Author Self-Promotion - Say It, Don't Spray It

I'm going to attempt to tackle something that might not win me many friends among my writing peers. Unfortunately, it's a topic that is proving irksome for me (and many others), and I've got something to say about it. It's unfortunate, cause when I've got something to say, I usually say it--even it it ticks people off. 

I've openly condemned author vs author crime on this blog. I say, let's love one another and save the venom and vitriol for the people who really deserve it: agents, editors and folks who leave us negative reviews on Goodreads... 


Seriously though, there's enough negativity and self-concious nonsense involved in writing as it is without us foisting it on each other like brussels sprouts on the plates of our worst enemies.

In the end, that's what prompted this post; I'm seeing some authors going after other authors, and it probably isn't necessary. Granted, I think the 'one rotten one spoils the bunch' idea is probably a valid concern. I just have a hard time believing authors are purposefully trying to destroy their own self-image, much less the self-image of all authordom. (Word? Didn't think so...)

So consider this an attempt at self-analysis, not an attack. That's how I feel, and I hope you'll take that into consideration when you read the following. I'm not calling anyone out or assigning blame, just making a point. (I hope.)

(Long post ... you've been warned.)

Self-Promoting Authors = The Hyena's of Social Media

Got your attention? Thought so. 

Not necessarily how I see it, but you need to understand that's how many, many people see it. Judging by what I've read on blogs of late, the author who spams Twitter with links to their books might as well be a vicious scavenger searching out--and killing--precious time as if it were defenseless and super cuddly lion cubs. 

Seems pretty harsh, right? Is it fair to roast someone for trying to make a living? We don't bitch about Apple and McDonald's every time an iPhone or McRib commercial airs ... OK, might be bad examples, but in their respective cases it's at least expected. 

They're businesses. They promote. Sometimes to the point I want to spoon out my own eyeballs, but it's their right.

Now let's look at the independent authors of the world. Shoot, let's go ahead and include 95% of the traditionally published authors in this discussion as well. Marketing budgets for the non-bestselling authors (see also - most of them) are notoriously small-to non-existent, so the burden of promotion rests on their shoulders nearly as heavy as it does that of the indies.

So, how then, do these authors differ from other businesses? I think most acknowledge they ARE small businesses unto themselves. Should they be expected to adhere to a different set of operating principals just because they don't have billion dollar budgets? After all, no one is being paid to do it for them, nor can they afford to promote via the accepted routes of television, billboards and Facebook ads. 

No, the typical author only has the free Internet marketing vehicles at their disposal (blogs, Facebook, Twitter and forums), and like most company cars, they're featureless and have limited uses. Still, it beats walking, right?

After giving the difficult situation some thought, I think this gets at the only real question to be asked: are authors treated/viewed differently than other business enterprises when it comes to promotion? 

Sadly, based purely on what I'm reading from bloggers and Twitter users, I think the answer is yes.

So we understand there is something of a discord between outcome and intention, now we have to answer the why. I attribute most of it to a simple misunderstanding of how people use social media.

Strictly wearing your author/writer hat, answer the following: Why did you start blogging? Why did you create a Facebook profile? Twitter? Goodreads? LinkedIN? 

If you're like many authors, you did it to get your name out there. To create an identity--a social reference point--for who you are as an artist. An advertisement for you, as it were. 

Yes, you also did it to network and connect with other writers. But when the truth serum jello shots come out, most of us will admit we did it primarily because it is widely recognized to be a necessary step toward becoming 'author'. 

Agents, writers and other book industry folks tell us it is expected, not recommended. So we listen and open up shop. Hoping all the while to amass enough attention to build that nebulous PLATFORM thing. I think most of us are on the same page here...

Now let's consider why real people (non-authors) join Goodreads, Facebook, etc. Readers do it to talk about books and authors they love. Families do it to stay connected with people they love. Friends do it to  to gossip about, spread political rhetoric to, and post questionable photos of people they know. (Note to self: get new friends.)  Basically, for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with author reasons.

I think a lot of authors simply fail to understand that most people don't use Twitter, Et al. to buy books. They use it to interact, to share and learn things about the world. Which leads me to ...


Great, we've spent years catching all of these followers and now we can't even tell 'em about the book we've (FINALLY) finished. Seems like a wasted opportunity, using these thousands (Dozens? Six?) of Facebook and Twitter contacts to share recipes and cat videos instead of spreading the word about our work, right? 

Yes and no. They probably aren't our followers because of the book/s we've published, and most certainly aren't following us for the book we told them we were going to publish six years ago that now lines the recycle bin. They follow us because we already know them, have interesting things to say, or they want to get to know us.

When it comes to social media, understand that your book is secondary, maybe even thirdary, (damn, another non-word!) to who YOU are. 

Does that mean you can't share good news? Absolutely not! When your book launches, you've got every reason in the world to celebrate and tell your followers. Have a blog tour and take that victory lap. If you get an epic, mega-awesome review, share it. 

Just don't share every review ... don't tell us six times a day that your book is available on Amazon ... make sure that blog tour doesn't extend beyond the six month birthday of your book ... don't alert us when you've lowered the price .15 cents ... well, you get it. 

"Like a gardner, I believe what goes down must come up." ~ Lynwood L. Giacomini

The key to effective promotion, I believe, is to let others do it for you. And, like farming, when promoting you should plant your seeds long before you expect to harvest. 

Start by asking: Contact followers privately, and respectfully ask if they'd be willing to help spread the word for whatever special event you're doing. (note: I did not say 'buy your book') Or better still, send out an open request for people to help and allow them to come to you. I ran a rare author/book promotion on my blog last week for two reasons: 1) The author asked for help on his blog, and 2) he is excellent at doing the next point.

Promote other authors without being asked: If you've read their book and enjoyed it, announce it to your followers as you would tell any friend about something you've enjoyed. Comment on the blog posts you love. Tweet that great blog post, even if you didn't write it (making sure you include the author in your tweet, etc.). 

You'll be shocked to see how others will work to promote you when you've done the same for them. 

Above all, remember: Suggestions and advice mean so much more when they come from someone you know well. Believe it or not, a friend telling me a book is great is worth so much more than actually having the person who wrote the book tell me it's great.

Though it sounds counter intuitive, spend your energy Online getting to know people, not promoting your work. With time, those people will come to know you--and by extension--the things that are important to you.




  1. This hit at exactly the right time. I am ALSO deeply annoyed with the spammer authors who announce and announce and announce. I guess I don't mind FB 'so and so reviewed' with a link, though if you are getting several reviews a day, it is probably overkill.

    I've been trying almost 3 years with this networking things, trying to help and pay it forward, but I have my very first effort where it's 'all about me' coming up (3 months to release date) and I think you've given me a definite feel for how I want to do this. I am in it for the long haul and need to pace myself. The blog tour... maybe twice a week rather than an intense month... the reviews... spread them out rather than pile them all together.... So thank you!

    1. You're very welcome, Hart! :) Again, I don't think it makes an author 'evil' for trying to flog their wares (someone has to); I just think it merits some consideration as to how it's done when it's clearly causing some folks to disconnect.

      Guess more than anything for me, it isn't so much annoying as it is a wasted effort. I'm not on Twitter, etc. enough to be distracted by it. I do, however, ignore most of it.

  2. I think there is more to every writer than their book or books. Hopefully they want readers to know them on many levels and that's why they blog.

  3. Excellent points, EJ! (And hope I was the one who did that one part right.)
    We come here for the platform, but it only works if we're here for more. It only works if we are genuine and give back.
    A celebration is more fun when we can all celebrate together.

  4. Wow.

    (1) because I can't believe you haven't had a comment as yet.
    (2) beacuse that was a mouth full. You just should have said "enough already"!

    I belong to something like 3 author's groups on facebook (to tweet would take me forever, so I don't do it all that much). I occasionally put a link to my blog, and varey I'm not there to try and shove my book down people's throats (which is why I think I was added to the groups to begin with because that's what they want, us to read/buy their books)

    I had to quit two groups because either it was all about tweeting exactly the stuff this post was about. An another one was just more of the same, and it had the same people in just about every other group I was in--and they share the same thing in all of them.

    Now, I've got to say that I've met some great people through these groups. Even had some publishing contacts through them. So, this was a positive.

    But I'm with you when I go to f.b. and see all these people who posted--and it's aways about their book, or some sort of promo. One lady wanted everyone to go to Amazon to "like" her book--whether or not they even read it. I thought "No way!" I ;mean it might not be such a great book. I don't "like" something if someone just asks me to. I'll check it out first and do so.

    So, EJ, I still "wuv" you. I think you had a good point. I liked the hyena thing (I will now have a visual for all those who do such promos, now, thank you)

    I have my own groups, and one is not to promote anythng but our forest preserve and the people who come out and enjoy and do photography out there. (^;

  5. I totally agree.

    I can't bring myself to follow authors on Twitter who tweet self-promotion 90% of the time.

    I've enjoyed how Alex has done his promotion. Most of the time he's celebrating the good news of other writers, so when it came time to help him out on his book blog tour, it was a pleasure. He's done it the right way, I think. :)

  6. I follow a lot of writers on Twitter who have mastered the auto comment. I'm not kidding, every time I open my Twitter page there they are announcing again that their book is available. I get it, they have to advertise, but it's often overdone. People are much more open to the soft sell, I think, especially because choosing a novel is often kind of a personal thing based on an emotional response.

  7. Yes, it's truly a tightrope walk. As an author, you must have that platform-building online presence, but if you're lucky, you have your own private FB friends who might happen to spill over to your public sites.

    I've just joined twitter and I'm sure that some people are following me just to get their numbers up--who cares if we have anything in common. But those are the ones I don't usually follow back. I do enjoy the helpful links to writing sites, but what really makes my day is reading something truly original and deep, not a retweet.

  8. Great post and I really like that picture of the slap chop guy. Too funny.

  9. Great advice, dear E.J. You should really have a column somewhere.

  10. Like you said, self-promotion is necessary to a certain extent, particularly for the self-published authors. I haven't really seen an overload of self-promotion on most of the blogs I follow; the authors will mention their works more often as the publication date nears, but not that much. I have actually bought a couple books by fellow bloggers I've connected with because of the way they promoted their books. And I think that if you don't want to read all of their self-promoting Tweets or posts, just don't read them. It's like those chain letter e-mails that people often send; you don't have to read those e-mail. You can just delete them or ignore them. I read in an advice column that if something bothers you that much, just don't read it, especially because some people are going to keep doing it anyway.

  11. Wow! So very true. Sometimes less is more.

  12. You make many good points, EJ. Thank you for saying what you think!

  13. I admit I'm happiest as a blogger when I'm treating my blog as it should be - as an online journal. In other words, it's personal. I'm happiest as a Tweeter (okay, maybe no one is happy as a Tweeter...Tweeterer? Twitterer? Twit?) when I'm treating Twitter as it is: a massive cocktail party. I think if you're in it to connect with people on common ground, you're in it for the right reasons.

    Also: tertiary. And: hyenas always remind me of 80s hair band members. Tertiarily: fabulous post.

  14. I laughed out loud when I read: READ IT OR I'LL GNAW YOUR FACE OFF! But you make valid points. I hope many self-promoters read this.

  15. Very, very good points, EJ! This should be required reading for the self-promoters.

  16. Hey, Ej...

    You said a mouthful. I guess I am one of the rare bloggers. I actually did start my blog to meet other writers and learn from them. Using this to sell anything of mine never entered the picture.

    In my year of blogging I have met extraordinary people who have been kind beyond reason to me, let me, in turn to be kind to other writers. I do whatever I can to help aspire my blogger friends' dreams.

    I keep thing positive and honest at my blog and in doing so have great respect from my piers which is EXTREMELY important to me. When the time comes for my book to makes its debut, I know my friends will be there for me. I will NEVER ask anyone to purchase my book. As a matter of fact, several of my piers had asked to read my latest novel after reading an excerpt I had. I was thrilled to send it to them. The more people the read my work the happier I am.

    Now, I am not a self proclaimed zillionaire and I do hope to make money on my writing, but that will happen IN TIME ... the mantra for my blog. I am glad I stopped by here today. I need to drop by more often. You truly are an insightful person with a good heart.

  17. You said it in a nutshell. It really isn't about MY BOOK. It's about who we are as individuals... that's our brand. And it's been proven that consumers by authors, not necessarily stories all the time. Everyone wants a good story, but the more the authors are liked and respected, the more those stories that are just so-so will sell.
    I agree i get sick of the self-promotions and I am daunted by it to actually do it for myself. It feels so artificial, superficial, etc. Alas, it is the only way... we just have to figure out how to do it without being annoying. Hmmm.....

  18. Yes! Now can you tweet this entire post 140 characters at a time? Cause TWITTER NEEDS TO HEAR THIS!!

  19. I really do agree, although I'll admit I've gone a little overboard on the self-promo today. Tomorrow and the majority of the other days, I'll be quiet. I'm much more about promoting others and networking than self-promoting.

  20. There's a lot of truth in this post. I can think of quite a few people who are on my twitter feed that should go and read this. But they won't. They're too busy concerned with themselves that they don't pay attention to others.

  21. Every one needs to hear this, EJ! I think our brand is most definitely who we are. But to me it is darn hard figuring out how to get me out there without sounding like some FULL OF MYSELF JERK.

    I giggled when I read this: READ IT OR I'LL GNAW YOUR FACE OFF! Ahahahahahaha. But seriously, we do have an obligation to help our fellow authors. The ones like you say who are great at doing the self promotion. I will want bloggers in our corner of the blogging world to help me. Too many authors are concerned with self. Agreed. Twitter needs to HEAR this! *waving*

    I do a pair of cheap shoes I want you to look at...

  22. What an excellent post! (And entertaining, too!)
    The key to effective promotion, I believe, is to let others do it for you. True. I am happy to help out an author whose work I believe in, and I've found that others are happy to help me out too (yay!). Most writer-bloggers are really awesome when it comes to the 'promoting others' thing :-)

    PS - Saw your post above about the death in your family. Really sorry about that...


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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