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?