Friday, December 5, 2014

Self-Promotion: About As Fun As Bathing In Hot Wax

The other day I was having lunch with writer friends of mine, explaining how I felt guilty for not selling my book enough, when this very wise friend said to me, "Christa, it's not really your job. There's basically two venues to follow: the commercial market or the library/education market, and publishers are responsible for setting that course for you. Stop stressing."

Presumably, this would be a giant weight off my shoulders. But instead, what I immediately said was, "Well, what happens when you're not either? When you haven't written a highly commercial book or a book that all the schools want to put on their summer reading lists? What happens when you've written a book about rape that ends sort of horribly or you've written an X-acto knife sex scene into your book about toxic relationships?"

My wise friend said, "Well, then, you go your own way."

Which leads me to today's topic: Self-Promo or finding your readers when you don't have an obvious course of promotional action.

Let's face it, even the most extroverted person who has a million friends thinks that self-promo pretty much blows. I mean, seriously, there are days that you feel like a Brownie standing outside the HyVee peddling Girl Scout cookies and you think if you were just a little cuter or peppier then maybe some of the shoppers would buy that extra box of Thin Mints. But instead, you stand outside freezing your ass off for four hours and then have to re-box all but the three TagAlongs you managed to sell and hand it to your troop leader and admit you can't sell for shit. (Plus, those 3 boxes of TagAlongs were bought by your family/friends and they're sick of hearing about your cookies so could you shut up about it already?)

In basically every writer loop I've ever been in, the question of promotion or publicity has reared its Hydra-head and ended with most people saying, "I don't know. I'm sure I'm doing it wrong and bugging the crap out of everyone."

So about three months before release (or for those of you who are more on the ball than I, perhaps nine months?), you start to wonder what you should be doing. Here's some of the things I considered when it came to self-promo.

1. SWAG. A lot of people like SWAG. They have all these cute necklaces or feather pens or tattoos or what have you. SWAG is awesome. You know, unless you have a book about rape with a lighter on the cover. Or a book about cutting & toxic relationships. Lighters, razors & condoms are really not good SWAG items. People did seem to like bookmarks though, so I went for that.

2. Blog Tours. To be honest, this has ALWAYS yielded very mixed results for the kind of books I write. It's sort of a bitter pill to swallow paying for a blog tour when the best "review" from that tour that you get is: "Well, I liked it, but it's not exactly for everyone." I also think that writing a lot of blog posts is very time-consuming and most people don't click through your daily posts, so if you're doing a blog tour, you need to approach it more as an opportunity for someone to maybe see your book in their feed, rather than read your thoughtful words.

3. FB Author pages. This, I think, is a big favorite of the romance community, but you need to sort of have a hook and do fun things over there. This is again not an easy task when you write difficult books. I mean, should I do "Which of these characters is more screwed up?" Mondays? Also, it's damn sad to have worked for an hour on thing for your FB author page and then later see FB's incredibly helpful "stats" underneath. ("This post was viewed by 13 people.")

4. Various venues to post beautiful ab pictures. Mostly when I think of self-promo, I think of all the times when I see teasers with guy's abs/beautiful arty girls and quotes from the book. This might be a hazard of the day job, but there was about 4 minutes when I considered it before realizing that this would be selling my book in a way that is dishonest. Plus, Brooks is gross and has a nipple ring and a bloody pierced heart tattoo, hardly good ab fodder.

5. Twitter chats/FB parties, etc. I barely considered this. Mostly because I imagined myself in an empty virtual room without anyone asking me anything and I really don't need to be reminded of that. Perhaps this is different when you're doing it with other people or you have a collab partner, but I just couldn't bring myself to it.

6. Joining all the platforms. OMG. There are just too many. Google + and Instagram and Vine and Tumblr and SnapChat and Twitter and FB and Spotify and...GAH. I have a day job and kids. I'm on my phone enough as is. I just can't with all the things. And frankly, I don't think people should.

7. Giveaways. This has also yielded mixed results for me. I hate going to the PO and several of my giveaways have had few people entering them even though I don't require anything for them to enter. Perhaps it's because there are so many giveaways out there now? I have heard that this is perhaps more successful on GoodReads, but I don't go on GR because therein lies too much sadness for me.

8. Hiring someone else to do this all for me. The closer I got to release, the more I realized that not only did I hate the idea of peddling my book like a vacuum salesman, I also wasn't really sure how to be smart about it. So I looked into people who do this FOR A LIVING (God love you people because I was not born with that gene). I actually think many people have had good success with outside publicity teams. But you seriously need to weigh this heavily with your own financial limitations. Yes, my God, I wanted someone to take this all over for me, but when I started to get rough estimates, it became clear how cost prohibitive that was. At one point, Julio said to me, "So you're giving away half your advance in hopes that you can sell enough books to make back your advance? Why not just buy a bunch of books with that money and leave them in train stations, etc?"

At the end of all these considerations, I was in a full-on panic. Luckily, another very clever writer friend said to me, "You need to approach this like you would a social work case..." (Ha! Speaking my language!) "...Play to your strengths. You want to keep writing and stay in this world a while so figure out what you like to do and focus on that. If you end up hating this part of things that much, you'll stop writing and that's not doing you or your readers any good."

That, I think, is really the key to all self-promotion. The acknowledgment that you cannot do/be all the things and more importantly, that you really only need to do what you like/want to be doing. If you hate to travel, it is not a good idea to plan out a 10-city book tour for yourself. If you don't like FB, do not start two (!) accounts because you feel like that's what you should do. Play to your strengths. Sit down and decide what you like, what you want to say, and go from there. This may involve having several talks with yourself. Talks that go something like this: "Christa, I know that X is doing an amazing job with promotion and you see her ab shots and adorable cover everywhere. That is not you and she's probably comparing herself to Y so get over yourself and remember what you LIKE."


  1. This is one of the best posts I've seen about self-promo. I write YA under this pen name, and adult romance under another, and promo... is not my favorite thing, nor is it my strong point. And I've spent far too much time and energy trying ALL THE THINGS because "people say this works". Not everything works for every genre; not everything works for every author. And it's better to put your time, energy, and (if necessary) money into a very few types of promotion that work for you, than to spread yourself thin and try to force yourself to do things that don't work or that you don't enjoy.

  2. Great post. Love the reminder to stick to what you're good at, rather than feeling guilty for not trying anything and everything.

  3. Oh. My. Gosh. This is an awesome post!! I needed to hear this. Thank you for writing this. THANK. YOU. *sigh*

  4. Halleluja, sister! Thank you for tapping in to an author's greatest challenge. Having launched my debut novel in the spring and my next one in two weeks (12/16), I feel you. I have a career outside of writing that demands my time, and this book promo thing can be a full-time job in itself. The sad part? It can yield less than a job flipping hamburgers at McDonalds. As far as publicists, many of the authors with my publisher have used them. It doesn't guarantee sales, neither do live events, promotions, etc. when it comes to new authors with only a novel or two. Can I tell you how many live events I've done this year that if I didn't bring the attendees the room would have been empty? I'm talking multi-author events with well-published authors. On a good day. I'll sell 4 books and that's because the bookstore or event sponsor will buy some signed copies. This is a marathon, not a sprint. As my one friend and fellow author says, "One book at a time, baby." Hang in there, you'll find your audience one reader at a time. On my 7th event (library), I had one enthusiastic attendee who wasn't a friend, a friend of a friend or a blood relation. She had actually read my first book and loved it. She sat front row center to hear me speak, and asked engaging questions. I was so thrilled I gave her a free ARC of my next book. That's why I do this: to touch the readers that I can and find my tribe. That's what makes this all worthwhile.

  5. An honest and introspective article. So many self-pubbers struggle with this. Finding the target readership, and slow but sure, is by far the best advice most experts tend to agree on. For me, it brought to mind the wise gardener's adage for new plants; first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap.

  6. Exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thank you.

  7. "Buy copies of your own book and leave them at train stations."
    Probably the best promo idea I've heard in a while, tbh. <3