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
- 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. [↩]