January 31, 2017
by Michael J. Seidlinger
Writers tend to focus completely on the craft of writing. During that time spent quarreling with the line, sculpting the page, few writers think about what happens next. What do you do when you have something to publish, something to share with like-minded people worldwide? Suddenly you have something to show for yourself, but what do you do to be able to actually, you know, show it? This guide will help you navigate the pitfalls of self-promotion and help you get your work into the hands of readers who will appreciate it.
Editors and writers constantly talk about the importance of fleshed out, realistic characters. This is no different when it comes to promoting both yourself and your work. You don’t want to pretend to be someone you’re not. Adopting a personality that isn’t yours will come off inauthentic and forced. At the same time, it is important to remember you are a character too, so be sure to show more than one side of yourself. Think about who you are outside of your writing—day job, hobbies, sense of humor, fashion sense—and don’t be afraid to share the other parts of you that make you interesting. People who care about you are likely to care about your work, and vice versa.
You may be tempted to push your work upon any and all that might be there to listen. You may want to apply for every award under the sun, carpet-bomb every venue, site, blog, editor, with what you’ve got in store. Don’t do it. Don’t push your work on a writer, editor, or even a reader, unless there is clear evidence they are interested. Even then, be calm and exercise restraint. Remember, you aren’t selling cars; you are trying to get someone to connect with what you’ve written. It’s acceptable to pitch potential readers when you’ve already gotten their attention, but never post, preach, or shamelessly appoint yourself the ability to talk up a book no one has asked you about. No one is friends with the car salesperson. No one trusts the car salesperson. Pitches must come at appropriate times, and go through appropriate channels. You could be at a party chatting with the biggest agent or editor in the industry; still, don’t mention your book unless he or she asks. Respecting boundaries is as important as being gracious, and respectful behavior will ultimately be rewarded. Remember, this isn’t about merely the one book. You need to think about your career, and you want your early supporters to still be by your side when you publish your fourth book.
We’re over a decade into the 21st Century and there is no use in denying tools that might help you. Sign up and take part in the literary discussion on social media (Litsy, Instagram, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.). If you can only tolerate or only have time for one, choose the social media platform that works best for you. If it’s Facebook, start both a Facebook profile and an author page. It is okay to post directly about your book via the personal page, but reserve those posts for major announcements and highlights. The author page is where you don’t have to worry about post frequency or too much promotion: the people that like your author page like it because they want to know everything about your book, from readings and events to reviews. If you’re on Twitter, in addition to interacting with fellow writers, take advantage of the Twitter Drafts feature and schedule your tweets ahead of time—this way, you won’t forget to tweet about upcoming events and important dates.
However, you shouldn’t use social media only around the time of your book’s launch. It’s unfair to expect people to support your work if you’re not there to support theirs when the time comes. By taking part in the discussion year-round, you will naturally build a mutually supportive community. Over time, you’ll see that, despite the long solitary hours writing, publishing is a communal act.
Even though many writers consider themselves introverts, it’s important to participate in your community, and not just on social media. Go to your local readings, literary events, and festivals. If you can afford it, plan a trip to a national conference, such as AWP, or another city’s book festival. Self-promotion is a two-way street: you are selling your book to other authors who are, you guessed it, also looking to sell their book to you. Anyone who has given a reading to a sparsely populated room knows that by supporting the work of authors you enjoy in person, you employ a sense of kinship and camaraderie that goes above and beyond a simple retweet or shared post. If you’re nervous about showing up somewhere and not knowing anyone, give yourself a role by volunteering. Many festivals, literary journals, and nonprofit publications are in need of volunteer help at their events. You may just be pouring wine or directing foot traffic, but you’ll have an easy way to meet people, and something to do with your hands.
So you’ve listened to my advice and you’re now set to fly to AWP next year. You’re on Twitter, following tons of people, many of whom have followed you back. You go to events locally and you’ve even dabbled with the idea of offering to volunteer with one of the many literary ventures in your area. Be aware of your surroundings, the people you meet, the places you go, the people that approach you and chat with you about your work. You will want to keep track of the names of authors/editors/booksellers as well as the venues/publishing houses/bookstores where they are involved for the inevitable moment when you’ll have a reason to reach out and follow up for your readings, events, etc. It’s imperative to be open-minded and willing to engage in conversation. If you find yourself afraid and keeping your distance, remember that part about being yourself. It may also help to remind yourself that these are writers and book nerds; everyone is anxious and awkward and afraid of making a fool of themselves. You are not alone.
Everything about the publishing industry and the literary craft takes time. One author might find success overnight but the other 99% need to be ready to continually slug it out, day-in and day-out. It’s normal, but unproductive, to get frustrated with your book sales or the number of rejections, or to feel helpless because everyone else on Facebook seems to be not only selling books but also getting all the acceptances, awards, and book deals. Giving into these feelings can cause writers to become exhausted and burn out. It is important to remember everyone feels the same way, sees the same newsfeed bubbling up with the seemingly endless accolades of others. You are not alone, and that’s precisely the reason you become part of a community in the first place.
Remember what you’re building, and by that I mean, what are you trying to accomplish? Everyone has their own reasons for self-promoting. Maybe it really is as simple as wanting one more reader to buy your book, and that’s a noble goal. But chances are, your goals are more complicated than that. I cannot stress this enough: you need to know what you’re striving for. If you’ve published your first book with an indie or a micropress and want to publish your next books with a larger publisher, you need to meet an editor or an agent that not only champions your work but also proves to be a trusted friend. This means you’ll have to get involved, go to a publishing conference, do more than send a query. If you want to read at a prominent reading series, you need to actually attend the series, meet the curator, maybe even volunteer to help. It helps to continually revise your goals. They will keep you centered in how you operate and act as a literary citizen in the days, months, and years to follow.
You are not just the one story, the one poem, the one collection, the one book. If you take everything in this article to heart, the message is simple: people best connect with the work of someone they can relate to. Moreover, readers stick around and follow an author if they develop stake in his or her career. By being involved in a community, you are able to see things from all sides. People will get to know you as someone dynamic and genuine. You will be far more successful promoting your work when it doesn’t feel like a sales pitch to both you and those that might be there to listen.I’ve mentioned this above, but it bears repeating: to self-promote is to be yourself, to accentuate who you really are, to present yourself in a manner fitting of how you will operate and navigate both your community and career. That one book you have, it’s important, sure, but ultimately what helps promote the book is you.—Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels including The Fun We’ve Had and The Strangest. He serves as director of publicity at Dzanc Books, book reviews editor at Electric Literature, and publisher in chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he never sleeps and is forever searching for the next best cup of coffee. You can find him online at michaeljseidlinger.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@mjseidlinger).
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