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Entries in conferences (1)

Wednesday
Jun272012

Self-Promotion: The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly

I had a lovely time at the Writer’s League of TX 2012 Agents Conference in Austin this past weekend. I made new friends, met some of New York's best literary agents, and learned a ton about the wacky world of publishing.

Two topics came up time and time (and time and time) again.

Self-Promotion is a Requirement

Whether published by the Big Six or Kindle Direct, an author handles the bulk of their own promotion. I expected this for indie houses, and it goes without saying for self-publishing. But it was surprising to learn that even successful, multi-book-deal authors, published by Hachette or Simon & Schuster, for example, must spend a good chunk of time building and maintaining their “platform.”

In one respect, I think this is good. Nobody’s more excited about my amazing plot and fabulous characters than me. Who better to sell it? From an integrity standpoint, self-promotion is great.

Time-wise, however … not so much. I’m not a marketing professional; I don’t know the first thing about branding. And yet I am the brand, so it behooves me to figure it out. Establishing an online presence takes time, and keeping it going takes longer. As if it weren’t hard enough to grab a few hours of writing-time to begin with, all this time spent promoting means even less time writing. Not good.

Love it or hate it, resistance is futile. This is the new reality of publishing, a point so universally accepted it’s written into contracts. At the conference, I met a best-selling author who’d published over 20 books with HarperCollins, and she spent just as much time on self-promotion as self-published authors.

If you think being traditionally published means less work on the business side of things, you’re fooling yourself. You need a strong presence, and you need to start building it yesterday. The good news is …

Social Media is Your Friend

Like all your other friends, it loves when you take advantage of it. Okay, maybe not, which is why you must cultivate the hell out of this relationship. This is a friend you want to keep around for a long time, after all. Those kind of friendships don’t just happen overnight. Don’t expect to join Twitter and have a Neil Gaiman-like following in a week. Especially if all your tweets go something like, “My book is on sale,” “Look at my amazing book,” or “OMG PLZ BUY MY BOOK YOU WON’T BE SORRY!!!!”

Yeah, I already am. Or not, because I clicked “unfollow” ten tweets ago.

At the conference, this aspect of social media was likened to newspapers (but without the dying-medium aspect). Papers tell us what’s happening in the world, right? We learn something new, we’re touched by poignant human-interest pieces, and we laugh at Dilbert. Bottom line is we-the-reader get something from the experience. Sure, there are ads. It’s a business, after all.

But imagine if EVERY SINGLE PAGE offered nothing but ads. We’d stop reading pretty fast. Likewise, readers will stop following your Twitter feed if you do nothing but slap them in the face with your book. Put some time and effort into it. Don’t be afraid to tweet about something off-topic. Chances are if it interests you, it will also interest your followers. Better yet, make your tweets relevant to your book. If you wrote a thriller about a cutting-edge prototype, go forth and tweet about the latest tech advancements. It’s a great way to reach potential readers in your target audience. But use book tie-ins sparingly. The goal is to inform and enrich—not alienate.

Not a fan of Twitter? Not a problem. There are plenty of other outlets for authors to connect with readers. Experiment with Facebook, start a blog, decorate a board for your book on Pinterest, connect with professionals on LinkedIn. And don’t worry. You don’t have to do them ALL. Take a test ride and choose whichever you like best.

Keep your audience in mind when deciding, though. Someone writing YA will probably reach more readers on Twitter than, say, LinkedIn. But the author of a non-fiction book on management trends may find the opposite.

One last tip: set a goal and stick with it. Whether you decide to blog monthly, post to Facebook weekly, or tweet daily, your readers will appreciate consistency. Just as no one wants a newspaper full of ads, they’ll be equally frustrated by something that arrives on a whenever-the-hell-I-feel-like-it schedule.

So do some research, take the time to tailor your social media interactions, and be consistent. Your readers will thank you for it.