Self Promotion—Awkward Yet Necessary

I love talking about my book. I love posting on social media about my book. Having my book come into the world is one of the most exciting things that has ever happened to me. What I don’t love is feeling as if I’m a show-off, or begging my friends for help. Every time I post about my book, I’m secretly ducking the negative anti-promotion vibes I’m sure are headed in my direction. I take a lot of Bookstagram photos, but feel too self-conscious to post most of them.  So many of us have been taught our whole life that to be good means to be small, quiet, and self-effacing, and I’m one of them. 

There will always be a contingent of people who want writers to write their books in silence, publish them quietly, and go about their business without ever mentioning to anyone that they’ve written a book. They believe that quality literature will magically rise to the surface and find the right audience, and that promotion is gauche.

Here’s my issue with noble humility and the art for art’s sake argument—if you are querying or have published a book, you want it to be read by actual readers that aren’t obligated to read it out of friendship or familial connection. To pretend that we don’t want people to read our work and that we write for art’s sake alone is just silly. Don’t get me wrong—many people write books and put them in drawers and never attempt to publish them. They truly are writing for art’s sake, or for their own personal pleasure.

For me, though, readers are a key part of my motivation as a writer. I like to think my book can help other people.I believe stories matter tremendously—not just memoir, but all stories. Books have helped me understand others, feel less alone, and distracted me at times when life was so overwhelming that I needed to tune out my problems for a few hours.  I have gotten lost in many books and found myself in others.

The problem with today’s market is that there are so many wonderful books in the world, if someone doesn’t shout out about your book, it risks dying in obscurity. While we all would prefer someone else holds the megaphone for us, the truth is that publishers have so many books they are promoting, that unless you are one of their handful of darlings, your book isn’t going to get the promotion you expect it to.

I get anxiety before every interview, reading, and blog post.  I’m sure my life would be happier if I could just sit in my recliner and work on my current works in progress and ignore promotion. But I desperately want that one reader who has never seen anything resembling his or her family in a book to find Girlish and feel a little less alone in the world. And they will never find it without promotion.

I particularly hate asking for Amazon reviews. It reminds me of when I was twenty-three and accosted everyone I knew in an effort to sell them life insurance. Amazon reviews are the best way to promote your book, and once books reach a magical number, their book becomes suggested to people in the whole “customers who bought this also bought this” way that helps people find books. I had no idea how important Amazon reviews were before I was an author. I also didn’t know that you can review items on Amazon that you bought elsewhere.

It used to be that if I didn’t love a book, it felt kinder to not saying anything as opposed to leaving a three-star review.  I was worried about hurting the author’s feelings. What I didn’t know was that it is the number of reviews that matters—even lower starred reviews are better than no reviews at all. And just writing this paragraph gives me all the bad-promotion heebie-jeebies. It’s awkward to ask for help.

So if you love a book, leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite book review site. Tell a friend, post a picture on Instagram. It’s like sending the author flowers.

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Lara Lillibridge sings off-beat and dances off-key. She writes a lot, and sometimes even likes how it turns out. Her memoir, Girlish, available for preorder on Amazon, is slated for release in February 2018 with Skyhorse Publishing. Lara Lillibridge is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. In 2016 she won Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s Prose Contest, and The American Literary Review's Contest in Nonfiction. She has had essays published in Pure Slush Vol. 11, Vandalia, and Polychrome Ink; on the web at Hippocampus, Crab Fat Magazine, Luna Luna, Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, and Airplane Reading, among others. Read her work at www.LaraLillibridge.com

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