you’re writers, and editors, and maybe web-designers, and possibly bloggers, and hey did I also mention marketers? I’ve revised my thinking on that a little bit, in that if you’re not actually good at all the other stuff, it’s just half-measures. And as we learned from Mike Ehrmentraut, NO MORE HALF-MEASURES, WALTER.
So, what to you do?
Solution: This is tough, because at the end of the day you need to push on your publisher — if you have one — to make this work. If your publisher’s marketing plan is them asking you what your marketing plan is, then you need to quote them your price, because that’s not your job. Your job is to write the best gull dang book you can muster. The entire reason you partner with a publisher is, in part, their marketing muscle. If they won’t flex for you, don’t dance for them. Push on them. Have your agent push on them. Demand a plan. Demand to see the plan. Otherwise, self-publish, and hire out for experts to do this job. Social media is a wasteland, an unholy din, and it’s not really the best place to rely on one author to somehow achieve BOOK SALES APOTHEOSIS.
Obviously, yes, you should talk about your book.
You should share it.
You should be ready to commit to interviews and podcasts and exploring ways to get the word out. And your publisher should be your guide through that. If they’re not, you should be self-publishing because what’s the point?
Beyond that the solution to all of of this is the solution to many a writer’s woes:
Write the next book.
Always, always, always write the next book.
Writers write, and you’re a writer.
So go write, writer.
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DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative
by Chuck Wendig, from Writer’s Digest, October 17th
A new writing/storytelling book by yours truly! All about the fiddly bits of storytelling — creating great characters, growing narrative organically, identifying and creating theme. Hope you dig it.