QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Secrets to Author Promotion

Image courtesy of Makau
Being an introvert, there are few things worse than asking complete strangers to do me a favor. In fact, I hate even asking close friends or family members for favors, because I know how hectic and crazy life can be. Not to mention that days have deadlines. (I'd like to have a talk with whoever decided that 24 hours a day was enough to get everything done. Housework begs to differ.)

But, now more than ever, it's important for authors to get out there and promote their books. I shudder at this. Not because I don't believe in my book--believe me, I wouldn't be investing so many hours or so much of myself into it if I didn't--but because I'm asking people to go out and spend money on my book when they could use it for something else. Like pizza. Or that shiny book they've been eyeing for a while and saving up for.

So even though this is so far out of my comfort zone it's not even a minor planet (sorry, Pluto!) I've been looking around me and taking notes. I've watched how different authors have promoted their books and how the different approaches made me feel as a consumer.

And the one thing I learned that changed everything? Okay, there are a couple and they're all 100% my own opinion:

It's not about me.
Honest it's not. I don't have a book to promote, but I do have a blog, and the two aren't all that different. Instead of asking for money, I'm asking for your time--which is even more precious. People don't keep coming back to hear about me go on and on and on about myself or my stories. In fact, those are the very blogs I avoid, because that sort of thing is like nails to a chalkboard to me. Not saying a person should never talk about themselves, but there are ways to do it without turning people off. The best way I've seen this done is when people relax and just be themselves. No fancy glitter, perfume, or fireworks involved. And that's as it should be.

It's not all about what you can do for me.
It's not. If the first example is like nails on chalkboards, this is like rubbing salt into a fresh paper cut. Forget about being a consumer, looking at this from a purely human perspective, if the only time I hear from someone is when they want me to rush out and buy whatever it is they're selling, the Curmudgeon Within snorts in disbelief before hitting the delete button. (The only thing worse is when my name is on a long list of people that have been CC'ed the exact same email. That's salt AND lemon juice.) I've learned the importance of personalizing the email--even if it's just sending the same form email to people one person at a time rather than mass emailing--and only sending something like that to people I actually have a connection with. (This sounds a lot like querying. o.O) I love it when close friends let me know they have a book coming out, near strangers, not so much.
Which brings me to the second part of my point.

Good promotion really has more to do with what I can do for you, my audience.
Whether I'm asking for you to part with money or time, I need to have something of equal or greater value to give back to you. And hopefully it's greater. Equal value might have people coming back; greater value will up the chances significantly. So this means that I need to be listening and paying attention to what my potential audience wants from me. Will I be able to please everyone? No. But I can give my best. (And for fellow perfectionists, my 100% is going to vary day by day.) I think if someone is really doing their best, their sincerity will shine through. People like people to be authentic.

Sure, contests, prizes, and that kind of thing might make people aware of you, but I'm not sure they have the staying power on their own to keep people coming during the quiet times. Being your best, authentic self is what does that. Because good promotion isn't just looking at the short term, it's looking at getting people to come back over and over again. 

It's about participation. 
Getting my name out there so people can find it means getting myself out there. It means spending my time and money on people whether it's blogs or books. It means getting to know people and caring about them, helping them out when they need it. Not so I can get a shiny gold star sticker or more followers or comments, but because I really care and want to help. Because without those connections, having a book on the NYT Bestseller List would be a very cold comfort. How much better to celebrate among friends who are rooting for me and a big part of the reason I got there in the first place?

And if I had to condense everything I just said, it would be this:

Good, lasting promotion isn't about product at all. It's about seeing people as people, not as rungs of a ladder.

What's your take on good promotion?

Danyelle collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers in her spare time. She is currently getting ready to query SLIPPERS OF PEARL, a YA fantasy. She also enjoys making new friends, and can be found at http://myth-takes.blogspot.com.


Christine Fonseca said...

Love this! And Danyelle - you are absolutely right on, in my opinion!

E.B. Fyne said...

I, too, shudder at the prospect of going out into the world in the event I get published -- like many people I'm currently struggling through the mire of rewrites and the nebulous maze of how one goes about finding representation (how DO you write the ultimately, amazing, "I MUST see your manuscript" query letter?). So, I'm not actually there yet. But to be honest, the "going public" component is my biggest fear. And not just because I'm an introvert.

One reason I fear this issue is because the material I write addresses a lot of serious issues which have their roots in personal experience. I have a fear of sitting across from Terry Gross and then she asks me something like, "Tell me about your childhood." On National Public Radio. Additionally, I've been stalked multiple times. So I guess my real question is: how much of myself do I have to put out there?

I know other people must face these issues.

Unknown said...

Great post and just what I needed to read to keep perspective.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! It IS about the people, hands down. Excellent point.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

"Good promotion really has more to do with what I can do for you, my audience."

This is an excellent point. You can never go wrong giving more than you take.

Susan R. Mills said...

I couldn't have said it better. Excellent thoughts here.

Paul W. West, Author said...

Oh! I like this. Thank you. Great commentary!!! I can identify.

Unknown said...

Excellent advice and so well put!

Thanks Danyelle!

Robyn Campbell said...

Dani, excellent post. How'd you get so smart? And time is precious. More precious than money.

I love what you said about personalizing emails. I love to do that, too.

It's greater, my friend. Greater. :)

Theresa Milstein said...

Excellent point! I wish more people thought of their blogs like you do.

I think of my readers not as followers but people I'm building a relationship with. If they have a book to promote, I'll help, and I'm sure if I'm lucky enough to have a book promote in the future, some will do the same for me. But I don't have a blog for that purpose. I want to participate in a community of writers and teachers and anyone else who wants to stop by.

Misha Gerrick said...

I totally agree with you. Promotion, as with all things in life, involves letting people like you.

People tend to notice very quickly when you do something with an ulterior motive. So if someone can't promote without actually caring for the people, it may be better for them to just get a publicist or marketer.

Great post!

Eric W. Trant said...

The only way to succeed today is by going VIRAL.

Advertising has little to do with succeeding in entertainment/publishing/writing. I'm not even sure why Hollywood still invests the dollars in commercials. It's a waste of money. Buy your lead writer a couple of mansions instead.

Self-promotion will get you started, and it's a good way to meet people and make immediate contacts, but the true path to success is when ~others~ believe in what you have to offer, and they email, text, blog and post about how great it is!

This isn't even a super-highway anymore. Information travels as fast as you can click.

When you go viral, and you're in everybody's inbox and facebook update, that's success.

- Eric

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

I love that you emphasize how important it is to focus on the reader rather than on yourself. If more bloggers understood that people read blogs to get something out of it for themselves, more bloggers would be successful!

Danyelle L. said...

Thanks, Christine!

That's a tough question, Mariel. I think every author has to decide the boundary of how much of themselves they put out there on the Internet. It's a tough balance for sure.

Thanks, Mary!

Thanks, Laura! That's what I love about blogging--it's really about people. :)

Thanks, Krista! I feel the same way. People generally come if you have something to give.

Thanks, Susan!

Thanks, Paul!

Thanks, Cynthia!

Aww! Thanks, Robyn. :)

Thanks, Theresa! I feel the same way. I want to help get the word out about awesome authors and books, but I want to do it in a way I don't become an infomercial. ;-)

Thanks, Misha! I agree. :)

You're right, Eric. People have to believe in what you're offering if you want to get the word around in a positive way. Great point!

Thanks, Carolyn! My favorite blogs are those that make me feel like I'm an important friend hanging out in the living room and having a conversation. :)

Silke said...

People don't keep coming back to hear about me go on and on and on about myself or my stories. In fact, those are the very blogs I avoid, because that sort of thing is like nails to a chalkboard to me.
Good advice. Those are the blogs I avoid too, and I try very hard to keep mine interesting and not about my book. (In fact, the only one I got there at the moment is a post about the sale - no more.)
I try to focus on writing, little hints and tips as I come across them, rather than bang on about how well Poppy backed up in the paddock today. (Which she did, bless her.)
I have to get better at entertaining people though. :)
Thanks for the post Danyelle!

Shannon Evans said...

I always say that before an author can create their platform they need to be really clear on who is their audience. I even recommend finding a photo of the perfect person and from a magazine and pasting it on a note card and then beside the photo write everything you 'know' about that person - their likes, their dislikes, and their hopes, dreams, and desires. Only then can you really effectively write for your audience and create a platform that attracts them. Great article.