The Pain of Promotion

When promoting your own book, the pain of promotion isn’t necessarily the amount of time it takes, but how it actually feels to be the salesman of your own work.  It’s what makes writing a query letter so hard – not just condensing a book into a few words, but trying to be an advocate without sounding like a used car salesman.  One of the problems you’ll see in self-published books is hyperbole on the back cover copy.  It’s important to realize that self-published books and traditionally published books aren’t equal in this regard.  So if a writer calls his/her own book “wickedly funny,” this is far different from the same words coming out of a publisher’s marketing department.

A good post in the Amazon forums echoes this sentiment:

We have these forums, and it’s great, but most authors (myself included) feel a weird repugnance to posting links to our own books and recommending our own work. Here’s what we’re up against.

All those e-mails you get, all those books that are just like this book, all those sidebar ads … in short, the things that drive you to best-selling authors and their books … they cost prohibitive amounts of money to be a part of. Real advertising costs real money, and most authors – even those published through traditional publishers in print and/or Kindle – don’t have the money. The publishers push what they want to push – what they feel safe dropping their dimes on … the rest are left to hang out there.

Sure, you are “available on Amazon” but only if a: someone already knows you are there or b: finds you through a random search. There are over 2,000,000 books out there, not to mention the millions of other products taking up key words, tags, etc…your odds aren’t good.

It doesn’t change the way self-promotion usually feels. I wish I could see an alternative that made sense. Even if it cost “some” money, it would be worth it, I think, since I have years and confidence behind my work. I’m willing to stand it against just about anyone, but unfortunately just about anyone doesn’t have to stand next to *me* (lol).

I sort of got launched onto this by the post asking “should authors be allowed to post about their own books on these forums”.

I remember a time not too far in the past, when not everyone in the universe had written books and gotten “published” when it was still a thrill for readers to have a chance to interact with authors. Now we have come to a point where there is a contingent who doesn’t even want to be bothered by the authors…and I understand where they’re coming from. We’ve been turned into a bunch of schills.

Just a note that I hate it, am seeking alternative methods to promote my work, and wish I could find a better way. I’ve been writing and being published for over two decades, and this new era is the first time I’ve started to feel self-conscious when talking about my own work…

Self-publishing is a blessing and a curse.  Good that people have the outlet and opportunity, bad that there’s an incredible amount of competition to find readership.  The answer is not necessarily to oversell your book, but regardless, promoting your own work can be a fairly creepy experience, which is why it can be so nice to have an external advocate.

If nothing else, this points out the value of reviews.  While it’s very possible that reviews might not help sell copies of a book, it can help with promotion.  If you can have the words “wickedly funny” coming out of someone else’s mouth, this is far more persuasive than going it totally alone.

  • “I remember a time not too far in the past, when not everyone in the universe had written books and gotten “published” when it was still a thrill for readers to have a chance to interact with authors. Now we have come to a point where there is a contingent who doesn’t even want to be bothered by the authors…”

    This makes me think of going to see a band play. If you really like their music, regardless of a band’s popularity, if you get a chance to talk to one of the members, you feel a little buzz. “He talked to me!” “He was so nice and down to Earth!” “He remembered me from last time!”

    Even if the band is indie, self-released, whatever. If you dig ’em, they’re super-cool and the fact that they’re not rock stars and so approachable makes them so much more endearing. I know bands beg plenty, but musicians are just so much cooler than writers. Especially self-published writers.

    Maybe there are too many of us.

    Maybe there are too many of us at the places where too many of us hang around.

    Maybe we’re only selling us to us.

    I don’t know.

    I feel like a super-creep when I ask for a simple “atta-boy” if you like what I’ve done. And I feel even more like a creep when I say, “thanks” for the “atta-boy.”

    I think that’s a problem.

    Two different issues here, I know. But whatever.

  • “So if a writer calls his/her own book “wickedly funny,” this is far different from the same words coming out of a publisher’s marketing department.”

    Indeed. If the writer says so, there’s at least some chance it might be true.


  • I dunno, that’s like a stand-up comic laughing at his own jokes.

  • brentrobison

    This is precisely why it took me over a year to decide to self-publish — I wanted a 3rd party to make those claims (it’s a good book, honest!) so I wouldn’t feel like a huckster. But then the pain of the submission/rejection treadmill peaked: I got a publishing contract from a small press that I thought I respected, but when I asked for some adjustments to their terrible contract, they dropped me, no discussion. So now, the pain of promotion is less than the other pain, but that fact is sometimes easy to forget. And there’s just not enough TIME, because I’d like to write something new, as well as have a life. But wait — there’s also pleasure here somewhere, isn’t there? 🙂

  • Lindaeed Gardner

    Now that is a really interesting post. It wickedly confirms my own sinking suspicion about the future for most writers-the tidal wave of inevitably shorter books will become the new blogs, and most writers will likely sell only a few copies to friends and family. The average reader, fast fleeing the medium for much more engaging forms of entertainment as it is, will be deeply reluctant to pay for the “blog,” perhaps willing to part with a few dollars for an e-version of known authors,, but we will be inundated with free reads anyway, so why pay for anything? Save it for the movies with their wonderful and completely engaging combination of lights, music, and wonderful CG effects.
    Any good news? Yeah. I love the idea of everyone being an author, or even a publisher, as an earlier blog proposed. Let the readers be the gatekeepers, and put everyone’s work out there to be seen.
    And on this note, I hope to hear more from the author of “The Fiddler’s Gun,” who has produced a very appealing book, and appears to be gaining real marketplace traction with it. I am impressed with his determination and will definitely be buying that book. I hope he will post something down the line about the cost of producing this book, and whether or not he is satisfied with the SP process. Nice work, guy.

  • Well, getting reviews and blurbs from other writers, especially for first time authors, is more or less standard practice…and how you find out who your friends really are. (Ideally they have to read the book to comment and that’s the real hurdle.) Seriously, though, if you are not for your work who will be? I’ve been in the trenches with “The Shenandoah Spy” for almost two years now, with many more to come. You can’t adopt the same short term strategies of distribution and return that the big publishers use. You have to willing to put a constant effort behind your work. We still send out review copies, especially abroad, because the book is at the London Book Fair next month. We are also trying to sell audio book and film rights. All of this requires sales or selling and most writers haven’t a clue of how to go about that. I could run a clinic on that because I’ve done lots of book signings and table events, but would anyone sign up for it? There is nothing wrong with selling your book. A few months ago I read a story about a writer whose novel about gentification in Harlem wasn’t moving until he hit the streets with the goal of selling ten copies a day direct to the public. He doesn’t go home until he does. While that approach would only work in a big city, the attitude deserves both admiration and emulation.

    A few months ago I started trying out “social media”. Much of it is overblown but I’m staring to get some traction with a fan page on Facebook. (Go check it out and sign up).

    You have to overcome your reluctance to sell and actually ask people to buy your books. That’s simply a basic rule. Get over your shyness and be proud of your work. Everyone already knows you have an ego or you would not have taken the tremendous risk of publishing it yourself.

  • Eddie-

    Like I always say….

    “Thank you for the thank you card!”


  • I like to send thank you cards for thank you cards that have not yet been sent so as to force the sending of a thank you card. Then I send a thank you card.

  • Thanks for the comments.