Self-Promo: What makes you uncomfortable?

I’d been idly considering what topic to blog about today when something came up in a recent discussion that made me realize that my attitude toward self-promotion has been slowly evolving over time… and that I still don’t know where I stand on it completely.

When I first began to publish my stories, I was so excited! I couldn’t believe that anyone wanted to read my works (okay, let’s clarify, I couldn’t believe anyone would be willing to pay to read my stories) and I happily told my friends and the people I knew in fandom. My fandom friends were *awesome*, by the way, rushing out to buy copies when they became available and recommending them to their friends as well.

But then I published again. And again. And suddenly it was apparent that this wasn’t just some random fluke–I was really an author.

I rapidly discovered a couple of things then. First, that the world of original publishing is a lot… I don’t want to say meaner, but it is certainly more impersonal. Think of the difference between living in Mayberry and moving to New York to try and make it in the Big City.  It’s not to say that you can’t make friends, but it’s tougher than it was in Mayberry. People don’t go out of their way to speak to you. They are more often brusque when they do speak.  You make stupid, newbie errors out of ignorance, and you are treated like an idiot. It’s less common to get a friendly smile and a wave as you drive by. There are simply a lot more people in a large city like New York, each going about their own business, trying to make a living.  Most of them don’t really care about you and your life. Feedback on your stories, when it occurs, is more like discovering graffiti in your neighborhood than finding a lovely handwritten note in your mailbox. These things aren’t necessarily bad–just different. And it takes time to get used to this. To understand that it doesn’t even occur to most people to leave feedback, and that 3.5 stars might actually be quite good by the standards of society at large.

The second thing I discovered was that I hated self-promotion.  I’ve been very fortunate as a writer. The very first thing that I submitted for publication was accepted–and everything else that I’ve submitted has been accepted as well. Okay, I had a short story get turned down for an anthology, but it blew past the word count by 150%. *coughs*  I know I can easily expand it further ( I have plans for this puppy, she says, rubbing her hands together with an evil smile) and market it to the right people when it’s ready.  I’m not worried about getting it sold.

So, I haven’t been through the harsh experience of rejection that most writers go through. (Believe me, I keep waiting for the day when some famous author shows up at my door and says, “Ooops, we made a mistake, you’re not a writer after all! Give us back all your book covers and royalties…”) Sure, I knew intellectually that it was up to me to promote my stories if I wanted anyone to read them. I spent a lot of time learning what I could about social media, building a platform, a website, and branding. Some of the information I discovered was faulty. Some of the recommendations made me cringe. Some of it just ‘wasn’t me’. I resisted the idea that I needed to promote myself at all. Surely having a good product, producing stories frequently, and word of mouth was all I needed, right?

I was always the odd man out in school–until I discovered theater. From the time I auditioned for my first play, I never had to audition again. The theater director began choosing plays to showcase my acting.  We took the one-act competitions by storm–going all the way to State three years running. I went from being the kid that was shoved into lockers, pushed down the stairs, and definitely the last one picked for any team to being the kid that everyone knew. While never one of the cool kids, finding something that I was good at lent me the confidence that a brainy, homely, unsocial girl needed to get through high school.

Hmmm, until now I never realized that I haven’t experienced rejection as an actress, either. Trust me, I do understand what is it like to be rejected. I’ve have been on the fringes of every social group I’ve ever attempted to join.  I actually had a friend in high school once inform me that I was on my way ‘out’ of the group and to not drag her out with me. Anyway, there’s a point to this and I’m getting to it.  Promotion. I began experimenting with the various kinds and trying out the advice I’d been given.

I was told that chats were crucial. What I discovered, however, is that I loathe live chats (they make me break out in a clammy sweat). I am not much better with chat groups on yahoo or goodreads–I can only handle the social interaction for an hour at most, and then my metaphorical face hurts from smiling so much and I have to bail. I worry excessively about saying the wrong thing in an online interaction (the BF keeps telling me there is no “tone” in an email and to not take things the wrong way, which is why I pepper everything I write with smiley faces so no one can misinterpret what I am saying). I’ve noticed that in some groups if I enter into a conversation, the very act shuts the thread down. In others, I forget the rules (and face it, they change from group to group and short of keeping a spreadsheet there is no way to keep up with them), and end up posting a promo on the wrong day or at the wrong time.

On the other hand, I love blog hops. I love contemplating thinky-thoughts and putting them into words, and be-bopping around the internet reading other people’s thinky thoughts and commenting on them. Blogs are well within my comfort zone.

So you can say that in the early days of my writing, my self promo persona was a lot like this:

It didn’t take long for me to become uncomfortable announcing another new release date to my fandom friends. I created a different journal account so as not to ‘bore’ my fandom friends with my original writing news. I really disliked the bullhorning I saw on Facebook and Twitter.  Facebook is another one of those “you must” recommendations I heard all the time, but Facebook is not my happy place, as anyone who follows me might be able to tell.  Unfortunately, these days I spend most of my time on Facebook posting ranty political notices because I am THAT UPSET by what I perceive as the GOP’s War on Women (which to me, is just an extension of their war on anyone who is not white, married to someone of the opposite sex, and professes strong religious beliefs with no tolerance for anyone with any beliefs that differ from their own. DON’T GET ME STARTED). But there are some author names that pop up on my feeds so often that I have a negative reaction to seeing them. The sheer volume of promotional material that comes my way from some people is off-putting to me.

There has to be something in between, though, right? Between “I’m going to get in your face first thing every single morning and half a dozen times throughout the day because I’ve got my Twitter on autobot mode” and “Here’s my new release” (mentioned once on a blog no one reads and never again). I’m not sure yet what that “between” might be for me. No one wants to be this guy:

(Guy with bullhorn by avidd from flickr creative commons)

But while I struggle with not wanting to ‘put myself out there’ and blow my own horn, I realize that the bottom line is if no one buys my story this time, I’m less likely to get a publishing contract next time. Face it, the publishers aren’t in this just to be nice to me. They offered me a contract because they liked the story and they thought it would sell.  That’s part of the story’s job. If it doesn’t sell, then no matter how much I love writing, I will always be forced between choosing to write and doing something that helps pay the bills.  I could write for my own pleasure alone, (and I can tell you that I would still write even if I was the only reader) but selling the stories may make the difference between working 6-7 days a week and working only 5–thus giving me two more days a week to ride the horse, go hiking with the dog, hang out with the BF, and yes, write more stories.

So where does that leave me? I’m not sure. So I’m curious. How do you as readers find new stories to read or new authors to try out? How do you as writers balance your introverted natures with the need to get the news of your latest release out?  What really turns you off when it comes to promotion? What was the cleverest idea you’ve run across recently? What is considered standard operating procedure and what is considered crass?  What works best for you and what was a total waste of money?  What is something you did even though you knew it wouldn’t generate sales but you just wanted to see your name on something pretty?  🙂 Inquiring minds want to know…

My latest release, Lightening in a Bottle, is part of the Olympic-themed M/M anthology Going for Gold, now available from MLR Press, Amazon, and ARe.

2 thoughts on “Self-Promo: What makes you uncomfortable?

  1. Very good questions, Sarah. I am currently struggling with the same question. My first release isn’t until October 6th and I know I should do something before them but I’m not sure how to promote myself or my work. I have looked around at all the venues and I am not sure how I can keep from getting lost in information overload. I never had a FB page or twitter until a couple of months ago. They are hard to keep up with and time comsuming. To be honest, I don’t mind seeing others self promote. Some are excessive and others aren’t and I don’t mind for the most part. I worry about saying the wrong thing on chats and boards. I never realized how introverted I really was until I had to put myself out there. 🙂 I am almost to the point of saying “to hell with it” and just do a slew of things that is probably all wrong. All know is every time I think about what I need to do, I start writing another WIP so that I don’t have to deal with it! Hi-ya! Take that! LOL!

    • I don’t know that starting another WIP is the wrong answer at all! After all, having frequent releases is one of the best way of getting and keeping a readership.

      I’ve been following Kristen Lamb’s blog for a while now. She has some really good things to say, and yet I kept resisting following her advice. I finally broke down and got her books on blogging and building a platform (I’d taken several online courses at this point–some of them excellent, but the last one pissed me off so much that I was just about ready to climb back into my hermit crab shell) and I have been very pleased with them. Of course, I found out I was doing a bunch of stuff wrong and I had some heavy correcting to do (mostly with things like setting up sites that were not in my actual name, making it harder for a reader to find me).

      Her advice didn’t extend to chats, however. She does talk about making real connections with people and not just shot-gunning the internet and hoping some of the information sticks. She is very much against automated *anything*, save for email updates to blog posts and that sort of thing. So a lot of her philosophy coincides with mine.

      Honestly, I’m like you–I always feel like the oddball kid from high school on these chats–hoping I don’t make a social gaffe that gets me ostracized. On the other hand, I can’t afford to go to the major conventions and actually meet people, so I’m still trying to figure out the unwritten rules. 🙂

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