Why I Hate Self-Promoting My Books: A Probably-Not-Helpful List

Self-promotion.

Marketing.

Advertising.

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?

Whatever.

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.

Go write.

* * *

Coming soon:

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.

Pre-order now:

Indiebound

Amazon

B&N

(Come see me launch the book on October 17th at Borderlands in San Francisco with Kevin Hearne launching the amazing Plague of Giants and Fran Wilde supporting her sublime Bone Universe books! 6pm!)

22 comments

  • I think the basic problem with self promotion is that we are accustomed to hearing about really good things, books, restaurants, movies, etc, via a third party, not the creator. And the more we hear it, the more we believe it is good. Publicity coming from the creator is automatically discounted. The answer is to find a way to get the attention of influential others who like what you do and will spread the word.

  • I’ll say that you slid by an important part of the solution to both #1 and #3. Network. Don’t let all that time you waste on Twitter procrastinating actually be a waste. Make friends with other authors. Make friends with people who make podcasts. Make friends who waste even more time on social media than you do.

    Then, the solution to #3 becomes easy and natural. Promote your author friends and podcast friends and pornbot friends. But don’t do so blindly, do so in a way that connects *your* audience with *their* audience, and vice versa. Make people associate your opinions with good advice. If they like your opinions, they are more likely to like your books.

    This makes the solution to #1 even more obvious. When you post about your book, you’re shilling, and people are leery. But then your network of people that you brainwashed into being your friends talk about your stuff. And they are tapping into the magic of *sharing*, not the demonic contract of *selling*.

    • I second this. Making friends with other authors and non-authors alike has helped find more readers. Just having everyday conversations to show people you’re also human is a huge difference than a bunch of buy my book tweets.

  • To quote one of your other bits of advice “be the best you that you can be”. So my marketing plan is really, “too much marketing interferes with writing, editing and doing the other bits of my life which have to be done, which is why I get depressed at the state of my garden, although I can always say it’s a wildlife haven.” So I do the bits of marketing/blogging/commenting I like, and try to be the best me I can be online, so that maybe people will discover my books. But then, I don’t sell thousands.

  • I’ll note that I often have already bought/pre-ordered/summoned from the depths the things you’re promoting because I’ve been following you for, say, 5 years now? And because the internet is invasive (haha it wasn’t supposed to be a pun no really), Google’s All-Seeing Eye pokes me when your stuff comes up. So your pre-order link for the R&W book is the first link of yours I’ve needed to click in a while. Vs when you love something, I haven’t followed that author and so I don’t get the Sauron-note or the Facebook Big-Brother “You might like” brain-cast or whatever. I wonder how much this effort to anticipate users’ buying habits has changed the effectiveness of what you do?

  • This is perfectly timed – I’m re-releasing a book soon (I’ve rewritten it a bit in an attempt to make it better) and I LOATHE marketing… you’ve just made me feel better about having to do it!

  • So much of my work has been promoted by fellow scribes lending me their voices and platforms, our host included. I’m forever grateful for it, and the best thing I can do is to try to not only amplify their excellent work in turn, but to lend my voice and (admittedly much smaller) platforms to others. Amplifying great work is good karma all around.

  • Make sure your friends who have three thousand Facebook friends whom they are constantly in contact with know you have a book out. The person who knows everyone is gold. (Unless they hate your book. Then, not so much.)
    I have been doing a bit of preparatory groundwork on my blog, with posts about literary wizards, dwarves, Evil Uncles etc, with my own variation thereof appearing at the end of a list. It still feels weird (because the Unforgivable Sin in NZ culture is self-promotion – even the indigenous people have a proverb about it) but I’m trying to scuttle up crabwise and humbly suggest that If You Liked These, You Might Like This. Once the book is finally out…

  • In many parts of Great Britain one can still be put in stocks and pelted with rotten vegetables for excessive self-promotion – actually for any self-promotion. Even breathing too loudly is looked down on as being rather vulgar.

  • There are a few parts of marketing I like…mostly the stuff where I can hide in my office and use blog posts and social media to connect with people. Those face-to-face book signings? Not so much. I still think an old-fashioned word-of-mouth buzz works best. The hard part? How to help that buzz get going without being an obnoxious boor. If only I could get a starred review from one or more of those big reviewers. If only…

  • Yay, thank you for this. I’ve been an artist for a long time, then like a dummy decided to add writer to the letters after my name. I’m good at drawing/painting, I’m getting good at writing. I did not take classes in promotion and today, on looking for a home for my YA fantasy novel, one publishers asks for a marketing plan to be part of the query. Depressed the hell out of me. You helped lift my spirits.

  • I’m not sure if you knew this when you wrote it, or just meant it as a joke, but I was assured by author Page Lambert when I went to one of her writing retreats that elk do, indeed, masturbate. I had made some comment about all the poor, horny, bugling elk in the fall that had hooves instead of hands. She grew up in a rural, mountainous area of Colorado and has seen plenty of elk, so I trusted her. I didn’t ask her the details as to how.

    Just got my copy of “The Kick-Ass Writer” from Amazon. Will put this one on my list. Have learned a ton from your blog!

  • I am SO BAD at self-promotion. It’s horrible, but I’m trying to be better! Thank you for this. It was incredibly motivational – even if it was just confirming that this part of it can suck sometimes.

  • Pre-order book – check
    Hire editor for finished manuscript – check
    Editor suggests book is strong enough to seek agent and/or publisher rather than self-publish – nerves jingle-jangle like a wooden wind-chime in a gale-storm

    As usual, Chuck, your blog topics sync with life. Thanks.

  • You’re right, but it’s life. It’s part of the writer’s working day. Before the internet writers used to moan about book tours. Except there was no internet on which to blog about it, so they just moaned to their loved ones.

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