This is a supremely weird time for, well, everything. And seeing some conversations flitting around Twitter — everything flits around Twitter, right? — I realize that I’m not alone in this. Promoting books is hard in an average year. It brings out the awkward in a lot of us. Even I, a seasoned marketing professional, turn into an uncomfortable, ineloquent, bumbling potato when I sit down to start trying to get people to, you know, buy the thing that I spent the last ten years working on.
It shouldn’t be this hard. We shouldn’t have to feel bad about asking people to buy our art, to engage with the stories we make. And yet, here we are.
In spite of the fact that Queen of None is like, now “critically acclaimed” or whatever (both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly really liked it) there’s a lot of miles between now and release. I’ve been spending more time thinking about how I’m going to promote this book than actually promoting the book — and when I do sit down to promote it, well, cue the awkward potato.
So, from one awkward potato to another… here’s my thoughts.
Remember that People Need Stories Right Now
Yes, I’m throwing down my medievalist card. But you know, one of the most famous medieval stories of all time, The Decameron (which went on to inspire The Canterbury Tales) is a frame story about a bunch of people in quarantine. I firmly believe that people want to hear stories right now, that they need hear stories. In fact, when I had some vague-Tweet good news to share, people when out of their way to tell me that they needed to hear good news. That people making art and telling stories right now is super important. So don’t be afraid to share, even if it feels a little weird right now.
Remember It’s Not All About You
There is the work, and there is the author. But we don’t write in a vacuum most of the time, save for a few folks out there who make it more of a life choice than a real strategy. Sometimes the best promotion isn’t deliberate—it’s about making real connections with real people and being engaged in their lives as much as your own. That means you should share other peoples’ news, celebrate their successes, and not get stuck in your own little echo chamber. Maybe this should go without saying, but… I dunno. I still see plenty of folks trying to hock their wares with no real concept that they come across like snake oil salesmen.
Remember Your Elevator Pitch
This is super helpful in every stage of book writing. Know what your book has to sell! I see so much self-promotion that boils down to: BUY THIS BOOK. Why? I mean, yo, I love books. But what about your book is particularly awesome? What makes it for me (or not for me)? It helps if there are other books out there that you can draw similarities from. For instance, Queen of None is best described as Circe, but in King Arthur’s court. I know that if you liked Circe, a retelling of Greek myths from the point of view of a character usually never given agency (that also has a feminist slant to it) that you’d like Queen of None, a retelling of Arthurian legend from the point of view of a character usually never given agency, etc…
Remember to be Human
I hate scheduled social media. There, I said it. I know it’s helpful sometimes, but to me, the results just feel stale. I get that we’re busy, that it’s helpful to have autopilot on. But if you’re not present when you’re promotion posts, chances are people aren’t going to engage. And it’s not really doing much. Promotion should do more than simply shout about the availability of a book or product. Play to your strengths. Ask questions, start surveys, make lists, add videos, shake it up. The same links and same formats just fall flat, especially now. And that is particularly important because of how wild the news cycles are. Your scheduled tweets could get you into trouble for appearing callous or out of touch. Remember, one piece of your work doesn’t define you. Share your passions (the ones you want to) with enthusiasm and pride! Be more than a book-making robot.
Remember Your Audience
Spending hundreds of dollars on Facebook isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t know who will like your book. As writers, we often get into a bit of an issue because of the writer echo chamber. Turns out, not all writers are readers, and not all readers are writers. And just because someone liked your other books might not mean they’ll like this one. Take time to research your audience. That means following hashtags, setting up Google Alerts, and old-fashioned Googling! You can’t sell scuba gear to a mermaid, you know what I mean?
Remember to Pace Yourself
A steady stream of content is better than a geyser. Consider the many ways you can talk about your book: podcasts, newsletters, videos, blog tours, live streams, etc. Send out postcards! Make bookplates! Have giveaways and contests. Have them add your book to Goodreads rather than pre-order, it’s free! Then space it out a little. Sure, leading up to release you probably want to ramp things up a little more. So if you’re going to spend time on production, etc., save some of that for the end. Try to be flexible and smart, and realize that not every day is going to be right.
Remember You’re Going to Eff It Up
Somehow. Some way. It’s going to happen. You’re going to do it wrong. Maybe not wrong by your measure, but wrong by someone else’s measure. We can’t control what’s happening in everyone else’s lives, and the Internet is like drunken open mic night on the whole damned world. The mistake isn’t the issue — it’s how you deal with it that’s the issue. I think you really see the measure of people when they mess up. It’s a lot braver to admit to mistakes and fix them than it is to deny any wrongdoing. Make it better next time. Learn something. Don’t wallow and don’t backpedal. Sorry in advance.
Remember to be Brave
This one is definitely my issue right now. I’m in the process of asking for more blurbs. I know people are busy, distracted, despairing… this year is a canker sore on this whole century, and we’re just so tired. I have both heightened imposter syndrome in this situation AND a deathly fear of making anyone else’s life more difficult than it already is. I really, really don’t want to be an inconvenience. So I sit, staring at my Inbox in hopes that all the blurb requests I didn’t send might magically appear. But chances are I’m going to have to cast my net wider than usual. No conferences to attend this year means less in-person time for all of us, but that doesn’t mean we’re not super busy with our lives. I might get a few people who say no. And some folks just might not care one way or another. Or not like the book. But if I don’t try, I’ll never know.
And you know what? Writing is my life, my heart. I’ve dedicated more time to writing than any other venture. I don’t yet make a living 100% from it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s still my livelihood.
Remember to Vote if You Live in the US
If you haven’t registered to vote, do it now. Vote by mail. In-person. In advance. Seriously. Just vote. November 3rd.