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Self-publicity is a vital part of a writer’s online presence, but go about it in a heavy-handed manner and you’ll not only put off potential readers, you risk alienating your current ones.
 
Imagine you’ve a book or story coming out this week. Let’s look at some ways you might promote it offline.
 
You could go to your local library and stick a flyer beneath people’s windshield wipers. Better yet, you could glue them to the driver’s window, that way they see your name and the title of your book on the flyer for a good five minutes while they’re scraping the window clean.
 
You could go to the local diners, eavesdrop at each table until someone tells a joke then laugh extra loud and butt in to tell them where they can find or buy your work.
 
You could set up one of those automated messages to dial everyone in your address book. When they pick up the phone it’ll say “Hi it’s me. I’ve written a story. Go read it” or “My book’s out. Go buy it” Then hang up on them.
 
Maybe you could visit the house of everyone you’ve ever come into contact with. When they open the door you say “Hi, Remember me? Doesn’t matter. Buy my book! Read my story!”
 
Of course, you could always go for the personal approach and make a few hundred copies of a letter to send out:
 
Dear [insert generic term of affection here to save on having to write more than one],
 
I know you’ve not heard from me in many a long year, but I want you to know how much I miss you and that I think of you and your family often. Still, enough about you. I have a book/story out which I’m sure you’d enjoy. Here’s where to find it.
 
Sincerely
 
[Your name]
 
Do any of the above approaches sound like a good way to get readers? Would you be surprised if the people on the receiving end not only didn’t buy the book or read the story, but also vowed to never read anything by you in the future?
 
Of course not. Why then, do so many writers use the exact same approach online?
 
Have you ever had a ‘Dear friend’ junk email from someone you barely know (if at all), telling you about his/her latest publication or personal appearance?   Did you go?
 
When you see a one-line blog entry or group message telling you to ‘Go read’ or ‘Go check it out’ do you obey or do you automatically want to ignore it? 
 
If you’re in a discussion group or forum, are there members there who only ever post when they want to publicize themselves or their work?  Do you notice?
 
I’m not saying those approaches don’t sometimes generate interest, but they’re far more likely to alienate potential readers than to interest them, and that’s never a good thing. 
 
How about you?
 
What examples of bad self-publicity by writers have you seen? 




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( 61 comments — Leave a comment )
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j_cheney
Feb. 15th, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
We had a weird thing crop up in KD Wentworth's "Writers of the Future" forum page at sff.net once.

Someone popped in and opened a new topic to pimp their self-published book. Several people almost immediately responded saying 'this forum is not for that purpose--this is an inappropriate post' to which the author responded..."You jerks, I am a writer of the future, and you're just trying to keep me down".

The above is a paraphrase, but it was quite obvious that the author had no idea what 'Writers of the Future' was, and believed it was perfectly acceptable to walk into KD Wentworth's virtual house and start hawking her wares....
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
I see that kind of thing from time to time. Usually, it's an honest faux pas made by an inexperienced someone who doesn't know any better. Those folks soon learn from their mistakes.

There are some though, like the author you mentioned, who simply don't get it, and I suspect never will.

Thanks for sharing :)
meredith_wood
Feb. 15th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
I've come to realize I'm gonna suck at this self-promotion. I'm really shy about it.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
I wonder if you and I have a different idea about self-promotion.

To me, the best way to self-promote is to take a sincere interest in other people.

What is it that you think it entails?
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smeddley
Feb. 15th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
Writing tons of fake reviews on Amazon and using them to pimp, either in the body of the review or in the 'also recommended' section. Not only is it anoying, it's disrespecful to the authors whose books are getting fake-reviewed.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's just wrong.

I saw a great post by Rowena Cherry this week in which she talks about abusing Book Reads in the same way.

Edited at 2010-02-15 05:56 pm (UTC)
nathreee
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
You make a very good point. But it's not easy to figure out what you can and cannot do to promote yourself online. Many forums work a little like bulletin boards and it's perfectly ok to pin up a flyer there, to make a thread saying: I have written this!

On the other hand, there are plenty of place that are made specifically for a little self-publicity, like your own website and social networking pages and websites or forums that say: you can promote your new work here.

Emailing everyone you have ever known is generally a bad idea, no matter for what reason. I always ignore mails like that, whether they are about a social gathering, a new book or a fund raising for someone who is in financial trouble. It's just plain rude.

Still, of course you can write a blog entry or a community message to promote your work. Just make it nice to read and use a little common sense.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
For the most part, just putting a little thought into how it might come across to the person on the receiving end of the email/post should solve the problem.

Especially if in most cases it means you don't send it :)

tracy_d74
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
Hmmm? I can't say I've seen anything bad. I'll have to search my brain again, but on a first scan I got nothing. Oh wait, I know one thing that kinda annoys me. Many authors want people to post their book information on your blog, your twitter, your facebook, your myspace, etc. And if you do it, you win something. I think that is ok, but it does get a bit time consuming sometimes. I imagine if (when ;-))I get published I will do it, because it does get the information out. But I will give some serious thought to how I want people to do it.
meredith_wood
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
I've been known to post the info and not enter the contest. lol If I believe in a writer I'll generally do what I can to promote them because I'm hoping to receive good karma points in doing so.
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bondo_ba
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
Jon, Jon, Jon... I sometimes think there's no hope for you. Writing is a hugely competitive world. The best way to succeed in it is to write and sub and be as non-obnoxious as possible.

Writers who spend time doing the things you listed are also constantly embroiled in arguments about why their behaviour is appropriate and if they should or shouldn't be spamming their forums. They are also very likely to be self-publishers.

Note that this time is not spent writing or subbing, meaning they are one less writer we have to compete with (I don't consider self-publishers as competition anyway).

So why are you teaching them the true path??? Do you LIKE having millions of well-prepared writers who know how to self-promote effectively competing against you in the slush???

Keep 'em in the dark is what I say!

:-P
j_cheney
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
::giggles::
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jjschwabach
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
A few people have mentioned "being nice" as important. I would see that (or rather, its opposite) is one of the big mistakes I've seen people make.

Several times, at cons, I've seen new pros offer a complete cold shoulder to fans, newbies, and wannabes. Um. People. These folks are the reason you're at the con. Your behavior is guaranteed to make them go home and say to all *their* friends, "Oh, I met _________. Boy was she a jerk!" Which in turn makes a whole slew of people guaranteed not to buy your book.

Another thing, related to the spam is the "newsletter" which, instead of speaking of the publication, the organization, the publication/organization's authors, talks about the editor/organization leader's own literary accomplishments.
alaneer
Feb. 15th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
I agree completeley, and I know which publications/organization you mean because I'm also getting spammed by them.
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martyn44
Feb. 15th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
As a matter of fact, I have a story coming out today in a distinguished anthology in America. To pimp it here would be ungracious, so the curious will have to wait until I can shout and scream and dance on my own LJ and FB pages. There is appropriate. Here, all is dignity and civilised discourse. As it should be.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
That's The Phantom Queen Awakes anthology, right?

http://www.morriganbooks.com/?p=213&ref=nf


I believe mariness has a story in that one too. Congrats, Martyn, you're in good company there :)

wendigomountain
Feb. 15th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
Stalking Oprah to get on her Oprah's Bookclub list.

Never a good idea. She has power. Not only does she know who the second shooter was during the JFK assassination, but she also knows the name of the guy that was SUPPOSED to be the second shooter, but had to call in sick that day.

Don't mess with Oprah.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
Lol, it's tempting though, very tempting :)
mtlawson
Feb. 15th, 2010 04:40 pm (UTC)
Oh oh oh!!! ::raises hand like Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter::

I know how to alienate your readers! Make homophobic, racist, and other offensive comments! Not just once, but many times! Online!

Nothing shaves a potential reader's base off more than pissing off an entire group of them at once.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
You're right of course, though I hope no one would consider doing that as a way of advertising their book. Then again, some folks are just plain daft.
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karen_w_newton
Feb. 15th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Under the heading of What Not To DO, I would add , do NOT go to cons, get on a panel, and then talk only about your book. It is SO annoying, and I have seen it so many times. The moderator will ask a generic question, "So, how important do you think it is that every book in a series also work as a stand-alone novel?" The smart panelists give examples of series where this did or did not happen, citing well known books people would recognize by writers like Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, or Ursula LeGuin. The dolt will say, "Well, in MY book Revenge of the Twit. . . " and then go on an on about it until the moderator has to interrupt him.

If it comes up, it's fine to MENTION your own books in passing, but do now dwell on them. There is at least one writer whose books I will not buy and whose panels I will not attend because she does this.

There, I feel much better! Thanks for the rant space, Jon.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
Reading between the lines here, I can't help feeling this particular boo-boo may be a bit of a hot-button issue for you ;)
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serasempre
Feb. 15th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
One of the things that turns me off is being invited to join every single social network the author joins. "Author Foo has just joined Meebo. Come find her there!" Etc., etc., every few days. The one I'm thinking of in particular also added me to her self-help newsletter list. If the particular author I'm thinking of were head and shoulders above others I was interested in acquiring, I might take the time to explain why that's bad, but instead I added the author to my spam filter.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
It does seems pointless. I guess if the different networks dealt with different things I could see the point, but if they're pretty much mirrors of or signposts to the same thing I quite agree.

Thanks for the input :)
bogwitch64
Feb. 15th, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
I have indeed noticed the trend for once-struggling-writers-become-authors who suddenly only post when they're plugging some work recently or soon to be out. This is annoying. There are those who are friends and thus I know it's because becoming published is a huge leap in workload. Time you used to have to commiserate with those in the same boat is no longer there; but I think the inclination is that you're no longer in the same boat at all, so commiserations aren't so universal anymore.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
Well, I hope you've noted that last July, after my 100-word drabble got published, I didn't let it change me :P
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jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 08:31 pm (UTC)
Lol, I'm kinda warming to Clint's idea about stalking Oprah :)
asakiyume
Feb. 15th, 2010 08:43 pm (UTC)
When you see a one-line blog entry or group message telling you to ‘Go read’ or ‘Go check it out’ do you obey or do you automatically want to ignore it?

When it's someone on my friends list, I usually **do** go read, and I'm usually entertained :-) People also tout their other friends' works, and that, too, becomes a way to discover interesting reading material. One of my favorite short stories of last year was one I read because someone on LJ pointed me to it.

I don't like it so much when group bulletin boards and things get used for that purpose, though.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
I'm all for touting other folks' work, but telling me to 'Go read' has the opposite effect.

Maybe it's just me, but my initial reaction is to want to ignore it - then again, my old gran always said I was a contrary so-and-so ;)
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