|“Nen Dreier, det Schäfchen” by Theodor Hosemann|
So, in case you missed the to-do on Friday, I posted a “pledge drive” that was intended to be jocular but also nudge-nudge in its approach, and I received some negative feedback about its thrust and style (along with lots of positive feedback from people who didn’t think anything of it).
And if it seemed like I was a bit twitchy about it on Friday, I have to be honest that I’m particularly sensitive to criticism when it comes to self-promotional activities.
Because here’s the thing about self-promotion: It sucks. It really sucks.
If self-promotion were an insect, I would squash it with the world’s biggest fly swatter. If self-promotion were a field I would burn it and salt the earth so it could never live again.
It doesn’t feel right to stand in front of a crowd and shout, “Me!” and no matter how much you try and cloak the self-promotion in elaborate disguises, it can still feel kind of icky. And if you don’t enjoy the spotlight, self-promotion in all its forms can be downright terrifying.
This is one of the hugest drawbacks about an era of publishing where publishers expect authors to shoulder the lion’s share of the promotional activities. No one I know enjoys self-promotion, and no one out there particularly likes being promoted to either. People usually want to hear about new things from enthusiastic and neutral third parties, not the hugely biased person who created the thing.
And when it comes to social media, the Internet dislikes it when something they are accustomed to getting for free suddenly comes with strings attached, even if those strings are only of the heartstring nature. It’s such a fine line between reminding people about your book and hoping they buy it while not alienating your audience and turning into a shill.
So basically: Self-promotion = not fun!
And yet I know what I would tell someone else who has a new book out: You have to do it. No matter how much you might dislike it, no matter how much negative feedback you get about it, no matter how much it makes you cringe, you gotta do it. You have to give your book a boost, you have to make your network aware of it, you have to do everything you can to help it sell. The era of being just an author, if it ever existed, is over.
Do it as non-annoyingly as possible, but do it.
Sure, it would be fantastic if you had an army of rabid fans or a fabulously wealthy and dedicated publisher to do all the promotion for you. But unless you win the publishing lottery, that first boost has to come from you. You have to build your own army and hope they start evangelizing and creating new converts. You have to get that first bit of momentum going. Otherwise your book will quietly disappear into the great unknown.
So… yeah. It ain’t fun. But there’s a lot of noise out there, and sometimes you have to shout to make yourself heard. Even if you cringe the entire time you’re doing it.
And to show I practice what I preach, here are some links to buy JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW. Kirkus said of the series, “There’s plenty of set-up for future volumes; fans will hope they won’t have to wait long. ” (And you won’t: JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE is coming in April).
Barnes & Noble (hardcover)!
Barnes & Noble (Nook)!
Melissa Blade says
Great advice. Don't listen to the naysayers.
Personally I bought a copy of Jacob for my 7-year-old son and look forward to reading it with him.
I thank you for this blog!!!! Buying a copy of your book is the least any faithful reader could do.
Omg, I can't believe I actually have MORE to say about this. I promise this will be short, and the last post from me.
First, I hope someday you become more comfortable with the spotlight Nathan, if you want to, because you have so much to offer and share.
Second, I really think there is one reason and one reason only to blog, and that reason is: You like to blog. You like sharing your thoughts, or fostering communities, or disseminating information, or other stuff like that. Blogging is a very powerful form of writing, and should be valued for that – a distinct and important form of creativity.
Lowering blogging as a means to an end is really selling it short, imho.
This is not directed toward you, Nathan, it's actually some thoughts that came up after reading Livia's blog post.
p.p.s. April??!! Arrgghhhh!!!
You're doing a great job. Please correct me if I am wrong, I thought having a blog was a form of self-promoting. There isn't anything wrong with self-promoting, if you believe in your work and talent so will others. I am an author for children's books and its's a hard market to sell. Self-promoting with confidence is different than with arrogance and you are not arrogant. I bought your book and love it…congratulations on your next one. Your blog inspired me to create a blog for my writing. I have learned a great deal from you. You are a very wise person for being so young. Be confident and proud.
"[….]I think it gets at the extent to which platform isn’t about superficial relationships or basic name recognition but rather a real connection built between an author and their audience. Basically platform is the number of eyeballs you can summon at any given time, and with so many distractions competing for our attention, only a strong connection/affinity will motivate someone to go out of their way to buy a book." -Nathan Bransford, on The Writer's Inner Journey blog
I can't wait to receive and read his Wonderbar book, but frankly, I (probably along with the majority of this blog's readers) am NOT a member of the book's target audience. Let us summon all the grade school kiddos in our lives to go read it!
Phoenix Sullivan says
I don't like it. It's hard. It feels icky. But it has to be done.
Where have I heard that before?
Oh yeah. Writing QUERIES!
And how do we learn to do that? By studying what works and what doesn't. By joining crit groups and getting feedback.
By writing one.
By revising it. And revising it again. And again.
Some people get it right eventually. Some never do.
Sometimes what snags your target is something no one else thought to do. Or something even your critters didn't think would work.
Sending out your first queries is hard — you don't know what the response will be. Just like taking your first steps in promotion.
Sometimes promoting will backfire. That's called rejection.
Sometimes promoting will cause goodwill and raise awareness. That's the request for a partial.
Sometimes promoting leads to someone checking out your book. That's the request for the full.
And sometimes promoting leads to controversy that leads to discussion that leads to awareness that, after another 5 or 6 impressions, leads to sales. That's landing the deal.
And if you keep getting rejections without requests? Then it's time to rewrite your query and try again. And again. Until you close the deal.
The more you do it, the easier it gets. Right? (Please say that's right.)
sally apokedak says
Well, I bought it, so the self-promotion worked on me. I'll tell you why. Nathan took time to answer a private email I sent him, even though he was, at the time, a busy agent. I appreciated all the time he put into the blog and his willingness to answer queries. I'm spending ten bucks on his book, as payback, because his premise and first chapter don't grab me. It's not my genre, for one thing. (We have different tastes, obviously. He didn't offer to represent me when I sent him my work.) 🙂
What I'm going to do with the book is read it, then give it away to a kid who will like it.
I'm sorry I didn't buy the book right away and he had to self promote. Nathan's a decent guy and I wanted to buy the book right away, but I really am very broke. Still, I should have bought it sooner than I did. I'm sorry I made him ask.
I've read your blog since you were still an agent and was pretty bummed out when you made the switch. But to my surprise you continued to provide the same valuable guidance and professional perspective as before. I wasn't the least bit surprised that you promoted your book on your website, in fact it's what I expected.
With bookstores going down in flames, it sure isn't getting any easier to get your name out there as an author. I'll be honest that I wouldn't buy your book if it wasn't a genre I enjoy because I have enough things around my house that I don't need. But I do happen to like YA and middle grade—Disney and Pixar movies too. And I plan on buying it when I'm ready to add to my reading list.
If you didn't promote JW on your website, I doubt I would've come across it. And that darn psychic power company shut me down when I forgot to pay the bill.
Some of these negative posts have a slight entitlement mentality. Give me what I want for free, and you'd better serve it to me exactly the way I like it.
Keep up the good work. You're the blogger I visit most!
I keep lying and saying I'm not going to post again.
Quickly – I guess it's okay to blog to establish a web presence and let people know who you are and what you write.
But blogging in and of itself is also an art form, and that shouldn't be overlooked.
I checked out the article that Mira had mentioned in a comment:
Really puts a fresh angle on the topic–I tend to forget distinguishing between my writerly community and my platform.
Thank you Mira.
I hate self promoting until it just happens. Then I'm forced to and then people buy and then I like it when people buy and I say "why don't I do that more often.
With that being said.
you can find links on how to buy my book from my blog,
Ben Campbell says
I like your line, Bransford: "People usually want to hear about new things from enthusiastic and neutral third parties, not the hugely biased person who created the thing."
You're promoting the correct way. We readers like your fun, racy and cute Jacob Wonderbar. After all, you wrote the book, you should promote the book. Keep promoting.
Nathan, whatever you do – please don't listen to Mira. That's just pure crap. Blogging was invented for people to get a message out – blogging in and of itself is actually a business. And for someone to say that a PROFESSIONAL blogger should not blog except for the pure enjoyment of it is just plain ignorant.
This is a business and business requires marketing. Personally, I don't think you need any help in this department because you are such a fantastic blogger, you just need to take that step from FREEBIE production to SALES.
You are one of the very few successful bloggers in the writing world – don't let anyone tell you that you OWE them free content.
That's pure crap.
For me finding the way of promoting that is the least slimy is the route I take.
Yes, I want to get paid for my books, teaching and public speaking engagements.
Society doesn't give a rat's patooty until we're big like JK Rowling or Stephen King but to reach that point we have to promote the way that we can live with ourselves.
I've held contests, had a book signing in a bar (I did sell books) a Panera Bread and a local book store. It's all a toss up.
I love meeting and talking to people which is why I love conferences and book signings. I can talk to people about the titles I have out. I promote at Barnes and Noble, Panera Bread, the grocery store. Much of the time the person and I get to talking and I ask if they are a reader. I always have business cards handy.
For me the friendly approach like the above has never gotten a bad reaction.
You're right, promo can suck like a galactic hoover.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter what you do, some asshat ain't gonna like it.
This blog is terrific! I really appreciate, Nathan, that you DID keep the blog going when you changed your focus/perspective/POV from literary agent to author. You're always so accessible and encouraging–I for one find it incredibly helpful to know that even a publishing 'insider' struggles with writing, promotion etc. It's disappointing though, that a small group of commentators seem intent, not just to disagree with you (which is fine, when constructive), but to wound you, simply because you shared a vulnerability on your blog. They're either holding you on a pedestal (what Sir Nathan may or may not blog about), which isn't fair, or they're jealous of your success. Either way, as others have said here, ignore the jerks and please carry on! Susie
I once read the book "The Greatest Salesman in the World," and it totally changed my mind about being a "salesman." I used to think it was horrible and icky, too. But the whole point of that book is that, as a salesman, you're providing a valuable service to help people find what they need. So you get to know people, find out what they need, and find out how you (or your book) can deliver it.
I mean, when I go to the car lot, I want to buy a car. I hate the salesman that forces all sorts of things on me, but I love the guy who finds out what I'm looking for and can point out the cars that would work for me. I LOVE that approach to self-promotion. It can be a service, rather than a necessary evil.
Other Lisa says
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter what you do, some asshat ain't gonna like it.
Bwahahah! Thank you, @anon 9:29!
Nathan, while I can see how "self-promoting" a book can sometimes be uncomfortable for the promoter and the promotee, I think the promoter is merely doing what celebrities pay their publicists to do. But while actors, models, musicians, and reality TV stars land on magazine covers or get interviewed on late night talk shows to announce their new projects, many writers don't get this kind of exposure. Therefore, I think self-promoting is a necessity.
And self-promoting doesn't have to come across as self-promoting. I like reading the blogs of published writers or soon-to-be published writers especially when they talk about the process and challenges that went into writing and publishing their book. For example, I liked that you shared your query letter for Jacob Wonderbar because it was educational and useful to me as a new writer.
Just sharing my two cents. Good luck with everything.
Ishta Mercurio says
You absolutely nailed this one. Self-promotion DOES feel icky! It makes me feel like everyone's staring at me now, wondering when I will leave and hoping it will be soon. I hate doing it.
I think a lot of this comes from having grown up, as I think a lot of creative people probably did, "on the outside looking in." We're used to people looking at us as if we have unbearable B.O. when we try to talk to them, and that's before we start telling them that we made something really neat and they should go buy it now.
Online, however, I don't hate it so much. I still dislike it, but not as much as when it's in person. This new digital era has that going for it, at least.
It still leaves me feeling covered in icky, though.
Dave Monroe says
I find self-promotion boring. It only sucks if you don't have anything to promote or if you don't believe in your work.
We self-promote on a daily basis. At work we self-promote to get the job, then we self-promote all day both in our work ethics, our duties, the way we dress and present ourselves in the workplace.
Everything we do is a variation of self-promotion right down to the car you drive.
There are many ways to self-promote and not all are standing in front of a crowd and screaming "ME!"
If you are not comfortable promoting yourself or your work, you get an agent or a publicist.
Istvan Szabo, Ifj. says
"It only sucks if you don't have anything to promote or if you don't believe in your work."
True. Don't expect others to enjoy your work and it's advertisements if you can't enjoy it too at least on a minimal level.
Marie Ohanesian Nardin says
I'm looking forward to the day when I, too, will hate self-promotion; still in the query stage!
Darlene Underdahl says
You've got to do it and it feels awful.
Family and friends won't do it for you. There is a little envy toward the person who got their act together and wrote a book.
What you get from family and friends is word of mouth, but that's good.
Mister Fweem says
When I have a book to promote, I'm going to promote it relentlessly. I don't understand why anyone whould take offense at an author saying at every opportunity, Hey, I wrote a book. It's good. You should buy it. Haters need to look at "Secrets of Successful Fiction" by Robert Newton Peck, who plugs his books relentlessly at every opportunity and thus, at the time he wrote the book I mention, had all of his books still in print.
Geoff Gardner says
You should know it worked. I'd been planning to buy your book for my son to spark some summer reading, I just haven't gotten to it…until you made it easy. And to prove that I learned from the post, here's my blog on writing: https://geoffgardner.blogspot.com/
This is a perfect and wonderful post! As an author, it KILLS me to try and push people to buy my book, but as an author it KILLS me to have spent years on something that isn't getting read. It's a catch 22, and the lesser of two evils is sucking it up and asking people to buy your book.
your self-promo convinced me to buy your book, and it's not even my demographic. i did it cause i love your blog, and i want you to keep writing it.
the book hasn't arrived from powell's yet. when it does, i'll review it on powell's and goodreads and amazon.
it seems like a really small thing, for all the insight and good advice and cheering on you've given us.
Promotional Items says
I agree with you Joanne, there are others who are born to dislike and not agree with you even if you have the nicest and brightest idea. And as of for self promotion, successful people does this. It may sound lame but we have to do it anyway. Believe in yourself so others will.
I've been holding off on making a comment, because I wanted to think through my response first. Because on some levels, I disagree with you.
The proof, of course, will be in the numbers–or it would be, if you could track them, and how many copies you sold through each promoting activity.
I've never understood why advertisers don't seem to recognize that the age of hard-sell has had its day. Instead, in the face of consumer indifference, they scream louder, try for a new gimick, paint their product with a jazzier look.
I don't see that working. I'm not impressed by the shenanigans. It makes me shake my head and think somebody in marketing must be trying to justify their salary. I buy what I need. I buy the brands I already know will work. I buy for best price, best value. The rest of it is all noise. And by this point in my life, I'm very, very good at tuning it out. As a matter of fact, I make every effort to do so. Nor am I the only consumer who does.
Now, I have to make a confession that comes with a bit of an "ouch" to it, but this is what can happen when a potential buyer hits the saturation point. When you first announced Jacob Wonderbar, I was thrilled. I would have bought a copy right then and there. Problem was, the book wasn't coming out for more than a year. And by the time we went through such intense pre-release promotion via the blog, I had–well…. Lost interest. I got tired of the seemingly endless selling.
You see, I don't read the blog to buy a book. I read it for the industry information, and because I like the blogger. And I probably would have bought the book, or at least given it a read on those two points. But not when it's pushed at me.
Now, I do believe that authors need to promote their books. But promotion, when it's effective, should not involve shouting to an audience that's holding its fingers in its ears in self-defense.
There are many people who follow your blog who love you dearly, and have been glad to buy the book, but I wonder: Wouldn't most of them have bought it anyway? Because you'd already made these connections, and friends and supporters? Has any of this–except for maybe a brief announcement and a book trailer–actually sold any books? Or was it, in fact, the publishing blog (and the connections with its readers that built you such a following) that was really the most important "promotional" activity, even if it seemed to have nothing at all to do with Jacob Wonderbar? I tend to think it may have been.
And I do honestly wish you all the best, from my heart. Even if I am a jaded and cranky consumer.
Nathan Bransford says
Yeah, the promotion did sell books.
Matthew MacNish says
I just want to point out one more thing: I've been reading this blog for over a year and a half, and the information and knowledge that I've gained from it cannot be measured by something as limited as dollars and cents.
Does that mean I owe Nathan? Yeah. I think so. If he ever asked me for help with something (can't imagine what he would need, but, you know) I would jump on it. I would feel obligated.
I mean yes on some levels Nathan is a friend of mine, as far as online relationships go, but really it's just the fact that he's given so much of his time and shared so much of his experience for free, and that I have literally gained so much from those efforts, in very concrete ways.
Now I actually get the best of both worlds, because a friend bought Wonderbar for me, as a gift, but I intend to buy more copies at some point, to get them signed so that I can give them as gifts as well.
Do I owe Nathan $14.99 x3 or however many copies I end up getting because of everything he's done for me? Nope. I owe him a lot more.
Now I'm not saying that this is how everyone should feel, I can only speak for myself, after all, but I think we have to realize there is a reason why this blog is so wildly popular: it provides an incredibly valuable service, which takes a lot of time and effort to provide, and it's scott free.
I enjoy reading Nathan's blogs. I've only been reading it a short while (maybe two months?) but have picked up on a lot of things I could use.
Personally, I love self promotion. I enjoy talking about ME! LOL But then, I also love hearing and learning about others.
The book I wrote was aimed at a specific audience. "In the Arms of the Father" is aimed at deaf and hard of hearing folks. Why? Because how many stories that are fiction, involve deaf or hard of hearing people?
So I self promote shamelessly every day. Yes, even though it first came out seven years ago, I still shamelessly promote the book, and will continue to do so.
Thank you, Nathan, for the wonderful tips I've been able to use these past few moths. Please continue!
Marisa Hopkins says
Nathan, I don't know if you are still reading comments this far down, but I just wanted to say that seeing you self-promote is what made me really WANT to buy your book. (Granted, I already did – I'll love it and I'm sure my daughters will, too – but now it's at the top of my list)
I'm not an author yet, but I’ve worked as an independent illustrator since ’04, and promoting myself (which is my LEAST favorite thing to do) is the only way I was able to build my customer base. And it sucks. So, so much. But because of self-promotion, my art is hanging in children’s rooms all over the world – that is amazing to me.
I assumed that when I get published someday, my self-promo will be over, and now I'm seeing that this is not the case. And seeing you jokingly rally for sales, in the same boat as me, opens my eyes to the fact that art is art and selling is selling, and when I sell my books someday, that self-promotion will be necessary, despite the suckage.
This blog is your space – You built it and heck, you can do what you want with it. It’s sad that people would be so rude. 🙁
Your blog is the first place I went when I learned of writer/agent blogs. It has been a wonderful way for me to learn, as well as connect with other writers. I wish you the best of luck.
J. T. Shea says
I've just promoted myself to Supreme Lord High Potentate and Commander-In-Chief of the Known Universe, not to mention the unknown universe, which I won't mention.
Third parties may be enthusiastic, but are they ever really neutral? Everyone has some biases if they have personal preferences at all.
Heartstrings attached? I like it!
Don, you look YOUNGER than the Jacob Wonderbar target age! But i'd go easy on the Ritalin…
Anonymous 8:03 am, good point! I've often wondered just when were the good old days of publishing, and what exactly was it publishers did for their authors that they don't do now.
Livia, I loved your blog post about blogging being a waste of time. Which sounds kind of postmodern, doesn't it? But I've been thinking along those lines myself for sometime. Let's face it, most of us readers of Nathan's blog are probably pre-teens in mental age only!
But, if blogging is a waste of a writer's time, what about my commenting on another writer's blog? Or commenting on yet another writer's blog on the first writer's blog? Yikes!
J. T. Shea says
Anonymous 9:29 am, how can Nathan or anyone else comment on your blog when you're anonymous?
Patrice, what makes me think you're not a Republican?
Glad to hear your promotion did sell books, Nathan. But Kevin Lynn Helmick's last question does intrigues me. Just what are Dial doing to market Jacob Wonderbar?
Excellent posts, Mira! But the hardcover is $11 on Amazon, for example, just $3 more than the paperback.
Anonymous 8:19 pm, you misread Mira. Blogging can be a business AND an art AND a pleasure, all at the same time!
Anonymous 9:29 pm, AMEN! My problem is the asshat who doesn't like what I'm doing is sometimes myself.
BTW Nathan, just what is that kid in your top pic selling? Eggs?
I'm glad to hear it's worked. I guess at that point it comes down to individual ideas of what's effective in promotion and marketing. I wish I could say, well, can we track numbers of sales made as opposed to those lost due to certain strategies? but there's no way on earth to track negative and possibly illusory numbers.
I think that's what really makes this game so wicked, because the hard math tends to be absent from so much of the picture. It's a bit like authors giving away business cards, pens, tote bags, etc. with their book logo on it. Marketing, yes. Promotion, yes. Effective? Dubious, according to some, including Jessica Faust.
I guess the only rule is that as long you're comfortable that something is working in this regard (and preferably not illegal or immoral), you go for it!
I'm waiting to get my Macbook and the Kindle app for it (soon, very soon!) so I can get the Jacob Wonderbar e-book! I hear authors earn more if one buys their e-books.
- -Alex McGrath says
Haha man I just got my first negative feedback today.. but it's cool, whatever. I think I do a good job of self-promoting while still making sure that isn't the ONLY thing I say to people.
Fiona Leonard says
I'm in the 'it doesn't have to suck' camp. When I first started promoting my book I found it terrifying. What's very cool though is when you start talking to people who connect with what you're writing – I received an SMS in the middle of the supermarket one day from someone telling me how much he was loving my book. That sort of experience is priceless.
I think about self promotion in the context that someone out there is trawling a book shelf looking for a book to go home and curl up with. There's nothing better than the feeling of finding the book you can't put down and want to tell all your friends about. If I can give someone else that experience then that's a pretty cool thing.
Then it's just finding a way to do that that feels comfortable to you.
Wendy. Blog Author says
I know you posted this forever ago but i'm so glad I bookmarrked so I could come back and read it now. Nathan I am a skills development consulting and I suffer because I dread doing what you have so correctly said. No matter what the sector you're in, you have to get out there becayse there are my contemporaries who are so balsy and it looks to " OMGshedidn'tjustdothat" low. But you've given me great food for thought. Btw, you're more than welcome to self promote to your heart's content on my blog. I started it to try to support writers in a small way because I love books. check it out and feel free to let me know if you're interested in doing a feature: https://fabulosityreads.blogspot.com/
Pumpernickel Park says
"Who dares wins." A good motto for writers to keep in mind. There is no rule that says you can't, or shouldn't, self-promote yourself. In fact, if you don't, get used to obscurity. 🙂 Great post Nathan!
I've been thinking a lot about this post, and finally wrote up my own thoughts. I have a slightly more optimistic vibe about self promotion — hopefully that will hold after my book comes out 🙂 The post is here if you're curious.
Mr. Bransford, not sure if you're still reading the article comments, but…
It's not that I don't have confidence in my writing. It's that I don't have confidence in myself. I wish it were possible for the book to stand on its own without anyone knowing anything about "me."
I'm not as personable as you are, and am in fact terrified of meeting/interacting with people. If only I could be the "hypothetical entity" behind the curtain with a delegated avatar to promote for me, Cyrano-style. Sadly, in this TMI age it seems identity is your "brand" and your words are your product. It's a sad state of affairs when Random House sells its soul to Madison Avenue.
Btw, John Updike had something to say (in the negative) about publishers' demands on authors to shamelessly self-promote:
Word verification: "inacties." The crawling cooties you feel up your spine when you realize you'd rather be an inactive writer-slash-recluse than an active promoter-slash-"fame whore." (Pleasant company excluded, of course.) 🙂
Thanks for writing this! I opened a small business and to inform people about it you have to self promote! I HATE IT! You post here comforts me! Thanks again and I will check out the book because I know you hate the self promotion thing too!
Melanie Schulz says
I struggle with this. Mainly because I have followed some blogs and loved them and then stopped following because all the reasons I started were gone. All they talked about was their book. NOw I understand that the nature of a blog is that what was already posted gets pushed down so the blogger has to repost some important things or they may be missed, but I am afraid of becoming what I hate; someone who only talks about themselves.