I’ve seen it online time and time again — authors who feel conflicted about the promotional aspects of their job as authors.
“But wait!” you say. (Because I know you would.) “Authors write books! Promotional stuff isn’t part of the job!”
Siddown, Skippy. Welcome to 2016. Like it or not, marketing and promotions are absolutely part of the job, whether or not you want to do it or like doing it. Traditional publishers are stretched thin, and publicists are fantastic people who are overworked and underpaid. So you have to shoulder some of that.
I think we all have a natural reticence when it comes to marketing our work. It feels like bragging, and most of us are self-aware enough, most of the time, to recognize that bragging is poor form, Donald Trump notwithstanding. Also, outright bragging about yourself isn’t going to win you support, also Donald Trump notwithstanding. (That man is a dumpster fire in a human suit. And he’s doing well in spite of, not because of, his incessant bragging and frighteningly needy shtick. But I digress.)
Anyway, you know what? You wrote a book. That’s a pretty impressive achievement! Even counting the surge of self-published authors, those who have written and published books still represent far less than 1% of the general population. You did a cool thing there! And you should feel good about it. You beat the odds! It’s on a shelf! Heck, I’m still excited to see my book on a shelf in a store. And because of my name, it’s shelved next to George R.R. Martin’s stuff, which is always a nice plus. Talk about discoverability.
Look, the fact remains that, even if you’re published by a traditional publisher, you still have to do the publicity stuff. That means you’ll write up a heap of blog posts for various sites, answer interview questions via e-mail, do a bunch of podcasts and generally talk a lot about yourself and your book.
So what do you say?
Now, you have your blog and your Twitter and Facebook to maintain, first of all. A steady stream of “buy my book” and navel-gazing about your book isn’t going to fly all the time. I look at Chuck Wendig, Mary Robinette Kowal and John Scalzi as excellent author-bloggers. They all go beyond their books to talk about a veritable plethora of other stuff. As with anything, balance is key. Yes, I talk about my books here. I also talk about writing in general. And travel. And whatever amuses me at the time.
But there will be times when you really want to talk about the book, usually around when it comes out. (So yeah, August and September on here are going to be all about MJ-12: Inception. Fair warning.) And if folks are following your social media, they’re probably doing it because you’ve written stuff they like. So the occasional flurry of more “sales-ish” stuff is fine, within reason.
Remember, though, bragging is bad. But you can be proud, within reason. You can talk about what really excited you about writing it, or what was hard, or what was gratifying in the end. Talk about what drove you to write it, what it means to you, what you hope it might mean to others. Talk about what the book did for you as a writer and as a human person. You can talk about what other people said, and express some humble gratitude about it. (If they didn’t say nice things, don’t freakin’ touch it. Move on.)
See, here’s the thing — people read promotional stuff. There are book blogs and podcasts essentially dedicated to folks talking about books, so don’t feel as though nobody reads it; they do. When you downloaded The Force Awakens on April 1, you totally waded through all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that weekend, did you not? Of course you did. Why? Because you loved the movie and wanted to know more about it.
The same principle applies here. If readers like your book, they’ll want to know more about it and the person who wrote it. You’re deepening the connection you made through your work and, ideally, further cementing the notion that the reader will want to buy more of your stuff. down the road.
As for the readers who don’t know you, well, they too frequent book blogs and listen to podcasts and generally enjoy things of a bookish nature. Maybe they’d enjoy your book, too. So these promotional bits are your way of letting them know you’re out there. If they’re interested, they’ll click through and check it out.
Again, we want our books to connect with readers. Promotional stuff can either help make that initial connection, or deepen an already existing one. Wins all around. And if all goes well, more ramen for you as you write the next one!
I can give a lot more specific advice on this stuff — marketing and communications is my day job. But for now, I’d just encourage authors to embrace the opportunity. Readers want to hear from you! So go out there and talk about why you like what you wrote, and maybe they will too.