Promote without Being a Pest

You’re published! Woohoo! Congratulations! You’re excited, you want to celebrate, and most of all, you want to tell the world so they can all buy it up and make you rich and famous (ha-ha).

That’s great! But slow down. Take a deep breath and think about how you’re going to do it. With most publishers’ limited marketing budget, you get a pat on the back for understanding how important it is to promote your work, and you get a pinch on the cheek (any cheek will do) for having all that enthusiasm, but you need to go about it with a clear head. Once all your friends and family members have bought your work, it can be difficult to sell it. However, it’s incredibly easy to turn people away forever.

I’m no expert with all the answers, and I’ll never say that I’m always right, but here’s what I’ve learned about healthy promoting, or at least what works for me, and also what annoys the hell out of me (so chances are, they annoy other people, too). Whether you agree with it or not, I hope I can offer food for thought.

For this, let’s assume that your marketing budget, like your publisher’s, is scarce to non-existent. With the Internet, that’s not necessarily an issue. So let’s say you’re on Facebook, Twitter, you have your own site with a blog, and you frequent message boards. You’re off to a good start, for sure.

First, a few things to consider with social networks: on message boards, remember that you’re talking to a fairly small group, and it’s likely that only a small percentage will buy your work. If it’s a board with more authors than fans, knock that percentage down further because everyone else is probably there for the same reason – to sell, not buy. The same goes with Facebook and Twitter: got a lot of friends? How many are other authors who added you for the sole purpose of advertising their book to you?  How many of them are likely to buy your work, let alone look at your page once in a while?

With the above in mind, it’s even harder to sell what you’ve got. So don’t be a pest and scare off what chances you do have to make some sales.

The most important thing is to sell yourself. There are so many books out there, they can all blur together regardless of their cool covers or catchy titles. But there is only one you, so use it to your advantage.

Before posting anything, anywhere, put yourself in the reader’s shoes and try to imagine the worst possible way that your message could come across. Let me give you some scenarios of what might be taken as pest behavior, and offer negative reactions to it from readers. It’s not necessarily how I specifically react, or how all readers will react, but we’re thinking of worst possible way, right? And trust me, it happens often.

Say you join a message board, and the very first thread you start is something to the tune of, “Buy My Book!” Your second is “Hey, check out my book!” And your third is “Have you bought my book, yet?”

Possible reaction: “Ah jeez, another spammer. Dude, who the hell are you and why are you interrupting us? I don’t care about your damn book so stop throwing it in our faces!”

Obviously, something about the message board captured your attention or you wouldn’t have found it. So mingle. Read some of the threads and post your opinion. Make some friends. Have fun. Then, if you make the occasional remark about your work, people are more likely to pay attention, perhaps buy something. And if you have a banner or a simple signature with a link, then every post you make comes with promotion without shoving it down anyone’s throat.

The same goes with everything else. Keep sending tweet after tweet about your book and watch how many followers you lose. Post one advertisement after another on your blog and then wonder why you’re not getting any hits. Let people know that you’re a human being. Get personal, and mingle. Post replies on other people’s blogs. Reply to posts on Twitter or Facebook, and try not to bring your book into the conversation unless someone asks. Surely, you have a bibliography page on your blog or website. And you have links to your site on the social networks, right? They’ll seek it out if they like you, not the literary equivalent of a spam bot. And for the record, I regard those irritating application invites as spam. If you have a few friends who are into that, cool. If you see the application on someone else’s page, fine. Otherwise, don’t throw all that crap at their doorstep.

So now you’re on Twitter, being yourself and everything is going well. But you’re losing followers, anyway. No one seems interested. Look over your tweets. Are they anything like this?

“I’m getting ready to go to work.” “I’m at work. Going to get a donut.” “I’m home now and I’m hungry. All I had was a donut.” “I’m eating a sandwich.” “I’m tired.” “I’m checking my emails.”

Possible reaction: “Booooring! Quit clogging up my Twitter with this crap. What? This person is an author? I bet the books go like this: ‘John went to work. He ate a donut. When he got home, he ate a sandwich and checked his emails.’ No thanks.” Clicks un-follow.

You’re a writer. If you want people to be interested in your writing, don’t “write” boring things on the Net. This doesn’t mean every Tweet has to blow people away, but shake things up now and again.

Say you’re watching the news and something really pisses you off. You jump on Facebook and type: “All democrats/republicans/Christians are idiots trying to oppress mah rights!”

Possible response: “What a jerk. I’m deleting this person forever!”

If you’re talking about controversial topics, be sensible. True, people get offended by everything these days, and political correctness is boring, so what do you do? Well, for starters, don’t be hateful.  If you jump on the Net and go off on how much a group of people sucks, then you just alienated a ton of potential readers. And while it’s probably best to avoid political or religious threads on message boards (they usually end in flame wars), there’s nothing wrong with voicing your opinion, if you can do it in a polite and thoughtful manner.

Speaking of spreading hate, here’s something else: don’t be a douchebag. There’s being shocking, funny, rebellious, etc, and then there’s being a total ass. So many people think they’re being the former, when they’re really the latter. It doesn’t make you a bad boy or girl. It doesn’t gain readership. Sure, it can get hits to your site, but not in that, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna buy a book” kind of way. Even if you think you’re being clever by using alternate names on boards, it often looks more obvious than you might think. Just don’t do it. We all have bad days and blow up once in a while. That’s understandable. But if you’re running around going off on everyone and being an idiot, people will either get pissed at you or point and laugh – neither equates sales. Troll = pest.

Sure, if someone else is being a douchebag, tell ‘em if you want.  It doesn’t hurt to speak your mind. But before clicking “Send,” “Post,” etc, consider it for a moment. If you really want it out there, click away. But if you don’t think any possible backlash, drama, or other such nonsense that keeps you from being productive is worth it, then hit “Delete” and move on.

Okay, one more, since I’m getting long-winded: say you get on Facebook and think, “Hey, if I start a group for my book and a fan site for myself, I can invite everyone on it. Then, they’ll all love it, and me, and tell everyone else to join up, too!”

Possible reaction: “What the hell? I don’t even know this person and he wants me to be his fan? Aren’t fans supposed to create fan pages? Well, I’m not doing it.” Clicks ignore. Next week: “What?! He’s inviting me to be his fan again? Every week, it’s the same thing!” Deletes the person. Next week: “Another friend request from that fan author! Stop it!” Blocks the person. Then: “And now someone is trying to get me to join some group for a book I’ve never heard of. Fine, if they’ll stop sending invites, I’ll join it but I won’t look at it.” Later… “What’s with all the damn emails from this group? Arghhhh!” Leaves group and receives more invites to join it…

See the pattern here? If some people are seeing sales from that, great! But I imagine there are more annoyed people than intrigued.

Develop an honest fan base first and let it go from there. Otherwise, it’s an evolved version of what I’d mentioned earlier, where authors friend you so you’ll look at their book, with no care whatsoever about who you are. If you accept it, the next thing you get is an invitation to be their fan and… well, see above. Again, if enough people like your work, they’ll come together and either put something like that together or request it of you. Then, by all means, do it! But don’t force it. The other exception is if you reach the 5,000 friend limit, requiring a fan page to receive more. If that’s the case, and those 5,000 didn’t just add you because you wouldn’t stop requesting them (as in, most might care about your work) then a fan page would be totally necessary, just don’t hound people about it like above.

So with all that said, if you’re not flipping the bird at the screen (yes, I saw that!), you might be saying, “What the hell, Jerrod?  Am I not allowed to talk about my book?”  Of course! Just in moderation. Even better, play it up in emails to those who conduct interviews for their radio show, magazine, or website. When something is lined up or available, post about that. Point people to reviews and interesting news related to your writing. And once in a while, post an excerpt or something. Offer a giveaway. I’m not saying you can’t promote your book; just don’t be a pest about it. Balance it out, and have fun doing it.