Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Self Promotion

One of the realities of publishing these days -- whether you're published by a major house whose giving your book a huge print run (or a small one), an e-pub with only a website for distribution, or self published -- is that authors need to do self promotion.

I think romance writers have always known this... but it's even seeping into the literary world, evidenced by a quote by Margaret Atwood I recently read... which I really should look up the actual words... but to paraphrase, it was: "shameless self promoter" used to be an insult in the publishing world, now it's a necessity.

But what I keep wondering is: how far is too far? I mean, for me anyway, there are writers out there whose books I will NEVER buy because of their behavior online, or (for a scant few) how they refer to themselves in their e-mail signature lines.

Where is my personal line-in-the-self-promo sand drawn? It's ill-defined and drifts, I must admit... But some examples:
  • weekly Facebook requests blasted out to everyone and anyone to buy a book or become a fan. Friend, okay. Fan? If I've never heard of you -- not so much.

  • calling yourself "bestselling" every time you sign your name or write your bio (especially in venues with other writers who know what bestselling means in the industry) when in your case, "bestselling" translates to being in the top twenty books released, by your e-publisher in June, for two hours, one day when you got your husband and best friend to buy two books at the same time

  • calling yourself "award winning", when the only award you've won was an obscure contest where you placed in the top 3 of 5 entries, or your book won an award for the most blatant man-titty cover

  • being a member of a writing community, but never posting or answering any questions for over three years-- and then posting twice a day for the entire month your book comes out and drawing attention to your book with every post

  • drawing way too much attention to a review from a site that rarely gives anything but good reviews (fine to celebrate a bit. fine to post it on your website. but especially around other writers, don't act like you got a starred review at PW, a positive (or even negative) review from Kirkus or Library Journal, or a DIK review at AAR -- if what you actually got was 4 butterflies (or whatever) at a site that gives 4 or 5 "butterflies' 90% of the time, or only ever posts reviews for books they liked. Face it, some of these review sites are in it for the free books. **Maureen braces for tomatoes**)
Those are some self-promo pet peeves of mine. But like all things, there are degrees, and it's often all about the execution.

For example, I have no problem with people celebrating good news or telling me when their book's coming out through social networking sites or writers loops... Or sharing their first sale or first review, or a particularly great review, or contest wins (even about covers)... I actually love hearing all that good news and sharing people's joy...

But hear me now Self-or-Tiny-Press-Published-Writers-on-Facebook do you really think you need a fan page that YOU set up and have to ask people to join??? Aren't fan pages supposed to be by and for, well, fans? (Full disclosure... I have gladly joined fan pages for writers I've actually met/know of online, and/or whose books I've actually read.)

I think when you're asking social networking "friends", you don't even know, to be your "fan" it comes down to the wording. I'd have no issue with someone who's honest and says, "Hey, I've started up a fan page for my books, just in case people who've read my book, or are thinking about reading it, would like a place to interact and network, and so I can easily keep you informed when stuff's happening related to my book." That's so different from acting as if actual fans have set up the page, and then asking people, who don't even know who the hell you are, to "be my fan".

I just thought of someone who did this really well... Nadine Dajani's brother set up a "Buy My Sister's Book or Die" group on Facebook when her first book came out. I loved that. It was cheeky and funny... Actually, I think being invited to join that group was why I joined Facebook... Maybe it's just because I know and like Nadine that I didn't find that obnoxious... but I think it was entirely in the execution. I think I would have joined (or at least clicked on the link to) a group called "buy my sister's book or die" even if I'd never heard of Nadine...

J.D. Rhoades' "Gang of Hellions" facebook group is another example of someone doing it "right" in my mind. I don't know the guy... haven't read him (yet), but I did have people I knew who were in his group so gladly joined when I first got invited. And his messages to the group aren't frequent, and are always amusing... And he's generous to other writers--doesn't use the group solely for his own promotion... For example, he has this thing called "clinching" (named for Jon Clinch, author of Finn, who, I assume, was the first author they "did it" for. (And clinching rhymes with lynching, so it's funny... Because there's nothing funnier than lynching... I digress.) Basically the way a "clinching" works, is J.D. sends a message to the "hellions" group telling everyone to change their facebook status to "a fan of whatever-author-is-being-clinched". Great idea... viral marketing on Facebook that's fun and interactive and generous... So different from being bombarded with "be my fan" or "buy my book" messages...

I suppose, when it comes down to it, self-promoting is, at its core, social interaction, and like most social interactions, there's a line that 90% of people never cross... And the ones who do cross it, typically have no clue they've crossed it. (The bull in the china shop so often thinks they're an innocuous butterfly...)

Then there's the other extreme on the self-promo continuum. Like MOLLY O'KEEFE -- who never calls herself "award winning" (even though she should) and doesn't use this blog to mention huge stuff like:
  • her latest release THE STORY BETWEEN THEM is out this month and got a 4 star review in RT,
  • or that her last book THE SON BETWEEN THEM, not only got a 4 star review from RT, it also got a DIK review from AAR,
  • or that she's won reviewer's choice awards from RT the past two years running!
  • or that she won "best series romance" in the reader poll at AAR year before last!
  • or that she's short listed for the readers' choice best series romance award again this year!! (go vote for THE SON BETWEEN THEM as best series romance. Now.) Update... voting has ended. **Pout** I hope she wins...
  • or that she's up for a freaking career achievement award at RT this year????
(Lucky Molly has me to toot her horn. She never does it herself. Bad Molly.)

How far is too far with self-promotion? Is there a line? Or is everything and anything fair game, given the highly competitive nature of the publishing industry? Am I riled up for no reason? Will I want to eat my words when it's me promoting a book? Have I just been friending too many people on Facebook? Are some of the pet peeves I mentioned fair game in your books?


Nadine said...

Ha! So funny that you should mention my brother's Facebook group!

I will say this for my bro - we are total opposites in that I am pretty quiet and self-conscious in the sense that I'm very easily embarrassed (and the sting of an embarrassment stays with me FOREVER), while my brother just throws himself out in the world head first, come what may.

As you can guess, his approach to life has given him legions of fans and friends, and there isn't one person he's ever come into contact with him who doesn't instantly love him, or at least, remember him. Not a forgettable guy.

I was MORTIFIED when I saw that Facebook group he'd set up - I'd just told Basil to tell his friends. That was NOT what I'd expected. That being said, it was probably the best single piece of self-promotion I'd done, and many people read FL as a result who probably wouldn't have known about it otherwise. I regret not having set up a FB group (or asked Basil to!) for Cutting Loose.

Basil picked up a few chicks in the process too... it was mutually beneficial ; )

Stephanie Doyle said...

The thing about self-promotion, the one tidbit big time authors give you... no one knows what works.

Sure an internet presence is a must - if for no other reason than you're proving to your publisher that you are doing something. But it's hard to say how effective that is. I think if you do go that route you have to keep it light and funny. I love the "Buy my sister's book or die." That I would pay attention to. "Buy me" I would not.

It may be naive - but I think talent and word of mouth is always going to win out. Molly is flat at awesome. That's why she gets the accolades. And the more she puts out (fictionally speaking Molly) the more readers will flock.

The only promotion I can say works for me as a reader - and it's not 'self' driven are reviews on blogs like Dear Author, Smart Bitches and DWT making recommendations or talking about authors. Because I trust the reviewers they have woken me up to some new authors.

Tag lines!!! Seriously? Could care less. Half the time they crack me up. And I am absolutely one to shut down when an author goes overboard. The more you tell me how "big, important, great" you are. The less likely I am to believe it.

My opinion - you don't need to "self" promote - you just need to be good and hope that reviewers that people trust will point that out.


Sinead M said...

"Just have to be good" is a great point, Stephanie. That is where it starts and consistently good, which as we know is so hard.

Love Maureen's point about the 'bestselling tag' or the rave reviews from sites that give nothing else. I see those and there is less chance I would buy the book...

Amy Ruttan said...

I know what you mean Maureen. I get BOMBARDED with stuff, and I'm tired of the whole "My cover has been nominated .. etc etc.,"

I pretty blaise about it, I announce my new releases to my readers, or if I'm having a contest. I don't have time to bombard them, and since I HATE that and just delete things that I get I won't do it to others.

I get lots of good reviews and stuff but I barely post them, I only keep that to my own site. I think my signature line is just my name and my web address. LOL.

I buy advertising at select review sites and let them do work for me. LOL.

Kimber Chin said...

I'm curious.
Who decides what award is unimportant?

I have a small press award in my signature line.
People who read small press will know what it means (and they do, I've seen an increase in sales since the award).
Those that don't won't give a rat's a$$ but then, they're not my readers anyway.

Harlequin writers are in a fortunate place. They are given starter readers via the subscription service. If they write a great book, they can convert these readers to fans and they'll spread the word for the authors.

Almost everyone else has to find a way to convince complete strangers to buy her book out of the thousands available. It is a tough, tough task and I made mistakes with my first book. Lucky for me romance readers are some of the most understanding people on the planet.

Maureen McGowan said...

Nadine. I LOVED that group. Your brother rocks.

Maureen McGowan said...

Steph, I was nodding the entire time I read your comment... Except when I was laughing... (ie. thinking about who else might flock to Molly if she put out more).

I think this hits what I was trying to say on the head.
The more you tell me how "big, important, great" you are. The less likely I am to believe it.

Guess I could've had a shorter post, eh!

Maureen McGowan said...

Kimber, I don't think any award is ever unimportant... Every award and nomination should be celebrated... And you should totally mention it in your tagline and on your website and celebrate it with writers you know...

**Maureen cringes realizing she may have inadvertently insulted people she knows and respects who have not crossed her personal going-to-far-with-SSP line.**

Like I said... most people who do cross it, don't know they are crossing it...

Readers don't know the difference between a RITA, the Giller Prize, or an award given by your friend. I think it's up to the writer to decide what to mention and what not to.

What irritates me (and I've never seen you do this). Is people who, on writers' loops, seem to have no perspective and equate their award (or being the top-selling book in their local bookstore for the weekend they dragged 100 friends in to buy their book) with a big award, or with hitting the USA Today list...

I've got a few people I'm on writers lists with who, when I read how they talk about themselves to other writers and published authors... I think, "WOW! Why haven't I ever heard of this writer if they're such a big seller and award winner and so famous..." and then I click on their website and realize the "fame" is all in their minds.

But I did click on their website... so maybe they are crazy like a fox? (got my attention?)

But I, personally, loose respect for these people and would never buy their books... So for me, some of those folks are not-so-much crazy like a fox as just crazy.

Maureen McGowan said...

Amy... I think any promotion done that's aimed at mostly readers is somewhat different... Although even then, I'm sure there's a "too much" threshold. But I'm sure you know that.

What really bugs me are people who aim stuff at other writers that inflates their accomplishments.

Tricky thing is those groups overlap (writers and readers) but I do think it's key to know your audience when you draft promotional material....

Same goes with sending promotional stuff to bookstores, or even backing up a few steps, describing your work in a query to an agent... Every agent I've every met/heard talk/seen interviewed says their #1 pet peeve is writers claiming to be the next best thing, or comparing their work to bestselling authors...

You might be able to tell a group of potential readers your book is like Nora Roberts's (or whoever's) but don't tell an agent that... And you'd never get taken seriously by booksellers saying your book (or previous book) is "bestselling" unless it hit one of the major recognized lists.

At least that's what I think...

Kimber Chin said...

LOL Maureen. Everyone in this business should have rhino skin by the time they publish. I don't think you can insult anyone.

I'm so glad you're okay with the mentioning of awards. I truly feel that if an organization give you an award, you should say thank you by helping them promote.

But then I'm a marketer so I have a different spin on the world. LOL

I think everything else comes down to permission and knowing the unwritten rules. Like the expectation that if you promote on loops, you also participate in non-promotional activities. Or if you say you'll only email people once a month for contests (as I do), you only email them once a month for contests. That sort of thing.

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, it's all about knowing the unwritten rules... Just like any social interaction.

And luckily at least 90% of humans are very good at figuring those rules out...

It's the few who don't who bug me... and I realize my lengthy rant made it sound like I'd cast that net much wider than I actually do.

Plus, who cares what I think??? ;-)

Kimber Chin said...

Maybe I'm demented but I find that anti-social 10% fascinating.

The man who thinks he's all things to all women yet is 50 pounds overweight and losing his hair. Or the human resource rep who can't keep a secret (even though that's her job). That author who told me his book was the best thing since the bible.

That's great stuff!

Oh dear. (Big sigh). My novels are never going to be mainstream, are they? LOL

Maureen McGowan said...

In a strange coincidence... J.D. Rhoades is blogging about promotion on the murderati blog today.

Amy Ruttan said...

See I just get lazy with repeatitive emails about awards and the like. Not that they aren't important to the individual, I'm just getting absolutely bombarded with them.

Nadine said...

"Maybe I'm demented but I find that anti-social 10% fascinating"

You're not demented at all - the entertainment factor provided by that 10% is priceless.

Abby said...

Ah, Kimber Chin - c'mon. You're in marketing. You know the difference between telling your potential audience something they might like to know - and SPAM.

I'm on the TRW loop with you and I read your stuff on RTB and a spammer, you ain't. But there are a lot of them out there, and I know exactly the type Maureen is talking about. They drive me nuts too.

One of the things that makes me crazy is the one-line responses to every loop message and blog post on the internet - "Great!" - followed by a big, long signature line full of the meaningless stuff Maureen has already listed. I tune it out instantly.

As for awards - I'll inaugurate one myself and give it to Molly. My personal fave is "His Best Friend's Baby" - you don't hear as much about that one but the single mom and the war vet, it is so, so good.

Maureen - ballsy (eggsy?) post!

Maureen McGowan said...


The post did get ballsier than I originally meant it to...

I think I'm just getting overloaded right now with Facebook... (my own damn fault for accepting over 700 friend requests from people I don't know... I actually never mind hearing promo or good news from people I actually know or know well online) and also overloaded by the irrational exuberance on another loop I think we both just joined which shall go nameless in public. ;-)

Kimber Chin said...


Unfortunately the reason people spam is because it works. That's why people telemarket or send direct mail (aka junk mail) or... It works. The spam will stop when people stop buying off of it.

But they won't stop. I have spam-master buddies and they're multi-millionaires because people buy.

Oh, and they don't consider it spam because they feel like they're offering something of value (why people buy).

Molly O'Keefe said...

Wow - hot topic. Thanks for the kind words Abby and Steph - and thanks for the kick in the pants Maureen. I clearly need to get some promoting done.

Kimber - I think you're right regarding the advertising of those places you get awards from - it's what legitimizes those awards in the writing community. More writers know about it, more writers enter, better entires get judged and pretty soon the award winners are people that get noticed by the writing community.

But I think the real issue is who are you promoting yourself to? Promoting yourself to other writers seems like a total waste to me - writers get pickier and pickier about who they buy.And as we've seen by the comments here - more and more annoyed by writers trying to promote themselves to us. It's a perspective thing, for sure.

But what the writing community does do is create buzz and buzz sells books - case in point Broken WIng by Judith James.Small publisher, flawed book, with some excellent excellent stuff in it -- some fabulous reviews and look - you can't turn around on the web without bumping into it.
And the only way to do that is to write a fantastic book that gets rave reviews on the web from websites that aren't known as fan sites. And that's really freaking hard.
Michele Ann Young is smart - she doesn't advertise to other writers on Facebook, she's set up her friends into two groups - friends and family and fans. If she cross pollunates, it's deliberate and careful.
Or like me - let Maureen do it all!

Amy Ruttan said...

I'm blaming my crankiness over the bombardment solely on hormones. LOL.

Maureen McGowan said...

Amy... I was clearly cranky when I wrote this post... Very cranky... No hormone excuse like you... Damn. I blame February.

And Molly is so right... I was mostly referring to writers aiming inappropriate promo to other writers. (she's heard me rant about this in person)

And I don't mean sharing news... Many writers' loops are about support and we should share and celebrate good news... My pet peeve is writers who over-inflate themselves in forums with mostly other writers. That over-inflation might be legit/smart promo with readers... (MIGHT be) but I think with other writers there's a point where it just becomes embarrassing.

Molly O'Keefe said...

MAureen I don't think you need to back peddle on this at all. This is a truly valuable point and there are a lot of writers out there who aren't getting it. People need to be smart about how they promote and yes, I totally agree with Kimber - small press and e-pubbed authors have to do some creative thinking about how to get thier name out there.

But those lines need to be watched.

700 friends, maureen? What the hell are you thinking?

Dorothy Thompson said...

What a wonderful blog post. I don't know where it was said, but someone said if you win ANYTHING, call yourself award-winning and if you are bestselling ANYWHERE, call yourself bestselling and I've even found some people call themselves award winning and bestselling when they haven't won a thing or didn't sell but 2 or 3 books. But, it's supposed to make you LOOK GREAT. I don't know...I think it's cheesy if you ask me. Now Facebook, agree with you on all that. I love Facebook. It's only recently I discovered how much I love it...I can't stay off the damn thing! Nice blog post, everyone fuel for thought, I like that.

Abby said...

Yeah Maureen, you have every right to be annoyed by the overload, and to say so.

You might need to go through your loops and get rid of the ones that are wasting your time. You DEFINITELY need to de-friend at least 500 people on Facebook. It will make a difference.

(As for that loop you mentioned - I actually find it funny. But I just got rid of another one that was nothing but self-promo. It's such a relief...)

Kimber Chin said...


I LOVED this post.
There's no reason to back peddle on anything.
I think it should be discussed
and most people are too chicken to bring it up.

So I guess having a Titanic moment and calling myself the 'Queen Of The World' is out?
(Though I do that from time to time but usually only to my hubby and usually after I've done something amazingly dumb)

Amy Ruttan said...

No don't back peddle Maureen! Never!

It was a great post, and 700 friends I'm blinking now. LOL.

Kathy Holmes said...

Well, as you know, I just deleted my Facebook account. Too stupid for words with everybody promoting themselves or just talking about themselves. Who do you really think is listening? :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...