The concept of promoting yourself and your work is such a strange one. I've heard a lot of lectures that say women in particular have problems promoting themselves and their work but I'm not convinced it's a gender thing. I've seen just as many men who not only do not promote themselves but actually downplay their contributions. In many cases, this is a result of having high standards and the search for excellence. The guy I work with/for is absolutely brilliant and yet he insists he's a knucklehead and points out dozens of ways he could have done something better while the rest of us are just sitting there with our mouths hanging open, catching flies, and watching dumbfounded as he cuts to the core of extraordinarily complex information system problems and defines ways to resolve them that actually make sense and are doable.
If you set high standards for yourself and look at your work critically, you'll find the flaws and it will never be good enough—never quite perfect. And it is therefore correspondingly difficult to say how wonderful your work is when you see all too clearly the flaws in it. When you wish it was better. And so how can you promote it without feeling like a fool or worse, a foul liar? Well, I can tell you this, no matter what you do, you're going to feel like an idiot. There's no way around that one unless you're just stunningly full of yourself.
Nonetheless, in all fields of endeavor, you have to promote yourself. In my day job, every year I have to write up a blurb about how I'm the Queen of Perfection in the computer field for my performance appraisal. And now, I also have to try to think of ways to make people sit up, take notice of my books and buy them, despite all my absolute conviction that everything I do could definitely be done better.
I'm also sitting here, almost beside myself with anxiety about getting book reviews, particularly real reader reviews. Despite my promise to totally avoid looking at reviews for fear of being forced to face the reality that I'm just a hack whose search for excellence has led her into the outfield of mediocrity, part of me is curled up on my chair shaking with fear at stumbling over some review somewhere that confirms my worst fears. Because I don't want to be a hack. I don't want to be mediocre. I want to be Shakespeare (without a sex change operation or having to use that really weird, overblown language).
So, that's the sum of my fears. And now…promotion. I'm the best thing since Harry Potter, so read my books! How's that?
One of the biggest problems writers face is trying to promote their books. Oh, sure, some of the really lucky/talented/whatever ones actually get a marketing department behind them and get some creative marketing done, but for the rest of us, that ain't an option. And if you write e-books, your options dwindle even further.
Here's the bad side. Reality, if you will. No matter what you write, your task is to get your book in front of someone when they are ready to buy a book. For people with an actual physical hardcover/paperback, you have to convince buyers for bookstores to stock your books. For you, getting that book out there on the actual shelves is going to be crucial. And this isn't all about Amazon. Amazon, while doing amazing things, is actually not selling as many books as say, Wal-Mart and Target. So, it's the book buyers you have to convince.
For e-book writers, it's even harder because you're already pretty much limited to people drifting around the Internet (a smaller number than those drifting through the aisles of Wal-Mart and Target, believe me) and of those, the ones who are actually interested in books, and of THOSE, the ones who are willing to buy an e-book. This is a very small number—unless you are talking about erotica—which seems to go hand-in-hand with the Internet. So you don't have the casual book buyer seeing your cover in the Target check-out line and buying it on impulse.
And to further depress you, most of the advertising avenues, particularly for e-books, are really geared for writers selling to other writers. Rather incestuous, actually, but the ads are in writers magazines or trade magazines sold mostly to writers, and web sites that review romance and other novels that have an audience that is largely…other writers in the same genre(s). Of course, most writers are also voracious readers, so this is not all bad, but it is still like pissing in your own bathwater. It's not getting out there to other people.
And all those online chats, blogs, etc—again—who are you really reaching? A few readers and other fellow writers. I've been on a lot of online chats and the most readers I've seen online chatting is 20. Now I'd be happy to get 20 readers, but that's not going to make me a NY Times bestseller any time soon. I'd say those promotional efforts are a lot of work for very little gain. You spend hours "chatting" with, on average, 4 or 5 other people who may or may not buy your book and are really just Internet cruising hoping to find some free goodies.
I'm actually having a bit of difficulty with the good side. Sorry. I'm afraid I'm really more "the glass is most likely half-empty unless I'm wrong about that" sort of person, but it is so easy for me to go on and on about the difficulties you face in promotional efforts.
But if you've got a marketing department behind you, you've got a good start. If not and you have a physical product, e.g. hardcover/paperback, then you'd best start chatting up those Wal-Mart and Target buyers. Chat up librarians. Librarians are your friend. Advertise in mags like Romance Sells which will get you in front of at least some librarians and book buyers.
For both e-book authors and traditional authors with a physical product, think about ways of reaching readers who are NOT just other writers. Sure, if you get the opportunity to advertise in industry rags like Romantic Times, Writer's Digest, The Strand (for mystery writers/readers) and other publications—definitely go for it. Create book trailers on YouTube and wherever else you can get them displayed. Set up a web page on MySpace or the latest web hotspots, and…
Think of avenues that the "normal" non-writing public would run across. Google Adwords, for example, which is what pops up those interesting little website suggestions along the right-hand side of your web browser whenever you Google something. Other web portals do the same thing.
Can you write an article about you as a writer and get it published in a non-writer magazine? For example, if you're seventy and just published your first novel, could you write up your experiences for AARP as a way of expanding your horizons after reaching retirement age? Or, if you wrote a fiction work about rock climbing, could you get an article about the research you did or your own experiences published in an outdoors magazine? It's not rocket science, but it is a bit of work. However, I firmly believe that taking advantage of those other sorts of avenues will pay off.
So that's what I mean—reaching out to audiences outside the normal network of writers. Break outside the somewhat insular community of writers and hard core readers to find new readers who may be interested in what you have to say. It's a bright new world out there with a bunch of people looking for entertainment. Entertain them.
Who knows, maybe you could actually get to be the next Shakespeare?