Self Promotion

How’s about that for a post title to put everyone off?

I’ve been hearing some complaints about writers who are too self promotery, who go on panels at cons waving their book around, saying,”Look at me! Look at me! I’m a published writer! Buy my book!” There are also complaints about certain writers’ blogs which only talk about their books and their latest publishing news with links that only lead to places that sell their books. As well as whinges about the folks who relentlessly campaign for awards.

Accusations of being too self promotery make me a bit jittery. Promoting your books is part of a writer’s job. If no one knows the book exists how is it going to sell? A writer should be out there lining up bookshop appearances, sending out postcards/business cards/tshoshkas of some kind. You should be attending cons/trade shows/schools/libraries or whatever will help get the word out about your work. It may not have that much effect (no one really knows how to get word of mouth going1), but it might, and besides, for your own peace of mind it helps to know that you’re doing something. No one cares how well your book does as much you what wrote it. Not your agent, your editor or your publicist. It seems mighty unfair to complain about a writer doing what they can to secure their livelihood.

I’m sensitive about such accusations because I was accused of it. My promotion of my first book (a non-fiction tome) at WisCon some years back got up some people’s noses. But it was WisCon: the feminist science fiction convention, the only place in the world where my book on, yes, feminist science fiction had a real shot at selling lots of copies. So I kind of overdid the whole “look at me! I have a book” thing. Yes, I did wave around my book on panels and trumpet its availability in the dealers’ room. I’m still sort of embarrassed, but also defensive about it. It was my first book! I was excited! And you know what? Every copy of the book sold out and my publisher was pleased with me. I was doing my job. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t done what I could to promote the book not as many copies would have sold.

On the other hand, I have seen writers relentlessly promoting themselves at various gatherings. (Hence my embarrassment when I think back on that WisCon.) Drowning out everyone else on their panels, continually using their own work as an example when it’s only tangentally relevant. On one occasion I was accosted by a writer at a party who interrupted my conversation with someone else to tell me all about his book, ply me with postcards of it, and information on how I could buy it. Not a good look.

Obviously a balance needs to be struck. Pissing people off is not actually very self promotery. Neither is being rude. (And really being polite should be the ground rule for all interactions.) But I wish the folks who complain about over-the-top self promotion would cut some slack to first- or second-time authors. You know, the way most of us make allowances for our friends with their brand new baby, who can’t shut up about it, and endlessly show you photos. Yes, it’s boring, but in most cases it will pass.

My third book is about to come out, but I’m too busy working on the fourth to put as much energy into promoting it as I did my first and second books. I’m no longer an enthusiastic first-time author. I’m dead proud of it and I’ll be doing signings and readings to promote it. But I will not be bouncing up and down, thrusting postcards into everyone’s hands, and talking it up at every opportunity. Been there, done that.

Do I not think this book is as good as my others? Magic Lessons is the best book I’ve published thus far. But I’m older and wiser and less energetic. I guess I’m well on my way to being a hardened old pro.

NYC, 12:12PM, 12 March 2006

  1. I’m convinced that the most useful thing you can do to promote your work is get copies into the hands of the opinion makers in your genre. The people who write the most read and discussed blogs, the librarians and booksellers who love to push their favourite titles. How to do that is a whole other question, but, obviously, writing the very best books you can is essential! Getting out and meeting said opinion makers comes in second. []


  1. tobias s buckell on #

    Hmm. I’m accused of being okay at this self promo thing, but you know, my goal is to never mention my work except for in the introduction or unless someone directly asks a question in which that has to be an answer, and you’ll never see the cover of my book sticking up in front of me on a panel. I think being interesting enough for people to think ‘he was interesting, lets go see if the dealer room has anything by him’ is the big goal.

    That being said on my blog I’m very much more ‘me me me’ author. That’s because it took some number of years for the book to come into being (writing, shopping, production process) and I want to talk about it, just a little bit more than most subjects, for the next couple months. I gave away chances to make extra money, have a social life, play video games, and watch TV over the last several years, I do hope everyone cuts me some slack in my enthuisasm…

  2. janet on #

    That reminds me — Matt just put up some new pictures of Baby Alice on her website. 🙂

    For the record, justine, i don’t remember you being offensively self-promoting at Wiscon that year. I think tobias is right, that being interesting on panels and making people want to hear/read what you have to say is the best advertising for your book (that’s how i first came to read this scott westerfeld fellow, in fact). but then it doesn’t do much good unless people know you’ve written a book, and where they can buy it.

    There is certainly a point when self-promotion becomes obnoxious, and I know it when I see it. But it also seems to me that some of the compaints about self- promotion arise from the romantic delusion that art and commerce are, or shouldn’t be, connected, and that there’s something gauche about actually trying to sell your book.

  3. Cheryl on #

    There is a certain amount of cultural difference here. Most US fans will happily put up with a certain level of self-promotion because they recognize that writing is a business, and doing well in business is an American thing to do. British fans, on the other hand, are liable to react very badly to even the slightest amount of self-promotion. Indeed, I was assured by some British fans (who had never visited America) that last year’s British Worldcon was “better” than an American Worldcon because “everyone knows” that all that ever happens at US conventions is that the people on panel endlessly hype their own books.

    As for “opinion makers”, it depends who and where any why. I like to think that my review of Crystal Rain was helpful to Tobias. I suspect that my review of Magic or Madness was less useful to you because my readers are less likely to buy YA books. I suspect that a mention by Cory, or by Neil Gaiman, is way more valuable than a mention by me. And if you get to selling the quantities that Trudi is selling in the UK then anything I, or even Cory, says is probably completely irrelevant.

  4. Jeff VanderMeer on #


    You do a great job of mentioning every possible PR stumble an author can make. All of that is horrible and should make any self-respecting person blush if they do it.

    At the same time, when you do have a first book out and you’re proud of it, the things you mention doing are perfectly acceptable. It’s not your approach all the time 24/7, like it is with some people. (I was horrified when I entered the place I get my bagel in the morning and the person taking my order asked about my book. I’m not in “PR mode” in my private life and I don’t want to be. Even a simple, harmless question made me almost physically shudder.)

    I’ve been grappling with this whole self-promotion idea for awhile and finally in the last year or so decided if I was going to do self-promotion, I was going to make it ever-more creative self-promotion. For upcoming books I’m making tie-in movies, creatively different websites, etc. Stuff that extends me creatively. Not as much as writing fiction, but definitely to some extent–branching into different media.

    That way I feel like I’m still making art when I’m doing promotion. And it’s a lot more fun.

    The other thing about constant self-promotion is that it drains you and it can dissolve the separation between the public you and the private you that needs to write. In the worst cases, it seeps into the writing itself.

    But, on the other hand, like you say, we’ve got to get out there are sell our books. Unless you can hire a publicist–and to hire a good one you have to spend thousands of dollars–you’re stuck doing a lot of this stuff yourself. And then sometimes castigated for doing it.

    Not only that, but I’ve found the PR and marketing people at major publishers really appreciate it when the writer is proactive and that makes them more proactive as well.

    So there’s all kinds of audiences you’re doing the promotion for–not just for readers but also to help energize your publishers, etc.

    The funniest thing to me recently has been a couple of people more or less intimating that I’ve sold out just because my PR has been effective. I *have* to do a lot of PR because my stuff is really weird and on some level uncommercial! LOL!

    I think also that it’s more unrelenting from the inside looking out. Like, a lot of readers don’t see the wires and gears of PR, whereas the people who go to World Fantasy or other cons tend to not just be readers but industry professionals who not only see the final outcome of PR but also see it from the inside out–and it’s more likely those people will throw up their hands or raise their eyebrows at what’s seen as systemic self-promotion.

    The other thing is–I *love* meeting people online and in person, and doing PR, doing readings, doing all that stuff, you meet lots and lots of really cool people.

    But I am looking forward to 2007, when I won’t have any PR to do and I can just write…

    Anyway, great post.

  5. Diana Peterfreund on #

    To me, the difference between aggressive self promotion and annoying self promotion is a matter of percentages. People who pop up on blogs or mailing lists only when their book comes out, and only speak about their book coming out? annoying. People who pop up at various times and speak on various subjects, and then, when their book comes out they’re all over their book? aggressive promotion. totally okay.

    I don’t think anything is wrong with writers who discuss various storytelling topics in terms of their own books because that’s their experience! how else would they couch it? (though, admittedly, it was something i was concerned about when I posted about writing sequels on romancing the blog yesterday. but i was writing a sequel, which is why i cared.)

    a few months ago, there was a lot of talk about a cross promotional activity wherein the group members would each publicize friend’s books on their blogs. great idea, right? the problem was, that member x had an active and interesting blog, upon which she posted a variety of traffic-friendly blogposts, while member Z never posted at all, except to post the publicity information for the books of the other members. no one went to z’s blog because it had no original content, and it wasn’t fair to x, since she was doing great promo for z, and wasn’t going to see a return when it was time to promote her own book. Well, that started a storm, because then member y said that her blog was much better visited than x’s, and she was promoting x’s work, but wouldn’t be getting equal returns either, and x was saying that wasn’t the point, the actual traffic numbers, but the point was, if you had some original content on your blog, people would go there. if not, if *all* you had were the same tours that everyone else did, then no one would visit.

    Must admit, I agreed with x. traffic levels differ, but the point was all the members of the group were supposed to have a blog, not just a place to vomit up press releases in return for free promo.

    But your own blog? Yeah, I talk the hell out of my book there. it’s my blog. I assume people are coming because they are interested in what I write.

  6. Gabe on #

    My biggest problem with self promotion is that it makes me feel like some kind of county fair huckster.

    Having many family members that were used car salesmen has left me with a bad taste in my mouth in that regard.

  7. Ben Payne on #

    I agree about cutting people some slack… especially newbies whose hearts are probably in the right place…

    fwiw, I think the key to self-promotion is that if you do it with a little humility and self-deprecation and humour it’s a lot more effective than if you take yourself too seriously… but that could just be me…

    I guess I’m not drawn to authors who seem not to doubt their brilliance… some people dig that kind of self-confidence, but to me it doesn’t seem like someone i want to read…

  8. Scott W on #

    Mostly writers are commenting on this, and I wonder if it would be different otherwise. To extend Justine’s conceit, I think we writers are just like parents, in that parents are far more willing to listen to other parents blather on about their kids than non-parents.

    We’re all, like, “Oh, yeah. I know exactly what you mean, my little Peeps is brilliant at tying his shoes too!”

    And the non-parents are a bit more, “Kill me now.”

    It’s not just because any of us are being obnoxious at that moment, but because of the cummulative effect of every diaper story they’ve ever had to sit through. There’s such a disproportionate amount of writers in the blogsphere, the novelty that defends us in normal life just isn’t there.

    That’s why I limit myself to two months of blogging per book. (And then write four books a year. Hah!)

  9. Frank Wu on #

    I find this discussion about self-promotion fascinating, which is perhaps why conventions keep asking me to be on panels specifically about self-promotion. Of course, for artists it’s a little different than for writers. But… at one panel on self-promotion at a worldcon, there was a lull in the conversation, and someone, barely stifling a yawn, said, anybody else have any ideas about self-promotion? At which point I stood up and screamed “Temporary tattoos!” and then threw – literally threw – into the audience dozens of packets of temporary tattoos, causing instantaneous pandemonium at the panel for about 5 min. That was glorious. I can’t count any sales I got directly from that incident – but it was fun and that’s the key.

    I think the difference, though, with self-promoting art v. self-promoting a book is that with art you give someone something that they might actually use – a postcard, a button, a tattoo – and them using/wearing that, is an end to itself (the receiver becomes your own personal mini-sandwich-board wearer). (It would feel weird getting a card or postcard from a pal with a book cover on it – no matter how beautiful, but not weird getting a similar card with the same beautiful art but without the words – isn’t that odd?) With writing, there is an implicit follow-on: I’m giving you this postcard, please buy my book. With art (at least in my world), the follow-on is more this: I like my art, I hope you do, too, enjoy this postcard/button/tattoo and, if you really want, buy my art in the art show. I see self-promotion more as a way to build good will than to build sales (and eventually it will help – good will/being liked leads to people voting for you for stuff, which leads to better commissions, which leads to more sales, etc.). I see self-promotion as a way of sharing my stuff and my enthusiasm for my own work (is that bad? really?) and, well, my enthusiasm for Life in general, rather than a direct link to making more sales.

    I think another aspect of this, which Jeff touched on, is that part of it is a personality thing. A lot of us (even me, yes me) are deep down inside, kinda shy and, well, quietly insecure. So it’s a hard thing to promote yourself. For me, in some ways, I use art to hide behind – instead of talking about me (I don’t find myself particularly interesting or worth talking about), but when the conversation comes to me, I can say, hey, look at that painting (pointing at mine), which is a slightly more sophisticated way of saying “Wow! Look! Puppies!” to distract attention away from myself. If I can point at one of my paintings, then I don’t have to talk about myself.

    Frank Wu

  10. Justine on #

    Thanks so much for all these smart comments!

    Tobias: My problem at that WisCon is that my book was directly relevant to most of the panels I was on. It was really hard not to mention it! You have my permission to go totally overboard in promoting your very first novel! Congratulations!

    Janet: Yeah, but you’re a friend. The people who complained were neither my friends nor fellow writers prepared to cut a first-timer some slack.

    Cheryl: There are cultural differences and not just between different nationalities—there’s also the fundamental difference between the way a fan approachs a con and the way a pro does. For a pro there’s always at least a tiny way in which a con is business (if only because it’s tax deductable), for a fan it’s just fun. One of the people who complained about me was complaining that I was ruining her con by making it too pro oriented. “Cons,” she insisted, “are not about selling books, they’re about friends getting together.” Well, actually they’re about both. And therein lies the rub. Disclaimer: Not all fans have this attitude, not all pros neither.

    Jeff: Well, I didn’t mention the obvious: you can’t please all the peoples all the time. I’m so with you about the loving meeting people. I know it’s kind of the done thing to bitch about pr, but I adore doing school, library, bookshop appearances. It’s a lot of fun and as you say you meet the coolest people.

  11. veejane on #

    I’ll state upfront that I go to cons in part to find new people, and only once I’ve met the person do I register that person has a book in print I might read. So, yeah. Being an interesting, polite person right in front of me saying hello is the best advertising there is.

    The tension of “you self-promote too much” would seem, in my experience, to be much more of an interpersonal/intercultural *skill* issue than a style or ethics issue. It’s not very hard to witness the dorky enthusiasm of the newbie, and label it with cynical ennui. (I do it all the time! Sometimes, I think that’s what the internet is for!)

    Similarly, I’ve seen plenty of authors who are working really hard to promote their books politely, but are just doing it in an awkward, intrusive way that makes me squirm. Other authors, who are more skilled or are naturals or have a lot of experience at it, do it so seamlessly I don’t even notice that self-promotion is happening.

  12. Justine on #

    Diana: Seems to me that your example falls squarely into the be polite, follow the rules paradigm. That “blogger” is just being rude and flouting the fairly clear rules of the exchange. It’s like a barter system where they’re trying to exhchange rotten turnips for fresh heirloom tomatoes. Not nice!

    Gabe: I think people should only self promote in ways that make them comfortable. Some people just can’t do it at all. But having a blog where they talk about this, that and the other with a very occasional mention of their own work can be very effective self-promotion and is relatively painless.

    Ben Payne: of course, some people think they are promoting with humility while the folks watching them are gagging in horror at their hubris. Tragically, it’s almost impossible to know how you’re coming across to other people. Mostly because you’re coming across differently to different people. Sigh.

    Scott W: Very good point. It’d be lovely to hear from some more people who don’t have to self promote as part of their job. I can imagine how tedious it gets at cons hearing everyone crap on about their latest book. Actually I can because I am frequently bored by it, too.

    Very funny on the eight months of promoting your books on your blog. You do know that it’s blogs like yours that give the rest of us a bad name!

  13. Anghara on #

    This part of the writing game I REALLY suck at – well, this and writing synopses (ask my editors, they tend to pull their hair out when my name and the S word are mentioned in the same sentence). But that thing you said – how will anyone know about your book if you don’t tell them – is seminal – I guess there are writers lucky enough to be friends with Neil Gaiman, and then your book starts out with a good spin and winds up winning practically every award on the circuit – I don’t know how good “Jonathan Strange” really is because I bought the book a long LONG time ago and have still to psych myself into starting it although I’ve heard Susanna Clarke read and I have no reason to suppose that she is in any way shape or form your actual BAD writer or a book one of those “What were they thinking” things. But the point is, she didn’t HAVE to wave the thing around herself. When you reach the stage of being interviewed by the Guardian, things rather take care of themsselves.

    If I’m on a panel at a con, I’ll have a copy or two of my published work with me. It helps to establish who you are. But I won’t be telling anyone in the audience that they can pick up a list of bookstores or dealers where they can purchase said works on a chair at teh back of the room as they leave the panel. I would hope that my contribution *to the panel* might have made a few of them interested enough to check it out – but I won’t be hounding anybody.

    I am, however, happy to talk about it with anyone, any time [grin} Hardened old pro or not, I am STILL excited by the idea of having written a book, of having it around looking like an actual book, of having people reading it, of having people tell me what they thought about it when they’d read it. THAT is part of the joy of it all. Writing is a very solitary process, and it’s this interaction with your, you know, actual ptoential readers that makes the whole thing come alive.

    I’d say, if whatever you (rhetorical you!) are doing is making you uncomfortable, stop doing it – but anything up to that line, go do. There is often nobody else who will do it for you. You don’t have to be obnoxious to be visible…

  14. Justine on #

    Frank Wu: What you describe sounds like a tonne of fun. What am i saying? I’ve seen you do it—tis fun! My general rule with self promtion is that when it’s stops being fun is when I stop.

    I think part of what took me aback with the neg response to my first acts of self promtion is that I’d been having a ball. I was having such fun and getting what seemed like a great response that it was a shock to discover that I’d offended and appalled some folks. (Though, being a loud-mouthed Aussie girl not my first experience of such!)

    Veejane: Ah, seamless self promotion is what we all aspire to!

    I’m like you and if I find a person charming and interesting I’m much more likely to seek out their book, which is pretty unfair really. There are some truly fabulous writers out there who are totally obnoxious in real life. And some dreadful writers who are as charming as hell . . .

    Anghara: One of the industry’s great ironies. If your book is going great that’s when your publisher starts pouring money into promoting you, not beforehand. Sigh. (Susanna Clarke, by the way, is a wonderful writer.)

    So you like being on panels and talking to people—then what part of self promotion do you suck at?

  15. John H on #

    I think it depends on the context – you shouldn’t have to be told not to pimp your book in church or at a funeral, etc.

    But if you’re at a book fair or literary convention, have at it. Even during panel discussions – one might assume that the author was chosen for that panel for their insights on that particular topic, so pimp away.

    And as far as using your own website to promote your new book – it’s your website, and if people don’t want to read about your new book they can find somewhere else to visit.

    My non-author’s two cents…

  16. Perry Middlemiss on #

    for what it’s worth I think you’re doing a pretty good job on this weblog. it’s a balancing act to be sure. you promote and talk about your books here as well as commenting on a lot of other topics, and i haven’t felt put-upon in the least. other authors use their blogs solely to promote their own work, and that is also quite reasonable.

    the question arises: why would anyone go to an author’s website/weblog if not to find out about the author’s work? if they don’t like it they don’t have to read it.

    i’ve seen the in-your-face author type on panels at conventions and tend to find it amusing. on the other hand, face-to-face it’s tedious and impolite and tends to put me off that author’s work entirely – “i’m drinking here!” don’t get between me and my glass.

    most convention committees would be quite happy to receive a request for a program time-slot for a reading/q-a from a new author. you can get a lot of promotion done in 45 minutes if you’re the only one on stage.

  17. Vera Nazarian on #


    Thank you for a wonderful post regarding this touchy subject. I am one of those people who is considered pathetic by many because I actually engage in self-promotion. (At least I used to — these days I am too weary and ill to do much of it on behalf of my most recent and upcoming books.)

    Well, let me just say one thing to all of the people who think it is pathetic and demeaning and unacceptable — you try walking in my shoes.

    When you are with a small press, have no publisher support whatsoever and your first books are POD when POD was still in its earliest crappiest infancy stages (and most expensive too, not to mention unavailable in bookstores), what can you do, but fight with tooth and claw, with your last breath, for the work that is your only child?

    Let me tell you a pathetic pitiful, disgusting sob story. And I don’t really care how low this comes across. You can all despise me even more, folks…. 🙂

    When my first novel, Dreams of the Compass Rose came out, it was the first original fantasy hardcover from my publisher, who was just testing the waters of releasing new authors, and hadn’t gotten their act together yet. So, my situation was a sort of a guinea pig.

    No review copies went out.

    No one did anything for it. NOTHING. The resounding sound of silence.

    The POD edition was so expensive that I could not afford to buy my own book. So I got a cheap manual velobinder machine, and printed double–sided copies on a dinky old printer (wasting money and toner on half of the pages getting ruined by paper jams), then HAND-stapled them and bound them with my carpal-tunnel agony-ridden hands, staying up late nights — we are talking several dozen copies at least, at about 350 pages each — and mailed them out on my own dime to reviewers, most of which naturally ignored it.

    At that time I was also laid off, and was about to declare bankruptcy. I had no significant other to help me with this, no time off from the new insane night shift job just to make ends meet, no other source of income except the tiny drip-drip of writing income and old parents who had to be cared after and spoke no English and lived with me.

    I did what I could. I did everything you can image that is self-promotion.

    I begged people, begged bookstores to take my book on commission (and endured their derision and in most cases absolute refusal) handed out fliers, sat at comvention panels and put up my books just like everyone else around me did, made loud, manic, cracking observations in public, waved my book around, hand-made promo pencils (HAND-made!) sold a pitiful number of copies out of my bag and at autographing sessions.

    I took my only vacation and sick days from work to attend conventions and do promotion. I used the money for food to pay for paper and toner. My other writing time itself was small and “interstitial” during lunch breaks and deep into the night.

    My health went. My energy disappeared, sucked away with the regime of 4 hours of sleep a night, for many years.

    Let me also admit that by nature I am a quiet and reserved person. Hah! Yes, don’t laugh. I do not enjoy the persona I had to put on to do the promotion. It drains and kills me.

    I was desperate.

    And even so, my book sank like a stone.

    I was never one of the “cool kids” whose book was touted and mentioned on blogs, who was talked about and sought after by agents and publishers.

    I mean, have you heard of it? Have you read it? For that matter, have many (or any?) of you read any of my work?

    What does a person do to tell the world about the one thing they care about (in this case it was my written works) and they have nothing else to live for?

    And if no one else will do it for them, if all you get are obstacles in your way, what is so wrong for a person to do their utmost to promote their work? WHAT ELSE CAN ONE DO?

    Yeah, I am pathetic. But I am also relentless. And I do and will continue to support all my fellow writers 1,000% in their efforts to self-promote their own work.

    You try and walk in our shoes.

  18. punkrocker1991 on #

    Well, for a start you could send all your books to the world’s premiere review webzine, TiconderogaOnline 😉

    But seriously, when it comes to self promotion I’ve unfortunately got too much English stock in me, and find myself frequently apologising for being recognised for doing good work. Some days I hate talking about what I do, and would rather people go and read it and work it out for themselves. Check out what I do and judge me on that, not how well I talk about it or promote it. Life is full of self-promotion opportunities — job interviews springing to mind. I ain’t so good at job interviews either, but I’m good at getting the job done.

  19. punkrocker1991 on #

    P.s. on a side note, if there’s work that other people have done that is impressive, I’ll sing about it ’til those proverbial cows come home. I’m big on promoting other people, just not myself.

  20. anghara on #

    Panels, fine. Talking to people, fine. But anything “cold” – not fine, not fine at all. I make an effort at places like cons and put on my “social” hat, for as long and as much as I can, and I DO go to the parties and I DO talk to people but it also helps at those times to know that I am surrounded by my “ilk”, people with at least broadly similar interests to mine, and that I won’t be a total dweeb if I accidentally quote Babylon 5 in public. Anything like actually going into unfamiliar bookstores and asking for a relevant person and pitching my book to that person – well – it isn’t pretty and I tend to stand there and alternately turn pale and bright red like a demnented candy cane, and I’ve been known to come across as relatively incoherent – it’s fine once I make an initial contact and I can actually rely on at least SOME recognition – but GAWD, tryng to find people to review your book if nobody seems to be interested, phoning journalists and book editors and starting sentences with things like, “Hi, my name is [insert your name] and I’m a local writer and I’ve got a new book out…” I cringe and wince and fold up into as small a space as I can trying to disappear…

    And, Vera….? You are known out there. By Name. People like Charles de Lint and Patrick Nielsen Hayden invite you for guest singing spots at their impromptu convention concerts (yeah, I was in the audience at the WOrld Fantasy Con at Tempe). *I* know your name. And where there is one, there are others. Be comforted – it’s a long hard road but you have friends on it.

  21. scott w on #

    Every first novelist should rent Isn’t She Great with Bette Midler. It’s about the somewhat fabulous self-promotional tactics that sent Jacqueline Susann’s VALLEY OF THE DOLLS to the top of the charts.

    Then you won’t feel so bad about your own.

  22. Stephanie Burgis on #

    I think it all comes down to relevance and style…I was thinking about this a lot at the Glasgow WorldCon, because I’m trying to learn how to talk about my own writing in public without gagging or passing out from nerves, and I saw so many good examples along with so many outright horror stories. On a panel, or in a party conversation, it can be fascinating to hear about an author’s experience with writing/selling their novel if it relates to the topic at hand, and if it’s told gracefully. (In fact, I often ended up making mental notes, even as the conversation veered off in different directions: Must look out for that novel in the Dealer’s Room tomorrow!) But I also met authors who would cut into other people’s conversations or topics to ruthlessly switch the topic to How Great!!!! their own novel is, or How Much Everybody Else In The World Loves their novel, or How The Famous Editor Got Down On Their Knees Raving over their latest novel or short story…and that just comes off as obnoxious (especially to other writers).

    I asked one person (who’s a very nice guy and very shy about his work) about how his writing was going, and another woman in the group interrupted him after his first line to tell me how five different editors have all said she’s their favorite author right now and she can get published even when she just whips out a story without thinking about it…Bad. Very bad. But I had a really nice time talking to Freda Warrington at a party, and when she mentioned something about one of her novels that related to what we were talking about, I thought: Ooh! Must read that. And then the conversation moved on to other topics, but I bought her novel the next day, and felt even better about buying it (besides the fact that it was a good book) because she was such a nice person and I was happy to be supporting her even in just a tiny way.

  23. Cheryl on #

    A lot of this is also tied up with people’s purist notions of what makes a “good book”. People like to believe that books and authors only win awards on the basis of quality. If you dare to suggest that someone won a popular vote award in part becuase they spend a lot of time on LiveJournal, going to conventions and generally being highly personable some people will get very angry with you. There’s an idea that books can only be good or hyped, never both, and that if an author is seen promoting a book then that must mean it isn’t any good because if it was good then it would not need promoting.

    It is all romantic nonsense, of course, but people get very attached to it.

  24. Richard B. on #

    I suspect that Potter Stewart’s quote “I know it when I see it” applies when attempting to find the line where self-promotion goes too far. And I think you hit the main node, Justine, when you said “Pissing people off is not actually very self promotery.” People who come off like crazed egotists and pompous boobies (whether they’re well-known writers or struggling unknowns) don’t get my precious book-buying dollars.

    Push it far enough and relentless self-promotion just becomes spam: it imposes a cost (of time and attention, which is a real cost) on folks who aren’t the audience for the product in question. Which again goes back to your mention of relevance, and the different expectations we have in different real-world and cyberspace settings.

    And yeah, I’ve met artistes who don’t want to sully their hands in commerce, who think that that should be Someone Else’s Job. Those folks are foolish too, but not nearly as annoying as people who can’t shut up, to the exclusion of all else, about their latest creation.

  25. Chris S. on #

    It *is* a tough job, self-promotion. Not only is the promotion itself tough, but the line between ‘invisible’ and ‘annoying braggart’ can be both thin and slippery.

    Truth is, for a new writer*, ‘invisible’ is the more serious problem. If people don’t know your book is out there, they can’t buy it. But trumpeting the name of your book at every opportunity isn’t the best way to raise your visibility: being interesting is. To continue the simile started above, the best way to help your child become a good person is not to lecture her on how to be good, but to try to *be* a good person yourself.

    The internet is even more key to this than conventions. It’s your own space, so no one can complain how you decorate. Heck, we’re there in the first place because we want to know about you and your books. The more interesting the site/blog, the more often we’ll come back. If a site/blog becomes a self-promotional monologue, well, maybe it’s time to see who John Scalzi is skewering today.

    On a practical note, it’s always a good idea to target booksellers. And I do mean target, as in ‘aim with care’. As a specialty bookseller, I’m irritated to receive promo for books way outside my specialty. But an attractive postcard with cover art, some smart copy, and a web address will get at least a few minutes of my attention. And those few minutes can make a difference in how many copies I order, and how many customers I hand it to.

    ARCs can be very effective, too. Recently, I got an ARC for Naomi Novik’s HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON (aka TEMERAIRE). After reading it, I doubled my original order, and have been talking it up to customers ever since. Anticipation builds buzz; buzz builds sales.

    I agree with everyone upthread who said that first-timers should be given a little slack to go overboard. C’mon – everyone deserves to be excited about something that cool.

    *self-promotion pertains mostly to new and low-to-midlist writers: when you’re Susanna Clarke, your main worry is surviving the 18 month book tour, which is a whole ‘nother problem

  26. Ben Payne on #

    Cheryl: I’m a romantic in the sense that I think a book can/should succeed on the basis of quality (not as an objective value but its connections to various readers), which doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be promoted too… so that those connections can be made…

    Justine: I’ve seen authors at cons who talk about their own work, but who do it with such infectious entusiasm that it’s hard not to be drawn in… of course it helps if such authors are intelligent and funny.

    I can’t imagine you self-promoting badly… you always seem to conduct yourself with style and wit… but hey, you can’t please everyone… you’re always gonna rub *someone* up the wrong way… *shrug*… they’ll deal…

  27. Justine on #

    Perry: Thank you! I’ll admit that I started the blog with cold hard self-promotery motives, but turns out it’s dead fun and that I enjoy the comments part most of all. Dialogues like this are fabulous. I mean I know what I think . . . it’s hearing from others that’s the really cool bit.

    Vera: It does suck. Cold calling is the worst, especially without the backup of a known brand name publisher. You’re not even slightly pathetic you’re brave and determined.

    Punkrocker1991: Got that everyone? Send books to TiconderogaOnline!

    Anghara: I don’t know anyone who likes cold calling. I hates it! Well, except this one time when me and Scott and Holly Black and Cassandra Claire and Theo Black did it as a mob. Suddenly it was fun. And mostly because I would talk about Holly’s books, Scott would talk about mine, and Holly about Scott’s. But normally uggh. I detailed a yukky cold call experience in my post on Writer Humiliations. And, of course, cold calling is at the heart of Vera Nazarian’s experiences.

    Scott W: I love that movie! And Jacquelin Susann. I’d love to hire her to promote me. Or, you know, Bette Midler . . . who has the advantage of still being alive!

    Stephanie: If a writer hasn’t learned basic manners then, yeah, they’re attempts at self promotion ain’t going to be pretty. I am starting to notice that some of the egregious folks aren’t actually naturally bombastic. They’re doing what they think they should be doing and buggering it up because they’re not naturally outgoing. Best to find the kind of promoting that suits your personality. Course figuring that out ain’t easy.

    Cheryl: Really? People still believe that? Huh. Some very fine under the radar books make it onto shortlists of (popularly voted) awards but only if they’re out there being read can they possibly win. And their chances of being read are greatly increased by all the things you mention. Why is that hard to understand?

    Richard B: Cause, of course, the difference between the spammers and the non-hand-sulliers is that the spammers affect us and the too-good-for-commerce folks don’t. They’re just buggering themselves up.

    Chris S: And that’s exactly why—as much as I can—I try to get ARCs into the hands of all the best booksellers. Preferably by hand. Plus hanging out with booksellers is fun, once you get past the dreaded cold calling part.

    I used to think that I longed for the 18-month book tour problem, but now I’ve seen some friends go through it. Uggh. I’ve never seen writers so unhappy. By the end of the tour they haven’t written in months, seen their family anywhere near as much as they’d like, or eaten healthy food, or gotten any exercise. But it’s the not writing that kills them.

    Ben Payne: Oh sure the best should out. But I’ve seen too many amazing books fall between the cracks. Or worse still not get published in the first place for me to truly believe that quality will out. And (as we discussed at the Aurealis Awards) opinions sure do vary on what quality is!

    Well, thank you. I’ve had a bunch of folks write me to say that I was charming at that WisCon. (Though all friends and they would say that, wouldn’t they?) But I did piss some people off and it’s good to think about why and how to avoid that in future. And yet, as you say, there’s really no way to please all the peoples all the time.

  28. scott w on #

    your last line, Justine, reminds me of something i’ve told many a creative writing class about subtlety: There’s no exactly right amount.

    In other words, the same clue that’s too subtle for some of your readers will invariably be too obvious for others, and vice versa. So you’re always at least a little bit screwed. The only two things you simply mustn’t do are:
    (a) worry only about being too obvious, because then you’ll be too subtle for practically everyone, and
    (b) worry only about being too subtle, because then you’ll be too obvious for practically everyone.

    And of course the correct balance is what you’re comfortable with, and not some platonic ideal. The same more or less goes for self-promotion.

    Of course, all the people I think are obnoxious seem to sell a lot of books . . .

  29. Justine on #

    Exactly so, Mr Westerfeld, exactly so.

    Of course, all the people I think are obnoxious seem to sell a lot of books . . .

    Whereas they prolly think they have reached that happy place of doing the amount of self promotion that they’re happy with. Which just proves your point.

  30. Ellen Kushner on #

    Thanks for creating this discussion here! My contribution: some people are charming, and some are offputting and lack certain basic social skills (like, don’t interrupt someone else’s conversation to pitch your new title) . . . If all are doing their best to get the word out, guess which ones are going to offend less often?

    As for people getting shirty about you waving your first book around when it first comes out – sheesh! What killjoys! Are we all supposed to just sit on it? Should first novelists maintain a dignified silence? What a waste of pure joy. You offended types – go kick a puppy, why dontcha? or wear black to a wedding and refuse to get up and dance or eat any cake… I say, Go out and be glad! And invite others to join you there!

  31. Justine on #

    Ellen: Hello and welcome! And, of course, what offputs (can you say that?) some people charms others. I’ve heard people bitching about the outrageous self promoting of person x, and yet I think person x is a hoot, and can’t understand their annoyance. And vice versa. As you say tis an imprecise art.

    I think we’re all agreed about the slack for first-time novelists. Perhaps we should make them badges or temp tattoos to wear that loudly proclaims said firstnovelness? That way everyone would know to be kind.

  32. michelle on #

    I’m still trying to promote my stuff to editors/agents, but I’m thinking some of the same rules apply. Especially “be polite”. 🙂

    I’m prone to interupting people. This is because this is the conversational style I was raised with, and so is a deeply ingrained pattern and hard to set aside. My whole family does it, and don’t consider it at all impolite or offensive. Having discovered that it makes many people outside my family uncomfortable, I do *try* to remember not to… although what usually happens instead is that I interupt, catch myself a little way in, and say “sorry, please continue what you were saying about… ” This astounds many people who consider interupting a sign of inattention or disrespect; they are expecting neither the apology or the fact that I remember perfectly well what they had been saying.

    Based on what has been said above, I’m guessing this trait is going to be the number one most likely way for me to be percieved as being “too pushy”, and it’s kind of nice to know that at least its something I’ve already identified and am working on…. but just wait until first book excitement throws all of my good intentions completely out of my head. ::sigh:: I suspect I’m going to need that “free pass”.

    I have only ever once been offended by an author’s self promotion. This person went around bragging about how aggressively he was promoting his book, suggesting everyone should hire good looking girls to stand in convention hallways and push their books, like he did, and telling stories about how he bribed a pilot to do sky-writing for him. By the end of that weekend I knew nothing about the book itself other than that it was military science fiction, and I really wished that I could remember the title so that I would never pick it up by accident.

    I felt insulted that anyone would assume I would be dumb enough to buy a book I knew nothing about just because of a superficial and glitzy promotion campaign.

    I suspect that glitz would be much less offensive to me when it isn’t combined with superficiality. If the models he had hired were dressed up as characters *from* the book, for example, that would actually have been kind of cool.

  33. Ellen Kushner on #

    Michelle, I interrupt people all the time, too. Believe me, there is a big difference between a lively conversation with people stepping on each others’ lines through engaged enthusiasm, and someone hovering at your elbow waiting for a break so they can change the subject by showing you their new book. Don’t worry.

  34. tricia sullivan on #

    Whew! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Patrick’s comment. I have been flogging myself continually since this thread began because I have never engaged in much self-promotion, not because I don’t approve of it but because it isn’t part of my character. As some others have said earlier, I have no problem plugging other people’s work but shrink at the idea of plugging my own. And I do find that when I focus on the non-writing side of writing, I feel like I’m losing my sense of what I’m meant to be doing.

    Patrick, I’m interested in your take on this because you are an editor in the vanguard of the field, and yet the received wisdom seems to be (to my casual eye, anyway) that if a writer doesn’t self-promote, s/he can forget about getting anywhere. How do you find that supporting the writer’s ‘right to not self-promote’ plays out in practice?

    I was also struck by Vera Nazarian’s poignant description of her own hard efforts and their apparent futility. Another question might be, how effective is self-promotion? For that matter, how effective is official promotion? Word of mouth can’t be manufactured…can it?

  35. Ellen Kushner on #

    Patrick/Tricia – Would it were so! I heard a clip from Margaret Atwood this a.m. on BBC, saying, “Our generation invented the Book Tour, and now we are paying for it.”

  36. Patrick Nielsen Hayden on #

    Interesting discussion. My only quibble is with this: “Promoting your books is part of a writer’s job.” No it’s not.

    Writing is a writer’s job. The rest of it is optional and depends on your personality, aptitude, and energy.

    To claim that “promotion” is “part of a writer’s job” is to assert that shy people, disabled people, or people who are just plain constitutinally disinclined to self-promote have no business trying to be writers. And if this were actually the case, we’d lose some very valuable writing.

Comments are closed.