Guest post: Do’s and Don’ts of Self-Promotion for Writers by Catherine Lundoff

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of marketing is brought to you by author and interviewee Catherine Lundoff.

Do’s and Don’ts of Self-Promotion for Writers

Most writers learn pretty early on in their careers that they have to promote their own work. Shrinking publisher budgets, the ever-changing landscape of book publishing and the need to grow our audiences keep all of us hustling. There’s a temptation, given all this, to keep looking for new and different ways to self-promote, to take good ideas and build on them. To push it just a little (or a lot) further than the authors we’re competing against.

Self-promotion can be a double-edged sword. At its best, it sells our books and gets our names out there, building a readership that continues to read our work for years to come. At its worst, we promote ourselves as someone that other writers and readers avoid. People remember being annoyed for a remarkably long time.

Here’s a few ways that you can use self-promotion to make a good impression on your colleagues and readers, as well as some of the pitfalls to avoid.

Effective things to do for in-person promotion:

  • Practice your reading beforehand in front of a friend and make sure that they can hear you. Mumbling makes for a dull reading.
  • Time your reading. The average audience’s attention span runs out at about fifteen to twenty minutes, thirty if you’re good. Read multiple short excerpts or stop for questions.
  • If you’re reading with other authors, make sure you show up on time and that you don’t run over into other writers’ reading time.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. Show up for panels ready to talk about the panel topic. “I don’t know why I’m here” is not a great opening line.
  • Do not use appearances with other authors to talk incessantly about yourself and your work and nothing else (known as the “Me, Me, Me!” Song in my household). This includes waving your books or promo materials around whenever it’s your turn to talk.
  • Be courteous. Thank the interviewer or conference organizers or bookstore staff or librarians or whoever set up the event you’re at. These are people who can tell others nice things about you and your work. They also probably organize more than one event. Not being a jerk can get you invited back.
  • Be reliable. If you commit to doing a personal appearance, show up early, sober and ready to go. Bring a readable copy of whatever you’re going to read. Make sure that nothing short of a natural disaster or death itself stops you from showing upon time. I can’t tell you how many times I get invited back to do things because I’m utterly reliable.
  • If you are, in fact, unable to make it, call and let the organizers know as early as possible. And make sure you apologize and offer to reschedule.
  • If you are doing events with other writers, find something nice to say about their work. When in doubt, “I really enjoyed hearing what you had to say about…” or “I really liked your description of…” is always popular. I’ve been friends for many years now with the first writer who told me that she “loved” my work. Allies and friends make life better.
  • Special note about bookstore readings: if you’re reading or signing at a bookstore, buy a book. If you can’t afford to buy a book, make sure your friends, family, acquaintances and fans show up and do your level best to get them to buy books. This is how bookstores stay open; if you want it to be there when you have another book out, you need to support it.

There are also a wide range of opportunities for authors to promote themselves and their work online, ranging from email lists to social networking to blogs. Each comes with its own degree of effectiveness. Here’s a few suggestions to help them work for you:

  • Make sure you understand the rules of a group list for self-promotion and follow them.
  • Congratulate other writers on their successes and commiserate with them on their failures.
  • Work out exchanges with other writers – trade blog interviews or reviews, for example. “Trade” is the key word.
  • Keep your website up to date: your readers will appreciate it.
  • Build some variety into your social media posts and blogging. The formula that I try to follow for Twitter is: one promotional post, one retweet for a cause or someone else’s project, and one informational post or retweet. I alternate posts between Facebook, Twitter and Google+, with the exception of announcements such as a new publication or a reading.

General things avoid for effective promotion:

  • Never, ever add other writers, or anyone else to your mailing list or group without their permission.
  • Do not spam organizational or topic lists (ex. Romance writers, writers of cyberpunk with mecha characters, etc.). Ever. This is a good way to get banned.
  • Do not direct message your social network contacts with incessant (or any) “Buy my book, buy my book!” messages.
  • Filling your own feed or blog or updates with “Buy my book!” messages and nothing else is also not particularly effective.
  • Do not treat your fans as if you’re doing them a favor to bother to show up.
  • Do not harass other authors to introduce you to their agents or to provide feedback on your work.
  • If they volunteer to introduce you to agents or editors or to give feedback on your work, thank them.

In short, treat other writers and your potential readers the way you would like to be treated. Some rewards are tangible, while some may not pay off for years down the road. Remember it can take a few tries for readers and event organizers to remember your name when you’re a new author – make sure they remember you for the right reasons.

Thank you Catherine, lovely to have you back and as someone (me) just about to leave their (my) day job it couldn’t have been better timed! 🙂

Catherine Lundoff is the award-winning author of Night’s Kiss (Lethe Press, 2009) and Crave (Lethe Press, 2007) as well as A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories (Lethe Press, 2011) and Silver Moon: A Wolves of Wolf’s Point Novel (Lethe Press, 2012). She is the editor of Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories (Lethe Press, 2008) and the co-editor, with JoSelle Vanderhooft, of the Rainbow Award-winning Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic (Lethe Press, 2011). In her other lives, she’s a professional computer geek and teaches writing classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. You can also read our interview.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with children’s author, scriptwriter, ghostwriter and literary thriller novelist Fiona Veitch Smith – the two hundred and fortieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords (was that discreet enough, I wonder?) 🙂