5 Marketing Strategies for Writers Who Hate Promoting Their Own Work

Marketing Strategies for Writers Who Hate Promoting Their Own Work
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In a long-ago golden age, all a writer had to do was write; he churned out pages, presented them to an editor, and let others worry about promotion and advertising.

Those days are long gone.

Today, writers must be their own most ardent advocate, marketer and promoter. Self-promotion is as integral to writing success as any tool in the writing toolbox.

We all know the importance of self-promotion, yet many of us are horrible at it. We’re conscientious in every other aspect of our craft. We outline, we carve out time to write, we edit and do everything else we can for our work to stand out. Except self-promote.

For some fortunate writers, self-promotion is as natural as breathing. For others (especially introverts like me) it’s a daunting task, but one that must be done, and done well.

The challenges of self-promotion

Nature

In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes,

To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. The authors whose books get published – once accepted as a reclusive breed – are now vetted by publicists to make sure they’re talk-show ready.”

If you’re a natural introvert, it’s probably not in your nature to draw attention to yourself. Sure, you’re able to take the spotlight when you absolutely have to, and you’re probably good at it when you do, but you’re much more comfortable working behind the scenes.

Nurture

Some of us are raised not to stand out, so we struggle to post that Facebook update about the great review we just got or tweet about our book being on sale.

I’m Jamaican, and contrary to what our reputation might be, Jamaicans are actually a fairly conservative people. Usain Bolt notwithstanding, we’re not raised to toot our own horns — it’s one of the byproducts of the Quaker influence on the island. Those of us who’ve grown up trying to fit a reserved ideal often have a hard time sharing and promoting our work.

Plain old fear of rejection

No one wants to put themselves out there and hear only crickets. We all, in some way, want the approval of others, so when we share our work and get a negative response — or worse, no response — it’s painful. So, we think, why do it all?

Worry about competition

Indie publishing has opened the door for many writers, and the competition to make yourself heard is intense. It’s hard and often discouraging work to differentiate yourself from all the other voices clamoring for attention. When you try, sometimes it leads to…

Burnout

Marketing and self-promotion is hard work even if you enjoy doing it. For those of us who don’t, just the thought of it can raise our stress levels, so we put it off. Then, when the time we’ve grudgingly carved out comes around, the task is so utterly unenjoyable that we burn out quickly and do the bare minimum.

So how can we make self-promotion easier?

1. Create realistic self-promotion goals

If you’re a serious writer, you’re no stranger to creating goals. From finishing a chapter to hitting a specific word count, setting realistic goals is second nature. So what makes our marketing goals different? I’ve spoken with writers just beginning their promotion efforts whose goals included:

  • Add 100 Twitter followers in a week

  • Increase sales 4 percent in a month

  • Build and promote a Facebook fan page and get 50 likes per day

Strictly speaking, none of these goals are impossible, but for first steps, they’re pretty lofty. Instead, set more attainable goals, such as:

  • Tweet your book/article/reviews twice per day

  • Submit your book to three review sites per week

Once you achieve these goals, set the bar higher for the next round. Achieving modest goals gives us the confidence to attempt harder ones while avoiding the burnout we feel when our goals are overwhelming. (Click to tweet this idea.)

2. Keep what’s working, drop what’s not

Most social media platforms allow you to measure your engagement with your audience. Marketing and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk writes in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,

Ignoring the deep analytics available for your Facebook fan page (and other platforms soon) is the equivalent of stepping into the ring without even having watched a video of your opponent during a fight.”

Even if you’re just beginning your promotion efforts, getting familiar with those tools will give you a huge leg up, allowing you to fine-tune your efforts. Is Google+ not working for you? Drop it. Is Twitter driving sales? Tweet more often.

Whatever the case, concentrating on the platforms that work for you is not only smart, but will keep you motivated as you reach more and more readers.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Chances are your social media feeds are full of people giving great advice about self-promotion, so you don’t have to come up with a plan from scratch. Research how the experts are doing it, then use their tried and true techniques to jump-start your own marketing efforts.

4. Use available tools to your advantage

It’s strange, but sending a tweet or posting a Facebook update about my work in real time is intimidating. It’s much simpler to write my promotional tweets and set them to go out in advance.

To do this, I use Tweetdeck and Buffer. In addition to being solutions for my real-time phobia, they save time, as I can set my tweets and updates and forget them.

5. Shift your focus

In my 9-to-5 career, I’m a Director of a department for a NYC consulting firm, and I constantly present on behalf of my clients. I’ve spoken before senators, commissioners, council members and community groups (often hostile ones), and I’m never flustered. Why?

Because I treat what I do like the business that it is. My career, as important as it is, isn’t held as close to my heart as my writing.

Shifting your focus to seeing your books as commodities to be sold as opposed to the work you hold so near and dear to your heart may help to remove the personal aspect from the equation, thus making promotion easier.

How do you feel about self-promotion? What strategies work for you?

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Hugh O. Smith is the author of the books, Willows and Green Eyes and Good Hair and he blogs at HughOSmith.com. You can f... .

Hugh O. Smith | @hughosmith

Hugh O. Smith
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Comments

  1. I hadn’t thought of taking a more active role in promoting my blog, but some upcoming ideas make me want to use the advice here and get better at this. Thanks for posting!

    • You’re welcome Jenn.
      I think this is the one area that the majority of writers could stand to do better in. I think once we start doing it, and get over the jitters, then we’ll find it makes it easier (or so the theory goes). All the best, and good luck in your promotional efforts.
      Hugh

  2. Excellent points Hugh. If you are not good at promoting your work straight on the face of it, you can promote it softly. You can use your writing skills to add comments on the other sites, join forums and write guest posts. People will come to recognize your work and wonder what you are about. Dropping subtle hints and offering small pieces of delights is a way of leading people to your work too.

    • Thanks TCI. Good points. “Soft” promotion. I love that!
      I do those things but not nearly enough, but I’ve been getting better. I’ve also installed Comment Luv on my site which I’ve found sometimes helps to promote my work when I comment on other posts.
      I don’t know if I offer “Small pieces of delights” but I sure try. I think I would offer more if them if I could turn a phrase like you do. 🙂
      Thank you so much for reading and for the comment, very much appreciated! All the best.
      Hugh

    • I love the idea of promoting your work “softly,” TCI. You’re right, that may be a more comfortable option for many writers, rather than saying, “look what I wrote!”

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  3. Neil Larkins says:

    Thanks for the great advice, Hugh. For me, self-promoting is an agony. What has made it worse is that when I give it a timid try, nothing happens and I become discouraged to try more. And I do mean nothing. It’s amazing the non-reaction I’ve received from family and friends when I talk to them face-to-face about my ebook. I have a cousin who’s husband brags about having thousands of books on his Kindle, but when I say, “My book is online for ninety-nine cents” his eyes glaze over and he changes the subject. But I can’t give up — not because of them, not because of anybody. Because of myself. This three ton dead elephant blocking my path will be moved thanks to you and others who have led the way by showing it can be done. Keep up the good work, guy.

    • Hey Neil. Yes! I know exactly what you mean. You finally get the courage to try something and when you do nothing happens, so you figure, why even bother. I get that 100%. I also know what you mean about family members. I never understood that. The only thing I can think of is a book is an accomplishment, and some people are hesitant to celebrate any accomplishments but their own.
      Sad.
      I love the takeaway though, we can’t give up!
      Thank you so much for reading, the comment and the encouragement. It means more than you know.
      All the best to you my friend.

    • Hi Neil and Hugh,

      I realised recently that friends and family are probably not where I should be looking for my audience. It has freed me up no end. I have ceased looking for their approval and started seeking my true readers instead.
      If my family or friends pick up on my work on the way then great. But I no longer look to them to validate my writing.

    • I have had the same reaction from those I know when talking about my writing. But looking at it from their perspective, they are being put in a position of having to look at the work of someone who they know – and of then having to give an opinion. What if they don’t like it? It is a very awkward position to be in. Once I understood that, I focused on the general public, and not friends and family who are potentially being put in a no-win situation.

  4. Hi Hugh! : )

    I read Susan Cain’s book quite a while back and of course, had forgotten all about it until this post. I remember feeling not as alone and more understood after reading her book. You’ve prompted me to pull it out of my archived Kindle collection and read it again. I’m an introvert, very socially awkward and very shy. In many ways, the computer screen helps me hide behind the screen, but not in marketing.

    You hit on one major fact of my upbringing…and that is that I was raised not to draw attention to myself. Marketing appears as the polar opposite of this inner core belief and I realized that it’s at the center of what’s holding me back. I’m very good at reshaping inner core beliefs…but I didn’t even realize I had this one until your article. You helped me find my ‘root’ issue. Thanks so much for an article packed with tremendous tips. Marketing isn’t as likely to be the beast as it has appeared to be until now. Great job.

  5. Hey Lynn. : )
    I felt the same way about Ms. Cain’s book. The feeling of not being quite as misunderstood was amazing.
    Wow, I’m really really touched that you gained some insight from my post, that is awesome. I really hope your marketing efforts will bear fruit going forward.
    Thank you so so much for your great comment. Good luck!!
    Hugh

  6. Bloggers often collaborate to promote other writers they respect. Although many want to manually do this one post at a time we are all so busy that you can’t really gain traction that way. We use tools like Twitterfeed to automate the process so that new content by bloggers we trust is automatically tweeted when it goes live.

    Writers who aren’t as social media savvy yet can learn from those who are. Besides feeding content, we use sites like JustRetweet and ViralContentBuzz to promote specific pieces of content.

    When using social media remember that identifying and becoming active in groups can yield far more readers than simply sharing to your own timelines.

    • Hello Gail,
      Great advice! I’ve never used JustRetweet or ViralContentBuzz. I’ll be sure to try them out. You’re right, I’ve found that groups can greatly help in the promotional efforts,participating in a group isn’t as scary as going it alone.
      Thanks again Gail, all the best.
      Hugh

  7. Get 50 new FB author page likes a day? That’s a lot of people! I always actively promote myself on FB, Twitter, Google+, blog, but unless I pay for an ad program on FB not sure how to get THAT many people to follow me a day. What are your suggestions? The rest of the blog, well, I already do… 🙂

    • Elyse, I wish I knew how to get 50 FB likes in one day without paying for them. I’ve actually found that the advice that Gail (the commenter just above you) gave worked great for me, participating in groups. I’m in several writers groups on FB and have gained much great knowledge, advice and yes FB friends from them.
      Thanks for the comment!

    • You can easily boost your Facebook likes by joining any Facebook event offered (usually on a weekly basis) that allow you to exchange likes with other authors. These will increase the visibility of your posts on Facebook, but won’t necessarily translate into book sales. There’s also World Literary Cafe (http://www.worldliterarycafe.com/) with their programs to share Facebook likes and Twitter follows.

      After over a year of publishing, I’m personally at the stage of embracing step 2 and step 5. After releasing my second book and two novellas into virtual obscurity, I’ve already dropped Twitter and I’m very close to jettisoning Facebook as well. The “soft sell” approach on Goodreads is about the only method I’m finding remotely viable. I’ve given up the hunt for readers and reviewers. Now, I’m looking for a literary agent to help me land a publishing deal. Without a publisher, it’s getting darn near impossible to find any meaningful exposure as an author.

  8. I don’t consider myself an introvert but self-promotion has me hiding behind my laptop or notebook.

    Thanks Hugh for the great advice. I’ll definitely implement.

    PS: the Usain Bolt part cracked me up 🙂

    • I know what you mean Terry, talk about nervous. I don’t know what it is about putting yourself out there that makes the palms sweaty.
      Glad you liked the Usain Bolt line. He’s not known for his quiet, shy demeanor if you know what I mean. 🙂
      Thanks Terry, good luck!

  9. I would love a few writers group name on facebook so that I can add them. I will follow that advice and connect with those groups more.
    Great article.

  10. Thanks so much! Believe it or not, the thought of very specific GOALS had never occurred to me before. Probably because I’m so oriented toward content mill writing where self-promo is not an issue. I very recently broke free of those chains, however, and am making aggressive efforts to expand literary horizons to bigger and better things.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Good to hear you’re working on new writing projects beyond the content mills, Crissie! Best of luck!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

      • Thanks for the encouragement, Dee Dee. But tell me something: Do you have any recommendations as to the single-most effective online marketing tool for freelance writers? My problem is that time is so limited due to multiple obligations that I cannot properly research the best marketing strategies. Thanks in advance and sorry for the tardiness of this reply.

        I’ve been quite busy of late 😉

  11. True, I’m about as much an introvert as the next writer and probably shouldn’t be, but my marketing agony comes from the severe hostility I face from the industry and marketplace I should be promoting in.
    For me, it’s bad enough being a female comic book creator, but I’m using 3D graphics and animation programs for the art, so I find a lot of “purist” and “traditionalist” fans that just want to trample what I do without even reading it. The minute I say I use the programs, they explode with hostility and drive me away.
    The funny thing is even the main-stream comic books are using more digital than traditional media these days. Sure, there’s ways to make the art look more traditional in these programs, but the fans I’ve got love the lineless 3D look and often feel it’s more engrossing. They love feeling like they’re right there beside the heroes I’ve created as they struggle through the story. Even kids have enjoyed my books.
    One fan review put my comic books on the same level as Batman, Thor and Street Fighter. High praise from a reader and others have agreed with the review, but how do I find more of that market? I think I’m more afraid of the hostility than anything. I know it’s possible to succeed with this type of artwork – I’ve heard of several web comics that do very well with it – I just haven’t managed to tap the right market and have no idea where to even start.
    I’m already doing a number of things you suggested in this article, but finding the right piece of the market is the leading problem for me.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      I can’t say I know too much about the comic book industry (besides being a lifelong fan) but I do know about the creative process and how it feels when critics are unduly harsh. I even wrote about it here on TWL. http://bit.ly/19IcmUz
      So, all I can tell you is advice that you already know.
      Ignore them.
      This is hard to do, there’s no doubt about it, but unless the criticism is constructive and will somehow advance you and your art, there is no value to it and must be ignored.
      As to your other question, again, I don’t know much about the comic book industry, and forgive me if this is something you’re already doing, but it seems as if you have fans already so I suggest part of your strategy is to let the market find you. I’m not suggesting you sit back and wait for the world to beat a path to your door, far from it, but if I were you I would post my art in the appropriate forums, tweet it (Tweet your images with the positive reviews), FB it, Instagram it, use every platform you can that would display your work appropriately. Scary, I know but it’s what we have to do. If you have a website throw the up there and put the positive reviews front and center for the world to see.
      I dig a bit of searching and found these 2 articles:

      http://www.bleedingcool.com/2014/03/11/essential-8-women-working-in-comics-yes-gail-boys-like-comics-too/
      http://comicsalliance.com/hire-this-woman-artist-afua-richardson/

      I would reach out to the women in the first article, get some advice, see what they have to say. I would also try to get in touch with the writer for the second, maybe you can be featured on that site.
      Forgive me if you are already doing these things. If you are, great, don’t stop. If you aren’t now’s the time to begin.
      Get at me on Twitter @hughosmith and I would be happy to RT your work.
      Best of luck Jennifer, I hope this helped in some way.
      Hugh

      • Thank you for the ideas. I will check out the articles.
        I definitely do my best to ignore the acid comments, but sometimes it’s like avoiding a nuclear blast. On my own blog and social profiles, I can simply block it so they can’t come back, but on a public forum or group it’s far harder. On my site and social profiles I insist that if anyone wants to criticize my work, they need to keep it constructive.
        I very much appreciate all the help. Here’s my twitter: @teikounosenshi (If it’s easier: https://twitter.com/teikounosenshi) I do think there’s room in the market for comics like mine and done right, the artwork is beautiful. Of course, I’m sure given the chance, those purist/traditionalist fans I mentioned would give me a one star review just for spite.
        Not that I’ve let it stop me. 6 books on amazon, 8 on my blog. The last two are waiting for ad sponsors before they go up because I hate trying to update amazon’s back-end.
        Thankfully, my small hardcore band of followers is very supportive as well. Several have at least 5 of my books and a few have started collecting the action figures I make. Friends and family are not always eager to help and leave good reviews. Mine sure weren’t for the most part. None of the reviews I’ve gotten on amazon are from family and the reviews came before the reviewers were friends, in many cases. It’s been an uphill fight from the start for me.
        I do have a following, mostly on Facebook since that’s where I’ve been concentrating my efforts until recently when the algorithm changes took effect and my page of 6,500 fans lost its reach. I’m not selling often enough to pay for ads or boost posts, so the page is largely idle now. Instead, I’ve spread my efforts to tumblr, twitter, a couple others (can’t do instagram, don’t have anything mobile) and a group I’ve got on Facebook.
        Thank you again and I appreciate all your help. Drop me a line sometime and I’ll email a copy of one of my books if you’re interested.

        • Hi Jennifer, I would love to see your work. Send it on! My email is hugh@hughosmith.com
          I checked out your site, seems you’re way ahead of the game, you have a store, merchandise for sale, ad sponsoring, you’re doing well. Just keep on doing your thing and I have no doubt you’ll find your following.

          • I sent along a copy of my #1 book when you replied, but haven’t heard back. Would you like me to send it along again?
            I know it’s been a couple years now, but I thought you’d like to know what’s happened since. I did release a second edition of my #1 book and that series now has 23 complete books. I started a second series last year and a third this year that are both pretty good. I still keep active in my Facebook group and you’re welcome to join, if you’d like: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DreamAngelsParadiseComicBooks/
            My site went through a forced change due to hackers in November last year, but the new site seems to be an improvement over the old anyway. While sales are still terribly slow, fans have been gradually finding me since I optimized the group and site for search engines as best I could and keep reasonably active on both. They haven’t been buying as much as I’d like, but that may come with time, conventions and local shops willing to support local artists.
            The one thing that strikes me as funny is even though I largely ignore Twitter, I still keep gaining followers anyway. I don’t care much for Twitter’s character limit as it’s always too short for what I want to say. Even still, I let my site post to it automatically when I post something new, so it gets updated when that happens.

  12. I love the reminder to keep what’s working for you. I know that FB is the next thing I will drop, but people keep telling me how wonderful or helpful it is. I just don’t see it anymore, but do see a lot of value in twitter and tumblr so I find I gravitate there much more often.

    Congrats on this piece! Looking forward to more!

    • Thanks Dee Dee. Considering that you are the one you didn’t give up until I saw the value in Twitter that’s high praise. 🙂
      I know you have been displeased with FB for a while. Maybe now is the time to gravitate to G+?

  13. I’m so glad I discovered your blog! I’m the author of epic fantasy novels, and I recently signed on with a small press e-book publisher. Unfortunately, because they are small and their brand is not well known, the responsibility for marketing and promoting my books is 99.9% up to me. I am told that I need a minimum 20K engaged fans across the social media spectrum. The editing and release of my book is being delayed because of my weak social media numbers. (Not even triple digits on Facebook.) This is causing me huge amounts of stress. Let’s just say I’m at a certain age where all this social media stuff does not come easily, and I am struggling greatly with the basic functions of Facebook and Twitter. Also, as an introvert, all these marketing concepts are like a foreign language. I have the skills to write press releases, and I know I’d feel OK doing an interview (one-on-one) that would later post to YouTube or a newspaper, etc. Facebook is my kryptonite. I am unsure of how to engage in online discussion groups because it’s like an extension of walking into a party where I don’t know anyone. When I pull up a screen of all those faces looking at me, I get confused of who to send a friend request to. I am so discouraged at my lack of progress.

    What do you think of these advertised services where you can “buy” Twitter and Facebook followers for cash? Do they work? Is it worthwhile?

  14. Hi Hugh.

    I also prefer to be a background person, just working hard and getting on with it. But I’m definitely suffering as a result.

    I use Buffer to promote many posts from others (such as this one) but always forget to use it for my own content. I will try to intersperse the buffered posts with some of my own content from now on.

    Nathan.

  15. Hugh,

    Amazing post and love #5 (Shift your focus) Big fan of each of the others (as you know I love Social Media) but like you said in #5 “It’s a Business”

    Great job ~ Mike

  16. Hi Hugh,
    I was looking for exactly the same platform, i have a couple of queries.
    I am running a not-for-profit mixed media website – http://www.next100.org, i want audience reviews so that i can work on different aspects and recommendations. But its getting hard for me to engage them in that way. Secondly i think that inviting bloggers and writers could be a better angle as they need platform to express themselves and promote their write-ups as well for me considering their user base and followers. We are interviewing leaders around the globe who are changing the world with the power of their ideas. A sample interview format can be viewed here – http://www.next100.org/alexander-theodoridis . I am assuming the contents are worth reading and there could be more possible ways for a blogger to pick and post over similar context. Can you please suggest me what should be my approach? Thanks alot for reading this, i really appreciate it 🙂

  17. I was recently pointed toward this article (thank you Heather van der Hoop), and I am now contemplating buying the book Ms. Cain wrote. I am an introvert, and was raised not to toot my own horn.

    I have started to increase my activity on Twitter, and am commenting more on groups on LinkedIn and other sites. It is much easier to make my comments via the computer, but when it comes to actually talking to people face-to-face, I’m hooped. As for Facebook, even with a few new likes here and there, my posts still do not go out to all of the people who like my page.

    I can tell anyone about another book, but when it comes to mine it is more difficult. I think the solution is to come up with a marketing strategy that I can stick with; TweetDeck is nice because I can program it. I am just unsure as to how many times I should post per day/night. I don’t want to be overbearing, but I do want my Tweets to be seen.

    Something else I have done from Day One is have my books available on more than one platform. I know many authors are only on KDP, but I think that limits one’s audience. I recently saw a book I was interested in, and asked the author if it was on Kobo. “What’s that?” was the response I got.

    I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I am confident it will all come together. I do have my eggs in a few baskets, which does help.

    • I’m glad you liked this post as well, Diane!

      Great point about scheduling updates in advance through TweetDeck; that’s also a big time-saver. We actually have a post coming up about how often to share promotional tweets and posts — keep an eye out for it later next week!

      Sharing your books on more than one platform is smart as well. Thanks for sharing your experience!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  18. Great points. As a publicist for several self published authors the tips that you include here are extremely valuable. I’d used some of the strategies you offer as a basis for successful marketing and publicity campaigns.
    In my opinion the very best way to sell books is through the media. We’ve been able to sell many thousands of books in a short time by developing relationships with media people. Pitching the media is a special talent but when you learn it your life as a writer changes.
    Before you approach the media it’s important to have all the social media, book and content looking good.
    Thanks so much,

  19. Thanks for the article. Promoting my website has really been a big and tiresome work as well as tweet-Facebook.
    “Using available tools” is a great option for self promotion

  20. Great article! I find I spend more time promoting my blog and book on social media than I do actually writing nowadays. It is time-consuming and sometimes disappointing and frustrating, but that’s part of the game when you’re trying to be successful on a budget. I’m seeing some great results so far. It still hasn’t translated into book sales, but I’m hopeful that it will soon enough.

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  1. […]  5 Marketing Strategies for Writers Who Hate Promoting Their Own Work by @HughOSmith @thewritinglife […]

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