Putting On a Show in the Barn, Or: Adventures in Figuring Out How to Self-Promote

rooney garland
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in Babes in Arms (1939)

How the hell do you self-promote your self-published book, anyway?  That’s a damn good question, because I’ve heard so many different and varying (and often conflicting) answers that I sometimes wonder if anyone knows at all.

So I’m doing a bit of everything, to be honest.  I’ve created flyers for the trilogy.  I’ve posted hither and yon on social media.  I’ve sent copies to various websites like BookLife, NoiseTrade, and so on.  I’ve posted to GoodReads.  I’ve submitted to legitimate novel writing contests.  I’ve created a mailing list.  I’ve promoted myself at cons.  I’ve read a lot of different blogs and listened to various podcasts.  I’ve done a lot of it in one way or another, to varying degrees of success.

This isn’t to say no one knows what they’re doing, far from it; it’s that there’s a hell of a lot of different ways to do it, and they’re doing what works for them.

When I uploaded A Division of Souls as a pay-what-you-want e-book on NoiseTrade a few years ago, I didn’t get much money out of it, but I certain got a hell of a lot of downloads, over 250 of them.  And even though I haven’t done any major promotion on the trilogy for quite some time, I’ll still get the occasional download hit either on Amazon or on Smashwords.  [Those might be few and far between, but they still put a smile on my face when I get an unexpected payment!]

Right now I’m planning out how to self-promote Meet the Lidwells!, and this time out I’m thinking of being a bit creative with it.  I’ll reach out to the websites I tried before, with a focus on music-related blogs and sites (such as NoiseTrade) as well as any other bloggers who might be interested in doing a review.  I’m also thinking of doing some minor advertising in some of the writing magazines I read as well — maybe a one-column thumbnail ad or something.  The book will drop later this month, so I’ve got to work on getting all this out pretty soon!

If I’ve learned anything over the past three years that I’ve been self-publishing, it’s that this field truly is all about the DIY, where the long-established rules don’t always apply.  Sometimes your attempts at self-promotion will fall flat, other times it’ll catch on and grow far beyond your expectations.  There’s a lot at play here:  the kind of book you’ve written, the people and businesses you interact with, the people you’ve hired for production work, right down to the price you decide to give it.  And you can do exactly what professional self-publishers (such as David Gaughran or Joel Friedlander) suggest, and it might work for you, or it might not.  It really is a bit of a gamble each and every time.

It’s a learning experience every time I release a book.  In a way, it’s like the classic Babes in Arms trope: ‘Let’s put on a show in the barn!’  You’re out to show that you can do it, and that you want your audience to enjoy it, but you’re really not sure if it’ll work unless you actually do it.  But regardless, the payoff is still worth it.


On Public Speaking


Thankfully, I’m a bit prepared for it.  I say a bit, because I’m talking about the Voice and Articulation and Public Speaking classes I had to take at Emerson College — twenty-plus years ago.  I know how to project my voice when need be (and I’ll admit I don’t do it nearly as much as I should when we’re in loud and crowded places).  I know how to lift the tone of my voice just a tad so it’s clear and not a droning mumble.  And I’m comfortable talking in front of a crowd.

But man, I’ll be honest right now — when I do that reading and that panel at FOGcon in early March, I’m gonna be a bit nervous anyway, because I’m not just talking about writing or reading my novel.  I’m trying to sell the damn thing.  And I am TOTALLY a n00b at that.

Still, I gotta start somewhere, right?

I’ve of course been given the suggestion that I should record myself reading to hear how I sound, but I’m my own worst critic when I do that.  I hate hearing myself talk on tape.  [I can deal with my own singing, but that’s a different avenue entirely.]  I’d be more inclined to prepare myself for talking in front of a crowd by making sure I know what I’m going to say (or read).  I rarely prepare for this sort of thing; I’m someone who feels more comfortable winging it when the time comes.  My preparation for the reading won’t be how I sound but on the pacing and the time it takes.  And I’m already thinking about points I’d like to make on the panel I’ll be on.

I’ve still got a few weeks to prepare for this, so I’m sure my nerves will be calm by then.  Hopefully…!

On Self-Publishing: Doing the Backstage Work – Self-Publicity in Social Media

This may or may not be how I enter Spare Oom.
This may or may not be what happens when I enter Spare Oom.

I’ve said it before, I suck at sales.  Or more to the point, I suck at it if I’m to sell something I don’t have much interest in. Furniture? A new car? Real estate? Monster truck rallies? Yeah, they’re fine and all, but if I’m not truly excited about them, I doubt I could talk you into into them.  On the other hand, I will shamlessly foist upon you the latest album I think is absolutely brilliant [This week: Tamaryn’s Cranekiss is pretty high up there], or a book I’d recently read and want everyone else to read as well [Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which totally did deserve that Hugo].

But what about my own work?  Well, I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’m doing this at a professional level.  I’ve proudly shown off artwork and photography on my Tumblr and elsewhere, but my writing?  Totally new to me.  I don’t even have a solid and mapped-out ‘business model’ — in fact, I twitch whenever I hear business-speak like that.  Like my writing, I’m definitely a pantser.  I go with what works for me.

And lately, that’s taken all kinds of odd and unexpected avenues.  I’ll see other writers taking steps in social media and elsewhere, and I’ll think about whether it would work for me.  More to the point, I think of it this way:  if this particular kind of self-promotion got me to take a look at the product, even if for just a few moments, then maybe it’s a style I could try out myself.

Promoting yourself using social media is tricky, because there’s an extremely thin line between promoting yourself and just spamming your friends’ feeds. You don’t want to oversaturate yourself; the more annoyingly prevalent the advertisement, the more people are just going to skim over it, or worse, muting or unfollowing you.

Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.
Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.

On Twitter, there are a few ways you can circumvent that.  One is to mention it in your profile.  Another is to use a Pinned tweet.  You can create your own little mini-ad in just 140 characters.  Mine says the following:

A Division of Souls, coming 9/3/15!
All formats available at Smashwords!
[Smashwords link, plus embedded cover]

A blipvert of sorts, one you’ll see immediately if you happen to visit my personal Twitter page because it’s pinned up at the top.  I’ve only had it up for 3 days, but I’ve already made 156 impressions as of today.  That’s not too bad for starters. Nowhere near the thousands of hits some writers get, but hey, it’s pretty good for someone brand spanking new to this gig.  And note that I made sure to mention that all formats are available at Smashwords.  This will ensure that anyone, regardless of which e-reader they use, can come on over and download it.

You’d probably want to follow suit on other social media channels as well.  It’s visible, but it’s not obtrusive, and that’s the balance you want to strive for.  I’ve seen others do daily tweet ads, which is fine, because they only do it once a day.

Another Twitter idea, one I just saw someone else use this morning, is kind of a neat twist on the “shop local” idea.  There are many brick-and-mortar bookstores out there who work alongside Kobo to sell ebooks at their website, and this writer had come up with a brilliant idea:  publicize the book and the local store at the same time!  She aimed the tweet at the San Francisco area, mentioned her book was available at this store (complete with link), and made sure to mention the store using their Twitter handle, including the “@”.  That last part was genius: you’re not only getting others to check out the store’s twitter feed, you’re getting whoever is manning that store’s feed will see it as well, and may end up retweeting you.  I followed suit sometime after, mentioning Books Inc and Green Apple Books, two of my favorite local book shops.  I was duly retweeted!  Wins all around!

If anything, I’ve heard all kinds of responses to the question of how to self-promote on social media.  Some swear by tweetstorms, others by following anyone and everyone who uses the #amwriting hashtag, others still by picking and choosing when and where to insinuate your promotion.  Overall, though, the most common response I’ve heard is, go with what works for you.  Be creative and have fun with it!  But most importantly, remember to keep it balanced!

Adventures in Self-Publishing: The Myth of the One Chance for Success

One of the things I’ve been thinking about during this self-publishing project is that time-honored maxim, ‘You only have one chance to make a first impression.’  Okay, that might be true if you’re trying to, y’know, impress someone on the spot.  A potential date, a possible future boss, the audience watching your first stage performance.  It also sounds like you need to do it right the first time, or it’s going to be black mark on your cv and you’ll forever be labeled a hack.

I agree with that maxim when it refers to getting your book out there (especially your first one)…to an extent.  I agree when it pertains to making sure you’re providing the best work you’ve ever done.  No ‘there-I-fixed-it’ kludge editing, no relying blindly on spellcheck, no half-assed cover thrown together in a five minutes, and especially no ‘meh, they won’t notice’ rookie mistakes.  On that level, you want your book to be the most professional thing you’ve ever done to that date.

On the other hand, I’ve come to think that, even if my book is the best thing I’ve done, and that I’ve cleaned it up, spitshined it, formatted it, taken the steps to promote it, gave it a fifteen-point inspection and even rotated the tires, and led the call for all and sundry to come and bask in its awesomeness (or at least beg everyone buy the damn thing), I still might hear crickets upon the book’s arrival.

In this case, I still don’t think it’s necessarily true that I’ve spoiled that One Chance.

See, with my music obsession, I have a particular affinity for sleeper hits.  The ones that might not be a big hit right out of the gate, but still manage to attract a decent following.  The ones that the mainstream might not pay attention to right away, but will eventually.  Like Loveless or Fantastic Planet or The La’s or any one of those brilliant albums that took a long time to show up on everyone’s Best Ever lists.  They may have been minor hits at the time, but they didn’t get too far, at least not right away.  They had to grow on people.

This is how I’ve been looking at getting A Division of Souls out to the masses, really.  The most important thing, at least for me, is to get it out there first.  I’ve not done too much promotion as of yet, other than tweeting pictures and emailing links whenever I see it in the wild.  [The giddiness hasn’t abated, I admit.]  Reason being, I’m about sixty pages away from finishing the final edit, plus I’m going to need to format it as well before I can upload.  But once it’s up, it’s up and it’s live.  And I’m going to need to promote it at that point.

Which begs the question:  how to promote it?

Well, that’s the tricky part.  And I’ll be going into that in future posts, once I get to that level.  I’m still figuring it out right now.

Point being, part of the trick here is to avoid promoting it by making a huge pre-release scene over multiple platforms, like it’s a big Hollywood film.  I know from personal experience that no one likes to have a product jammed down their throats, even if it is something they’ve been waiting a long time for.  I’m taking the quieter route:  magazine reviews, word of mouth, reader contact, freebies, consistent blogging, and so on.  And a little further down the line, perhaps sitting in on a panel or two at a convention, limited release of physical copies, and so on.  It’ll be a much longer route to take, of course, but in the end it should pay off because I’d be keeping the book visible for a longer amount of time.

At that point I’ll make a good first impression on a new reader, even if it takes a while.  I’m in for the long haul.


If you would like to be one of the first to say “I was into his stuff before it was cool,” by all means!  Here’s some linkage for you!
 Barnes & Noble (Nook)
Good Reads

I’ll of course add more as I find them.  [Apparently I need to jump a few hurdles in order to have it available on Kindle…more on that when I get to that point.]