The winners of VW#3 giveaway are:
Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these goodies out to you. On to the workshop:
I. Disorderly Conduct
A friend and I were playing the "What psychological problem does your online behavior reveal?" game, and trying to decide if one chronic offender was displaying a borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. My friend decided the excessive dependency on ego-feeding indicated borderline, but the exaggerated sense of self-importance made me go with narcissistic. We're waiting for a third pal who was a psych major to make the final call.
Yes, this is what we do when we're not playing Amazon.com review poker. We profile jackasses.
It got me to thinking, though, about the psychological aspects of self-promotion. Being the obsessive-compulsive organizer I am, I decided to come up with a classification system. When it comes to self-promotion, writers tend to fall into one of three general categories:
A. Avoidant: for whatever reason, these writers dislike or resent self-promotion intensely, and thus try to avoid it. Like anything, you never know how good you are until you give it a shot. These folks would rather never know (and this would be my category.)
B. Dependent: these writers are submissive types who lack self-confidence and do whatever self-promotion their publisher, writer friends, or writing organization tell them to do. They rely almost entirely on others to make decisions for them. These writer may be good at promoting, but they never think they are, so they follow the herd (the most prevalent category of self-promoting writer.)
C. Obsessive-Compulsive: self-promotion is one of the secret handshakes these writers believe exist, so they obsess over it, go to extremes, and take on more and more of the responsibility for promoting their books. Like the dependent, they may actually be good self-promoters, but they're never happy with the results, and escalate until they blow up, burn out or give up (this one is always a heartbreaker to watch.)
I think we need a fourth option. One that doesn't require us to be control freaks, herd followers or conscientious objectors. One that permits us to promote intelligently and effectively without feeling shame, dependency or disgust.
And I'm still working on what that option is.
Self-promotion follows as many trends as publishing does. Whenever a few authors start doing a new type of affordable self-promotion, and it looks like it's working for them, every other author online jumps on the bandwagon. When I was blogging back in 2001, I knew maybe a dozen other authors who were doing the same. Now it seems like everyone in the biz has a weblog, and a MySpace.com page (okay, I don't, but I also avoid anything that requires me to learn new HTML.)
This doesn't just happen with the low-cost self-promotion, either. Having a professional book trailer, which can cost thousands of dollars, made for your book became a trend for a while. The quality ranged from excellent to counter-productive. Virtual blog tours, which also have a hefty price tag, were another popular trend.
I keep thinking of that thing our moms used to say: If all your friends jump off a cliff, that doesn't mean you have to.
It surprises me, too, because writers have such creative minds and are talented problem-solvers. Our books are all different, we're all different, yet the general strategy being used for self-promotion is to clone what everyone else is doing? That makes no sense to me. There is no safety in numbers, not in publishing.
Look at it this way: if you're a tree, and you want to stand out in the forest, the last thing you try to do is look like all the other trees.
III. Take My Book, Please
I can't tackle all the problems with self-promotion in a single workshop, so let's focus on one issue: tone.
The tone of your self-promotion says a lot about you the writer. If the reader percieves your self-promotion to be strident, demanding, egotistical, phony, tentative, clumsy, etc., they will apply that opinion not only to your work, but to you as a person. We all think SPAM is irritating, impersonal and offensive, and when an author SPAMs us, we think the same about them.
When appropriately presented, well-crafted, genuine and artistic self-promotion has the same effect. A beautiful, thoughtful or sincere presentation says great things about the author, especially if they created it. Personally when I see writers doing innovative things with their self-promotion, I respond to it by buying their books and talking about them here on the blog.
Achieving the right tone is tricky. Even defining it is problematic. It's like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's infamous quote about obscenity given in his opinion on Jacobellis vs. Ohio -- I know it when I see it. What I do know from my observations is that people largely respond to how they perceive they're being addressed as much as the content of the address. Some examples:
A. Love Me, Love My Book -- authors often objectify themselves in their self-promotion by tossing out lists of awards, professional achievements and other forms of special recognition to portray themselves as successful industry icons. Everyone loves a winner, and this does impress some readers, but it only works on a large scale if the writer actually does have the professional clout to back it up.
B. Buy My Book Before I Starve -- self-promotion that involves the writer confessing their personal or financial straits in relation to their book sales can create reader empathy and a desire to help. This can be dangerous, though, because there are authors who use this approach with every book they promote, and readers get tired of hearing how desperate they are, or perceive them as liars trying to get a mercy read.
C. You're Not Smart Enough to Read My Book -- this is my personal favorite; also known as the Stone Soup approach. Authors who use it actually try to persuade readers to buy their book by convincing them that only extremely intelligent people will be able to understand it. And yes, a few people with low self-esteem fall for it, but I think most readers have a pretty solid sense of how smart they are, so it can backfire on the author.
D. Don't Buy That Idiot's Book, Buy Mine --
The gleeful online trend of schadenfreude self-promotion depends on people's need to vent some hostility to generate sales out of comraderie, gratitude and support. Most of us do respond to authority figures, especially if they present themselves as judges, but often the author's anger and self-righteousness slips into unreasonable outrage whenever they are judged and found wanting, which makes them appear largely hypocritical, and can quickly disperse their following.
IV. Honey and Vinegar
As much as I avoid self-promotion, I have learned a few things from watching it over the years. Readers are book lovers, and they don't want to be ridiculed, kicked, punched and slapped by a potential new flame. They want to be respected, intrigued, involved, appreciated, and seduced.
It's the classic honey vs. vinegar situation. If you want to catch more flies, you don't put out a dish of vinegar.
The fact is that readers seem to respond most to sincerity, humor, honesty and a certain level of enthusiasm. The problem is that all of these things can't be faked, or not for long, anyway. So to find the right tone for your self-promotion, you have to think about how you feel about your readers, and how much of your real self you want to share with them.
Then? Get real.
For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on self-promotion, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Sunday, July 15, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a tote filled with a signed copy of my novel Dark Need (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid (hardcover), The Writer's Portable Therapist ~ 26 Sessions to a Creativity Cure by Rachel Ballon (paperback), Deborah's Story by Ann Burton (paperback), Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Working Man by Melanie Schuster (paperback), Hunting the Hunter and Hunter's Salvation by Shiloh Walker (paperbacks), the July 2007 issue of Scientific American magazine and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.
Other sources on self-promotion:
Astrid Cooper's Marketing and Self-Promotion
Self-Promotion Means Always Having to Say You're Somebody by Morris Rosenthal
Self-Promotion by Robert J. Sawyer
Barbar Stahura's Shameless Self-Promotion
Other virtual workshops now in progress:
Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?
Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1 and Part 2
LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI
Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine, Workshop Day 2: Ask Your Characters, Workshop Day 3: Rev Your Engines, and Workshop Day 4: Mix It Up
Jordan Summers talks about writing outside the traditional boundaries of romance, and her own trials and triumphs as an example of what roads are available and how to avoid some of the potholes
Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion, Exploring that Backstory (where she briefly grills me)