What author self-promotion turns readers off? And what works? What has inspired readers to try a new author?
Will new authors ever be asked to cross lines they might be uncomfortable with? How far are you willing to go to promote your book?
I asked author Kevin Wignall about that. Kevin said, “When People Die was first published my UK publishers based their publicity hopes on me coming out as a former MI6 agent… I refused, of course, despite the fact that they secured me a slot in The Times to talk about my experiences. But rather than move on, Hodder’s PR vision crumbled to nothing on that refusal to play along. The lesson? If you weren’t in MI6 or if you’re not willing to talk about it, you better be sure you have something else that is worth talking about.”
The name’s Wignall. Kevin Wignall.
Hmmmm. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Not to mention that he’d have to give up the Pimm’s and drink martinis. Sounds like a PR group that was looking for a British version of Barry Eisler.
At first, I thought this was pretty ridiculous. Wouldn’t an author be found out? But I suppose, since spy agencies seldom confirm or deny allegations about former operatives, the official statement would be no statement, wouldn’t it? Maybe if they’d offered Kevin one of those cool cars he would have reconsidered, but I’m tempted to take a detour off the main track here, and this post is long enough already.
I think what’s critical about this is the idea that authors even have to consider fundamentally changing who they are in order to appease their publishers and try to sell books. I keep hearing people say if you can find a hook for a story about your story – something it connects to that’s newsworthy – you’ll get a lot of extra publicity, and there’s something sad about the idea that art so quickly gives way to marketability.
A few weeks ago, in my post about Harrogate Crime Festival I talked about aspiring authors blogging when they don’t have books done. I didn’t do a good job of fully explaining myself. I sympathize with these writers, because one of the things I was told offhandedly was that all books submitted were evaluated for the caliber of writing and storytelling, and then for the marketability of the author and the story. It isn’t enough to write a fantastic novel. There’s more to getting published than a well-written book – something my friend Bill Blume recently gleaned from JA Konrath.
If you don’t have a web presence these days, you aren’t just fighting an uphill battle: you’re pushing a loaded bus up a mountainside. It helps to have profile.
I find myself worrying that the quality of the books being put out is being compromised by the marketing machine that starts from before book 1 is even done, and only kicks into high gear once a writer actually makes a sale.
And then the book actually comes out…
You know, you just want to be a writer. Not a marketer. Well, okay, maybe JA Konrath harboured a secret fantasy to work in marketing, but I didn’t.
I remember the good ol’ days, when I just thought you had to worry about writing the best damn book you could, and find a publisher. I didn’t think about distribution networks, persuading people to carry my book in specific bookstores, organizing tours, having a blog, being on myspace, a website, whether I post too much or too little on DorothyL…
Now, I actually like traveling and meeting people. Yes, I have a shy streak, but I do like the idea of interacting with readers. That’s part of the reason I choose to blog. Nobody is forced to come to my blog – I consider it a safe space to talk about what’s happening with me without being intrusive.
I posed those questions about what turns readers off and what entices them to try new authors on DorothyL and a few other places. Many people responded, but not two days after I asked readers to chime in I read this on DorothyL:
“If a new author can’t SPAM you, can’t do book signings, and can’t get space on store shelves, how do we show you what you are missing?”
Let me climb right up on my soap box – I don’t know who said new authors can’t do signings or get space on store shelves (certainly Cornelia Read, Louise Penny and Stuart MacBride have, to name a few) but SPAM? Could someone seriously be suggesting authors are hamstrung because they can’t SPAM people?
I decided to do this post because I was reading discussions about sending out emails to promote one’s book and all I could think was, “For God’s sake people, if you’re emailing, at least know who the hell you’re sending it to.”
If your back is going up, remember something right now. I’m an editor. I get this stuff sent to me. Believe me, there are ways to piss me off, and SPAM is one of them. I average a few hundred emails a day. Adding to that volume with unsolicited crap ticks me off – and don’t twist that. I love getting emails from people who read my blog and people I know. I don’t love people who think nothing of invading my inbox with advertisements. In fact, I hope there’s a special place in hell for them. Not to mention that SPAM is illegal and subject to an $11,000 fine per incident. Anyone suggesting an author use SPAM (this means sending unsolicited email advertisements) to promote their book is encouraging them to break the law and take an enormous financial risk.
I’ve received some SPAM from authors this year. I keep it in a special file, to remind me of books I will never buy. Occasionally, I reply and suggest they send an ARC so I can review the book. None have ever responded.
But let’s dispense with my pet peeves. Let’s hear from readers. What turns them off? (And do remember each of these comments came from a reader who took the time to answer my questions. Which means this is their experience, and it really did affect them enough to motivate them to tell me about it, so I think it’s a good idea to listen to what they have to say.)
The Greedy Author
(The author who, at a signing, said) raise your right hand and repeat after me I solemnly swear not to lend or borrow any of *&%& #* & %$%*$%$’s books so help me…whoever. – Del Tinsley
Pushy and Forgetful (at least play dumb if you can’t remember!)
An author who verbally pushed her book so hard that I bought it in self-defense. This occurred before a SinC meeting where local authors read from their books that had either just come out or were coming out in the very near future. After the meeting she continued to push her book. We both happened to be wearing red & black & she commented in her signing “to her twin in red & black.” I saw her (a few) months later & commented that we weren`t twins that day & she looked at me & said, “Lady, I have no idea what you are talking about. I never saw you before in my life!” I told her that she had just lost a reader… – PMJ
Sell Sell Sell!
”(An author who, at a reading, immediately) started opening boxes and pulling out all of this stuff-his back list, articles he’d written, signed reviews-just about anything you could think of and started hawking them to the audience. He barely talked about his books or characters at all-instead just hawked his junk… I won’t buy another thing from him.” – CSC
A number of readers also commented on being put off by the promotional efforts of spouses. The specific commentary ranged from the spouse being too pushy to annoyance that the author couldn’t be bothered to interact with readers.
Other readers complained about specific authors that come across like they’re always attacking other writers in order to make themselves sound better.
Why Not Me, sniff sniff?
“I remember an author on DorothyL asking why members had not read his book. What about it made them not read it? He seriously wondered what he was doing wrong but it sounded whiney. The fact that this question came during our lists of favorite books of the previous year and that he was wondering why we weren’t including his turned me off.” – KR
What do you mean I can’t review my own book and manipulate you into buying it?
Every now and then, some author shows up at BookCrossing. He sets up a minimum of 3 accounts under different names. He registers a copy of the book he just published (usually self-published in some manner, but I don’t want to imply that all self-published works are rubbish). Rarely does he identify himself as the author of the book. Then he proceeds to write glowing reviews under each account name. Oddly enough, these “independent reviewers” all have similar turns of phrase and misspell all the same words, and nearly identical reviews show up on amazon.com and bn.com. Then he proceeds to the forums, where he cross-posts in all-caps about this FABULOUSE NEW AUTHER he has discovered. Some forum readers, willing to reserve judgment, pose questions to him about the book and/or its author; he refuses to be engaged in conversation. Any BookCrosser who has been in the forums for any length of time immediately dismisses him, often with a harsh admonition that mistaking literary addiction for weak-minded stupidity is, well, weak-minded and stupid. Stina Branson
Look At Me, Look At Me! I don’t care who the hell the rest of you are!
Worst BSP is when someone… joins DL and immediately starts promoting his/her (usually his) own book, saying how we’ll all want to read it, when the person hasn’t taken much time to read the list or get to know us. – Lonnie Cruse
I don’t have a specific worst example, but I dislike authors who (1) never post except to promote their new book or (2) respond with their book every time someone asks for a book suggestion “I’m looking for books set in Spain” whether their book is appropriate or not “Although my book isn’t set in Spain, the protagonist dreams about Spain.” – LJ
Staying on that theme, “The author who never posts on DorothyL until he has a book to promote, then only writes about his own book. Second is the authors who turn every question into a plug for their own books, no matter how tangential to the subject.” Jane C.
These comments were of specific interest to me, because in the midst of the dozens of emails on this subject, a few people took the opportunity to address me, specifically. A person said I posted too much. Another inferred, because my book isn’t yet listed on Amazon or B&N for pre-order, I’m self-published. Being self-published came up more than once, along with a suggestion that if I am I should quit while I’m ahead.
Now, it’s hard not to respond to comments like that without sounding like I’m taking it personally. The truth is, it’s incredibly frustrating. As another author I discussed this with said to me, it isn’t as though my posts on DL are all about me, as anyone who reads them knows. In fact, since another person mentioned that my name had been discussed on other lists with the question, “Who the hell is she?” as the theme, clearly I haven’t done a good job of telling people who I am. The argument could be made that I actually need to post more and actually talk about myself…
But what I learned was that, no matter how much information is available about you on the web, some people will form conclusions based off of essentially no information and go with those assumptions. I’m not on Amazon yet, I must be self-published – that was one conclusion someone had drawn. Okay, fair, I know numerous authors who have books coming out later next year that are already available for pre-order. Did I lose a potential sale by not being listed on Amazon yet? It seems assumptions become conclusions that equaled facts in some people’s minds and now every appearance of my name was automatically discounted.
Pre-ordering how many months ahead on Amazon? What do I know about this? I guess this is the new ‘must’.
But I also got some nice comments from people, who referred to my posts on DorothyL as ‘thought-provoking’ and ‘insightful’.
And I made a decision for myself that I never wanted to be one of those authors who only went on DL to talk about themselves and their book, so I actually try to participate in the discussions.
Too much for some, while my participation has obviously not been a problem for others.
To be honest, I didn’t anticipate the level of responses I received, which is why I’m going to have to save the comments on what did appeal to readers for another post. As it is, I’m continuing with this topic at my own blog today, because there was so much there.
One person did say, “I have absolutely no problem with self-promotion by authors. These days most publishers do blessed little to help their authors, especially authors with a first novel. I applaud any authors’ efforts to put their work in front of people, as long as there’s still the option of the delete key! I hope that no author tries to influence the content of any review, however, especially by offering a free copy for a good review — that seems dishonest at worst and unprofessional at best.
Honestly, BSP doesn’t usually influence me to by a book or check one out of the library. I might take a look at the author’s website, if there is one, but only because I’m trying to construct one of my own and want to see what others are doing. If an author responds on DL to a review, good OR bad, graciously and with humor, I’m more likely to look for his/her book than if he/she tries to promote it herself/himself.” – KH
If there is one thing I learned, it’s that you won’t please everyone. Some readers will be forgiving. Some will not. Some will judge you for what you do, and others will make assumptions. You will rarely get a chance to discuss your motivations and reasons for your action. My advice? Step outside yourself and your goals and your perspective long enough to think about your own negative experiences with sales people and before you do anything, ask how the person on the receiving end might feel about it. I’m not saying do nothing. I’m also not suggesting you try to placate the people at the extremes – I don’t feel I’ve included extreme comments here – but I am suggesting that you listen to readers before you try to persuade them to invest their money in your book.
I’ll tell you something on a completely personal note. The first time I met Simon Kernick it was at Harrogate 2005, at a book signing the first night. I introduced myself to him, but quite honestly, all my copies of his books I owned to that point were here, in Canada, so I didn’t have anything for him to sign. He ended up telling me about living in Canada, and then he told me something pretty personal about himself. It was surprising, but interesting that he shared something with a reader – and that’s what I was then, nothing more than ‘Sandra, from Canada’. The next day I bought his latest book. He hadn’t tried to twist my arm, or told me that he had a new book out, or tried to guilt me into buying anything.
He was just a great person, who happened to write books I’d thoroughly enjoyed, and being friendly bumped him up to the top of my purchasing list. Something I’ve never regretted, as A Good Day To Die was one of my favourite reads of last year. I’ve venture to say it’s on my top 10 list of best reads, ever, if I ever made such a list.
There’s something to be said for being a nice person, not just a walking advertisement for yourself.
I do wonder if any of the quotes I included here surprised you. What have been your bad marketing experiences? Has the BSP of authors prevented you from purchasing their books?
And if you want to know more of my thoughts on this topic, visit my blog today for some stories, and a great joke that does relate to sales, and a final chance to enter the contest to win an ARC of my debut novel. If you’re interested in what did entice readers to try new authors, you’ll have to check out this blog post.
And if you missed 20 Surefire Ways To Get Your Book Published go have a hearty laugh.
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