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I’ve blogged before about how writing is a business and just how many things come along with that, including being a big boy or girl in the face of bad reviews, but this is one that almost every writer I know – myself included – struggles with in one way or another. We all know that having a modicum of humility is a virtue, and that being spammed with links and BUY MY BOOK is freaking annoying (and if you didn’t know those things, surprise!), so what do you do when you’re expected to sell yourself and you just kinda…don’t wanna?

Look, it’s unlikely anyone’s gonna make you. But unless you’ve got a big marketing and/or publicity budget behind you, I’d be remiss to say, “Eh, it’s OK, you can skip it.” Because while you can, part of doing this as a business is optimizing your sales. And even if you don’t care about the money, presumably you still care about reaching the maximum amount of readers, yes? (If you care about neither money nor readership, then congrats! You don’t need this post, and also teach me your secrets of life.)

For the purposes of this post, let’s assume you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that some self-promotion is necessary, whether you like it or not. So what are your options? How does it all work? When should you start pouring it on? And when does it stop being all weird and scary?

To answer the last question first, I’m not 100% sure it ever does. But that’s not particularly helpful, so let’s focus on the other things!

Regarding the question of when, it’s never too early to start getting to know fellow authors and other people in the industry, but if we’re talking real promotion, the time things really pick up is once you’ve revealed your cover. That way, you have an image of the book to associate with each post, and it’s also when people who don’t know you start really taking note, adding it to Goodreads, and hopefully pre-ordering.

(For a great post explaining A Promotion Timeline, check out this one by Jodi Meadows.)

And now, the how:

Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.)

Self-promotion doesn’t have to be about “selling yourself.” It can just be a matter of being present, publicly discussing books and publishing, “meeting” people who will naturally be interested in what you’re writing and selling. You can promote yourself without being a noxious overlord of bookwhoring!

If you’re going to choose just one social media platform, the one I would most highly recommend (to the surprise of no one who knows me) is Twitter, for a few reasons.

  1. I think it’s the easiest way to connect with the widest audience – readers, agents, editors, bloggers, librarians, indie stores, and publications – and let your personality come through without having to push much in the ways of sales at all.
  2. Twitter bios are the most condensed, easily accessible info deposit of the social media sites – in other words, fewest amount of clicks for the largest amount of relevant information. (Which, of course, means you need to be using it well – book title, pub date, and link to your site/blog are, in my opinion, absolute musts.)
  3. Of all the major social media sites, Twitter is the most reliant on the written word, and the least reliant on being a visual medium. As such, it’s considerably easier to build a presence there before you have a book cover, swag, or anything else to “show” for your book.

That said, Twitter begs for a relatively active presence, more so than, say, Facebook, where you can have an author page with all the basic info that just kinda sits there. Admittedly, although I have a Facebook author page (you can “Like” it over there on the right, if you’re so inclined), I often just kinda…forget about it. Which, my fault, sure, but I also attribute that in part to point 3. Hopefully, as the graphics associated with my book(s) grow in number (or at least are allowed to be revealed!) I’ll find more use for those sites I find to be largely reliant on visual media.

One site I never would’ve thought to use before promotion purposes before a few people mentioned it is Pinterest. Whether or not I have songs or images in mind when I create a character or setting, I’d never before created any sort of visual manifestation of that outside my own brain. But it really is a nice way to connect with more visual readers, and to let others in to your creative process. (Here’s the one I ultimately created for BEHIND THE SCENES, and the one I created for my NA WIP, LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT, as examples.)

Now, in order to maximize your social media presence, and also because I’m just obsessed with etiquette, it pays to understand the right and wrong ways to use social media. What do I mean? These (subjective, because this is my blog and I have opinions you do not have to agree with) things:

  • There are three days during which it’s acceptable to promote the hell out of yourself and people just have to suck it up and deal:
  1. Deal announcement day
  2. Cover reveal day
  3. Release day

During these days, do pretty much whatever you want. Like, whatever. Seriously. Anyone who can’t appreciate what these days mean to an author has no soul.

On other days, however, chill out. Wrote a blog post? Awesome! Tweet it, Facebook it, Pin it, whatever – but be realistic about how many times you need to do so in one day. I like a rule of three there too – morning, noon, and night – maybe tweeted with different aspects in the description each time. (But be realistic about how interesting/helpful your post is. When I blog about why I haven’t blogged, I’m not freaking tweeting that three times a day. ONCE. BECAUSE IT IS MOSTLY BORING AND HELPS NOBODY.)

  • You care about your reviews much, much more than anyone else cares about your reviews. Please do not RT every freaking one you get. Especially if all the tweet says is “5 out of 5 stars to [title] by Author.” You know when I like seeing authors RT reviews? When those RTs say something like, “This review totally got my book,” or “This review made me cry.” I am curious about reviews that mean something to you, sometimes. But I super do not care that one of your CPs gave you 5 stars on Goodreads. Like, I know there are GIFs for how little I care, and if I were better at GIFs, there would be 30 of them here.
  • If people @ you when talking about your book, they’re trying to engage you. If they don’t, they’re probably not. Now, some people @ authors with bad reviews, and I for real do not understand this, but whatever. My dream future self will never read any of my own reviews, ever. What I would advise is to thank anyone who’s reviewed your book for reading, NOT for the content, but for reading and taking the time to review. And if you can’t stop yourself from reading that review, tweet to thank first, before you read it and maybe get pissed. (And if they just @ you in the course of recommending your book, a “thank you” is always nice. I am not a fan of the “favorite” as thanking school of anything, personally.)
  • It is never OK to spam people with links to buy your book. Not via public tweet, and not via DM. You’re more likely to lose readers this way than gain them. And you should, because you’re awful.
  • If someone was kind enough to host or interview you on his or her blog, you should announce it with a link, 1-2 times that day. These sorts of things are mutually beneficial – you get promotion, and the blogger gets pageviews. In turn, as more people become familiar with that blog, future authors interviewed get more views, and therefore more promotion. It’s a lovely cycle. And not promoting it isn’t being humble; it’s shooting both you and the blogger in the foot.

Hmm, now that I mention that, it’s probably worth mentioning how to get interviewed or guest post, right? If you don’t have a publicist pointing you in the right direction, this can certainly be tricky. Fortunately, this sort of thing is my crack, so:

  1. Back to social media! Lots of bloggers put out calls for interview subjects or guest posters all the time, and if you follow them, you can always jump right on that. Not sure who hosts author interview series? Check out who’s interviewed me for a decent place to start, or do the same with other authors in your stage of publication. Lots of authors have links to their interviews on their pages, and that’ll help you see who’s inclined toward interviewing authors.
  2. For guest posts, check out your favorite sites and see if they have any information on how to propose a contribution. If not, be proactive and contact them yourself (but be armed with an idea that fits the content of the site if you do!) with your suggestion!

And, on that note, let’s talk…

Blog/Website

Now, it’s pretty obvious I’ve got a blog. (I also, separately, have a website.) Know why I have one? Because I like blogging. But I also do it on my own terms, and I do it quickly, and I don’t let it interfere with writing time.

Blogging is not a mandatory part of being an author. Don’t like it? Don’t do it. I know there are people out there, even pub pros, who treat it like a must. It isn’t. Will it build you an audience? Maybe. But if blogging’s like pulling teeth for you, and it’s taking up chunks of time you could spend writing, I promise – it’s not worth it. Just have a single web page with a little info about you, your agent, and upcoming releases, and have a way to contact you. Don’t have an agent or upcoming releases? Maybe put up a bit about what you’re writing. Fin. 

(If you read all that and still feel like you need to blog, whether you want to or not, this post might help if you’re feeling at a loss for content.)

Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Tours

I’ll be the first one to tell you that I have totally oversaturated media presence on the Internet, especially for someone who hasn’t even revealed her cover yet. (I was a Journalism major. I’m incapable of saying no to an interview request.) You don’t have to be like me, and honestly, you probably shouldn’t. I can’t even imagine how many people are all, “ENOUGH ABOUT HER,” and won’t even bother reading any interviews I actually do around my release.

But, a few interviews and/or guest posts is a nice thing. For one thing, each one potentially reaches a new audience – that of the blogger hosting you. For another, it gives people (including agents and editors) something to find when they Google (or Bing!) you that gives them a little insight into you and why they might like working with you or be interested in you long-term.

Now, somehow (rise of self-publishing, is my theory, not that you asked), blog tours have become this mandatory thing that just about everyone does in the two weeks or so surrounding publication, so it’s pretty hard to avoid blogs in any way, shape, or form once you hit that point. My advice is just to do the kinds of posts you actually enjoy, don’t do too much of any one kind, and look into what works so if you opt for a smaller tour, you can really optimize the posts. (Some great insight into that here.)

And, though this is far ahead in the game, I thought it worth mentioning, even though I personally have nothing intelligent to say on the subject:

Signings, Visits, and Launch Parties

These are areas I know pretty much nothing about yet, I must admit, but here are a few sources that provide some really great suggestions and guidance:

Literary Rambles: Kit Grindstaff on “Marketing for Newbies”

Editorial Ass: How to Throw an Awesome Book Launch

It’s Party Time! Book Launch Parties for Indie Authors

So, those are some of my thoughts on self-promotion, as written as inarticulately as humanly possible because my mind sort of rambles when I think about it.

As an author, how do you like to engage with readers? As a reader, what kind of author’s self-promotion works for you?

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