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I’ve been studying the self-promotional methods employed by some of the hundreds of writers I’ve encountered here on Live Journal, and at various conferences, writing/critique groups etc, with a view to finding out what works, what doesn’t and why.


Here’s a quick list of some of the unsuccessful methods used on me by other writers, or as I like to call it “Things to be filed under ‘D’ for 'Doesn't work':


#1 The “Because I said so” approach.

Being told, “I’ve a book out. You should buy it” (by someone I’d just said “hello” to a conference).


#2 The “You don’t know me, but I gave you a present, now buy my book” approach

This includes people who turn up to their first (and often last) writer’s group meeting armed with bookmarks, fridge magnets etc.


#3 The “Throw candy at them, that’ll do the trick” approach

Being told, “Catch!” as a promotional bookmark/postcard (with candy attached) is tossed to me from six feet away (after a writer’s group meeting, from a complete stranger).


#4 The “Leave a promo item on their chair” approach

Sitting down at a pre-conference lecture to find a piece of candy – it may have been a cookie – at my table, with the name and book title of one of the other attendee’s novels printed on the wrapper (at a conference, from someone I’d barely spoken to the previous year – everyone else got one too).


#5 The “Drive-by networking” approach

Seeing a message on a Yahoo Group or online community notice board from a new member, saying, “Hi, my book [insert title] got published. Check it out [insert web-address]”.


#6 The “Throw enough mud at a wall” approach

Getting a junk e-mail from someone I hardly know, telling me (and from the looks of it, every other person on their address list) about a book signing in another state. Sometimes, only my address is on the email, but the wording of the invitation makes it obvious it’s spam.


#7 The “Nice shoes, now buy my book” approach

Having someone butt into a conversation to tell me they liked my accent (which, incidentally, no-one ever comments on back in England), and then proceed to tell everyone around the table about their new book and why we’d love it, before moving on to ‘network’ at the next table (at a BEA conference).

# 8 The “If I wait long enough, maybe someone will ask me about my novel” approach

Not having the faintest idea that [insert author’s name here] has a book out. (I know several writers who haven’t told me they’ve got a book out – I assume they’re concerned about seeming pushy)


Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the people who tried the above methods are decent folks, and some of the approaches might even have worked if they’d focused more on something I like to call ‘The Writer’s Balance’.


“What the heck is Writer’s Balance?” you say.


Well, I’m glad you asked – otherwise this next bit would seem redundant. The Writer’s Balance is the ratio between self-publicity (letting people know where they can find you and their work) and self-promotion (making them give a dang).


In my opinion that should be one part self-publicity to ten parts self-promotion. This is excellent news for us writers because, if we can get the promotional bit right, we won’t have to take such an in-your-face approach to the publicity side of things. Case in point, I’ve just finished Jim Hines’s Goblin Quest. I doubt I’d have read it if I didn’t know and enjoy his blog.


Does that mean everyone will want to buy our books? Of course not. The most you should hope for from good self-promotion is to have someone pick your book off the shelf. After that, it’s down to the novel itself and that potential reader’s personal taste.


Next week on The Fine Art of Self-Promotion I want to take a look at the most underused and/or misused promotional tool at a writer’s disposal, online journals.


In the meantime, how about you?


Have you tried or encountered any of the above techniques? Did they work?


In what other unsuccessful ways have people tried to sell you their book?

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( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 19th, 2009 02:55 pm (UTC)
The distinction between publicity and promotion is an interesting one, thank you. I'm going to have to give that some thought...
Oct. 19th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I really doubt that. In my opinion, you have one of the best writer's blogs one the web :)
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 19th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
At the very least, you'll feel more comfortable about it, and like I say, the work has to sell itself, all good self-promotion can do is get people to take an interest.

Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 19th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
I know self publicity can be difficult and exhausting, but I'm with you here; I'm pretty much immune to it unless the author establishes some sort of rapport (whether an online identity, a nice conversation at a con, hearing about them through the industry grapevine). The best way to get me to consider something is to hear about it from a third party.

Or give me the book for free! ;)
Oct. 19th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
'... Or give me the book for free!...'

Hehehehe :)
Oct. 19th, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
I think the main problem a lot of writers have with self-promoting their work is they primarily promote it to other writers who have books of their own that they're trying to drum up interest in.

Here's a method of self-promotion I've used. Can't say how successful it's been but it also hasn't hurt and it's also a pretty nice way to meet people. It's by no means an original idea, a couple of writers I know told me this worked for them:

I go to Office Depot and print up a bunch of copies of the first chapter of whatever book I'm hyping, along with the cover and ordering information on the back cover and staple them up. Then I'll go to Barnes & Noble or local neighborhood bookstore and simply hand them out to the customers. Of course I ask permission before doing this but I've never had anybody at any of the stores I've been to say no. The manager usually just looks it over to make sure it's not pornographic or political and they say it's okay as long as I don't annoy the customers or cause a disruption.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that if you want readers to buy your book then you've got to reach out to the readers and not just other writers.
Oct. 19th, 2009 04:09 pm (UTC)
'...if you want readers to buy your book then you've got to reach out to the readers and not just other writers...'

For sure. 'Where to find readers' is a post in itself (I think it's number six or seven in the series)

Thanks for sharing :)

Do you get many sales from the giveaway chapters?
(no subject) - dferguson - Oct. 19th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
When I'm at a conference, and I get random promotional tid-bits, like bookmarks, or candy etc, it has very little impact on my decision to buy anything. What they tend to be good for in my opinion is: if I speak with that author, or hear them on a panel, and I like what they have to say, it will get filed in the back of my mind. Then, if I have that trinket, I might recall that person, and if the memory is good, I might consider it.

But if all I know of you is: hey here's some thing, go buy my book. Um. No. I've got a rather deep pool of authors whose work I actively enjoy, I don't *need* to add you, you random stranger. It goes double if it's someone whose only contact with me is a friend/add request on a blog or social network, and that's all they care to interact with me. Triple if you are J. Random Stranger who has self published. And quintuple if you are self published AND your only interaction with me is online and a bid to just try to get me to buy your stuff.

Oct. 19th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. For me, the key is the previous connection eg: as you say, if you heard them speak or chatted with them over the course of a few meetings. Even at a conference, unless I knew them already, I'd wait to get to know folks a little better first.
(no subject) - temporus - Oct. 19th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 20th, 2009 08:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 19th, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
I agree with what the distinction you make between book-publicity and self-promotion. Case in point: you just mentioned Jim Hines's Goblin Quest. If I were in a bookstore, I probably wouldn't pick up a book called Goblin Quest because it's not what I normally read. However, because I've been seeing Jim Hines's name from time to time on your blog, because I've followed links to his blog and have enjoyed what I read there, I'm suddenly interested in reading a book in a genre I don't normally follow. And no, the other promotional stunts wouldn't have worked--it was enjoying the personality that came through and the things he had to say that caught my attention, as well as good words from someone I respect.
Oct. 19th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
It's a good book too :)

Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 19th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
I despise self promotion...Meaning it is something I am not good at and hate doing...I mean...why am I more worthy than anyone else to be read, listened to, or products to buy? I can never believe that.
Oct. 19th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
Then I've got great news for you. Good self-promotion has almost nothing to do with trying to get someone to read your books or stories, and everything to do with having a sincere interest in other people :)
(no subject) - rowanda380 - Oct. 20th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 20th, 2009 10:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dferguson - Oct. 19th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 20th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rowanda380 - Oct. 20th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 19th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. It may be one part to ten, but self-publicity is still a vital element. I love the way authors get other writers to help promote their work. It's a win-win.

As for the conference speed-dating thing. Sad to say, there's always some jerk who tries to put one over on everyone else. The sad thing is, he/she probably thought they'd done something clever.

Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 19th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
I haven’t actually been face to face with many (any) novel writers, so I haven’t seen any of these techniques used. When books are promoted on journals and websites, I often click on the link to visit the book seller, to read a blurb, or better yet the first few pages or chapter, and then if I feel it is something I might enjoy, I’ll purchase it.

I think all these other methods you mention, I might find distracting.
Oct. 19th, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC)
They certainly didn't make me want to buy.

Thanks for the input :)
Oct. 19th, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC)
Nice accent. It comes through beautifully in your typing.

Seriously, I don't think I'd try these on complete strangers or even my flist here on LJ (family and friends, of course, will be attacked mercilessly). I currently have two books in the pipeline, and am hoping for support and suggestions from the publishers as to what they actually want authors to do (so far, the suggestions I've seen are more on the self-promotion side of things).

The fails you listed above give me the impression of self-publishing (shudder, shake, RUN AWAY!), even when they arent. I am annoyed by writers who pop in at forums to tell people they don't know (and who couldn't care less) that their book is out, and the rest of the methods seem equally abusive.
Oct. 19th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
The worst thing, to me at least, is that they don't work, so why bother?
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Oct. 19th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 20th, 2009 09:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Oct. 20th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Oct. 20th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bondo_ba - Oct. 20th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 20th, 2009 09:05 am (UTC)
I agree that self-promotion is necessary, I just think many authors go about it the wrong way. It's not the tools per se, but the misuse of them that caused the above failures.

I like the goodie bag with each sale idea :)

Oct. 19th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)
Pretty much nobody compliments me on my accent. Why is that?

I'm curious as to whether there any general wide-marketing strategies that you consider acceptable/effective - the candy/bookmark approaches in 2, 3 & 4 sound to me like a general marketing approach and not truly a targeted request to you - kind of like raising awareness that there's a book out there. Most writers I know wouldn't expect any of those approaches to generate actual sales, although they might expect them to promote interest/awareness.
Oct. 20th, 2009 09:17 am (UTC)
Ed (aka, Temporus) said it best in his earlier comment, "...folks get confused with their marketing. They concentrate so much on getting their bookmarks, coverslats, candies, etc, in people's hands, they mistake that task for the one they actually want to do. Sell their book..."

I think promotional materiels are a wonderful way to remind people of you and your book, but we want people folks to recall that nice writer they met at (say) a writing conference, as opposed to that guy who went around shoving bookmarks under peoples' hotel doors at three in the morning.

As for your accent, I'm sure it's delightful, but if you're interested, I hear Dick Van-Dyke has a "How to talk like Bert from Mary Poppins" training video online. I'll see if I can find you a link :)
Oct. 20th, 2009 04:47 am (UTC)
I dream of going to a writer's conference someday. I don't really want to put myself out there as a writer, but even if I want to get into editing I think it would be a great experience. It also sounds like an exciting event to me. I'm a bit of a nerd, I have gone out of my way to attend a few anime cons. But people I've seen at those are around my age and younger. So I don't feel like I'm standing out among a bunch of professionals (we're all just fans).

I haven't been able to go to a writer's conference yet. That's partly because I haven't put in the effort, I'm somewhat afraid of doing so, I'm also not sure how they work and I have school and such.

From what you posted here, which was very amusing and enlightening, it sounds almost dangerous to attend one of these. I don't know that I would mind the fliers, but the sudden conversation hijacking sound awful (and the throwing things...). For me, the best way to get to know about a books is by word of mouth: reviews, interviews, if I read their blog, and of course what other people refer me to.

Heh, I bet it gets old hearing about your accent. It's not a bad thing, a British accent sounds refined to American ears. I wanted to learn to speak with a British accent, because I think British people speak words more clearly. American accents are gross. Do British people like American accents or do they just sound Yankee?
Oct. 20th, 2009 09:56 am (UTC)
I love conferences. You meet great people and learn lots of new stuff about writing. Sure, some misguided authors try a little too hard to sell their work, but they're nice folks too.

As for accents, I like them all, though I do have my favorites - my native Geordie (which I've long since lost) and South Wales in particular.
Oct. 20th, 2009 09:00 am (UTC)
I don't mind doing all of the behind-the-scenes stuff (designing teaser posters and trailers, that kind of thing) but find it much harder to do the face-to-face "hey, look at my book" kind of thing. Probably because I'm not a big fan of it myself - nothing turns me off more (or makes me more embarrassed) than having somebody stand in front of me, with an armful of books, saying "hey, these are mine, they're only a tenner each".

My worst was at FantasyCon last year. I wanted to buy a collection by a friend, but the publisher table was outside of the main dealer room. A woman was manning the table, on her own, so I went over and picked up the book and engaged in small talk and she blurted out that she was the writer of the other few tomes on the table and that it was very good.

"Ah," I said, "what genre is it?"

"Fantasy, urban fantasy"

(to my mind, the only thing worse than fantasy is urban fantasy).

I felt so guilty, I bought one of her books too (for not much less than a tenner), read about three pages and then gave it away to a charity bookshop.
Oct. 20th, 2009 10:00 am (UTC)
'...much harder to do the face-to-face "hey, look at my book" kind of thing...'

I'm with you there. The good news is it's easier, and in my opinion far more effective, to get people to take an interest in our work if we get that Writer's Balance working for us :)
Oct. 20th, 2009 10:38 am (UTC)
Good post. I'll try not to do those things when it comes time for me to market some of my stuff.

Haven't tried any of those or had them tried on me. But as G.I. Joe used to say "Knowing is half the battle!"
Oct. 20th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
True, very true :)
( 40 comments — Leave a comment )

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