Authors and Self-Promotion: A reader’s view

This post will not tell you how to do social media properly. I am in no way a high achiever in that field. In fact, I’m only slightly less unqualified to talk about the correct use of social media than about brain surgery. So I am not writing this in my capacity as author or editor, but purely as a reader.

I’m a painfully heavy book buyer. (When my husband and I last moved, the removal people estimated we had half a tonne of books. Matters have not improved since.) I download and read a sample off Amazon if a book or author even slightly piques my interest. If I like a book I will go through the author’s backlist like a cartoon chipmunk gnawing through a tree trunk.

And I love social media about books. I love seeing that an author I like has a new book out. I want to be linked to reviews that I might have missed, to see what other people are reading and recommending. I will cheerfully buy books because the author has an amusing Twitter voice, or a good blog, or has left interesting and pertinent comments on my blog, or seems like a fun person on Facebook. I want to hear about books!

And as a reader, I have had it up to here with hard sell.

Facebook and Twitter direct messages, without even exchanging a token civility, plugging books and demanding likes. Repeated announcements of how the book is doing in the Amazon sales rankings. Cross posting everything to Facebook and Twitter, so that people who were interested enough to friend as well as follow are now bored because they see everything twice. Automated repeated tweets. Automated repeated tweets. Automated repeated tweets.

The other day I checked Twitter on my phone and my entire visible timeline was one author plugging her book. A link to an Amazon review, an Amazon sales ranking, a boast that she had 50 reviews on Goodreads, another sales rank…There was not one amusing comment or interesting link to suggest she was a human being, not a book promo robot. Nothing to give me any value in following her. Pure relentless LOOK AT ME BUY MY BOOK. Which I won’t, because I am assuming her writing is as tiresome and clueless as her social media presence. Unfair? Perhaps, but if you can’t manage a thoughtful tweet or funny status update, why would I believe you can create 200 pages of good text?

Obviously, authors have to use social media for self promo. Obviously we all want to sell books. But you don’t do that by grabbing your potential readers and screaming in their faces.

I used to work with a sales manager, let’s call him Harry, who was the greatest salesman I’ve ever met. (He was once mugged on a train; by the time they got to the station he had got the muggers to give back his credit cards and negotiated a refund of £20 cash as well.)  He sold books like you would not believe, and he did it by having a fantastic, funny conversation with the book buyer, then in the last five minutes of his half-hour sales slot, telling them frankly, “this book will go a bomb for you, this is underwhelming, this one will need hand-selling but it’s really worth stocking.”

In effect, Harry sold himself as a reliable, truthful, intelligent, funny man, and buyers trusted him to be as good value professionally as he was personally. He built relationships, and people opened their hearts and their wallets to him. Of course he was there to sell books, nobody was under any illusions about that, but he made it part of a larger human exchange. Buying anything from Harry got you a package that included hilarious stories, disgraceful gossip, bizarre anecdotes about celebrities, raucous laughter and a general sense of your day being the brighter for having met him. He made it worth your while to hear his sales pitch. And he sold good books.

We all have to sell books, I know. I just wish we could all do it like Harry.


Am I being unfair? What are your self promo hates? Got any better ideas on how to do it right?

(And talking of self promo, my free story Butterflies is available for download at Smashwords. Only if you like that sort of thing. No pressure.)

16 replies
  1. Heather C
    Heather C says:

    Agrreeeeee! Although I’m just a reader but I unfollow authors all the time whose twitter feed is all automated crap. I’m ok with seeing the occasional “hey my book has released” but I hate seeing links to all 5 star reviews. Where are the 3 star reviews? And sometimes, being too pushy just won’t sell me a book

  2. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    Argh. I HATE it when an author repeatedly links me to all off their 5 star reviews (and nothing else), double or triple links to Twitter/FB/GRs, rates their own books, but more than anything, I don’t like the fan/author marketing to me over and over all over the place. I get it. You have to market and advertise to get it out there, but I have my limits and sometimes oversaturation will turn me off of even a good book/author.

    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Which invites the question of how and where you strike the balance, of course, to make the book visible without driving anyone mad. I wish I knew. /dreams wistfully of bestselling How To book…/

      • Jenn
        Jenn says:

        Yeah, there isn’t a clear answer, since everyone is different. *shrugs* I’d rather blog posts than review links. Reviews and/or word of mouth I’ve got my friends for. I have amazing luck with my friends finding little known books that are awesome. 🙂

  3. MishaBurnett
    MishaBurnett says:

    I tend to unfollow anyone who has a feed–wordpress or twitter or facebook or google+ or whatever–that is primarily ads. For that means a mix that is more than one ad for every three posts on a subject that I actually want to read. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but that’s about my threshold.

    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Seems reasonable to me. I am usually more forgiving if someone has a book just out, but only in the short term, and not if they start posting Amazon sales rankings on a two-hourly basis. /chews knuckles/

      I really enjoyed Catskinner’s Book, incidentally! Which, I may say, I bought because I liked your blog/commenting style, rather than because it was thrust in my face, so there you go, point proved. 🙂

  4. Jayne
    Jayne says:

    If I like a book I will go through the author’s backlist like a cartoon chipmunk gnawing through a tree trunk.. THIS. Costs me a bloody fortune. Just bought Catskinner’s Book as well – we tend to like the same sort of stuff so thought I’d add it to my holiday reading.

  5. Jenny Alexander
    Jenny Alexander says:

    Great post! The only time I’ve ever posted a link to an amazon review was a really cute child doing a video review, which I hadn’t personally seen before. I read recently that a promotional blog is about building a community of people who like your voice, and are therefore more likely to buy, enjoy and word-of-mouth your book, not trying to get as many visitors as you can who probably won’t come back. The community around my blog is select but delightful, so I was happy with that!

    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Thanks! I too would probably post a kiddy vlog, just for the cute. (Although, what the heck is that child doing reading the kind of books I write?!)

      Word of mouth has been behind most of the biggest hits recently. I think people are becoming too promo aware to be persuaded by huge marketing spends. Or indeed, relentless promotional tweeting.


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