Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Dilemma of Self-Promotion

"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips."

Proverbs 27:2

I'm not sure how most Christian authors reconcile this verse with the demands of marketing. It used to be that the publisher would trumpet their author's praise. But now, if a writer plans to sell books they've got to do more than toot their own horn. They've got to rent a high-wattage PA system and hire an orchestra to boot. Frankly, waiting for someone else to praise you (as the above Scripture recommends) can be a career disaster.

Yet there's nothing worse than watching an author go from a humble, struggling wannabe to a living breathing Spam advertisement. Not long ago, Kristen Lamb, in The Most Effective Author Marketing Tool, sadly chronicled what many desperate writers (and their internet presence) become:

This past week on Facebook I approved a friend request for another writer. Within MINUTES, I had four other e-mails. “Here is my website! Go to my blog! Look at my book! Here is a discount! Pass on to all of your friends and let me show them how to blah blah blah!” It made me regret I’d ever befriended this person. Rather than it being like Starbucks, “Here is a coupon for a free Frappuccino” (awesome), it sounded more like, “Me, me, me, me, me! Look at meeeeee!”

While most of us blanch at such brash PR, the question remains: How does an author sell her book without becoming an obnoxious bore? Surely the answer cannot be NO PR. And in lieu of publishers really putting some money into promoting an author, who else but the author is supposed to do that? Nevertheless, there is a fine line between marketing oneself and becoming "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (I Cor. 13:1).

Agent Jessica at BookEnds recently asked How Does Social Networking Work for You? She wrote, "What about an author’s Internet presence grabs your attention and impresses you, what turns you off?" The opinions inevitably clustered, including what turned most readers off about an author's website. Here's some samples:

Steve: "On Twitter and Facebook, it's important for authors to do more than merely self-promote. It's not that the promotion is inappropriate, but if that's all an author does with social media, she comes across as tin-eared and self-important."

Shawn: "...what doesn't work for me is when the author continues talking about the subject of their latest book, ad infinitum, in every post, tweet and status update. Especially after I've read the book. I want to feel some evolution to their thinking or it all begins to feel like one long advertisement."

RJones: "All day I see promotions on twitter, facebook, etc., like "My newest book is out May 25! So excited." or "Enter to win the contest! You could win book XY." Neither of those gave me any urge to read the book."

fivecats: "there's a fine line for me between an author's web site as a sales tool and an information point. i don't want a hard sell and i really don't want much of a sales job on the site at all."

Anonymous: "Some of the most obnoxious writer friends I have are forever and a day selling, selling, selling. You want to bash them over the head but of course you don't ever say a word because they are so sure this is the right thing to do..."

I find these comments instructive in two ways. First, most readers seem to recognize that authors need to promote themselves. No one begrudges a writer who pitches their stuff. In fact, if I go to an author's website and there is nothing about their books and where to buy them, I question that author's professionalism. Not only do readers tolerate a certain degree of marketing, we expect it.

But while most authors recognize the need to market oneself, there is also a point of diminishing returns, a point where self-promotion actually turns away potential buyers. I reached that point recently with another author. I was following their social networking stream until I began to see it was devoted, almost entirely, to plugging their own book. I finally un-friended them. Somewhere along the way, I had went from a reader to a unit-mover and the author went from a storyteller to a glorified car salesman.

Somewhere along the way a line was crossed.

The dilemma of self-promotion is where you draw the line. Where's the line between engaging your readers and selling your books? Or must an author always engage readers with ulterior motives? Where's the line between saying too much about our books and not saying enough? Where's the line between effective promotion and over-saturation?

Frankly, I'm not sure of the answers. Maybe the answers are different for everyone. Nevertheless, I am resolved about this: There must be more to my life than selling my book. And there must be more to yours than buying it.

* * *

So I'm interested: Have you ever stopped following an author because of their aggressive marketing tactics? And how can authors effectively promote themselves without slipping into crass PR?

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Look for Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," in stores February 2011. You can visit his website at


Ane Mulligan said...

Bravo, Mike! I think we were friends of the same author. I love the analogy to a used car salesman. The hubs calls them "curly toes" salesmen (from hanging out at the curb to grab passersby). Great post, buddy.

Megan Willome said...

Frankly, the way things are in the publishing world will likely keep me from publishing a book. I'm quite happy being published every month in a magazine, with no self-promotion required.

Shellie Neumeier said...

Great post Mike. And just what I needed to hear this morning. It's a scary line to travel and I'll be lurking for sure as the comments and suggestions trail in. Congratulations on your soon-to-be release! And good luck.

Nicole said...

Perfect. No answers. Truly. Who wants to be pushed and harrassed into buying something, maybe especially a book if we're a writer? Not me.

Dave Jacobs said...

Great post Mike. Helpful stuff. I've started recognizing some of what you are referring to. Be encouraged, no one can accuse Mike Duran of too much self-promotion. I hardly ever hear you mention your soon to be released novel. Balance is hard to arrive at.

Donna Perugini said...

I just read that scripture in Proverbs. The scriptures are supposed to be for reproof and correction, but you have to 'notice something's wrong' before it can be changed.

The 'over-advertising' is a form of fear or ignorance...fear of not selling, not being noticed in a sea of authors and ultimately having our books fail. Or it can be ignorance about relationships...ignorance of giving is more important than receiving.

The fear also points to a relationship problem. If we really rely on, trust in and adhere to God, then why are we so fearful?

So, should we 'throw the baby out with the bath water'? Is true humility to stop marketing and bow our heads while still throwing out our chests and boasting on the inside? There is a balance to reach.

Authors need a platform, but it's not for jumping up and down on yelling, "Look at me! Look what I did!" It's about appreciating the people..a platform for thanks. It's about helping another..a platform for giving and bringing others along. The platform is also for informing/selling in small doses.

I'll be making my 'correction' and look for the balance.

Carol J. Garvin said...

I've stopped following blogs where the author's emphasis is on selling and there isn't any attempt at carrying on a dialogue or giving anything back. The self-serving approach is very unbecoming.

Self promotion feels so much like boasting, but when I remember that God is the one who gave me the words and continually prods me to use them, it's easier to shift the focus off myself. I hope any success that may come my way will give Him glory and He will give me guidance in how to market adequately without pride.

Jennifer Lyn King said...

Excellent thoughts and discussion. Thank you, Mike!

Jerry said...

Definately an issue that needed to evolve from the elephant in the room. Well said.