Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Being a Shameless (& Smart) Self-Promoter

I frequently hear the following being said at writers' club meetings: "Hey, I know that I'm a shameless self-promoter." Other writers in the group laugh and then listen as a writer begins to brag about her latest book, her successful book signing, a talk she's scheduled to give, a prize she had just won. As she's whipping herself senseless with praise, the writers in the group are smiling politely but they are also strumming their fingers while they're thinking, "Damn, I can't wait until I accomplish something so I can brag about it to the rest of us like she's doing right now!"
There's nothing wrong with any of that. But when we become shameless self-promoters outside of our little circle of writing friends, we get into trouble. I learned this the hard way when I first started bragging about my first novel Sissy! I'd tell people that my book won the J Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award (who cares?) or that this is my first novel (yawn) or that I will personally autograph the book (big deal). The trick is to appeal to them directly with a challenging question (Example: What would you do if a young angel appeared at your bedside tonight? or Ever wonder how many women fought in hand-to-hand combat in the Civil War?) Questions like that tend to stop them and force them to struggle for an answer. And while they're struggling, you give them a one-sentence grabber they can't resist. (Example: People tell me that page 142 of my novel Sissy! made them cry.)
Some writers say they don't like to brag about themselves. But it's not themselves they're bragging about--it's their book. And it's not bragging if they're trying to appeal to the emotions and curiosity of a potential readers. Besides, if you don't talk about your own book, who will?
Yes, we writers are shameless self-promoters and proud of it--especially when you think of folks like John Grisham, Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, or Ken Follett. We follow a long line of self-promoters!
--Tom Mach


Philip Davis said...

This is great advice Tom. This tactic creates interest and motivates the listener to ask more questions. As a business owner/salesperson, I have to be able to tell people in 30 seconds what it is I do. One formula for this is called a SNAP. My SNAP tells a person what the problem is, how I solve it and then asks for a call to action. I think a good SNAP can work for a non-fiction author as well, but your suggestions can help a fiction author create interest to buy a book in 30 seconds or less as well. It would be interesting to put your ideas into a SNAP type of formula. Any ideas? And regarding the question you left for me on my blog, come back on Monday and see my latest post. I'll address your question for the community at large.

Ron Russell said...

Found your site on twitter, I write some, mostly short poems. Like your ideas on taxes. My twitter user name is russellshih--totally new to twitter.

Sara Firman said...

Hi Tom and thanks for asking me to take a look at your latest post - now that's a good bit of promotion. The thing is, I don't think there can be any formulas. Like the remedies for living to 100, there are probably as many as there are such elders! For me, the best approach is to be yourself which for most of us actually isn't that easy since we tend to operate under a whole lot of learned personas. People sense authenticity. But one thing is for sure when you want to share your work, it's good to make yourself available in situations where there could be interest (but only if you'd be interested to be there too!). Then it's helpful if you're as interested in other people's work as you are in your own. When I think about this, no-one has ever persuaded me to actually read anything I wasn't interested in already on some level.