Being a Better Writer: Self-Promotion

This post was originally written and posted August 28th, 2013, and is being reposted here for archival purposes.

This will be a short one, and it might strike some nerves, but it needs to be said. It’s a question I’ve heard multiple times, from multiple people at multiple events and in multiple classes. That question is: But isn’t it bad to self-promote?

The answer is summarized as follows: Writers who don’t self promote won’t be writers anyone knows.

The idea that for some reason you shouldn’t attempt to put your best work forward is completely backwards, but it persists. Somehow, the public got it into its collective mind that you shouldn’t tell anyone about your work, that you should just “put it out there” and “if it’s good, people will discover it.”

This is absolute bull. Do you think Stephen King wasn’t self-promoting when he took his first manuscript and started pitching it to everyone who would listen? That Rowling wasn’t self-promoting when she told her friends and family that she had a book coming out?

“But those people are famous,” some say (and I’m not joking, this response has been said back to many an author who has told aspiring writers to self-promote). Well, guess what, they didn’t just one day wake up famous. Stephen King didn’t wake up one morning with adoring hordes at his door. Sanderson wasn’t picked to finish The Wheel of Time out of a hat. Timothy Zahn didn’t win his first Hugo by hiding his books under a rug. No, if you want to be a writer, you can’t just write a few things and hope that somehow the dice of fate will make you get the attention you deserve. The real world doesn’t work like that.

In the real world, authors self-promote; doing tours, panels, and slipping in plugs for their work whenever they can. Publishers spend thousands on advertising campaigns to promote books—good-or-bad—every day. If you aren’t willing to walk up to someone and give a ten-second plug for your work or encourage people to read your work via twitter or facebook, then you’d best start looking for a second job, because unless you somehow manage to be the one lucky author of the hundreds of thousands out there that year who gets picked up without self-promotion, you’re going to be flat broke before long.

There are plenty of people who argue against self-promotion, or even boast that they’ll never “stoop” to that level. You know what? Ignore them. They’re not doing themselves any favors holding themselves to an imagined standard that only exist among the lower echelons of writing. Get out there and promote your work. Let people know what you’ve done. It’s not enough to write a great work, you need to promote that thing until you’re encouraging people to read it in your sleep.

No one is simply going to hand you success. You can stay silent, and hope and dream that someday someone, somewhere will pick up your work and read it, and then hope that this person happens to be one of the extremely small percent of readers that will inform others they like of what they read, but if you try that route, you’re going to stay hoping and dreaming. If you want your voice to be heard, you’re going to have to work. You can’t wait for someone else to promote your work for you. You have to get out there and make your voice heard.

This being said, moderation in all things. If you seize every available moment as a way to pitch your work, others are going to get tired of it pretty quickly. This is not advice to be telling each and everyone about how they should always be reading what you wrote. But use the moment. People talking about reading? Slip in that you wrote a book in that genre (you’d be amazed how many people will react positively to this). Have an anecdote from your own work? Don’t be ashamed to bring it up. Trying to pitch your book at a friends funeral? Well, that’s going overboard.

But the truth of the matter remains that writers self-promote. They talk about what they’ve done, what they’ve achieved. The nay-sayers, the ones who try and drag you down for promoting what you’ve done? Most likely they’re either jealous of your achievement or worried that someone is going to upset their precious perch. Ignore them. What matters is you and your own work, and you getting that work out there. Do you think anyone ever finished a book by an up-and-coming author, set it down with a big smile on their face and said to themselves “I loved this book, but I can’t believe the author suggested it to me, what a jerk?”

No. The idea is ludicrous. So get out there and promote yourself. Make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid to tweet a link. Or sales numbers. Or anything else. Because at the end of the day, you’re the one who is responsible for your work getting out there. It doesn’t matter how bad or good your writing is, if no one ever reads it. So make sure they’re reading it.

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