In a long-ago golden age, all a writer had to do was write; he churned out pages, presented them to an editor, and let others worry about promotion and advertising.
Those days are long gone.
Today, writers must be their own most ardent advocate, marketer and promoter. Self-promotion is as integral to writing success as any tool in the writing toolbox.
We all know the importance of self-promotion, yet many of us are horrible at it. We’re conscientious in every other aspect of our craft. We outline, we carve out time to write, we edit and do everything else we can for our work to stand out. Except self-promote.
For some fortunate writers, self-promotion is as natural as breathing. For others (especially introverts like me) it’s a daunting task, but one that must be done, and done well.
The challenges of self-promotion
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes,
To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. The authors whose books get published – once accepted as a reclusive breed – are now vetted by publicists to make sure they’re talk-show ready.”
If you’re a natural introvert, it’s probably not in your nature to draw attention to yourself. Sure, you’re able to take the spotlight when you absolutely have to, and you’re probably good at it when you do, but you’re much more comfortable working behind the scenes.
Some of us are raised not to stand out, so we struggle to post that Facebook update about the great review we just got or tweet about our book being on sale.
I’m Jamaican, and contrary to what our reputation might be, Jamaicans are actually a fairly conservative people. Usain Bolt notwithstanding, we’re not raised to toot our own horns — it’s one of the byproducts of the Quaker influence on the island. Those of us who’ve grown up trying to fit a reserved ideal often have a hard time sharing and promoting our work.
Plain old fear of rejection
No one wants to put themselves out there and hear only crickets. We all, in some way, want the approval of others, so when we share our work and get a negative response — or worse, no response — it’s painful. So, we think, why do it all?
Worry about competition
Indie publishing has opened the door for many writers, and the competition to make yourself heard is intense. It’s hard and often discouraging work to differentiate yourself from all the other voices clamoring for attention. When you try, sometimes it leads to…
Marketing and self-promotion is hard work even if you enjoy doing it. For those of us who don’t, just the thought of it can raise our stress levels, so we put it off. Then, when the time we’ve grudgingly carved out comes around, the task is so utterly unenjoyable that we burn out quickly and do the bare minimum.
So how can we make self-promotion easier?
1. Create realistic self-promotion goals
If you’re a serious writer, you’re no stranger to creating goals. From finishing a chapter to hitting a specific word count, setting realistic goals is second nature. So what makes our marketing goals different? I’ve spoken with writers just beginning their promotion efforts whose goals included:
Add 100 Twitter followers in a week
Increase sales 4 percent in a month
Build and promote a Facebook fan page and get 50 likes per day
Strictly speaking, none of these goals are impossible, but for first steps, they’re pretty lofty. Instead, set more attainable goals, such as:
Tweet your book/article/reviews twice per day
Submit your book to three review sites per week
Once you achieve these goals, set the bar higher for the next round. Achieving modest goals gives us the confidence to attempt harder ones while avoiding the burnout we feel when our goals are overwhelming. (Click to tweet this idea.)
2. Keep what’s working, drop what’s not
Most social media platforms allow you to measure your engagement with your audience. Marketing and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk writes in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,
Ignoring the deep analytics available for your Facebook fan page (and other platforms soon) is the equivalent of stepping into the ring without even having watched a video of your opponent during a fight.”
Even if you’re just beginning your promotion efforts, getting familiar with those tools will give you a huge leg up, allowing you to fine-tune your efforts. Is Google+ not working for you? Drop it. Is Twitter driving sales? Tweet more often.
Whatever the case, concentrating on the platforms that work for you is not only smart, but will keep you motivated as you reach more and more readers.
3. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Chances are your social media feeds are full of people giving great advice about self-promotion, so you don’t have to come up with a plan from scratch. Research how the experts are doing it, then use their tried and true techniques to jump-start your own marketing efforts.
4. Use available tools to your advantage
It’s strange, but sending a tweet or posting a Facebook update about my work in real time is intimidating. It’s much simpler to write my promotional tweets and set them to go out in advance.
To do this, I use Tweetdeck and Buffer. In addition to being solutions for my real-time phobia, they save time, as I can set my tweets and updates and forget them.
5. Shift your focus
In my 9-to-5 career, I’m a Director of a department for a NYC consulting firm, and I constantly present on behalf of my clients. I’ve spoken before senators, commissioners, council members and community groups (often hostile ones), and I’m never flustered. Why?
Because I treat what I do like the business that it is. My career, as important as it is, isn’t held as close to my heart as my writing.
Shifting your focus to seeing your books as commodities to be sold as opposed to the work you hold so near and dear to your heart may help to remove the personal aspect from the equation, thus making promotion easier.
How do you feel about self-promotion? What strategies work for you?