Zen and the Art of Self-Promotion

I hate self-promotion.

I’m not a particularly modest person but I prefer to let people discover my good points over time, rather than loudly and insistently advertise them up front. And I judge others more or less the same way—the braggarts and blow-hards are discounted, while I take time to get to know the more confidently interesting ones who don’t feel the need to tell me right away every last one of their accomplishments in life.

Now square that with a career choice that requires a heavy dose of my loudly and insistently advertising to others just how wonderful my books are. Not only that, but that people should open their wallets and joyfully watch those dollars flow my publisher’s way.


So I made a decision a long time ago that it would not be like that. There had to be better ways to self-promote.

One person who does it particularly well is my agent, Kristin Nelson, whose blog Pub Rants is a daily stop for many writers, both aspiring and published, and industry professionals. Kristin is a very nice person and she used to be a professor, so she genuine wants to impart useful information. But she is also an extremely savvy business woman who knows that a widely read, widely respected blog is a perfect venue to promote her authors—and herself.

It’s no secret that when I queried, I queried her exclusively—I wasn’t going to try any other agents until she’d turned me down. Part of it was Miss Snark’s consistent praise of Kristin as a fabulous agent. The other part was months of reading Kristin’s blog and seeing for myself how she adroitly balances helping others and promoting her clients and herself. The woman presents an absolutely stellar image online—every bit of it backed up by her real life demeanor and job performance–and it didn’t take me long before I decided that I wanted to be on her team.

Another person who does a bang-on job is Bettie Sharpe. The serialization of Ember, how brilliant was that? And Bettie might not have originated the pay-it-forward contest, but it was on her blog that I first read one.

So with all these luminous examples before me, what have I learned and how have I implemented my own self-promotion?

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. The Hippocratic Oath of self-promotion: first, do not annoy. Jane of Dear Author scared the living daylight out of me with her sharp-eyed catching of blog comment abusers. Not that I was ever going to do it, but now I don’t even think about it.
  2. If at all possible, make sure others benefit from my self-promotion efforts, whether it’s by dissemination of knowledge, entertainment, or what have you.

Here’s the implementation part.

1) I volunteered to be the PAN (Published Author Network) Liaison this year for my local RWA group. Sure it’s work compiling things like everyone’s release schedules for 2008, and will be even more work when I get around later on to compiling an e-mail listing of local booksellers, but it gives me a legitimate excuse to cold call booksellers, introduce myself, and ask such fun things as whether they might want to join the PAN authors for lunch.

2) I queried and received editorial approval to write an article for the Romance Writer’s Report (RWA’s monthly magazine) on how library systems acquire fiction, particularly genre fiction. I am personally fascinated by how it works and I think a lot of other authors might be interested in knowing how their books do or do not make it into libraries. But it’s also a good opportunity to introduce myself to the adult fiction buyer for the my local public library system—not to mention get some questions answered by Super Librarian, whose blog I enjoy very much and whose purchasing dollars I would not mind coming my way.

3) I got up at the crack of dawn to write a double-review for Bettie Sharpe’s Ember and Like a Thief in the Night. Bettie is one of the fiercest writer to come along in a long time, but I did not actually decide to write the review until I’d read LATITN and enjoyed it—I’m one of those crazy people who take their own credibility dead seriously. But once I decided to do it, I made sure I did it properly. I contacted Jane of Dear Author–she has one of the highest trafficked blogs–and attached a giveaway to the review (which Jane graciously doubled)—who doesn’t love free books? It was for Bettie—especially the getting up at the crack of dawn part, so that I could get the review done in time for a high-traffic day and that she would receive the exposure she so richly merited–but I also knew I was publicizing my own name. I mean would you even believe it if I said that I wasn’t aware that such a gesture would harm me none?

4) Whenever I can, I write blog pieces that, if not useful or entertaining, at least try to be thoughtful. (Yes, I know it’s a disgrace how I’ve neglected this blog again, especially after I made a New Year’s Resolution to be less neglectful. Shame on me.) With a big line-up of guest-blogging spots in March and April, sometimes my head throbs just wondering how am I going to come up with original content for everyone. But I will, because that is the least I expect from myself.

Does any of it work? Who knows? But given all the publisher support that I’ve received, it is incumbent on me to do as much as I can on my end to promote the debut of Private Arrangements. And I can only do what I feel comfortable doing.

So far, I have enjoyed myself: it’s great fun talking to booksellers and interviewing librarians and promoting Bettie; it’s completely liberating to never participate in blog discussion with an eye toward putting my book out there; and it’s amusing to read over old blog posts and go, lol, I said that?

Tomorrow, mutually beneficial self-promotion continues with the Query Consultation Prize finally up for grabs. (It will be a separate post of its own.)

5 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Self-Promotion”

  1. Okay, Sherry. Again I’m thinking that we might have a decent amount in common. 🙂 (I thought it the other day when I read your ventures in self-designing your website, and months ago when you pled for beautiful writing.)

    My thoughts as I read this? 1) Yes, I, too, would much rather promote through helping others, than just brag. That way I can still respect myself. Besides, even if the promotion aspect isn’t successful, I’ve still done some good for someone. 2) I’ve noticed the same things about Kristin, and she’s on the top of my agent list. I want someone who knows how to use the web for marketing at least as well as I do, and preferably better. And 3) I am also fascinated by the book industry and how books get from publishers to all the places they get. I’ll be looking forward to your article, since I’ve wanted to know for a number of months, now, how libraries choose which new books to get!

    Okay… this comment is long enough. I’ll just add that I won a copy of Private Arrangements from DearAuthor, and I can’t wait to read it! If you’d like a little bit of praise, I’ll tell you that the prose in your excerpts is, indeed, some of the most beautiful that I’ve had the privilege to read.

  2. Hi Sherry!

    Add me to the list of people who don’t like self-promotion (I blame my Lutheran upbringing. Drat that Protestant guilt!). Which is why I’m so crazy grateful to everyone who promoted, reviewed, recommended or just plain mentioned Ember or Like a Thief.

    I like the idea of promotion via giving stuff away. I need to get my contests in order (who knew simultaneously working, going to school and trying to write would be so hard to juggle?). I was thrilled to win a copy of Private Arrangements in the Dear Author contest. (My husband has started making fun of the obsessive way I’ve been checking the mailbox lately.) I’m going to hold a contest to give away the copy I would’ve bought for myself if I hadn’t won at Dear Author. 🙂

  3. I subscribed (via RSS) to your blog a while ago but never got around to commenting (well, and you sounded so busy!). But this post struck a chord with me. There is so very much emphasis on self-promotion these days, with every author who’s been around half the block listing all the things they feel they MUST do to get their work out there.

    And I understand the need, I absolutely do. But so often their self-promotion ends up looking so naked and needy and, I believe, it backfires badly.

    You’ve gone about it in a very classy, organic way. Blog posts here and there, choosing high profile blogs, providing real, meaty content. Book excerpts. Showing us who you are as a writer, as a reader, as a person.

    It feels unforced and therefore I think is very effective. Nobody likes getting the hard sell, but everyone, I think, likes getting a feel for an author, peeking behind that curtain just a little. And I for one am looking forward to reading the (Dear Author ARC, yay) book and telling other people about it. And I know from other friends that Private Arrangements is on their radar too.

    Fact is, I’m taking notes here. 🙂

  4. Katie said,

    even if the promotion aspect isn’t successful, I’ve still done some good for someone

    I love how you put it.




    Lol, I had no deliberate design to put myself out there so much. But I’m most grateful that people have offered me publicity opportunities.


    Thank you. But lol, don’t take notes from me, I’m just a fellow learner myself.

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