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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Six Rules of Author Self-Promotion

Deep down in the core of my being I hated self-promotion. That loathing was the fruit of lessons learned from my parents long ago. I cannot claim to recall their exact words, and it is certainly possible that I misapplied what they actually said. What matters, of course, is what I believe I heard; what became my core values. I “know” it to be true that I should “stand on my own two feet,” but “not get too big for my britches.” I should “think of other people first” and “work hard and the rest will come.”

I applied this knowledge throughout my life in many ways. When I was an athlete, I preferred team sports because it wasn’t all about me. Even when I ran track I was willing to do events other than my specialty (sprints) if that helped the team.

About now you are probably wondering why you should listen to a guy trapped by his childhood into counter-productive thinking. Why not take lessons from a sales guru or someone who is always out there grabbing attention? Well, if you are like them, you aren’t reading this blog. That means you are more like me: someone for whom self-promotion does not come easy.

Here’s my big secret. Once I learned to do it correctly, I no longer had doubts that it was proper and good to self-promote. I’ve developed six rules.

Rule One: It’s not all about YOU

Self-promotion should be about building relationships. As an author your goal is to build long-term relationships with your readers. Naturally, your writing is what ultimately makes the difference, and you need to make it as compelling as you can. That does not mean you start building relationships once you have something about to be published. That would be all about you. Your relationship building should be an extension of you, your interests, and how they can be useful to others.

Relationships are two-way streets. If self-promotion is you force-feeding your promotions, you will not be effective for long.

Rule Two: Add Value to the Relationship

You have experiences and expertise that you can share with others to make their life [fill in your adjectives here.] If you forget Rule One and all your promotional activities are about you and your needs, why should anyone care?

Instead, within any promotion try to provide value. Entertain, provide new insights into your writing, your work, your life—help others improve their writing, their work, their lives. Let people know what didn’t work and why so they can learn from your mistakes.

Help them along their paths without asking for a return favor. I will be forever grateful to Hank Phillipi Ryan and Steve Hamilton, two high-powered authors who took the time from their busy schedules to write blurbs for my books. Don’t you think I let people know about their helpfulness? (You bet. I just did, didn’t I?) On the other hand, this helping others is self-promotion because people remember who helped them.

Rule Three: Be Yourself

I am a math guy; always was; always will be. I know that’s not everyone’s cup-o-tea, but it is mine. And I enjoy being out in nature and watching birds and sometimes taking pictures. That’s what I share. With my math background and ability to translate complicated concepts into English, I can help people understand the world in a different way. That’s my niche. And I write financial crime novels, so there is a practical tie-in.

Show your sense of humor. Some won’t get it—they never do, do they?—but those who are tuned to your sensibilities will form a stronger link with you.

Rule Four: Have Permission

How do you feel when a robocall interrupts your family dinner? For me, that’s a perfect reason to never buy the product, vote for the politician or do whatever they had in mind for me to do. All because they did not have my permission to interrupt what I was doing.

I receive unsolicited author newsletters and email promotions all the time. The first time it happens, I chalk it up to inexperience. But when it keeps happening, I employ email junk filters to toss them into the spam pile that is deleted without delay. How likely am I to buy their books or retweet that their latest is on sale? You guessed it, not likely.

Make sure you have permission before sending newsletters. If you make it clear that people entering a contest will be enrolled in your newsletter, that is implied permission, which is fine. But, (not that I’m giving legal advice, because I’m not) you need to have an easy unsubscribe link on every promotional-type newsletter or email you send. There be laws about them things, you know?

When someone asks you to write a guest blog, follow their rules regarding content and promotion. It’s a courtesy both to the blog’s owners and its readers will be more apt to appreciate what you have to say.

Be sensitive to the context you are in. I had an author attempt to hijack a book event I was doing. In the middle of the question and answers this person proceeded to promote his book. I could see the faces of the entire audience—I guarantee no one in that crowd would buy his book no matter how good it was. It was poor manners and everyone except that individual knew it.

Rule Five: If you don’t ask for assistance, you won’t get it.

If there is something you would like people to do, you need to make a direct, clear ask. Here’s my current situation. On the day this blog is published, my novel Ant Farm will have 11 days remaining for people to nominate it for selection by Amazon. If Amazon accepts it into their Kindle Scout program, I will receive a publishing contract from them, which I want. You can read all about my reasons for choosing to follow this route in an earlier Writers Who Kill blog.

If you haven’t already, I would very much appreciate your checking out the Ant Farm sample chapters, and if you like them, please nominate the book. Here is the link.

Instead of asking, I could have wished and hoped for you to figure all that out by having read previous posts or seen my ask on Facebook or received a tweet, but nothing works as well as a direct ask.

If you can, ask in person, but remember, only if you have permission to interrupt whatever the person is doing.

Rule Six: Thank People When They Help You

Strangers, friends, and family do not owe us their support. So when someone offers it, tell the individual or community that you appreciate the time and effort they took to help you out. This common courtesy goes a long way when people know you mean it.

That’s it: six rules that make self-promotion acceptable to my sensibilities. What do you think?

~ Jim


Anonymous said...

I agree that you will not get what you don't ask for and that is something I have to remind myself all the time. And on the receiving end, if a person is always asking and never giving it can be a real turn off.

Thanks for these very good rules to follow.

Warren Bull said...

Nice summary of what works and what turns people off. I heard a publisher talk about getting a faux syringe as part of a book launch. Hr said it scared the daylights our of him and that he noted the writer's he would remember to reject all future submissions from that author.

Gloria Alden said...

Good advice, Jim. I also don't like to do self-promotion. At a large family reunion several years ago with cousins by the dozens I hadn't seen in some time, I had my books in the back of my car - as always - and hoped someone who knew I was a writer would mention it to others. It didn't happen. However, one of my cousins who arrived at the same time as I did mentioned it and wanted my next two books since she'd read the first. Those were the only two I sold that day.

A few of the members of my two book clubs have bought my books, mostly when I had my first book's introduction at an event, but I never mention when I have a new book out unless asked because I don't want them feel they should buy one.

KM Rockwood said...

I appreciate the way you're able to take this, figure it out for us, and present it in a way that makes sense.

I will have to rethink promotion.


Kait said...

Excellent advice, Jim. And yes, Hank is amazing and always so generous with time. Nice post.

Shari Randall said...

I'm going to tuck this away, Jim. Great advice.

Jim Jackson said...

Kelly -- You're welcome and I agree that all ask and no give is a real turn off.

Warren -- Wonder if the syringes were filled with anything. Too cute sometimes turns into too dumb.

Gloria -- I feel your pain.

KM -- Let us know what you decide.

Kait & Shari -- thanks.

~ Jim

Tracy Weber said...

Very well written, Jim. I agree with every point you made. And Hank went out of her way to help me, too! She is wonderful!

Polly Iyer said...

Great post, Jim. I have a terrible time asking people for anything. I really need to get over it.

E. B. Davis said...

I agree, Jim. It's all about making connections. You won't "connect" with anyone if you are merely a taker. Giving back, adding value, and supporting others is the key to community. That's really what the focus of promotion should be--creating community. Often posts on facebook seem meaningless, but I get on every so often and become captivated by posts. It is a community as are writing groups, reading groups (Goodreads) and blogs.

Jim Jackson said...

Polly -- It is scary, but what I have to keep reminding myself is that not really terrible will happen is someone rejects my request. I probably no worse off than if I had not asked.

Elaine -- You're right: the people who provide interesting content are the ones we keep following, aren't they?

~ Jim

Norma Huss said...

Jim, you are completely right about everything, including knowing exactly who your audience is---me and other writers who aren't quite sure how or how much to say about our stuff.

Sara Hoskinson Frommer said...

Right on target. And I have to quote my sister, whose line is, "If you don't ask, the answer's no." She wasn't talking about dumping spam, but about being too shy to ask for what you need.

Jim Jackson said...

Tracy & Norma -- Thanks.

Sara -- Your sister is exactly correct. Assuming your ask is appropriate, the only thing that happens if you ask and they refuse is you lost a little time in asking.

It takes some time to get to the point where someone saying "no" (or ignoring your request) no longer feels like rejection.

It's a business; it's no go; next?

~ Jim

Margo said...

Loved the post. And, you were absolutely right about self promotion. I read your excerpt, nominated you, and bought the first book in the series.
Love your protagonist-can't wait to read it.

Jim Jackson said...

Margo -- Thanks for the compliment, the nomination and the purchase. I hope you and Seamus have a good time with each other.

~ Jim

Cathy said...

Really enjoyed your post and I also need to remind myself to ask. As Wayne Gretski said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take".

I looked at your book and loved the option to download the sample right on to my Kindle. I did that and have read it and nominated you. I like your writing style and your characters. I will be spending more time with them in the future!


Jim Jackson said...

Thanks Cathy for the nomination. I'm gald the post reinforced the notion you need to be in the game to play.

It's funny all the stuff we "know" but don't remember to put into practice.

~ Jim

Sunny Frazier said...

Okay, I'm coming to your post way late, but I'm sharing it with my Posse. I agree with everything you've said and I practice it. I try to impart it to my followers, but often I think they need to hear it from another source to believe me! I'm going to encourage them to make comments.

Jim Jackson said...

Sunny -- That's one great advantage (and disadvantage) of the internet -- things can stick around and still be relevant a few months after it's posted. :)

~ Jim

Marja said...

I appreciate the time you took to share some excellent advice. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm doing the right thing, but thanks to you I realize I'm pretty much on track. Thank you!
Marja McGraw

Jim Jackson said...

Marja -- It's both nice to learn new things and to receive confirmation of stuff we thought we knew. I'm glad this blog fulfilled the second objective for you.

~ Jim