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Self-promotion thoughts, part I

I apologize because this is long. I'm not finished yet, and it's long.

Social media is everywhere, and for stay-at-home writers with small children, it's often the only reliable way of, well, socializing; all other social events take a lot of organization and lead-time. If your small child needs attention Right Now, you can pause email in the middle with no harm done; you can post short status updates or tweets, and you can read and contribute to your social streams when you can manage to steal a few minutes here or there.

My children are not small anymore, but I'm still at home most of the week, working on two deadlines (or more, depending on the month). Twitter is like a water-cooler during work. When I'm stuck on a scene or I'm tired of the isolation mixed with door-to-door intrusions I duck into Twitter and read or respond.

Twitter - for me - is a little bit of social interaction in the middle of a day (well, mostly night) that would otherwise be All Work. It's a way of keeping in touch with my friends or their kids, and many of the people I follow on Twitter, I know in real life.

I don't, of course, know all of them.

(I know I said this was about self-promotion, but as usual, before edits and revisions, I err on the side of context.)

My social media is social, for me.

Because I am a writer, and because I've been writing for a couple of decades now, I know many writers, so my Twitter stream is very author-heavy. That said, what I want from it is still social in nature.

More context.

I've worked in bookstores since I was sixteen years old. First, at Classics, a now defunct chain, as a part-timer, and later, at Bakka, as full-timer, and then manager. During the first ten of those years, there was no social media. And during the first ten of those years, which saw the publication of my first few novels, the common and accepted wisdom was: Writers write. Promotion was not something we were required to worry about, and in fact, my then-editor discouraged it.

Books, however, still sold without that promotion.

Sometime while I was working in the bookstores, the larger chains that dominated the North American landscape began to charge for placement. When I was working at Classics, for the whole of my tenure, there was no placement fee charged for books; we decided where they would go. We decided how many pockets were faced out at the front (usually and not surprisingly, this depended on how many copies we received). We decided what went in the windows, on the front counter, everything.

No authors sent us bookmarks. We did get ARCs when publishers went all out, as well as posters, publisher-printed bookmarks and other bumpf. Classics didn't use dumps, although they were shipped from time to time.

But we didn't get spam, because there was no spam; we didn't get twenty-five links a day, because the web was still mostly run on Lynx.

Books still sold.

Now? Authors are expected to do their own promotion. But the expectation is handed down largely by publishers in my experience. I've done the bookstore slog, but my chain experience was a looong time ago, and anyone who's been in those trenches more recently, please feel free to correct me.

No one I ever worked with in a bookstore cared that authors promoted themselves. If the authors were hideously pushy -- and twenty years ago, it was far easier to be classified as pushy, people being more conservative -- it was offensive; it wasn't seen as helpful to us if they were friendly, although it was certainly nicer. I.e. We didn't expect the authors to be out in the ether shilling their own books so we could sell them.

No - we were foolish enough to think we knew what would sell in our own stores.

In this day and age, with the spread of ebooks and self-publishing, some promotion on the part of those authors is necessary; I understand that. Being in a brick and mortar store or chain is itself a higher level of promotion than many people realize if they haven't started the self-publishing route from scratch; J. A. Konrath, famous for his success selling his ebooks wouldn't have had a platform without those earlier, traditional sales, because no one would have known who he was.

HOWEVER (yes, I know, long context, long digression).

I am primarily coming to Twitter as a reader. I come to LJ as a reader who writes. There's a community here that I'm part of, and if I have long absentee stretches when the workload rises above breathing level, I always return. I feel at home here. But: I'm a writer.

Balancing the social with the promotional is hard. If LJ were my only on-line presence, it would be very close to impossible because putting up notices every few days in the month before a book's on sale date doesn't work for me as a reader - so I've no expectation that it will work for anyone else who's here as part of the LJ community. (Seanan McGuire doesn't count. If you ask me why, I'll explain later).

I have a web-site on which information about my books, past, present, and future, is available, and on that website, I try to answer more focused my-work-only questions as they come up; I also post news about upcoming releases there. I feel much less self-conscious about posting status reports and pre-pub notes about various books on that site because it's not connected to LJ and the LJ community.

My web-site does have its own small community (although there is a lot of crossover), but because many of those people found the site by googling after they'd read my books and wanted more information about them, I kind of feel like progress reports and publication news are public service announcements. It's part of what they're looking for. I also don't feel like I'm monopolizing conversation by answering questions that are entirely and only about my books there, and it means that people who hate to read about my cats or children -- or, more germane, my musings about process, craft, business and the occasional rant -- don't have to.

People who do come to my LJ know that my LJ is less focused on those things, and they're happy with the wider angle of view.

However, if I posted the same things on LJ, and only those things, I think that the LJ writers would drift, because the conversation would be turned inward, rather than outward; this is also why I don't crosspost between the two. LJ writers pretty much are my community on LJ, because many of my readers here do also write.

And because my desire to be on LJ comes from the desire to socialize, I really don't want that.

Twitter is the same for me; LJ posts (like this one) do take a lot of time, and it's often time I shouldn't have (and of course, what am I doing right now?). But the drive to use social media as an advertisement is strong. Writers are often afraid. They're afraid their books won't sell if they don't. They're pressured to self-promote, but no one is handing out manuals, and frankly, if we were all excellent at socializing, we would probably be in different professions.

So some people take to extremes because they feel it's necessary for their books. I understand that fear and that drive. But.

If writers do this a lot, they are promoting themselves out of my reading existence. I understand that they feel they need to do this, and I'm not saying they shouldn't; I am, however, saying that what I need is at least as important to me, and what I need is not advertisements in a constant stream.

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
elialshadowpine
Oct. 1st, 2010 10:05 am (UTC)
One of the e-publishers I am with actually tells authors that while they aren't going to discourage promotion, they have not managed to directly correlate sales with any of the commonly accepted online promotion tactics. They have basically said that the best promotion is to write the next book, and one of the things they see happen too frequently is for new authors to get so busy promoting that they don't have time to write. And that's just not good.

Truthfully, as a reader, I don't much care for authors that only promo. I like blogs like yours, like Tamora Pierce's, like Richelle Mead's, etc, that talk about other things. I have bought a number of authors, actually, simply because I read their blog and liked what they had to say. I have specifically not bought certain authors because they were, pardon my language, promo whores. I have defriended authors off Goodreads and Facebook because they kept spamming me with events and recommendations for their own book. It is definitely possible to be an annoying prat about promotion, and I really wish more authors would realize where the line is. *sigh*
msagara
Oct. 2nd, 2010 05:12 am (UTC)
One of the e-publishers I am with actually tells authors that while they aren't going to discourage promotion, they have not managed to directly correlate sales with any of the commonly accepted online promotion tactics. They have basically said that the best promotion is to write the next book, and one of the things they see happen too frequently is for new authors to get so busy promoting that they don't have time to write. And that's just not good.

That's the first time I've ever heard this of ebooks. To date, all of my ebooks are related to one of the publishers, so I don't see a lot of the ebook side of things; thanks for mentioning this!
elialshadowpine
Oct. 2nd, 2010 05:52 am (UTC)
Ah, I should probably clarify that mine is a small digital-only e-publisher, not a NY publisher that also releases digital versions. :) I don't really see that it's that different for either, though; some authors are not good at promoting without putting so much time into it that they're short-changing their writing, and some are not good at promotion without coming across as pushy and annoying... and neither are good.
msagara
Oct. 2nd, 2010 05:57 am (UTC)
I don't really see that it's that different for either, though; some authors are not good at promoting without putting so much time into it that they're short-changing their writing, and some are not good at promotion without coming across as pushy and annoying... and neither are good.

I think the argument I've always heard -- and as I have little experience I can't refute it -- is that it's a totally different thing, because without the huge self-promotion push, you won't sell.

I do think the short-changing and the not writing is an issue, but as I said, I've been told it's more of an issue without the self-promotion. This is the first time someone with any knowledge has said what you've said :)
elialshadowpine
Oct. 2nd, 2010 06:16 am (UTC)
The reason I say it's probably not that different is because with digital-only publishing, there are so many publishers out there, and so much being published, that if you don't get your name out there, the argument is that people won't pick you out of the crowd of books.

I think some things are necessary, like a website, simply because you want to make it easier for readers to find out about your work. But, when I first started e-publishing, it was recommended by my then-publisher that I do a host of self-promotion. In addition to the website, I should keep an active blog that wasn't just about releases, schedule online chats, visit reader groups and participate, arrange for reviews and interviews on reader sites, participate in all the social networking groups I could (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, GoodReads, etc)... and that's just the stuff that doesn't require you to spend money or go out of the house. Other authors have recommended buying ad space on reader websites, giving out business cards, having bookmarks made and placing them in similar books in bookstores, doing the con circuit, so forth.

The thing my publisher brings up is that out of all the possible things authors can do to promote, there is probably something you'll enjoy doing. Myself, I like hanging out on web forums and chatting to people. I could happily spend all day doing that (and sometimes do *cough*). So leverage that, put something about your book in your signature, and people who like what you have to say, will check you out. But, there are probably lots of things that you HATE doing, and forcing yourself to do everything, just because you "should", is going to make you miserable, take time away from your book, and not look very good to readers, either.

Anecdata! I did everything I was "supposed to" with my first couple ebooks and sold maybe 20-30 copies of them. The third one, I didn't even promote at all because I was dealing with personal garbage, and it's sold somewhere around 500. This is not to say that promo is junk and nobody should do it... but it's not as make-or-break in regards to sales as marketing people would like you to think.
msagara
Oct. 3rd, 2010 06:51 am (UTC)
The thing my publisher brings up is that out of all the possible things authors can do to promote, there is probably something you'll enjoy doing.

Your publisher is a really smart person, imho.
twiegand
Oct. 1st, 2010 10:56 am (UTC)
Living three to three and a half hours away from you, I use LJ and your posts to tap into good conversations with you and others that I wouldn't get other than three or four times a year. I want to read what you write and that includes your post here. If you were simply pushing your latest book at me, I don't think that would work so much. Like in our stores, you need to connect with the customer on a personal level as well as sell to them. As a customer of yours for those many years, thank you for being a friend as well.
phillip2637
Oct. 1st, 2010 11:26 am (UTC)
I'm not sure where the dividing line is between promotion and "here's what's up with me lately" for creative people. If I'm following someone because I'm interested in what they do (as opposed to those I see as information streams), then I'm at least as likely to enjoy hearing about their artistic progress as about the antics of their pets. Part of my reaction depends on whether it's framed as a personal message or an advertisement but more, I think, on the amount of repetition.

On a different point, your context description about the changing expectations for self-promotion seems to parallel the wider business attitude that says workers are entirely responsible for their own career development. I wonder if the time lines match up...and whether there's a common catalyst.
mtlawson
Oct. 1st, 2010 11:30 am (UTC)
The separation of business (website) from social (LJ) makes perfect sense to me. When self promotion becomes your entire reason for socializing, you not only alienate people but you lose some perspective. I do my best to keep the social and business separate, because I don't want my entire life consumed by work. I have it bad enough being on call 24x7, why make things worse?

(Seanan McGuire doesn't count. If you ask me why, I'll explain later).

I'll bite. Why doesn't she count?

(Okay, you probably figured I'd be the one to ask, right? That was my unofficial job back in college; If a question needed to be asked in class, I was the one to do it.)
sarah_prineas
Oct. 1st, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
Well, you already know that I agree with you completely!!

I write for kid readers (mostly), which you may know already, and what that means is that I get a fair number of kids commenting on my LJ, which is a blog aimed more at friends and fellow writers. The kid readers comment anonymously, because LJ isn't their community, and their comments are seldom about the subject I've posted about.

The comment trail here is an example: http://sarah-prineas.livejournal.com/94820.html

I'm starting to think that I need to do what you're doing, which is to host a separate reader-oriented blog on my website. It's a bit more work, and it might require a website upgrade (ugh), but it might be the solution.
msagara
Oct. 2nd, 2010 05:17 am (UTC)
I'm starting to think that I need to do what you're doing, which is to host a separate reader-oriented blog on my website. It's a bit more work, and it might require a website upgrade (ugh), but it might be the solution.

I think janni also has readers who are younger, so she's aware that some of what she might otherwise post might not work for them -- but I could see where it might be constraining when interacting on your own LJ.

I found the set up took a few days because I am so not a competent web person, but after that, it's not unlike LJ, in terms of work to post. Otoh, I do not have a very fancy website.
romsfuulynn
Oct. 1st, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
You are missing one other piece though. I read some of the writer blogs I read because they are inherently interesting and funny, even when writing about the utterly mundane, or everything and anything.

John Scalzi's Whatever and Robin McKinley are two examples of blogs I read because a good writer can write about taping bacon to a cat or handbells and hellhounds and be interesting.

So I'm reading for the writing. But pure promo - ick.
teenagewitch
Oct. 1st, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
I understand not promoting your books on your LJ. I read your LJ because I want to read what you are up to, what your thinking, not because I want a sales pitch about how I should be buying your latest book(you don't need one of those for me anyways).
msagara
Oct. 2nd, 2010 04:35 am (UTC)
(you don't need one of those for me anyways).

A) I love you :D.

B) In some ways, even on my web-site, that's sort of the point: people who have been reading for a while, however they found me, don't need the sales pitch. They've made up their minds. And you don't need to read my books -- at all -- to interact and be social here, to comment about your own experiences or give your opinions.

An Australian friend said it's the on-line version of telemarketing - go to an author's site (when you like their books) and get a barrage of advertising. He's not fond of it.
teenagewitch
Oct. 2nd, 2010 05:10 am (UTC)
I can agree. I don't think I would be quite as fascinated if I was on sale-pitch overload.
spiffikins
Oct. 1st, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
Over the past year or so, I've started "accumulating" authors on my LJ friends-list. I enjoy reading the books that they/you write, so it's a given that I'm likely to enjoy other things they/you write.

That being said - while I'm not generally one who invites advertising, I do appreciate it when authors at least mention when a new book will be available - and remind me when it comes out.

If it is a book that I'm going to buy anyway, and it's of value to the author for me to buy it during the first week of release (which is what I've been hearing recently) then I appreciate being alerted that "it's too early - if you see it in stores *don't* buy it yet" or "this is the week in which buying the book has the most impact".

It's a fine balance - but I think I'd find it odd if an author didn't mention *anything* about the new book, in their blog :)

amber_fool
Oct. 8th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
I've been accumulating authors as well, because if I like their books, I'll probably like their random musings on life or whatever.

But I agree that I'd like a reminder (sometimes I forget to mark on my calendar that a book is being released) or for a smaller author, if buying at a certain time will have a better impact, that would be good. But for most authors I read, that's going to happen once or twice a year. Not going to be cluttering up the LJ/blog/whatever a whole lot.
book_wench
Oct. 2nd, 2010 04:34 am (UTC)
I agree with you entirely, though I will note you seem to be more organized about it than I am. I do find it annoying when I follow someone on Twitter or friend them on face book or here and then get nothing but advertising. I don't mind an alert when a new book is released--nobody except James Patterson releases books so frequently as to be annoying. I myself am abysmally incompetent when it comes to promotion, although I do try.

But, yes, as a reader looking forward to the next book, I do want to know when an author isn't going to make the deadline (see Patrick Rothfuss) or when it's been submitted and a date been set. So I like your split-up of info like that in one place, and other stuff in other places.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )