There is an immense conundrum in being a writer.
I mean, there are plenty in writing, as well, but the very act of being a person public and visible and hoping to carve out a niche of adoration directly in the reverence center of peoples’ brains is bound to have its share of difficulties. One of which I have stumbled across this very week.
There was a thread on r/fantasy asking “How much self-promotion is too much?” Now, I’m not quite sure how much is too much, but I can tell you how much is too little: mostly all of it. Given that the vast majority of publishers don’t have the resources to violently push the vast majority of their writers to the vast majority of their readers, the lion’s share of the work for getting the word about your books out there will be squarely on your shoulders as a new writer. Self-promotion is just a fact of the industry at this point. To get anywhere, you must become adept at talking yourself up.
That’s not the difficulty. The difficulty comes in the fact that the vast majority of writers are not people who are fit for self-promotion.
Writers are creative people. And as creative people, they have more than their fair share of introversion, depression and a piping hot cocktail of shame and envy. They can’t self-promote without worrying that they’re annoying people. They can’t say anything good about themselves without inviting the fear that someone will stand up and say “I disagree, you’re awful.” And if people tell them they’re good and tell them they’re not being annoying, they privately think people are lying to them just to be nice and they secretly gather in cabals dedicated to discussing how awful you are as a writer and there’s like a little shrine with your picture on it and a fat, bearded guy in a hood gesturing his thumb at your picture and going “fuck THIS guy!”
I might be projecting too much.
I’m only now coming to grips with the fact that self-promotion is a fact of life. My work has suffered greatly for it. I’ve always been too shy, too embarrassed, too worried to speak well of myself. I have a fairly large twitter following and facebook presence and very few people seem aware that I actually write books as opposed to spending my whole day posting pictures of pugs and capybaras.
It’s frustrating. Not because it’s hard, but because it shouldn’t be hard. Fantasy fans are unique in that we thrive on exuberance. We’re happy to geek out over stuff and gush how much we love a series. And we love it when other people do it, as well.
I mean, for a long time, I got convinced that The Aeons’ Gate was not actually all that special. A few extremely virulent reviews convinced me I wasn’t that great, that it was just adventure fantasy, not important enough to warrant gushing and I fell silent. But as I grow older, I can recognize that its flaws gave it strength and vigor. It has energy I’m proud of and it’s something I’m damn happy with and it’s something I’m fucking thrilled to share with people.
It took me a very long time to figure this out. I’m still coming to terms with it.
But here are some very simple DO’s and DON’Ts that I’ve realized along the way.
Be Unashamed: This is not the same as being shameless, mind you. Being unashamed means being happy with what you write, happy that you want people to read it, happy that you are KING NERD and you make your throne atop a mountain of ideas and joyous bluebirds all singing the SHOTS song. Being unashamed means being totally okay with the fact that you wrote a book and think it’s awesome that people can read it.
Be Involved: The audience loves exuberance, but the audience also loves free stuff. Do giveaways! Do contests! Do fun stuff! Create bonus content to be seen (such as my Lost Pages) at any time! Make swag! Talk to people at panels, online, on twitter, all over the place. Show love in your project by investing in it! Make your audience feel like this is something awesome they should be involved in!
Be Unafraid: Asking is not something you’re taught in school. In fact, by the time most of us are adults, we have no idea how to ask. We’re too prideful, too afraid of being rejected, too afraid of admitting we need help. But sometimes, if nothing else can be done, you’ve just got to post a request for people to post Amazon reviews about your book or to retweet something or to otherwise help you out. Don’t consider it charity. Remember about being unashamed. You’re not (just) asking people to help you out, you’re asking them to believe that this is as awesome as you believe.
And most importantly…
Be Enthusiastic: Learn to talk about your project the way you feel about it. Learn to love what you’ve done and learn to be okay with letting that show. You wrote a book in a genre you love. Acting too cool to talk about it merely makes your audience think there’s something wrong with it. You are a writer, but you’re also a reader. Be comfortable with geeking out over yourself now and again. Exuberance is infectious.
Get Bitter: Sometimes, you’re going to fail. Sometimes, you’re going to get a bad review. Sometimes, you’re going to ask for reviews and get maybe two people who do it and the rest who ignore you. This isn’t their fault. It isn’t your fault. The plan didn’t work. That happens a lot. Don’t grouse online about ungrateful people or unappreciated genius. The rank stench of fear and bitterness isn’t becoming. Take some time to recuperate the blow, then try again.
Get Dishonest: Part of being unashamed means being honest. And that means if someone comes around asking for a hardcore space opera sci-fi and you’ve written spiderotica, you can’t subtly trick them into reading it by claiming “hey, at some point, Queen Arachne, eight-legged sex goddess whose twitching, venom-coated mandibles have tasted the fruits of a thousand thousand men and women’s shaven delights looks into space, THIS MUST BE A SPACE OPERA!” Your reader might have a good time, but they might also feel tricked and annoyed that you didn’t listen to what they wanted. Be up front and tell them true.
Get Spammy: I’m putting this third because it’s not quite as important as the last part, but this is probably what sinks a lot of people. If your twitter feed is full of regurgitated stock lines about how awesome your series is and various #mustread, #buythis, #seriouslydoit hashtags, you have a problem. If all you ever link is your Amazon page, your Goodreads page, your statistics, you have a problem. If you have a program that automatically DMs someone an advertisement for your book when they follow you, you have a serious problem because I am about to smash your fucking face in with a brick.
And most importantly…
Get Discouraged: This is a long game and it’s going to take a long time before the highs are more frequent than the lows, trust me. Don’t make it harder for yourself by thinking you’re not worth talking about. Don’t make it harder for yourself by getting angry at the world and yourself. With enough time, any plan will work and any hurdle can be climbed over. Suck it up, keep at it.
You got this.