Shameless Self-Promotion: overcoming the horrors of marketing your own work
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Hi everybody! Sorry this week’s post is a little late. We’ve just got back from a weekend in Marrkech, where we had a fantastic time – I’ll tell you a bit more about it next week when I’ve had a chance to gather my thoughts!
Because I haven’t had much time to prepare a post this weekend, I thought I’d re-use an article I wrote last year for Mensa’s Professional Writing SIG (Special Interest Group). I’m a member of the society, although not as active as I’d like to be, but I do try to contribute to the newsletters and magazine when I can. This article was about my experience of self-promotion as a published writer – I can’t pretend to be any good at it, but hopefully any aspiring writers out there will find it useful, or at least interesting!
My name is Jon Richter, and I have been writing dark fiction since before I can remember. In the past few years I have been lucky enough to have my work published, and my fifth book, noir detective science-fiction thriller Auxiliary, will be released later this year.
<Note: Auxiliary was subsequently pushed back to May 2020, and I instead released a different book in October 2019, specifically my second self-published collection of short horror fiction – click here for info on all of my available books.>
There are many challenges in writing a book and finding a publisher, but the part of the journey that I’ve found the toughest is undoubtedly the post-publication horror of marketing. Before my first book was published by HarperCollins, I naively believed that once you had convinced someone to publish your work, you simply sat back and watched the readers and reviews roll in… but this has been far from the case! There is in fact a huge expectation, even from a large publisher, that you will undertake an awful lot of self-promotion in order to drive sales.
This has caused the last couple of years to develop into a steep learning curve for me… or perhaps more like a cliff edge! I thought you might be interested to hear about some of my experiences, adventures and strategies… although I certainly haven’t found the answer to cracking the bestseller lists just yet!
Friends and colleagues
You’ll be surprised at who will or won’t actually read your stuff. Some of your closest friends and family members will say lots of encouraging things, but never actually get around to reading your work, whereas people you barely know will pick up your shameless round-the-office e-mail plug, buy your book, and approach you in the canteen to tell you how much they enjoyed it!
I find telling people about my books hard, mainly because of the feeling that you are being somehow smug or boastful, and so end up being so self-deprecating that I suspect I put people off! But people won’t read your work if they don’t know about it, and there’s no substitute for word of mouth when it comes to publicity, so this is something that all writers need to be prepared to do.
Interestingly, my current publisher thinks that social media is a complete waste of time for writers, and that their time is better spent writing rather than sunk into pursuing followers on Twitter or Instagram.
Conversely, previous publishers have strongly encouraged a social media presence, particularly on Twitter. I had previously never had any social media account whatsoever, not even on Facebook, so it was with huge trepidation that I tentatively stepped into this sinister new world… which so far I have found very enjoyable! I now have a Twitter account @RichterWrites, an Instagram account @jonrichterwrites, and can also be found on Facebook.
I think that if you can keep all of your posts and interactions positive and light-hearted, and avoid any drama or toxicity, then you can not only get some increased exposure for your work, but also encounter some genuinely helpful, supportive, friendly and funny people! However, I strongly advise against spending major ‘chunks’ of time on any of these sites, as those hours would be much better spent writing – just an occasional glance, a Tweet when you think of something interesting to say, the odd Facebook post when you have something to announce, is all that’s required. The best way to get more Twitter followers is not to spend more time on the site, but to write a better book!
This has been perhaps the most rewarding side project so far. In simple terms, you need a website (or at least a Facebook page) to direct people to if they’re looking for more information about your work, or a platform from which they can buy your stuff. This website needs a mailing list, because then you can keep interested people informed of future projects, making additional sales more likely.
I used wix.com to set up my website (www.jon-richter.com) because I found it immensely intuitive and simple to use, and barely had to even consult the tutorials. I also tried WordPress but found this much less user-friendly, feeling more like a coding tool than a slick front-end. (I suspect WordPress has more power and flexibility if you know what you’re doing, whereas Wix’s preset templates and themes are probably a bit restrictive, but as an amateur, Wix was fine for my needs.)
I was confused about the purpose of this for a while – why spend time writing a blog when I’d rather spend that time writing more sinister stories? But my latest publisher explained it very well: the goal is to create content (I really hate that word, but part of the marketing journey is learning to accept some of these buzzwords…) that people find online, which takes them to your website, which might yield sales or mailing list subscriptions. The challenge is producing regular, interesting posts without draining too much of your writing time.
My blog is very new and so far I’m enjoying it immensely. <Note: it’s not so new these days, but I’m still enjoying it!> I’m managing to limit myself to just two hours per week to write a post, upload and Tweet about it – engagement is very limited at this stage, so I’d be honoured if you would check it out and give me your feedback!
Book reviews and blog tours
Having great review scores on Amazon and Goodreads will undoubtedly help to sell your book, so the more people you can get to read and review it for you, the better. One approach I’ve utilised is to undertake a ‘blog tour’, where you appear as a guest on various blogs, either with an excerpt of your book or just a post about whatever you like. This can yield more readers and reviewers, as well as a growing network of online pals, so don’t be shy about reaching out to bloggers directly.
Your publisher will also help by releasing copies to reviewers, and if you’re lucky some of your friends and family might also leave you a good review.
This is something I’ll be trying out for the first time with Auxiliary, and I’m lucky enough to have had an absolutely ace trailer created by my new publisher – watch this space! But once again, it is much easier than you might think to produce your own, with packages like Animoto cheaply available and highly intuitive. If you take a look online you’ll find some very effective book trailers, easily rivalling some I’ve seen at the cinema!
<Note: I had a crack at using Animoto to produce a trailer for my second short horror collection, which you can find here – I’m quite proud of it to be honest! Make sure you switch the sound on for maximum creepiness value…>
As I’ve already touched upon, reaching out to people to promote your own work can seem crass and cringe-worthy, but there really is no harm in it – the worst that can happen is you are ignored or turned down! So far I’ve managed to feature in local newspapers, Mensa newsletters (like this one… thank you Frank! J ) and the society magazine, as well as appearing as a guest on the video games music podcast, Sound Of Play!
Again, it’s always a question of time invested vs sales generated, but as long as you leave enough time to keep writing then I would recommend that you leave no stone unturned when looking to drum up excitement for your new release.
Well, that’s everything I can think of for now – what an exhausting recap! I can feel my flesh crawling at the prospect of so much shameless self-promotion, with a lot more to come once Auxiliary is released, but such is the life of a writer…
<Note: As well as Auxiliary, I now also have a second book out later this year, an as-yet-untitled crime thriller with Bloodhound Books – watch this space for more info.>
Thanks for reading everybody. I’ll be back on schedule with another post on Monday next week – until then, have a great week!