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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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Oct. 19th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
I think the problem is in the individual (mis) interpretation of the old "self promotion" thing. In my experience, it goes down like this:

1) There are more books written than slots in decent publisher's lineups.
2) Book goes to a smaller house (a depressing number fall victim to self-publishers and scammers).
3) Author, with no support from publisher, discovers that they have a duty to self-promote. Each author identifies this as they see fit and follow the plan rigorously (it was online, it must be true).
4) Violence ensues (well, not too often, but it probably ought to).

The best way to avoid it is to help authors understand that real writers WRITE, while PUBLISHERS sell books. Of course, if your blog or web presence or a signing (books must be purchased by the store, not the author!!!) shifts a few more copies, then that's great, but if the bulk of the marketing is done by the author... well, maybe it's time to look for a new publisher.
Oct. 20th, 2009 09:01 am (UTC)
'...real writers WRITE, while PUBLISHERS sell books...'

I'm not sure that's so true for the majority of newly published authors (unless they're famous/notorious in some way)
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
Well... IMO, theres a bit of a myth attached to this.

It depends a lot on what publisher you work with. It's true that a new writer at a small press is likely to have more of an impact on sales than a writer with an established reputation. And his or her efforts to help promote the book will be appreciated by the publisher. Other publishers, especially huge ones, HATE it when the author goes all out in promotion.

However, at any real publisher, this should be a small drop in the ocean. The publisher should have a marketing plan, whether it be selling at cons or getting onto the shelves at bookstores. It should be prepared to get review copies to prominent reviewers. It should have a PR person (even if that is just the owner itself), and its efforts should dwarf anything the writer can do. Otherwise, what's the real use in having a publisher, with a serious catalogue of books and everything?
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
Sure they have some great resources at their disposal, but the guys in the marketing department don't care if they never have to work on your second novel.

When I sell my first book, I plan on doing everything I can to make sure it sells well enough to ensure there's another one.

Even a relatively small number of sales might make the difference between that publisher's next book being someone else's first, or my second.
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)
Of course - but one needs to be aware that the main push has to come from the publisher... Or you will sink like a stone!

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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