So there have been quite a few comments on yesterday's post regarding why self-promotion for authors doesn't work. From the extremely rude tirades--which are summarily deleted, unread-- to the respectfully opposed to the graciously concurring to the downright relieved, it's clear we have a lot of charged feelings on this topic.
I therefore wish to present the sunny side of author self-promotion, or at least what works for me as a reader. If I ever learn what works best for me as a writer, I'll be sure to let you know. Like you, I'm pretty sure there's some big secret that I haven't yet discovered. As of right now, it's all a big experiment, and I try to emulate the authors who charmed my heart and wallet.
1. Being genuine.
This is the most important one. For real.
Just as you can tell when someone's smile is real or forced, one's internet persona reveals the true person behind those tweets. Rants, rages, whines, wheedling, violent superiority-- over time, they turn me off. I know that no one can be positive and upbeat all the time, and it makes an author and their books more real when I know she deals with some of the same challenges I do. But I've noticed that the authors who win my respect and my book dollars are kind and informative, help lift others up, don't punch down, try to pass on opportunities, and show support and encouragement. Beyond that, they interact in ways that are warm and not hurtful, sarcastic, or humorous at the expense of others. They're part of a conversation, not lords on high, tossing down scraps for the rest of us.
2. Adding value.
Several people mentioned this one in the comments of yesterday's post, and I couldn't agree more. Adding value means passing on truly helpful links, retweeting job listings or calls for submissions, wishing someone a happy launch day, recommending books you've enjoyed, discussing the news of the day in a respectful and thoughtful manner, talking about an upcoming event, or generally saying things that make someone's day just a little brighter. Over time, people will begin to trust you as you repeatedly add value to their life. Off the top of my head, such personages that stand out on Twitter are Kevin Hearne, Janice Hardy, Elizabeth S. Craig, Chuck Wendig, Mary Robinette Kowal, John Scalzi, Deanna Raybourn, and Kristen Lamb. If one of these people tweets an article on writing, I almost always go read it because I trust their taste, intellect, and willingness to help others.
Whoever you are, you have something interesting and unique to contribute. You just have to figure out what it is and give yourself time to build a community.
3. Informing without being condescending.
Nothing makes me happier than learning something new, and nothing makes me angrier than being patronized or having someone assume I'm an idiot. There's a huge difference between a writer sharing an article on writing that they found useful vs. someone who tweets me with, "Apparently, you don't understand pronouns. Webster's Dictionary defines a pronoun as..."
What you say is as important as how you say it, especially online, where we don't have facial expressions and tone of voice to help out. Before you tweet something that you're really hoping people will notice, like a link to your blog post or an article you found interesting, make sure the wording is uplifting and clear as compared to rude, snarky, sarcastic, or negative. Here's what I mean:
Would not click: So this n00b writer actually thinks it's ok to put a cat on her head? WTF? That's not real writing!: www.howtowritewithacathat.com
Would click: Love how this writer incorporates her cat into her writing routine! But I would need a straw for my coffee. Wouldn't you? www.howtowritewithacathat.com
Just like all writing, you want to draw someone in with you, not point fingers, cause hurt feelings, or make yourself into the judge of someone else's worth. Be a co-conspirator in sharing awesome content.
4. Telling us about your book in an interesting way.
What gets me to buy a book is the hook and the writer's voice. I don't care that someone else thinks it's Awesome! Exciting! Compelling! Hilarious! I don't care if you're an Amazon Bestseller who's been writing since he could hold a pencil. I don't care if it's #about #cyborg #ballerina #monkeys. I especially don't want all that combined into a tweet that looks like:
#Reviewers say this #book about #ballerina #monkeys is "Exciting!" | Amazon Bestseller | www.buymybook #ebook #epub
The tweets that make me click book links look more like:
The ballerina monkeys stole the golden orb, and only Horatio the three-legged elephant can solve the mystery. www.buymybook.com
Or, better yet,
I guarantee this is the only ballerina monkey murder mystery book you'll read today. www.buymybook.com #psthedetectiveisanelephant
I want knowledge, cleverness, and something unique that surprises or delights me. Your book should include all of those elements, so why would your tweet be this dull, shouty thing filled with hashtags that no one actually uses to find books?
Let's be honest: Have you ever, a single time, searched for a hashtag and bought a book you found there? I've been on Twitter for six years, and the answers is 100% NOPE. And yet 100% of my book purchases come from Twitter recommendations from people I trust.
5. Doing only the social media that you love.
You can't be all things to all people, and that means that you can't maintain a solid presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, Ello, Tsu, LinkedIn, your blog, and all your favorite forums and also be writing your next book and living your life. Pick what works for you and abandon the rest. Me? I tried Pinterest and ultimately lost interest. I started a street team but am too shy to ask them to do anything. Now I spend my time between writing paragraphs on Twitter, do one post a day on my Facebook Author page, and post a couple of photos on Instagram, if I see something beautiful. Tumblr is something I do when I'm bored and want to take in media. My blog posts are sporadic--for when I have something I need to say. I no longer go to forums. I can't do everything, and I refuse to feel guilty for missing out on some channels or absolutely hating others. If your social media presence is forced or miserable, your connections will notice. There is no shame in abandoning something that makes you miserable.
6. Spreading out your posts to reach a variety of people without seeming repetitive.
The biggest complaint I have about BUY MY BOOK posts is the repetition. Yes, I get that we're all randomly bouncing into Twitter and then popping right back out, but if I click on your profile and see 3 identical BUY MY BOOK links, there's no way I'm following you or trying to engage you. And that's what you're being judged on, every time someone's finger hovers over that FOLLOW button: Of the three currently visible things you've communicated, are we repelled or attracted?
So mix it up. Do a BUY MY BOOK post with a clever hook, then RT some interesting articles, then talk about that show you watched last night (no spoilers!), then show a pic of your beautiful donut and coffee, then link us to your most recent blog post, then chat with friends... and then, four hours later, hit us with a different, targeted, interesting tweet with a book link. I've heard <10% of your tweets should be book links, but even that can seem pretty high to people who pay attention.
Look at it this way. You're sitting next to someone on the plane who seems like they might want to chat. Do you just hand them one business card after another, demanding that they buy your book, or do you ask about their job, tell them about your job, ask them about their kids, mention that article you read on motherhood, show them a pic of your baby? What's actually going to have them turning toward you, smiling, instead of facing the window and slipping on earphones?
7. Trying new things. Keep what works for you and forget the rest.
There is a cubic crapton of information on self-promotion and marketing for indie authors, hybrid authors, and traditionally published authors. Some of it is similar; some of it is remarkably different. Some of it is old hat, some is outdated, some is solid, some is new and cutting-edge. The hard part is sorting the wheat from the chaff. Are you listening to someone who has found success and whose books, ideals, and social media presence you admire? Are you taking notes from an agent, editor, or other leader in her field? Or is the person shouting the loudest and the most angrily someone who is having trouble reaching their goals? As for me, I generally only take advice from people who are where I want to be, who can help me navigate the roadmap from where I am to where they are.
That means that everything I've said here might not apply to you--you might disagree with me or have different goals. That's totally fine. I set out to be traditionally published, and I play around with self-publishing on the side, but I am by no means where I want to be yet. One of the problems with success as a writer is that it's difficult to duplicate; publishing is an ever-changing beast, and there is no one checklist for success, no one journey to your dreams. When you find something that brings you success, keep doing it. Improve on it. Hone it. Share it, if you can, with other people hunting for answers. But if you're doing the same thing, over and over again, and not getting any closer, it might be time to step back and try something different.
Maybe you want to experiment with blog tours, online launch parties, giveaways, forums, podcasts, or vlogs. Maybe you have a great new idea for swag or street teams. Go for it! Maybe you'll find the next great pipeline for reader engagement. If it seems promising and fun and you can afford the time and money involved, you owe it to yourself to experiment. If you want to. It's all about enjoying how you interact with writing, media, and fans.
8. Staying positive.
You know what goes well when you're seething with anger and jealousy? Not a damn thing.
If you compare yourself to other writers and their success, you're spending time on something you can't control. If you're on social media, grumbling about her deal or his hitting list or her new agent or that last form rejection, you're not working toward getting those things yourself. Being negative solves nothing. Being negative does not attract people and readers and new opportunities. Emailing an agent to tell them why they're wrong does not make them want to work with you. Staring at Amazon numbers or composing pithy blog comments does not make you a better writer or a better person. Do you think GRRM is Googling himself and arguing with people who don't like his books right now? Nope. He's writing. And/or rolling around in an iron throne filled with money.
How is this self-promo? Because showing your negative side to the publishing world is the opposite of self-promo. It is actively damaging your reputation and your career. Maintaining a professional, courteous, and positive attitude is a big part of connecting with readers online.
9. Writing the next book.
Nothing sells a front list like a back list, and nothing sells a back list like a front list. You have no control over how your message is received, but you do have control over the quality of your books. At any given moment, you can be online messing around, shouting into the void, or you can be writing your next book or short story.
Honestly? This is the biggest one for me. I get really frustrated and jealous, and I can't figure out how to hit list and get invited into big anthologies, and I have to close my browser, take a deep breath, and start writing. The next book is the only thing I can control. So I focus on falling in love with the next idea, developing the plot, crafting characters that you'll have no choice but to fall in love with. You, the writer, are an endless font of ideas and stories. As long as you keep writing them and moving forward, you're doing something great for yourself, your writing, and your career.
10. Develop genuine social connections.
When I said PLEASE SHUT UP yesterday, a lot of people took that to mean that I wanted writers to take vows of silence, cancel their Twitter accounts, and go live in bookless convents. Not so! I love talking about books, and if you check my social media, you'll see me pimping my books along with everyone else--although I definitely try to follow my own rules. I get a little out of hand on launch day, but that's to be expected.
The point is, I don't want writers to shut up--I want them to shut up about #buymybook, #buymybook, #buymybook. I want writers to stop shouting so hard that they get blocked or muted, that people stop listening altogether. I want writers to stop listening to bullshit advice from #socialmediamarketinggurus who spout out-of-date crap in the hopes that authors will pay for followers because they're so desperate for an audience.
Here's what I want: for writers to keep talking. To each other.
For writers to stop shouting their wares and start walking over to admire someone else's cart.
For writers to RT ten other peoples' articles and buy links before they pimp their own.
For writers to stop begging for reviews and start looking for books to review, or at least read and tweet about.
For writers at a con to stop building Fort MyBooks on the panel table and start actively engaging with the audience and each other, never beginning a single sentence with, "Well, in MY book..."
For writers to get a query rejection, file it away, forget about it, send out another query, close Twitter, and start writing the next book instead of chewing on that rejection for a week and letting it connect in any way with their own talent and self-worth.
For writers to take the money they were going to pay to enter a contest or buy Likes or print expensive swag and put it toward a writing conference where they'll connect with other writers and receive constructive feedback about how to improve their writing or pitch.
For writers to take joy in the hungry, friendly, curious community around them and start looking for ways to give back, to lift others, to give the compliment that's going to make someone else's week.
The thing is, we shout the most and the hardest when we feel alone and unheard.
And you are not alone and unheard.
Stop shouting and start talking.
Listen, and you'll be heard.