Monday 3 August 2015

How to Self-Promote Without Losing Yourself in the Process

By Nick Cross

Whether you’re traditionally published, self-published or still trying, the pressure to promote yourself has never been greater. We’re exhorted to “get out there and build a platform” via social media and word of mouth. But while some authors manage this transition gracefully, there are others who undergo a Jekyll and Hyde transformation, turning into publicity-hungry monsters.

We’ve all met them, the people who won’t take no for an answer, the ones who believe that the only thing stopping them from selling their book or manuscript to you is the number of times they can send you a link to it.

I get it, I really do – the excitement of having your product out there and the desire to make sure everyone knows about it. And it’s so easy to make a hyperbolic Facebook post or send a brace of tweets to everyone you’ve ever met. But I also think it’s worth taking a step back and considering what you gain or lose through aggressive social marketing. I hope the following five tips will help you to hold back the tide of future regret.

1 - Remember your audience
This is a piece of advice that turns up again and again in blog posts like this. If I were to analyse why, my answers would be:

A) It’s really important

B) People obviously keep forgetting it

When marketing (as with writing or illustrating) you need to consider who the people you’re hoping to communicate with are, and why they’d be receptive to your message. Close friends and family already know about you and will probably buy whatever you’re selling anyway – you don’t need to promote yourself amongst them at all. Existing online friends already have some vague idea who you are, but may not know what you’ve been working on. And people you’ve never met will need a bit more context and will likely be the least receptive to your advances.

Begone, foul-bearded Twitter fiend!

If closeness of association is one dimension, another is suitability. If you’ve written a fiction book for adults, then don’t expect to get much traction when you barge onto a Facebook group for children’s authors. Equally, I don’t want to know about your wellness blog, your hilarious cat GIFs or your half price offer on Ray Ban sunglasses. But (for instance) an adult non-fiction book about writing, illustrating or the creative process would be very welcome.

2 - Keep it genuine
Ten years of Web 2.0 have gifted many of us with an honest-to-goodness superpower – the ability to spot a phony from right over the other side of the internet. Trying to be someone you’re not (outside the realms of carefully delineated fiction) isn’t a viable strategy on social media, unless you’re one of these obsessive catfish-type people who can juggle multiple online personas simultaneously. Embrace who you are, be proud of it and engage with people on that basis. When you get passionate about stuff, your genuine passion will come across and hopefully make other people passionate about it too.

This may not be quite what I meant by "catfish," but at least it's not a GIF!

3 - Give before you take
Steaming onto a new social platform or Facebook group, and instantly sending out “Look at me! Buy my book!” messages will endear you to precisely no-one. You need to spend time nurturing relationships and earning other people’s trust, exactly the same way you would in the offline world. Giving is a great way to achieve this, and what’s more, it’s fun and rewarding in its own right. Get involved in group discussions, review other people’s books, comment on blog posts and write some interesting blog posts yourself. Only when you’ve built up some karma in the bank can you expect others to return the favour.

4 - Your friends are not a marketing strategy
I read a brilliant and honest blog interview recently, but it came very close to being spoilt by the actions of the interviewer. Here they were, hosting an interview with one of their close author friends, and yet they kept bringing the subject back to their own book, which they were clearly desperate to pedal at every opportunity. This was despite the post appearing on a site devoted to said book, with a large picture of the cover in the sidebar.

The book itself looked interesting and in normal circumstances I might have clicked through to Amazon to investigate it further. But quite frankly, the whole situation felt exploitative and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

A similar example was when a famous and successful author sent me a friend request on Facebook. “Oh wow!” I thought, “How exciting that they’ve noticed little old me!” Naturally, I accepted immediately, imagining the hours of stimulating discussion ahead. Unfortunately, what I got was a bombardment of paid marketing messages about the author’s latest book. Yes, the book might have been brilliant and yes, I’m sure they felt passionate about it, but this was not the right way to go about selling it to me.

5 - You haven’t written To Kill a Mockingbird (but that’s OK)
You may think that you’ve written an epoch-making work of transcendent literary genius, and owe it to the world to promote it as such. But you haven’t and you shouldn’t. Relax, have fun and remember that your next book (where the bulk of your energies should be focused) will probably be better. You’re building a career, so don’t burn your bridges now and lose your chance to give your future work the promotion it deserves.

The only caveat I’d offer to the above is if Harper Lee is reading this. You have written To Kill a Mockingbird. Well done, madam.

This woman deserves an award. Oh wait, I think she's receiving one...

So there you have it – some simple strategies to get you through the minefield that is self-promotion. We all make online faux pas, but stopping and thinking, or considering how you come across from others' perspectives can help you avoid the most damaging behaviour.

Be interesting and interested in other people, and you’ll soon start to amass a committed following. Practising good self-promotion not only ensures that you reach an engaged and appropriate target audience, it also makes sure you feel good about yourself afterwards. And that’s a feeling to treasure.


Nick Cross is a children's writer, Undiscovered Voices winner and Blog Network Editor for SCBWI Words & Pictures Magazine.
Nick's writing is published in Stew Magazine, and he's recently received the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.


  1. Hi!! My latest book is available from...... No, seriously, spam is litter. You might as well write the name of your book on a piece of paper put it in a crisp packet and throw it in the gutter. Stick to guilt tripping four friends into buying your book, then, since finding the people who are unknown to you and want to buy your book is almost impossible unless your book is about chocolate candles and there happens to be a chocolate candle society, either give up or, if you must, keep your mentions down to something oblique once every 6 months.

  2. Wise words, Nick.I especially liked points 3 and 4. Generosity is an often under-rated quality and I feel that it is truly at the heart of most children's writers. Give willingly, don't waste your energies expecting payback, just live the generous life and reap the rewards! Sounds like a biblical life lesson but it's true. I do like funny cats and amusing guinea pigs though.

  3. Chocolate candles? Genius! Thanks, Nick. Sensible stuff. It's such a balancing act and I've ended up almost giving up on promoting stuff which isn't the best way to go, either. A timely piece for me. Cheers.

  4. Nice post - thanks. I think we need these reminders because it's easy to get carried away with things such as sharing amazing reviews, and over sharing can be a pain, as we all know who've been on the receiving end. I've shared on twitter!

  5. Brilliant and much needed in the world of Buy My Book! To be fair, authors are not professional publicists and one has to forgive the constant faux pas. I hope everyone who needs to will read this post!

  6. Thanks, Nick.This is both helpful and honest. I'm currently going through a "time to pull the the plug on the whole social media thing" phase right now, and not just for the reasons you highlight (going through a divorce during "anniversary season" isn't much fun!). I also find the constant writer talk, including references to a baffling array of acronyms like YALSA/YALC/CLG/SAS (SCBWI is excluded from this, of course...I never get tireed of that!) rather draining and confusing. However, I think you are right to point out that social media should be about real realtionships, and I've "met" some fabulous and supportive people on facebook and twitter. So I won't be logging off just yet.

    1. For goodness sake don't log off!

    2. Jane I remember you saying something about all the endless acronyms last time I saw you. Around the same time my twitter started annoyingly giving me messages, along the lines of 'x, y and z are talking about (insert acronym &/or hashtag of choice)'. I must say it puts me right off Twitter....and I love Twitter!

  7. All agreed, wise Nick.
    Though one thing I find a little tricky to navigate in Twitter is when lovely readers tweet lovely comments or reviews. They like being retweeted, so if I retweet them that is the reason I'm doing it. It's like a thank you (and I often add a thank you to same) more than trying to bombard anyone else with the messages. But if there are a bunch at once I wonder if they're annoying other people?

    1. One of the things I didn't have space to mention was retweeting praise/positive reviews. Some people say you should never do it, but I actually think it's OK provided you do it in moderation. You can always just reply with a thank you or use the favourite feature if you think you're in danger of deluging your followers.

  8. Yep, that's what I do sometimes also: favourite tweets.

  9. Wise words, Nick. Thank you. I guess at the end of the day it is a balancing act, and one that it's easy to fall down on. As an audience I think we all need to be understanding of other writers' errors of judgment when it comes to self-promotion, and willing to forgive.

  10. Number Three! Number Three! Number Three!

    Thank you

  11. Well said, Nick! I should add to this that if you're going to start a social media platform, use it. There's no point in opening a Twitter account and leaving your potential followers with about nine tweets, written months ago. No point, either, in starting a Goodreads account and not adding any books to it(except your own!). And not allowing anyone to friend you, only to follow you. I sometimes get the feeling that these people's publishers order them to get a social media platform and so they do it, but never use it.

    Definitely agreed that you need to build up relationships on social media as you would in real life - I have unfriended some folk who do nothing on Twitter but promote their latest book, or make quotes but nothing personal.

  12. Thanks Nick, this is very timely for me. I have been promoting my book on social media at the moment and now have a checklist of things to be mindful of. Agree with the comment about Goodreads. I tried to use the new compare books function with other Goodreads Authors and hardly any had books listed. Also my publisher asked me to start a Snapchat account, when I asked some school kid who it worked they laughed and said forget it.

  13. Thanks for the nudge Nick. I was feeling a bit discouraged with Twitter recently and let it lapse for a few months. But I've reloaded the app today and reconnecting.


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