Here’s a post for those of you struggling with the question of how to promote yourself and your work (and who isn’t, in an era that seems to call for the constant announcement of one’s own existence?) Adam McHugh, author of the terrific book, Introverts in the Church, has written the below guide to book promotion. It’s worth reading even if you’re not a writer because Adam’s insights apply across the board and also because he has a great sense of humor.
You might not guess from the title of my book, Introverts in the Church, that I am a skilled book promoter. Perhaps skilled is not the right word, and maybe I should go with something like plodding, persevering, or neurotic. But my book is in its sixth printing (so, we can safely assume there are at least six copies in print) and has sold more than twice what my publisher predicted, and that owes in large part to the effort I have put into book promotion.
The days are over when an author could relish the quiet days of writing a book, then pass it off to their publisher who would do the dirty work of promoting it. If you have a publisher, they will work hard for you and will help connect your book to their networks. But it has been my experience in the last two years that the work of promoting the book requires just as much work as writing the book, if not more so.
I realize this will be disheartening to many people who find the idea of broadcasting their writings less than enjoyable and possibly downright detestable. It even feels contradictory to the nature of the creative process, which is internal, quiet, and deeply personal. I know. So, if you have a glad-handing, charismatic, extroverted, dynamo-of-a-salesman identical twin, then now is the time to deploy them. I don’t discuss the process of book promotion because I particularly enjoy it. I discuss it because I am absolutely committed to writing and I know that if I want to keep writing, and getting book contracts, I must dedicate myself to promotion.
So, if you are courageous enough to write a book and crazy enough to promote it in the marketplace, allow me to give you some suggestions. Some of what follows is based on successes I’ve had, and some of it is based on mistakes I’ve made.
1. Make social media your friend, or at least your begrudging ally. Gone are the days of big banner ads in magazines and newspapers, countless radio interviews, bookstore readings, and book tours. When my book came out, people constantly asked me: “Are you going on a book tour?” Unless you’re a former President, a politician, a celebrity, named Malcolm Gladwell (or Susan Cain), or want to rent an ice cream truck and sell copies of your book along with creamsicles, you’re not going on a book tour. Even if you did, no one would show up. Except for your parents, as long as they don’t have anything else going on. Fortunately for us, there is this newfangled thing called the internet, which I am convinced was invented by a starving writer who couldn’t sell their books the old-fashioned way. Introvert that I am, I have utilized the internet and multiple social media sites more than anything else in this process. So, if you’re not on them yet, get on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and any other successful social media venue that is invented between now and three hours from now. Start with Twitter, and go from there. Seriously, if you’re not on these sites, stop reading this post, and go join them now. Gary Vaynerchuck, author of The Thank You Economy and rabid marketer, says that Twitter and other social media platforms are here for the long haul. He called it plumbing for businesses, part of their basic foundation. He then ended the talk I heard by saying, “And then it’s on, like Donkey Kong.” So, consider ending all your updates, interviews, and lectures like that as well.
2. Learn how to use social media effectively. Setting up accounts is the easy part; building a following is the hard part. Too many authors get on social media and then use their tweets and updates as a repetitive, boring monologue, just like the way I preached my first year out of seminary. They link to their books, their writings, and their blog posts, and they don’t dialogue with people. Social media is intended to be a conversation, not a monologue. I suggest responding to most all tweets and comments unless they are in poor taste, overly critical, or from a potential stalker. That’s why I don’t respond to the Old Spice Guy’s tweets to me any more. When you update your status, talk about more than just your writings. Give the occasional personal update such as “I’m watching my cat eat a daddy-long-legs right now, and I’m wondering if my writing career is like that spider.” Tweet a few times a day and update your Facebook status once a day. Nothing makes me unfollow people faster than too many updates. Start a Facebook page for your book and invite people to become fans. I have built a significant online community at the FB page for Introverts in the Church, and now I have a faithful fan base who will help me promote my writings. If you interact with people in social media, suddenly you will discover you’re not alone in marketing your book. You will have advocates who can reach farther than you ever could on your own. Before you know it, you will be getting sued by the Winklevoss twins.
3. Connect with bloggers. Bloggers are the new book tour guides. I went about meeting bloggers in a very strategic way. Since I am a Christian writing a Christian book, I went to this blog that each year ranks the top 200 Christian blogs, and I went through that list, one by one, and tried to determine, based on the content of their blog, if they would find my book interesting. I even searched their blogs for words such as introvert to see if they had ever discussed it or identified themselves as such. I was an introverted creepy stalker. “He always seemed so nice,” my neighbors will one day tell the police. But it worked. If a blog seemed to resonate with my book topic, I emailed the blogger and asked if they wanted a copy of my book for potential review or interview. More often than not, the person said yes and followed through on discussing the book in their space. People of all traditions, bents, and interests could do something similar. Another way that I connected with bloggers who were interested in my book was by setting up a few Google alerts on the subject. Google will send you a daily email when keywords you choose appear on the internet. You can then follow those links and leave comments on blogs or contact bloggers who are sympathetic to your cause.
4. Aim for making friends, not building networks. Regular bloggers, especially those who post every day are constantly looking for material, and I have been regularly surprised by how grateful they are when you give them a topic to write about. I did make a few mistakes at the outset by being overly pushy, and I have learned that the tone you use in your communications with them will make a big difference. I try to connect with people in an informal, personal way and share a bit of myself when I contact them. And I ask them about their ministries and their churches, though never in an invasive way. I always give them room to say no. I follow up, but only once, respecting them and their busy lives. Writing a daily blog can be really taxing, so volunteer to do the work. Suggest an interview or a guest post in which you do the bulk of the work, and they can take it easy for the day. Reciprocate. Engage in cross-promotion. If a blogger is promoting their own book, link to it, review it, post an interview with them, or draw attention to their stuff in some other way. If they write something about your book, do all you can to get visitors to their blog not only to benefit your book sales but to draw more regular readers for them. By doing these things you will find that many of the bloggers you contact will become friends. I now count bloggers I initially contacted for my book as friends, and those friendships have been some of the highlights of this process.
5. Each book needs a blog. I stole that line from a writer named Jon Acuff who started a blog, a parody of Stuff White People Like, and parlayed that not only into a book but a new career. I started Introverted Church in 2007, and I have slowly built a readership, but perhaps more importantly, if anyone googles introvert Christian or anything along those lines, they will find my blog in the top five results. That comes from four years of blogging about the topic. A blog gives you a home base where people can find you, information about your book, and examples of your writing and thinking. These days many people have a need to interact with the author even if it’s just reading or commenting on the author’s blog. It’s amazing to me how much more people are receptive to buying a book if they feel like they have some sort of relationship with the author. So, a blog is not only about dispersing information but about building trust and connecting directly with readers. Make sure to include your contact info on your blog, including your email address. I opened a new email account just for blog inquiries. Share your blog. I just started asking for guest-posts, and it has paid significant dividends. The last two months have boasted record high numbers not only because of the quality of the guest posts but also because you gain advocates in guest-bloggers who will send their regular followers to your blog. Hopefully, those new readers will stick around and buy your book.
6. Practice saying yes. I’m one of those people that, when first presented with an opportunity, will immediately say no. It’s my default. I can always come up with a reason for why I can’t or shouldn’t do something. But authors who want to sell books need to practice the yes response. I had to resolve that I would never let fear speak or decide for me, so when the radio stations called for interviews, I answered, and when the speaking invitations came, I accepted. Speaking opportunities are invaluable for book promotion. No matter how many billions of people around the world are on the internet for hours on end every single day, you will encounter thousands and thousands of people in speaking venues who have never heard of your book. They may even be readers of blogs that have reviewed your book, and your book still didn’t register in their brains. Always be sure to have plenty of copies of your book when you speak in front of crowds. Have more than you think you will sell. People are impulse buyers, and if you don’t have copies of your book right in front of them, even if it’s priced higher than the internet, they likely won’t buy it after they leave. That’s also why you need to have a very prominent link to your book on your website. Conveniently, you’ll notice mine at the very top-right on my blog. Also, include regular links to your book in the body of your blog posts.
7. Encourage people to pre-order your book on Amazon. My publisher told me that this was a “stroke of genius” on my part. My book was on Amazon four months before it was released, and I asked blog readers, social media followers, and all my friends to pre-order it. The large number of pre-orders moved the book up in Amazon searches quickly and also got the attention of other distributors and book sellers.
8. Identify advocates. These people are not who you might think they are. At first, I handed copies of my book to superstars whenever I met them and tried to figure out a way to get it into the hands of the most influential and visible people. That cost me a book and usually brought no benefit, aside from the initial rush. The superstars are too busy, bombarded with hundreds of random books, and usually promoting their own stuff, and they don’t have motivation to promote yours. The people who have proven to be the best advocates for me are not usually the most visible members of a church. They may be youth pastors or small group leaders or not play any specific role at all, but they have strong ties to influential people or networks. There is an element of mystery in this process that you need to take into account, and it should keep you constantly open and constantly listening and looking for the people to whom you may be led.
9. Maintain the author mystique. This one is intangible. It’s amusing to me how much admiration some people have towards authors even when our books are relatively unheralded. Occasionally, I will comment on a small, random blog that mentions my book, and the response I get from the blogger will be exuberant. They will then tell all their friends about it and give you free book advertising. The danger of being so available on the internet is that you lose this mystique. This may sound trite, but this is why I will usually take a few days to respond to emails and why I don’t respond to every tweet or Facebook wall comment. Somehow we authors need to give an impression of accessibility without giving an impression of average-ness.
10. Count the costs. Now that we’ve reached the end, I have to close by acknowledging that putting yourself out there in this process takes a toll. Some of this pain can be ameliorated by having a clear plan and boundaries. For example, I spend no more than thirty minutes on social media a day, and I only blog two-three times per week. That’s all I can give to the internet without feeling like it’s taking more from me than it’s giving. But even limited time in online interaction can, in Bilbo Baggins’ words, leave you “feeling thin, stretched out, like butter scraped over too much bread.” That’s why you need to protect your soul because not only can self-promotion inflate (or deflate) the ego but the process can leave you feeling disintegrated, depressed, and tired. If you’re doing most of your promoting online, I encourage you to practice regular technology fasts at least once a week and to take several days off every few months. Protect and cultivate your most important relationships, and develop a regular structure for practicing regular disciplines that are important for you to keep a connection with the Source of your book idea in the first place!
Did you find Adam’s tips helpful? Which ones spoke to you? Do you have any others to add?
*The above post previously appeared on Susan Cain’s former blog The Power of Introverts.