Readers and Authors, What Constitutes Self-Promotion?

Self Promo

This is an important issue for both readers and authors. Authors know they need to be discovered through marketing, and so readers come across countless attempts by authors to get their books discovered by them.

At the same time, it isn’t easy for readers to navigate through hundreds of thousands of books to discover those few that most interest them. Authors want to be discovered, and readers want to discover books they will enjoy. Successful marketing helps readers find books that are likely to be a good fit for them. This helps readers. In contrast, ineffective marketing can be quite a nuisance, and distracts readers from the opportunity to discover books that are likely to interest them.

The most obvious attempts by authors to get discovered by readers come in the form of spam, where an author repeatedly posts about the book with high frequency. Many authors realize that this is more likely to develop a bad reputation or simply be ignored than it is to succeed. It’s also prohibited on most forums and online platforms if done too frequently.

There is a danger in being branded as an annoying insect if posting too frequently on social media platforms. Borderline spamming might get the title or author name out there for possible branding—“I recognize this book,” or, “This must be a big-name author because I see that name all over the place”—but it’s also likely to be tuned out or to brand a negative image—“I hate that author for spamming the boards all the time,” or, “I think I’ll click that Unfollow button so I can find the posts I like.”

One step down from spamming the board is explicit self-promotion. For example, “Hello, I just wrote a book called Best Book Ever by Self Promoter. Please buy it.”

Some community forums—like the Amazon customer discussions (which attract some authors because they expect to find customers there, but may not be the ideal place to get a book discovered)—don’t allow explicit self-promotion like this. Even where explicit self-promotion is permitted, it’s often frowned upon by various (and sometimes outspoken) community members.

Aside from this, explicit self-promotion has the problems of overt advertising. Most people prefer to avoid commercials. We put up with commercials on television, radio, and magazines for lack of a free alternative (though you can pay for commercial-free alternatives). Except when you need a bathroom break in the middle of a movie, you usually aren’t pleased to have your show interrupted. (If you want to shout “Infomercial,” I’ll grant you a point.)

On the other hand, some level of self-promotion is what authors need to do. Spam and explicit self-promotion to the point that it seems that your post served no other purpose may not be in your best interest even where they are allowed. However, if you want to be discovered, you do need to promote yourself in some way.

Effective marketing requires visibility among your target audience. You need your target audience to see your book cover and read or hear your book’s title and your name for branding to do its work.

Essentially, this is self-promotion. You’re trying to get discovered. You have to tell people about your book for this to happen. Yet spam and too much self-promotion can backfire.

The trick is to get discovered in a way that doesn’t come across as self-promotion.

This begs the question: Exactly what do people perceive as self-promotion? Part of the problem is that everybody doesn’t agree on the answer.

Following are a few suggestions to help judge this:

  • Does it seem like you are present mainly just to promote your book? Or are you providing relevant and meaningful contributions?
  • Does the mention of your book seem out of place? Or are you mentioning your book at your own site, or to establish your expertise or experience as an author, or to provide a reference to relevant content?
  • Does it look like you’re trying to grab everyone’s attention? Or does it seem like you’re just hoping to get discovered by those who enjoy interacting with you. (For example, it could be the distinction between coming right out and telling anyone about your book versus mentioning this when asked or only offering this information in your profile.)
  • Is your book irrelevant for much of the audience? Or does your audience closely coincide with the target audience for your book?

Context is important, too. If you’re running a special one-day sale, you want to get the word out, and people in your target audience may be grateful for the discount. Also, more self-promotion is to be expected on your own turf than otherwise (but posting too much about yourself isn’t as likely to attract an audience as providing meaningful content for your target audience).

Self-promotion isn’t just an issue online. It’s also important when interacting in person.

How do you feel about self-promotion as a reader or as an author? How do you define the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not? Do you think there is a type of self-promotion that needs to be done, but another type of self-promotion that should be avoided? What kinds of marketing do you consider not to be self-promotion?

Well, we’ve reached the end of this post so I better mention my book now. I might as well promote Read Tuesday while I’m at it. 🙂

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Read Tuesday: It’s going to be HUGE!

12 comments on “Readers and Authors, What Constitutes Self-Promotion?

  1. There is a fine line between spamming and promoting for sure. Focusing on groups that are interested in your particular genre helps. And not mentioning your book in every post is most certainly the best way to engage readers. Let them find you through your discussions and excepts rather than ‘buy my book’ posts all the time. The odd link or mention is OK of course.
    Great post – thanks

  2. It’s a tough one. Every time I hear the word “marketing”, I sense the ghost of Bill Hicks hovering over me, whispering, ‘Kill yourself…’ in my ear. Best case scenario: Your book is so good that your readers will promote it for you. But even then, someone’s got to read it to get the ball rolling. If you’re confident enough in your work, you should be able to promote it guilt-free, as long as your motivation is to reach readers who will love it, rather than blindly chasing sales.

    • I particularly like your idea of showing enough confidence to promote it guilt-free. I think this is the key. If authors can only convince themselves of this, it will help motivate them to market their books. Your last point on having the proper intentions is excellent, too. Thank you for contributing. 🙂

  3. This is such a tricky issue. I, for one, am not at all comfortable with self promotion for exactly the reasons that you state, and so I do hardly any of it at all. This is no doubt partly why my sales are so slow. I would love know the answer as to how you achieve the perfect balance. Food for thought Chris – thank you. 🙂

    • It sounds like you’re on the side where you need more promotion, rather than less. The first step is believing in your book enough to want to share it with others, which means helping your target audience discover your book. There are many ways to interact with your audience and let them see your passion for your work—in person or online. Find the ways that you feel most comfortable with and start there, and this may give you the confidence to add to it in other ways. The problem we all face is that most people don’t know about our books, and they can’t buy them until they do. It would be great to have an advocate to promote our books for us, but nobody should be more passionate about our books than we are, and so it’s really up to us to spread the word. It really is a tough issue to wrestle with. You have to find some way to convince yourself to want to do it, and find ways that you feel comfortable doing so. Good luck. 🙂

      • Thanks Chris – and you are absolutely right. I do believe in my book but I just don’t want to feel like I am ramming it down people’s throats. I want to be recognised as a serious author, I have my second book due out soon and I plan to write many more, and so I am concentrating on building my platform I guess at the moment and hoping that the sales will kind of happen. Once I have the second book good to go then I have promised myself that I will invest some serious time in marketing and that may be that I used paid advertising to a point – at least if I am paying for it then I don’t feel guilty about telling everyone about it! 🙂

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