So, a while back, Brian McClellan posted about authors and self promotion. This was followed by responses from Mark Lawrence and Michael J. Sullivan. All of these are authors that I respect and like, and in two out of three cases, am also a fan of their work. But I want to talk about the issue – from the other side of the fence, as it were. If you’re wondering why I took so long to respond, you have Robert Jordan to thank. Also, because I’ve been thinking about the same issue myself, because of this blog.
Okay, I 100% accept that authors need to do self promotion. There’re millions of books out there. Thousands are published each year. The book industry is like a street market, except there are thousands upon thousands of stalls/shops. So with the exception of the most popular ones like Harry Potter or Hunger Games, people don’t even know about the existence of many books and authors. Even the hardcore readers can get through one or two hundred books through the year. Thus, getting the fact that your book exists out there is critical. And, the poor publishing houses do what they can, but for most authors, it is up to them. To run around doing conventions and signings and interviews and blog posts and tweets and whatnot.
And I accept that. If I see an author trying to promote his stuff, I won’t just up and decide that they’re a sleazy person trying to peddle some BS. I will probably check out the book, read a sample if I have time. Maybe add it into my TBR list.
BUT. There’s gotta be a balance. Readers, and people in general, are more likely to listen to people who they know and like. This is why word of mouth is so powerful. I know my friend is a cool guy and if he liked a book, well hey, maybe I’ll like it too. On the other hand, a random person walking up to me and telling me to read/watch/play/listen to XYZ will likely just get a blank stare.
So if an author’s attempts at self promotion are to be successful, he has to be part of the community. I cannot stress this enough. Over on /r/Fantasy, there’s a policy about self promotion. And it says that if you want to promote your book, you have to do it in a separate thread meant for that purpose. But then it goes on to say:
One of the best things about /r/Fantasy is the level of author involvement in the community. If you actively contribute to /r/Fantasy, you’ll get a lot more freedom to post about your own books.
Lastly: if you are an active member of the /r/Fantasy community, you get much more leeway. If you have been hanging out here for a while, give recommendations to people looking for something to read, participate in discussions, etc., then that makes you very different from those who make an account just to promote their book. We mods see you as someone who cares about the community, and the community does as well. That way it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to capitalize off of /r/Fantasy’s success; you’re part of /r/Fantasy , and sharing something you are excited about. It’s a difference.
This is really true. Authors like Michael J. Sullivan, Mark Lawrence, Brandon Sanderson etc. can get away with almost anything. Straight up ‘buy my book!’ comments. Because for every one of these they make, there’s many more where they just participate in the discussion, talk about other works, and generally just hang out with us readers and fans.
And so we listen to them. As a newbie on r/Fantasy, I asked for recommendations of series that were not sprawling and huge (because I wanted something simple and fun), someone recommended Riyria Revelations to me, and then the author himself jumped in and very nicely pointed me to one of his short stories. I read and loved the series, and I’m a fan now, as much for his great stories as for the way his so nice and helpful on the forum.
So, self promotion is needed, and is most effective when you are part of the community. Also, there’s the importance of ratio – of how much you just hang out and talk vs. how much you push your book. The higher this number, the better people will respond to your plea to buy your book. It’s kinda like feeding veggies to a kid – or in this case, millions of kids. You gotta mix them with the tasty stuff. Stuff like funny tweets, or interesting discussion, funny comments, insightful blog posts and the like. Don’t be an author promoting books on a forum, be a person on the forum who is also an author who sometimes asks people to check out their stuff.
Also important is context. Buy my book tweets and posts are all well, but if you do it when someone is looking for/talking about something where you books are actually relevant, then it works so much better. Telling people to buy your 10 book high epic second world saga won’t do much good when they’re looking for a quick action filled urban fantasy book.
That leaves the question of how effective it is. With all your posts on twitter, FB, Reddit, Goodreads, your blog etc., it can be really hard to know what is making a difference, if anything. Well, I don’t have anyone’s numbers, but I’ll say that it works, but not all that well. A lot of my reading choices are based on what authors I have liked in the past, and things like Goodreads ratings and reviews (Amazon for some people) and asking for opinions – from friends or on forums. If Brandon Sanderson, for example, comes out with a new book, you bet your ass I’m going to be all over it.
But, it still works. Like the Riyria example above. Had MJS not jumped in and posted on the thread, I may not have picked up the series. Of course, an anecdote is no substitute for hard statistics and data, but that’s all a lowly reader like me has.
On the other hand, if your work really is good, however much self promotion is effective, it will work – because then the word of mouth takes over. And it is exponential. Self promotion is thus less the fuel for the flame of your fame (dat alliteration), and more like the spark that will help you to get the blaze going. If the wood is not good, you can keep striking the flint all you want, ain’t gonna work. Yes, I realise this analogy is getting stretched, I’ll stop now.
tl;dr : Hi authors, reader here. We understand the need for self promotion, and will not judge you for it, provided you come join us and become a part of the community.