by Meg Dowell
Self-promotion, especially when you’re first starting out, is the ONLY way people are going to know you exist. You don’t have someone bigger and louder drawing people to you. You have to do all the work yourself. And let’s be real: Most writers are not trained marketing experts. So what the heck do you do?
Basically, you do what most of us do. You look at how other people are doing it and try to follow similar principles, figuring out by trial and error what is going to work for you and what isn’t.
That’s not the answer most people want, but hey, I’m not here to teach you how to promote your book because I don’t even currently have a book I’ve had experience promoting. But I can give you some insight on what I’ve learned from years of (mostly) shameless self-promo.
How much is too much? I think how much you promote your own work depends largely on how much you have to promote and what you want to accomplish by promoting it. A self-published author who has one book on Amazon and wants to make a certain amount of sales per quarter will develop a specific strategy that suits them, while someone like me who writes articles for multiple sites will have to be very selective about what goes out on Twitter, how often, and so on.
There are plenty of blogs and books about content marketing — I’m not going to give you specific advice because I’m not an expert. But what I was taught in graduate school, and what I do in my own day to day operations, is to share two or three of my own links on Twitter per day (where I am most active) at most, spread throughout the day. I very rarely share the same thing twice, and I spend the rest of my social media time interacting with other people and posting the occasional tip, suggestion, complaint, joke … you know. Whatever’s on my mind.
I’ve followed authors who promote the same book using the same promotional text five times a day or more, and they post nothing else. I don’t care how badly you want to sell your book, that’s just not good marketing. No one is going to want to read your stuff if you keep waving it in their faces. There is a time for “hey look I wrote a book please purchase” and more subtle, natural forms of persuasion.
If you’re linking to your work online more than two or three times per day, in most cases I’d say that’s a bit too much. Maybe that strategy works for you, and if it does, great. I just wouldn’t recommend it, especially if you’re a lesser known creator trying to make a good impression on potential readers.
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Don’t be a robot. No one wants to see the same stale messages about your latest book or blog post over and over again. While there is nothing wrong with asking people to read your articles or buy your books or check out your videos or whatever it is you happen to be working on at the moment, the most important thing I’ve learned so far as an online creator is that people are much more likely to consume your content if they like you as a person.
And constantly trying to sell someone something is not a good way to get people to like you.
This is why I am a little more open about commenting on “life as it happens” on Twitter than I am publicly in most other places on the internet. Showing the “real” side of writing is what I’m all about, and I can’t draw people to that brand if I don’t live it out. So of course I link to my blog posts and many of the other things I publish throughout any given week. But I also post about my dog and contemplate the struggles of creativity and promote a fine balance between being real without oversharing.
The hope is that writers and others who follow me get to know me, as much as you can get to know a stranger, through those online channels. And then, when I do share something and invite people to look at it, they take an interest in it because they are already at least a little interested in me.
And hey — if no one’s interested and they just want to like my tweets, that’s fine. I can deal.
But the truth is that I’ll probably never be a full-time blogger. And if I ever do get there, it’s going to be a slow, gradual progression. Why? Because I care about helping people, and if they stumble upon the things I have to offer and want to give $12 a year to my cause, they are more than welcome to do that. I am all about subtle promotion through providing good things and not demanding anything in return. But that’s just me.
I publish so that I have a greater chance of helping someone who needs it. I will never force anyone to read anything if they don’t want to, and I never want anyone to feel like that’s what I’m doing.
Though I could probably go on about this for a while longer, the point is, how you promote your work is completely up to you. You shouldn’t be afraid to put your work out there, but you also shouldn’t self-promote in a way that’s going to turn people off before they even have the chance to check your stuff out. Finding balance here, as with anything, is not easy. It takes a lot of practice, experimentation, making mistakes, and constant learning as you go.
Meg Dowell is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter or check out her blog.