The Dirty Little Secret of Self Promotion

I have never been a great self-promoter. I am shy, and I start to mumble and turn red when people ask me about my books. I have an author website, partly because when I read a book I like, I love to go check out the author’s website to learn more about her and any other books she might have written. If she has a newsletter, I sign up for it so I can find out when future books will come out. I assume if anyone else ever likes one of my books, they might want to do the same.

I maintain a blog because I enjoy doing so, but not because I think it will make me rich. I am on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram mostly for fun, but do I think they are a good means of self-promotion? Not exactly. I have never bought a book because of any interaction I’ve had on a social networking site. I’ve also never bought a book because of a promotional bookmark, keychain, or other doodad picked up at a conference.

How do I find new books? I read reviews on,, in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and a few other magazines here and there. I hear books mentioned on NPR. I get recommendations from friends. Also, all those email newsletters I sign up for let me know when my favorite authors have a new book coming out. All these means of finding books depends upon the book being good enough to be recommended by others.

There is only one tried and true method of self promotion: writing the very best books we can write and sending them out into the world to fail or succeed. Then do it again and again and again until we fall over dead clutching a dusty, worn-out keyboard in our gnarled old hands. Sooner or later, we hope we hit on the right book at the right time for the right audience. Maybe we do, and maybe we don’t, but because this one all-important method of self-promotion is so difficult, and because the publishing world is so out of our control, we like to distract ourselves with things we can control:

Blog tours, website makeovers, light-up keychains in the shape of our next release. These things call all be quite fun, but never forget that they are, at heart, distractions from the task at hand, which is always going to be sitting down and the keyboard and writing one sentence, then another and another, forever and ever. The End.

How do you find the books you read? Do you ever buy books based on promotion you see on social networking sites?


  1. The thing about self-promotion and social networks is that a whole lot of people get it wrong. They think using Twitter to promote yourself as an author means endlessly posting praises for your work, sales and discounts. Just think about it. Do you really want to follow one of those people who act like a robot online?

    Just look at Neil Gaiman, for example. He’s an excellent businessman online because he rarely ever talks about his work. He shares fun insight, wonderful quotes and interesting links. He gives back to the people who have decided to click that follow button.

    In short, I don’t think there is an absolutely clear, 100% foolproof way to promote yourself over social media; however, I’m pretty sure now I can spot what shouldn’t be done.

    • I agree about Neil Gaiman, Joe. His Twitter feed is excellent because he is genuine, interesting, and not trying to sell anything. It seems to me he is truly interested in interacting with people online, so he does it. If he sells more books as a consequence, that’s icing on the cake. I’m not sure I believe he’s trying to sell books though. Do you? I think he might be just as successful without a single Twitter post.

      That’s why I believe if we are social networking simply because we want to and enjoy it, then great. If we are doing it because we think we have to in order to sell books, it’s going to feel that way to our audience.

      Thank you for your comments! 🙂

      • You’re welcome!

        I think that, whatever your goal with social networking is, the objective is to enjoy it as much as you do when write. If it feels like work then it’s pointless.

      • You’re welcome!

        I think that, whatever your goal with social networking is, the objective is to enjoy it as much as you do when write. If it feels like work then it’s pointless.

  2. Thanks for the good advice, Jamie. I can breathe a sigh of relief, because I love Twitter and all the conversations there. I’m not there to promote…I would be there anyway for the camaraderie and fun. Your comment about writing the best book you can is spot on, and one I’ve taken to heart.

  3. Michelle Holtzman

    I have followed several favorite authors on Facebook and while I love to hear about their work, I’ll admit I do grow tired of hearing about their problems. It’s not that I don’t fell empathy, I do, but I am not a personal friend to these writers. A professional Facebook page for an author is not for complaining about your life. I have seen some very big names do this, Newbery award big names and it really looks unprofessional.

    • Michelle, I agree it’s really tricky to walk the line between friendly and available to readers and sharing too much. We each have to find our own comfort level. I try to keep in mind what I would want to hear from my own favorite authors.

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