Last week, I had a blog post on author self-promotion go viral. It was giddy-- and in some ways, terrifying. Here are a few things I learned.
1. Clickbait rage gets more attention than positive tips.
My Please Shut Up post received over 50,000 hits, which is the highest number of hits of any post on my blog. Ever. Which is awesome... and scary. The funny thing is that the post with the clickbait headline (Please Shut Up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn't work) got 5x the hits as the following, more positive post (Wait, Keep Talking: Author Self-Promotion That Actually Works.) For me, as a writer, it was a great object lesson in how to get eyes on one's blog: say something controversial that will piss people off. The other side of that coin is that it's exhausting, being yelled at all day by people who disagree. For my dollar, I'd rather help people than irritate them, which means that although it was gratifying to get so much attention, in the end, it didn't help me as a writer.
2. Writers are desperate for self-promo help.
With over 200 comments and 20 emails about Please Shut Up, it's clear that this post hit a nerve. Authors of all levels and stripes are honestly starving for tips on how to get their books discovered. Because you know what? It's really, really hard to get noticed, much less build a following. That goes for traditionally published, indie published, and self-published writers. Even after I posted Wait, Keep Talking with suggestions for self-promo that works, I still received questions and comments about how to sell books. My answer remains the same: time + hard work + great books + luck. There is no secret.
And writers, for the most part, are lovely and kind and said supportive things about the post. If you took time out of your day to email me or comment in a positive manner or to share it via social media, thank you. I'm glad we're in this leaky boat together.
3. People hate being told to shut up.
I've never had so many ugly comments that deserved deletion. Men, especially, don't like a woman daring to suggest they stop talking. Is there a badge for being called the C word on one's own blog? Because DANG.
4. A lot of people didn't get it.
"If I shut up, I wouldn't sell any books" is a message I received 100+ times in the past week. And, um, DUH. Did you read the second post? Have you seen my own Twitter feed? The point isn't to sit at home with duct tape over your mouth and your laptop shut, praying that your book magically does well. The point is that self-promo is hard, and if you do certain annoying behaviors, you're shooting yourself in the foot and actively repelling people instead of interesting them. And the fact that so many people responded aggressively with the same message says that either they didn't see past the (yes, slightly manipulative) post title, they didn't read the second post, or they aren't willing to acknowledge that what they're doing isn't working. Change is scary, and it's easier to hit your head on the same wall and complain about it than it is to switch up your tactics and do something new.
5. People who want to tell me I'm wrong will start a post with MS. DAWSON.
Look, I'm Southern. I will say "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir," to a 16yo kid, if they're behind a counter. But most of the time, emails from adults/writers that begin with, DEAR MS. DAWSON mean that someone is feigning respect so that they can tell me exactly how wrong I am and suggest that I change my words and feelings to express their own experience and expertise. DEAR SIR OR MADAM, this is not the best way to make your first impression. We can respectfully disagree, but you don't keep my respect by starting with an honorific and finishing with an excoriation.
6. Even though the thrust of the post was "I hate it when people push me," tons of people used the post as an excuse to push me. It did not work.
I know how hard it is to sell books. I know. But the way to get your name out there is not to send a stranger an email that says, "I know you said you didn't like people pushing their books on you, but here is my book." And telling a stranger a sob story about how hard it is to be a writer is likewise not going to make them want to buy your book. That was the entire point of BOTH posts. I have never, once, ever, not a single time bought or publicized a book based on an email, especially an email that whines, rages, or insults me. Have you?
7. Sometimes it's easier to talk dirt about the speaker than to acknowledge that you don't like how what they're saying makes you feel.
I heard that someone was talking smack about me and my blog at a local con this weekend, and my author friends were kind enough to defend me--and agree with my feelings on self-promotion. Insulting me, calling me names, and screeching about how wrong I am does not sell your books--or your abilities as a publicist. Calling me a bitch does not make you look appealing or reasonable. I know that the reality of self-promotion is bleak, and it feels good to have a target for your rage, but I'm just another writer, not Listicus von Royalties, God of Booksellers. Being angry at me isn't going to sell your books.
8. Even when I say I can see through manipulation, people try to manipulate me.
"Delilah, I couldn't agree more. As an author myself, I know how you feel. Oh, hey, in fact, here's a link to my new book. It would be great if you wanted to check it out, review it, tweet about it, and help promote it, since you know how hard it is for a new writer. And if I could reprint your blog post on my website and have you stop by in the comments, that would be great. I haven't bought your books, but they certainly do look interesting. Speaking of which, who's your agent?"
Ha ha ha nope. Nice try.
9. You're not going to change my mind.
We all want to be heard and acknowledged--me included. But there were tons of reactions that demanded I go to someone's site and read their reaction post and continue the discussion. And I'm not doing that. I said what I believed, what I felt needed to be said, and I can't think of a single way that anyone could change my mind. For everyone who mentioned Hugh Howey, I'll admit he's got me beat, and you might do better to follow whatever he suggests for self-promotion since his tactics are superior to mine. But you must remember that he's an outlier who's been at it longer than you or I have, and the game is different today than when he was in our shoes. I'm not saying that my word is gospel; I'm just saying that your chances of changing my mind in particular are very, very slim. You can't push me, and I'm not often engaged by people demanding my attention. So do what you think best, and I wish you luck.
10. There are no easy answers.
Here's the thing. My book, HIT, launched last Tuesday. I got over 50k blog hits, received tons of positive thoughts on it, had an in-house publicist and a hired publicist for it, had three book signings--and it didn't hit list or come anywhere close. If it had, there's no way I could write a blog post telling you how to replicate that success. Pretty much every author I know is doing everything they can to sell books, and it's like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Traditional publishing doesn't know. Paid publicists don't know. Bestselling authors usually can't point to just one thing that turned the tide. Success as an author is cumulative and involves some luck, and it's a hell of a lot harder than it was even 5 or 10 years ago, getting your book discovered. I'm going to keep looking for the right answer for me, and I trust you will keep looking for the right answer for you. I hope something I've said, whether here or on Twitter, has helped you. Even if it just made you so mad that you changed tactics or doubled up your effort, I truly want everyone to succeed.