Chuck Wendig writes about his dislike of some author self-marketing strategies.
So much this.
I’ve been in this community for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of people promoting books in various ways. Some authors build berms of their books in front of them at panels, as though they need defenses from the audience they intend to attract.
But here’s the thing: not only am I not going to promote your book if you spam me, I’m extremely unlikely to read it. I’ll almost never promote a book I haven’t read (though I may promote it while reading it).
On the flip side: most of the books I’ve liked this year were ones I never heard about through any promotion other than the publisher’s own “Coming Soon” title list. I read the descriptions, decided the book sounded interesting, and off I went with no other marketing at all.
Ways To Turn Me Off As a Reader
- Claim that you are a bestseller. I know, right? This one should be a gimme. But: I’m a person who likes underdogs, so I tend to avoid the popular memes. A non-book example: as a kid, I loved musicals. Still do. (Most recently-seen live theatre performance? Spamalot.) But everyone fawns all over Glee. Despite watching my fair share of television, I’ve never seen an episode.
- Tell me that your book is “just like” some other book. Though I do love weird high-concept mashup descriptions like my description of one of my own novels: “It’s Twilight meets Step Into Liquid.” Or the example from one of my favorite movies, The Player: “It’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman.”
- Try to tweet/FB post a bunch of stuff about your book’s content. I’m not talking the occasional “OMG, I got a great review!” squee. That’s fine. I’m talking about the people who actually try to put significant bits of content into social media form. Look. You have a web site, put that shit there. And, for the sake of all that is holy, please put an excerpt on your site. For a novella, 1-2 pages. For a novel, 2-5. That’s my preference, anyway. Long enough for me to decide if I want to download a sample and read more.
How To Catch Me As a Reader Via Social Media
- Put a link to your web site in your Twitter profile.
- Tweet things I’m interested in. Avoid tweets about stuff I don’t care about.
It really is that simple. You may be a lovely person, but I probably don’t care about your book. Yet.
The corollary: just because I like you doesn’t mean I’ll identify with your fiction.
And the flip side: just because I love your book doesn’t mean I think you’re worth knowing. Case in point: Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead are books I loved when I read them.
A Tale of a Favorite Book
I thought I’d write the timeline of how my current favorite novel, Charles Stross’s Halting State became my favorite book.
In 2001 and 2002, I worked part-time at Kepler’s bookstore in Menlo Park. I told Cory Doctorow that we had a copy of his book on writing science fiction in stock, and he came in to autograph it.
Around that time, open source advocate Eric S. Raymond happened to be in San Francisco for his birthday, and Rick and I and Cory and Eric went out for dinner to a Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco. Eric didn’t like the place, but Cory loved it — and that created a moment of connection.
When Charlie’s story “Lobsters” appeared in Asimov’s in 2001, Cory waxed poetic about it. One particular line caught me, and I loved the story, so I voted for it for the 2002 Hugo awards.
At the 2002 Worldcon, I congratulated Charlie on his nomination, and he was really nice. That moment created a more direct connection with Charlie. Yet, one of the things that happened to me after Clarion (which I had just finished) was that I burned out as a reader for years. At that particular point, I couldn’t read anything without hearing my entire Clarion class live critiquing it.
During the next few years, Rick had read quite a few of Charlie’s other works. I hadn’t.
Then, for some reason, I got a bee in my bonnet when Charlie was on tour in 2011, appearing at Borderlands Books, talking about Rule 34, the sequel to Halting State. Rick and I sat in the front row, and I loved Charlie’s talk. As both titles are very much internet-y books (and, hey, my license plate is XKCD 386), I wanted to read the sequel, but not until after I read the first book. Which I then did.
Halting State didn’t unseat Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates as my favorite book on the first read, and Tim remains my favorite author. But Halting State is much more a “me” book in the way FlashForward is the most “me” television series ever produced.
So You’ve Caught My Attention, Now What Happens?
Not every book I love will have an eleven-year saga and require three personal connections. Thank God.
Let’s say you caught my attention by following me on Twitter.
- First thing I’ll do is check out your Twitter profile, which comes to me via email. If you sound interesting there, we go to step 2. If you are a horror writer or like writing about werewolves, we probably stop right here. I’m more likely to follow you if I think you’re funny.
- I’ll look at your Twitter stream. Do you tweet interesting stuff that’s not redundant to what I already get following others? If so, I may follow you. Your chances are best if you’re a modest (in quantity) tweeter.
- Whether I follow you on Twitter or not, if you seem like you might be an interesting writer from your Twitter stream and profile, I’ll look at your web page. I have seen a fuckton of web pages in my time, and I’m very judgmental about them. Is it tasteful? (This? Just don’t.) Can I read your page? Are your works easy to find? Is there an excerpt? (More important than reviews, people, come on. I only care about what I think of your work.)
- If I follow you on Twitter and you direct message me with something promotional in response, I will unfollow you and it will forever leave a bad taste in my mouth. No matter how interesting you are.
- So, I found your web site and I found your excerpt. Let’s say I like it. Then I open iBooks, go to the iBooks store, and download a sample. That’s my “To Be Read” pile these days. I don’t generally buy the book until I’ve finished the sample. If your book’s not available in iBooks, it’s extremely unlikely I will read it. Generally, I’ll only do that for authors where I’ve read everything there is to buy in iBooks and am hunting other prey of that author’s. Wait, your book is in paper? The last paper book I purchased was Ngā Mōteatea, a bilingual book of Maori songs (one of several volumes). If it’s not that obscure or interesting, I won’t be buying it in paper.
- Unfortunately, books can sit around in my to-be-read pile for some time. I have 35 paid-for (or free) books that are waiting to be read (two are books I’m not yet willing to admit I’ve given up on). I have samples for another 60 books, and some of those have been sitting around for a year.
Here’s five books in my sample pile:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy
Perv by Jesse Bering
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Steady Beat by Lexxie Couper
That’s what you’re up against.