For many of us, the idea of self-promotion is about as appealing as eating dinner in a train station bathroom stall.
But if you are a burgeoning writer – self-published, small press or even big press – one of your tasks in this book-flooded age is to market yourself. This is true whether you’re the manager (and only employee) of your own multi-media, multi-outlet social marketing machine; or you have a large staff doing the marketing for you, and your job is limited to blogging and book signings. If you’re a writer, you are the brand, at least to some extent. That means self-promotion is a part of your job from day-to-day.
For those of us who aren’t, well, raving narcissists, self-promotion can be counter-intuitive to say the least. Most of us have been socialized to believe that tooting our own horn is unseemly and conceited (especially women, I’m sorry to say). The idea of trying to foist our latest novel or blog onto total strangers can be nightmare fuel. Is it possible to self-promote without losing your integrity and humility? If so, how do you get past all those doubting voices in your head, and open yourself up to the world?
In my experience, those people who are most modest and self-conscious about promoting themselves often have the most thoughtful, insightful and interesting contributions once they are discovered. Not always, but often. The trick is to find a happy medium between hiding your light under a bushel and becoming that annoying person who just won’t shut up about their damn book.
As you might guess, I have some suggestions:
- Be worth promoting. Before you launch yourself on the unsuspecting masses of twitter, the blogosphere and Aunt Cynthia’s Christmas party, make sure you feel confident in your own product. In the case of written works, make sure they represent your true best efforts and that you’ve taken the time to edit, proofread, and solicit honest feedback from people who are able to be unbiased. Notice I didn’t say make sure your product is perfect. That would paralyze you for sure. If some of your timidity about promotion, however, stems from genuine embarrassment about your writing, you may want to investigate and correct that before proceeding.
- Address your fears. If talking to people about your book makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why. Are you afraid of rejection? Striving for perfection? Uncomfortable with criticism? Unsure how to handle attention from others? Whatever it might be, the only way to get beyond fear is to confront it head-on. Write down what scares you, say it out loud (to yourself or someone else) and ask yourself what the worst realization of your fear would look like. Could you survive the worst-case scenario? If the answer is yes, then once more unto the breach, dear friend!
- Remind yourself of #1. You wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t think you had something to offer, right? If you’re too humble to spread the word about something you spent months or years crafting, revising, and… basically birthing, you might be robbing the world of something truly valuable. You also might be robbing yourself of an opportunity to gain feedback, improve your skills, make money, win acclaim, share your story, and maybe even make a career out of this.
- Get the ‘lay of the land’. You wouldn’t start off a new job by storming into the conference room and pitching your own pet project on the first day. The same goes for promoting yourself. When you enter a new online community, give a speech, join a writer’s group or address a new twitter contact, stop to look around first. Learn the rules and ‘listen’ to the tone of a chat stream before putting in your two cents, do your research on any group or person you’re propositioning directly, and make a soft, respectful start. For heaven’s sake, don’t let your first interaction be a request that someone buy or read your book, like your Facebook page, or follow your blog. How about a little foreplay?
- Be genuine. Nearly all successful ventures are built on relationships. Real relationships. And believe me, even on twitter, people can tell the difference between someone who is entering the conversation to build connections in good faith, and someone who is only promoting themselves. Promotion is a two way street: it takes listening, absorbing and responding to others as well as trying to get your own point across. It’s also a long-term proposition, requiring cultivation and care.
- Share, don’t sell. We all have negative, slimy associations with the archetypal idea of door-to-door insurance salesmen and cold-call telemarketers. Why? Because their one and only goal is to close a sale and move on to the next target. In reality, the most successful salespeople are those who listen, learn, and fill a genuine need, without pushing potential customers to an uncomfortable place. Self-promotion’s main goal should be keeping your name and your brand ‘out there’ in front of writers and readers, so that when they go looking for their next book, they might think of you. The goal is NOT to push everyone you meet to buy your book (more on target markets later).
- Give first. This means something different in every context. Promoting someone else’s blog posts instead of, or alongside, your own. Tweeting another author’s book promotion. Connecting two people you know who might help one another with no thought to how it benefits you. Volunteering. Listening and empathizing with someone else’s story without launching into your own. Emotionally investing in and asking about the lives and projects of others. And, maybe this should be obvious, but in my experience it’s not: you should talk about other stuff besides your project in whatever forum you’re in. Be multi-dimensional. You know, like a person.
- Take the hint. If people unfollow you frequently on twitter and no one ever seems to re-tweet your posts, if no one shares or comments on your Facebook page, or if people drift away from you at parties as soon as the topic of your writing comes up, it’s possible that either (a) you’re not putting out quality content and information or (b) you’re making it too much about you. Don’t let this ruin your dreams. Just ask for feedback when appropriate, re-evaluate, and re-engage by listening more.
Self-promotion doesn’t have to be slimy or annoying. It’s about developing genuine, mutual relationships and having the courage to share about yourself and your work along the way. The people you meet will give you feedback (sometimes via silence, which is useful, too) and as long as you incorporate that feedback with an open spirit, you’ll be well on your way to promoting like a pro.