Let’s take a moment to discuss the oft-used phrase “self-promoter.” It’s unclear in the Kardashian-takes-all world whether this phrase is meant as a compliment or an insult, but the idea of promoting oneself gives most authors I know the heebie-jeebies. We all know that it’s necessary to advocate for your own work, especially in today’s overcrowded publishing landscape, but how do you do that without becoming a bore or a Bragosaurus rex? Being a writer is a lifetime commitment, and it involves more than just putting pen to paper. The following are some ways to promote your work that won’t feel like a chore to you or your readers.
Invest in your Community
Being an author goes beyond producing material for books—it means being part of a community. Which means that building these networks long before you have something of your own to promote is vital. If you expect others to care about your work, you need to show you care about theirs. So what does that mean practically speaking?
Be a patron. Is there a fabulous indie bookstore that you would love to shelve your book someday? Then don’t be a stranger! Buy your books there whenever possible, engage the staff by asking them for reading recommendations and telling them how much you like the store, attend their events, tell friends about the store, and talk them up on social media. If the store knows you, they’ll be much more likely to help you when your book comes out. Even one great indie evangelist can make a huge difference to the reach of your work.
Be a pal. If you’re an author, you’re certainly a voracious reader as well. When you finish a book that you love, take five minute to post about the book on Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter—wherever readers are likely to see it. Go a step further and drop that author a note telling him or her how much you liked the book, or even meet in person if it seems appropriate.
Be social on social media. This sounds obvious, but social media is powerful because it’s interactive. So rather than using Twitter to post what you ate for breakfast, engage other writers and readers using hashtags like #amreading and #amwriting (perennially popular) to talk books and promote stuff you like. Comment on blogs that you enjoy and pipe up in forums. Make yourself a positive known quantity.
Remember: this isn’t a ten-day diet, it’s a lifestyle, so pick a promotional strategy that will actually work for you. If you have only fifteen minutes a day to spend, great! Comment on one blog per day, contribute to a hashtag on Twitter. Have an hour a day? Fabulous. Blog, post on forums. Have no more than a couple of hours a month? Post reviews online of every book you read. Attend one conference per quarter or one reading per month. The point is to do what you can and do it regularly.
Pick enjoyable and engaging ways to participate in social media and to connect with your community, online and off. If you’re an introvert, you can engage purely online. If you love meeting people and can’t spend another moment staring at your computer screen, readings and conferences are where it’s at. Maybe you loathe Twitter but you love Pinterest. Don’t spend time trying to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do. Find ways to engage on a genuine and enjoyable level. Remember that all of the things on this list, from attending events to using Twitter, are things people do for fun. If you treat them like an obligation, it’ll show.
Want some examples of authors who are great at this? All three of the women below have well-earned reputations for being generous with their communities, on top of their excellent writing. Check them out and see how it’s done.
Roxane Gay: The celebrated novelist and cultural critic constantly talks up the work of fellow writers, and she is a prodigious speaker, panelist, and professor. She is also a delight on social media, with a down-to-earth style that swings seamlessly from serious cultural critique to the Real Housewives and the Step Up franchise. Start by reading some seriously good advice for authors that she dropped at AWP in 2013:
Cheryl Strayed: Despite the fact that she hit it big, (Oprah big, Reese-Witherspoon-is-playing-me-in-the-movie big), part of what has earned Strayed her popularity is her humility and her devotion to the writing community that got her where she is. She also won many hearts in her role as “Dear Sugar” for The Rumpus, which began as an unpaid gig. Read the below article and tell me you don’t want to go roast marshmallows by the campfire with her.
Maria Murnane: Prolific novelist Murnane (full disclosure: I know and like her) is a marketing machine. Between writing her Waverly series as well as the new stand-alone novel Katwalk, Murnane appears as a sought-after public speaker who is seemingly as invested in pulling aspiring writers up with her as she is promoting her own work. She has a multitude of resources for authors on her website, including her excellent blog.