Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Art of Shameless Self-Promotion

In this day of publishers’ itsy-bitsy budgets to market new writers (oops, did I say “itsy-bitsy”…actually, I meant non-existent), writers have to find ways to get the word out about their books. It’s hard to do, when many (most?) writers are the type of people whose idea of fun is sitting at a desk tapping at a computer—uninterrupted!—for several hours—alone!

The old model of showing up at a bookstore and hoping to sell a bunch of books is not necessarily translating well in our brave new world (unless you’re selling that bunch of books to friends you’ve roped into the bookstore by promising a party). So many writers and publicists are looking to blogs and social networking to fill this marketing gap.

But there’s an art to that, too. First, while it’s VERY easy to start a blog (simply click on that little link on the upper right of this screen that says “create blog” and voila, you’ve got a blog), it’s less easy to find readers for your blog…I mean, beyond the friends who buy the book at the bookstore reading anyway. Second, it’s very hard to write something on your blog worth reading Every. Single. Day. (Exhibit A: See this fabulous recipe I posted yesterday because I couldn’t think of anything else to write.)

Finally, the biggest problem with this new model is one that people don’t think about: there’s an art to shameless self-promotion. Just as you don’t walk into a party with a bunch of people you don’t know and start talking about how great you and your kids are, you shouldn’t start writing a blog that only talks about you-you-you and how amazingly wonderful you-you-you are and how great-great-great your book is. Or the Facebooking/Twitter equivalent. Who wants to read that?

Maybe I’m from the nice humble Midwest (okay, not maybe: I am), but I often find some of this shameless self-promotion appalling. I don’t mind artful self-promotion—heck, I admire it!—but what about these examples:

--From Facebook, someone asked on a post, “What’s the quickest way to be defriended? Beg me to friend you, then when I do, slap links about your new book all over my wall.”

--How many times can one post various reviews of the movie (the movie!) made from your book? (Note: this was a major movie, not some sweet indie film that could use a boost.) I don’t know the answer because I got sick of the barrage and hid this annoying person until the movie safely moved off to the world of On Demand and Netflix.

Artful is this:

--Mentioning during a reading that your work will be included in the forthcoming Best American series, then telling a very funny and self-deprecating story about contacting the guest editor of the series. We were all definitely impressed by the credit, and we were also impressed by the good humor and realization that at a certain point, there’s a lot of the crapshoot involved in every good thing.

--Writing on your blog about someone else’s book/story/poem that you admire…extra points if this writer is not dead and in whichever canon you ascribe to, and extra-extra points if this writer is someone you DON’T know and DON’T want a blurb from.

--Remembering that at a party, people are not really there to hear you blather on about your book. They are there to blather on about something of equal importance in their own lives…let them get a word in. Ask some questions. Make them feel special.

--Passing out a card or book postcard should never be done within the first two seconds of meeting someone. Ideally, you might want to preface the handover with this: “May I give you a card?” No one’s going to scream, “NO!” so you’ll get your card out there in the world, but in a nice, polite, respectful way.

--The most important aspect of artfully promoting yourself is something I learned while I worked at a Chamber of Commerce, where networking is as prevalent as oxygen. The people who were the best, the people who got the job-sale-recommendation-whatever, were the people who built relationships, not the people who immediately asked for what they wanted. The people who were the best, knew that you need to GIVE before you can GET. People who believed in generosity.

Instead of trying to think about how a person can help you, think first about how you can help them. For example, in conversation, you think that their work sounds good for that new literary journal you heard about that’s looking for stories. So you make the offer: Do you know about XYZ Journal? Your work sounds perfect. Then you lock it in: Let me give you my card—if you email me, I’ll send you the address. And of course, follow-up and promptly email the address. See? Now here’s someone disposed to think of you favorably.

Was that so hard?


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.