The pitfalls of self-promotion is–unfortunately–a subject I’ve been forced to think about lately, so when author Jim Hines wrote a parody song that explains the nature of this particular animal, it rather crystallized some notions that I’d been turning over myself. First, to set the mood, I think it would be a good idea to sing along with Jim on this, so go here first and then come on back. I’ll wait.
Right, then. Some of you may remember an animated TV show from the 90’s called The Critic, starring Jon Lovitz as the voice of “Jay Sherman,” the movie critic of the title. In one episode a book tour goes horribly wrong because Jay’s publisher has an animatronic bookstore display of Jay holding his collection of movie columns and repeating “BUY MY BOOK!” on an endless loop. It not only kept the customers away, but at least one of the store managers was alleged to have committed suicide. Of course it was a exaggeration, a parody of the hard-sell, but not as far removed from reality as we’d like to think. Especially lately.
Now then. I’ll grant you, it’s possible to go too far the other way. In his introduction to Hereafter, and After, Andy Duncan quoted screenwriter Ben Hecht as describing a shameless publicity hound as “a cross between a Ferris Wheel and a werewolf,” to make the point that I wasn’t one. And it was true. I wasn’t. I pray I am still not, but what I was at the time was the other extreme—completely self-effacing (hard to believe, I know, but it’s true). I wrote the stories. I sent them out. They were published or not, but either way that was pretty much the end of it, so far as I was concerned. Then I published my first collection, then the fist novella chapbook, then the first novel, then my second and third collections, and somewhere along that line I finally copped to the obvious truth that hiding your light under a bushel is not a game plan.
All to make the obvious point that there’s nothing inherently wrong with self-promotion. Come to that, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a match and a can of gasoline. It’s all in how you use them. Even so, whether you’re self-pubbing or going the traditional route, I think we can all agree that there are going to be times when you can and must blow your own horn, and by god mean it. The problem comes when you find yourself butting up against that second extreme. When, so far as the people you’re trying to influence are concerned, you are some annoying cross between a Ferris Wheel and a Werewolf, and everyone wishes you would just Go Away. So how will you know? I’d say look for these warning signs:
- Were your last fifteen tweets, without exception, plugs for your just-released book?
- Do you find yourself joining online conversations about completely random subjects just so you can look for segues to mention your book?
- Do you find yourself constantly hitting up your rapidly shrinking circle of friends to post 5 Star Amazon reviews of your book…including ones they’ve never read?
- Do you create Facebook fan pages for all your books and sign up everyone you know as fans without even asking?
- Finally, and this is the big one, do you find yourself thinking much more about ways to promote your last book than you do about writing the next one?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any one of these, you may have a problem. If you answered ‘yes’ to more than one, you definitely have a problem. That problem (other than possibly a touch of OCD) is that you’re not promoting your book, you’re pissing people off. The readers are not associating your book with a compelling story, fine prose or exciting ideas, even if it contains all three. They’re linking it to that “really annoying person” who just will not STFU. That’s the person you don’t want to be.
Now then, fair-warning–In addition to general nonsense, uffish thots, and reviews of other writers’ work, you will find me mentioning my own stuff here. Maybe even frequently. That’s because in general I like what I do and think other people might also. I basically want what any writer wants—a readership. What I don’t want is to be “annoying person.” So, reader or writer or both, feel free to tell me if I’m crossing the line. Trust me, I do want to know. And let’s all heed the warning signs because, let’s face it, people like that turn readers off, and that is the absolute last thing that any of us wants to do.
Guess what, Richard? If I have a writer or editor friend who tweets three times in a row, or placed three posts in a row on FB about their book or the book they edited: I am no longer following that person! So I totally agree with you that we writers should focus on WRITING, not promoting. Letting others know by appropriately spaced simple notices of what is available or a publication date or a source is fine: moderation in all things, you know!
Yep. A little self-promotion goes a long way…especially toward reducing the target audience’s tolerance for self-promotion. 🙂