Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Publicity

A friend of mine tweeted this link that is supposed to be a spoof of an author self promoting. It is hilarious, but alas, not much of a spoof. People really do go to extremes to promote their books. From my viewpoint, this has been veeery interesting to watch. I started my writing odyssey as a Clarion West student and from there was invited into a high caliber writers group, full of writers who were published the traditional way, by publishers. Some of them are quite famous. Ten years ago, anyone who wanted to be a real writer didn't get their hands dirty doing self promotion. The writer's job was to write. Some gained a competitive edge by hiring publicists, sending out review copies, doing interviews, setting up signings and that sort of thing, but would never, ever go around flogging their books.

Then came the indie movement, and with it a whole new species of writer. One who can't access the traditional publicity channels, so must find other ways to stand out from the crowd. The result, a lot of people resorting to extreme and even underhanded measures to get word out about their book. People will get their friends to leave comments on Amazon - and I don't mean friends who liked the book and are just nice people. I have a few of those. I mean a legion of "friends" who're out to stuff the ballot box. Said friends will also downgrade bad reviews to try to get them to disappear, and quite a few of these "friends" are the writer themselves, working from a newly created account on Amazon or Goodreads.

Now I stand with a foot in each camp. I've kept Emily Mah traditional, but I took my chick lit moniker, E.M. Tippetts indie. This means I've had to tackle the publicity issue head on and come up with what I am and am not willing to do. In fact, I went indie specifically to learn about publicity, to figure out if there's any way I can influence sales while still keeping my writing goals and my respectability.

When I began this, anything that seemed at all like talking myself up was anathema. I tried to make E.M. Tippetts a website and put good review quotes on it and all that, and despised it. I tore out most of the marketing stuff and started over, and spent more time on things like a cool header that was fun to make and a really nifty background I found. I played with Amazon widgets, again trying to make the site pretty. I didn't feel desperate for sales, so I didn't want to act desperate. Eventually, months later, when book bloggers whom I love and respect gave me nice reviews, I excerpted them on the site, as much to thank them as to have those on display for potential readers.

And I hit the Twitterverse, where I made myself try every technique I could find - short of the fraudulent and spamming ones - to see if any worked. What I found? Being obnoxiously forward does actually increase site hits and move sales. But I really don't like it. Nowadays I do what's comfortable for me, which is just make a lot of silly comments and send an individual tweet to every new follower I get. I rarely ever talk about writing unless someone asks, and not about my own if I can avoid it. I have made a lot of new friends in the Twitterverse, and get a lot of complements on my site. I'm happy in my niche, comfortable, and move a lot more books than I could ever have hoped to if I refused to get my hands dirty.

Through this process I've learned exactly what I set out to learn, which is how to sell more books and still be me. Now, I don't think E.M. Tippetts is set for world domination (she writes Mormon chick lit), but I think she's taught Emily Mah quite a lot about putting yourself out there and taking control of your own sales destiny.

So what are everyone else's stories about publicity? What have you tried or what do you want to try? What scares you the most? What scared me the most was turning into one of *those* authors, the kind who have car full of their self pubbed novel that they try desperately to sell anywhere they can, firmly believing that's the path to the NYT Bestseller list (I know multiple people who've been on that list. Believe me, it doesn't work that way.) The truth is, once you are who you are, being a little more forward with your art will help more than harm you. Unless you really are desperate and unscrupulous...


  1. Thanks so much for this post, Emily! I do hope that some day I can find my own public voice, something that will be marketable but still me. I admire ye for sailin' out into them untested waters, me hearty. Ye'r a credit to this crew. Here's wishing you many, many happy readers.

  2. Great post, Emily! I went to a social media conference a couple years ago and the speaker said Twitter should be thought of as an online cocktail party--it's a conservation and should never be just about selling yourself. I think you're doing a great job of keeping it fun--and staying true to yourself, which is most important. :)

  3. That's a great analogy! The way I see it is that it's like a con party. You don't go there to meet agents and editors, specifically. You'd never go get in their faces and pitch without invitation. But it's better to go to the party and participate than it would be to to hang out in the lobby, because if you're going to be sociable and making friends, put yourself in a situation where those friends will be agents and editors.

  4. I used to think that all I had to do was write a really, really good book and it would sell itself. So I ignored the social media thing and focused on my craft. But I see lots of my friends finding opportunities through connections gained by internet presence. I like what you've done, Emily, in trying to take both routes with different authorial names.

  5. Emily this is a wonderful post! I've learned so much through the indie route as well and struggle back and forth with what I'm comfortable with and what I have to do to get my book out there. I think you've hit upon the key - stretch yourself, don't stay in your safe little cabana, but always, always remain true to the best that is you. :)

  6. Thanks guys!

    @Rebecca The "write a great novel and readers will find you" is a very popular fiction and I know big writers who believe in it. But really, it isn't just rare for that to happen, it doesn't ever happen. Anywhere you see a bestseller, there's been a lot of work put into publicity. Someone, somewhere on the team fell in love and poured their heart into it. I'm okay with knowing that craft alone won't a bestseller make, because it means I can compete with people who are more polished in their craft :-)

  7. What a great post! I have some things to say about that and getting so lost in the promoting has hurt my delicate life balance! I'm posting about that next week! :)


  8. I know you're right, Emily. I've read some really great books that no one has ever heard of. And then there are bestsellers that made me wonder - how did this get in print?


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