Self-Promotion for Horrible People

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.

16 Responses to “Self-Promotion for Horrible People”

  1. Tony Noland

    Great advice! Fit me right down to the shoes!

  2. Shannon

    I don’t write. Its not pretty when I do. Even this comment is going to have horrid punctuation and be completely stream of consciousness. However! I paint and draw and make things. I’ve never regretted sharing those things that I make. I have however regretted keeping them to myself because I am shy, or scared. So thanks! This was a great reminder.

  3. Guante

    Stumbled randomly on this, and it’s such an important post. Most of the writers I know are poets, and a lot of this applies in that realm too. I’m a poet, but I’m also a rapper, and self-promotion has been part of hip hop culture since its earliest days– you are your own publicist, you manage your fan club, you are your own street team; these ideas are part and parcel with actually writing and recording songs. That’s how we survive- and sometimes thrive- in this economic climate.

    In terms of the book/publishing world, I’m reminded of another hip hop-related writer: Billy “Upski” Wimsatt. He published “Bomb the Suburbs” back in 1994, and then just traveled around the country talking to people and selling books hand to hand (the way a lot of us rappers sell CDs). It may not be as glamorous as a formal book tour sponsored by a major publisher, but it allows you to move units and actually connect with people on a face to face level.

    Just sharing some random thoughts here; I guess the bigger idea is the importance of reconceptualizing the author’s relationship to the business. It’s not a bad thing to have an active role in your promotion; it’s a good thing. It will help you reach people; it will help you make a living. It can even help your writing.

    Thanks for another reminder of all that. We can never have too many.

  4. Kathleen

    Well, I for one appreciate you not spamming twitter. I have deleted more than one author already for it. It is annoying. If someone is following you on Twitter I think they know you write books. Do people just add people to follow just because? How odd. I prefer meaningful discourse, barring that sick humor will suffice. Speaking as an owner of a rescued pug, I like the pug pictures. Come on Otis is cute! But that’s just me. What I have noticed is how difficult it is to obtain books written by fairly new writers like yourself. Only just recently have I seen all three books of your trilogy in a bookstore at the same time. Did take a picture with the intention of sending it to you, but well, it’s still on my phone. A trip to the states and a special order was necessary to obtain the copies I have. I have had to do this many times since meeting so many wonderful writers like yourself at SIWC last year. It would appear many authors share your dilemma. If this is what puts food on the table and a roof over your head, it is a daunting prospect to be writer and required to be Fuller Brush Salesperson of the year.

  5. Brad Beaulieu

    Nice post, Sam. Thanks for sharing this. The key paragraph for me was this:


    I feel/felt the same way about The Lays of Anuskaya. It’s good to come to grips with the fact that your writing isn’t for everyone. That takes nothing away from the potential audience out there who will love it, so you have to tell yourself that you’re trying to reach *those* people, the ones who are gong to rave about it and enjoy what you were trying to do.

  6. Brad Beaulieu

    Grr. It zapped my quoted paragraph. Here’s the one I was trying to quote:

    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.

  7. Deb

    Wow, Sam. A little close to home. A tad choked up. I will now think of pugs and capybaras. And you hurling a brick.

    There. Better now.

    And thank you! 🙂


  8. Vicky Newham

    Great post. Agree with all of it. The people who DM you with promo stuff are appallingly rude. Often it’s some auto response to you following them, and instead of saying “hello” they send you a link to their blog or book. When someone does that I immediately unfollow them. Love your last few words and use them a lot also: “suck it up, keep at it”.

  9. MaraDarling

    Great comment “it is a daunting prospect to be writer and Fuller Brush Salesman of the Year.” So true! Also, I must point out that building a brand takes Time. It takes momentum and all actions that further the exposure and name or brand awareness have Value. It sounds like a lot of creative types and writers don’t place personal value on that time and effort it takes to do the “business” stuff. Makes sense – because if they really loved it they would be in marketing and promotions for a living not the fabulous writing I love to read. So I think creative but introverted people should be especially proud when they spend time on promotion. Some days success is not word count but promotion effort. I agree writers should be enthusiastic and proud of that effort. As an avid reader I greatly appreciate it! I find all my new people to read through the Internet.

  10. smhll

    Somewhere early in life, probably on the meaner side of the playground, we get taught that being enthusiastic and passionate and fantastical isn’t cool. And that we are dorks. And that people enjoy hating us. This is a tough lesson to unlearn, but we can’t let those bastards win.

  11. Joe

    I think this is true and good advice for pretty much any kind of creative artist. I’m a photographer myself, and struggle with these same issues and had to teach myself many of the lessons here. Thanks for writing this.

  12. Link Roundup 8-5-13 | Rachael K. Jones

    […] Self-promotion without being a jerk, particularly relevant to writers, bloggers, and other creatives. I love his tips because he recognizes the whole awkward “I don’t want to annoy people” wall that keeps so many of us creatives from telling the world that we might have something it would enjoy seeing. […]

  13. Adam Matthews

    A particularly positive post… especially for all the authors who self publish e-books on Amazon etc. Nevertheless, I’ve found self promotion to be really hard. I feel like it would be a lot easier if I had five grand or so to drop on paid advertisements or something. Out of curiosity, what does a real publisher actually do to promote an author’s book? Surely they have an interest in making sure their books sell well?

  14. D.J Bowman-Smith

    Thanks for this,
    Yes it certainly is a long haul the whole self promotion thing. It takes time, lots of time.
    But here in the modern world at least we authors do have some chance to make things happen.

  15. Mike Ranson

    Superb advice for any author, but which is especially relevant to anyone attempting to self-publish (whether as a means to an income or a route to a traditional publishing deal). Self-published authors lack a support structure and, in desperation, often fall foul of the “Don’t” category. The “Do” category is gold.

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