Imagine an author. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably getting a vision of a scholarly genius, possibly in an elbow-patched smoking jacket, pounding in a fit of literary fervor at the clattering black keys of an antique typewriter. Which, of course, is located in an attic apartment with a skylight, the wide windows open to a rolling vista of Parisian rooftops, the air redolent of coffee and perhaps a whiff of French cigarettes. This process is not free of angst, mind you. There’s plenty of gnashing of teeth and rending of hair as the writer battles through a crippling case of block. She might even shriek Mon Dieu, Je suis maudit par la muse as she hurls a coffee cup or two into a bookshelf, but, eventually this existential writing crisis is resolved and she ships the magnum opus off to her editor and it is published to universal acclaim. Newspapers review it, magazines gush about it, and throngs of adoring readers buy it.
You know what doesn’t gel with this vision? Reality, of course. Instead of spending all her time channeling her muse in an atmospheric garret, IRL our author is more likely to spend all her time snapping 10,000 selfies in an attempt to get just one shot where her head doesn’t look misshapen, which she must then caption with something fetching that will make people want to rush out to buy her book.
Nowhere in our dream career does the author have to debase herself with the icky practice of self-promotion. She doesn’t have to constantly post about herself, her book, herself, her book until she’d happily gouge out her own eyes with a fork rather than look at her face again.
I wanted to write a whole post about what I hate about self-promotion. But here’s the thing. Authors, we should embrace self-promotion. We wrote a book! Books are a valuable contribution in a culture where some of our best-known citizens achieved their fame by posting pictures of their bottoms on the internet. Yes, many people find talking about themselves to be abhorrent. Yes, many of us are embarrassed by having to sell ourselves along with our book. We don’t want to live in a society which rewards unchecked narcissism and ass photos; we want to live in a society that values literature, the awareness of which presumably floats out of the ether and into people’s brains without the author having to post an endless stream of #shelfies.
I’ve realized since my book came out that people hold a legitimate interest in authors, possibly not to the same degree as, say, movie stars, but still. Readers do like knowing something about the person who created the characters they love and they enjoy hearing about the process of creating them. We have to get over our reluctance to talk about ourselves; it’s unavoidable if you actually want to share your ideas. (This is often particularly hard for women, who are trained since birth to focus on other people.) If that’s the case for you, try to remember: you are promoting a book, and books are the intellectual engines of society. Do not be ashamed.
In that spirit, here are a few of my tactics. I didn’t hire a publicist for this book, but I am curious about other people’s experiences with that. For this post, however, I tried to focus on things that don’t cost exorbitant amounts of money.
Bookstagram. I LOVE bookstagram. For the uninitiated, it’s the segment of Instagram where the book nerds hang out, and it is a beautiful place. You can find it by searching hashtags: #bookstagram, #booknerd, #bibliophile, etc. Like the rest of Insta, it’s focused on aesthetics so you’ll see some of the most gorgeous book photography you can imagine. (As someone who literally plays with her books on a daily basis, I am 100% in favor of this.) People discuss what they’re reading and why; and yes, there is some criticism, but it’s generally without the toxicity of Goodreads. These people are fixated on their love of books, not how offended they are by them. And they are friendly: they tend to like authors and are often happy to help them. If you don’t mind spending the time to bond with other book lovers, this is a great way to interact with readers. Fair warning, though: you’ll have to spend a lot of time taking pictures and captioning them.
Twitter. I hate Twitter. It’s so fast and short-lived and I struggle with brevity. (Obviously.) And it’s mean, largely populated by venomous subhuman rabble-rousers spewing up out of the dark web. And it seems pointless: I never see the tweets I want to see unless I search for them. But here’s the thing: I just checked and my link to my website on Twitter does have clicks on it. So … maybe it does drive some awareness. Also, there are lots of other writers there and it’s wonderful to meet them.
Facebook. Duh. At this point, everyone is familiar with the algorithms Facebook uses for professional pages that prevent people from seeing them unless you pay. This sucks for authors, who tend to be impoverished. But Facebook is still good for making connections with would-be readers: there are an infinite number of groups devoted to whatever you wrote about. Find them and join them and build up an organic presence in them.
Your Website. Oh, how much time this takes! But yeah, you have to have one if you are publishing a book. It’s a good way to build up a newsletter following: if you post good content, you’ll eventually gain followers. I know you might be thinking what the heck am I gonna post on a website, but remember: you are a writer. Write stuff and post it! Book reviews, interviews with other authors, writing advice, poetry, pretty pictures of books, articles you’ve written or links to articles you like, unpublished material sitting on your computer, whatever. You are an interesting person with interesting things to say.
Book Bloggers. Reach out to them. Again, this takes an investment of time; you are more likely to be successful if you follow them, comment on their posts, and interact organically. But these are your people! Follow the ones who like your genre on their social media sites and then follow their most active public followers and interact with them too. Ask if the bloggers would like an interview or if they’ll help you with a cover reveal. Since you are a writer, you presumably love to read… this one should be enjoyable.
Local Publicity: Don’t forget all the social-scene websites in your city. Send their writers advance copies of your book and offer to write an article or two for them. Befriend the owner of the indie bookshop in your town and make sure she knows you’re willing to speak to book clubs. Practice talking about yourself; it’s difficult at first, but at least it’s a subject you know. Figure out what in your book is most relevant or timely to your community and ask TV morning shows if they’d be interested in a segment. (If this doesn’t work for your book, perhaps there is a subject on which you’re an expert. Try to get your name on people’s lists of resources.)
Start a fun campaign. Because my book cover is a gorgeous piece of art, I asked people to take pictures of it wherever they live or travel. I have all seven continents and dozens of cities and countries! This is free and I’ve met some fantastic readers this way. #TravelsWithThe Queen.
Finally, it wouldn’t be an article on self-promotion if I didn’t, uh, self-promote. I’d love for y’all to join me on Instagram or Facebook or even Twitter! If you like book recommendations, author interviews, travelogues, or writerly stuff, visit my website or sign up for my quarterly newsletter (at the bottom of my website.) I’d love it if you read The Queen of Hearts. And finally, if you want to help an author you love, rate or review her book.
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