A Post In Which YOU Tell ME About Self-Promotion

This is a totally self-serving post, even more than usual.  I have a new book coming out in just under six weeks, and I am wondering if all of you readers out there can suggest ways in which I might convince you to buy my book.  Seriously.  Self-promotion is one of those things that authors are told we HAVE to do.  And yet, we face the same problem with every book we publish:  Even if we spend every waking hour devoting ourselves to publicizing our latest release, we can only reach a small segment of the reading public.  Put another way, we self-promote because we’re told that we should, and because, frankly, we have to do SOMETHING around release day, because if we don’t we start going crazy.  But many of us, myself included, come to doubt whether our efforts are worth the time and energy and emotion that we expend on them.  Self-promotion is a ton of work, and sometimes the payoff is not readily apparent.  And so, I want your help with this.  Among the many things we try to do, which ones actually reach you?

Let me tell you a bit about the novel and what I’m doing for it.  The book is called THIEFTAKER, and it will be out on July 3.  It is the first of a series of historical urban fantasies that I will publishing under a new pseudonym, D.B. Jackson.  So, new book, new series, new pen name — this is a pretty big moment in my career.  I am doing everything I can think of to get the word out.  I’ll be signing books in a number of places throughout July and early August; I’ll be attending conventions later in the summer and fall; I have promotional postcards to send out and give away at all my appearances; I’m having t-shirts made that I will sell and also use for promotional giveaways; I’ll be doing what has come to be known as a blog tour, meaning that I’ll be posting interviews and essays and character interviews on various websites and blogger sites throughout June and July.  In addition, of course, I have my own webite, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads accounts; I have sample chapters posted online (so does Tor Books, my publisher); Tor is sponsoring a book giveaway at Goodreads; I have published a couple of short stories in the Thieftaker universe, one at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and another (forthcoming in June) at Tor.com.  And yes, I’m using this portion of this post to plug the book and the various sites I’ve mentioned.  So sue me . . .

But the question I asked at the outset is a serious one.  What things that an author does to self-promote are most likely to catch your eye?  Even with all those things I’m doing, which are taking up lots of time and which are the focus of my entire summer, I feel that I am not going to reach enough people to have a serious impact on my sales.  Do you care about signings?  Do you pick up free postcards or bookmarks when you see them at a convention or a bookstore?  Would you buy an author/book t-shirt if it was cool enough? If you have a favorite blog that you read on a regular basis, do guest writers excite you or annoy you?  Yes, okay:  It depends upon the guest.  But is your initial reaction to seeing a guest post “Oh, cool!” or “Ugh, why can’t I just read something from the person whose blog I came to see?”  Do you ever read sample chapters before buying a book?  Or are you an impulse buyer, who sees something online or in a bookstore and takes it off the shelf because of a cool cover?  Do blurbs from other authors ever influence your choices? (Because believe me:  We spent a good deal of effort getting lots of cover blurbs for THIEFTAKER.)

Lots of times, these posts are designed to give information — tips on writing, insights into the publishing industry, stuff like that.  This time it’s your turn to give some information to us.  Personally, I would be incredibly grateful for any and all feedback you can provide.  My career success — and that of my SFNovelists colleagues — could be helped by your answers.  Thanks in advance for your responses.

Oh, and if you happen to be looking for something to read this summer, please check out THIEFTAKER, by D.B. Jackson.  It comes out on July 3.

David B. Coe

Filed under For Novelists, our books, publicity and promotion, publishing, the business of writing, writing life. You can also use to trackback.

There are 23 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Mindy Klasky

    I’m looking forward to reading responses from others – this matter is of great personal interest to me, as of, um, August 28 of this year…

    Personally — I don’t pick up bookmarks or postcards, and when I’m given them, they tend to end up in the trash. I don’t give a lot of credence to blurbs (mostly because I know the process for getting them, and I know that people who hate books they read just don’t blurb them — but I *am* impressed by big name authors who rarely blurb putting their names on others’ covers.) I don’t read sample chapters, because I read primarily for plot, and I don’t like to be spoiled before reading novels.

    I *thought* that I wasn’t interested in T-shirts, but when I saw your design, I said, “I need that” – so you’ve proven me wrong. :-)

    For me, the factor most likely to make me pick up a new book by a new-to-me author is that unquantifiable thing called “buzz” — when enough people known-to-me talk about it, either in person, or on their websites, or in blogs. Therefore, the most effective way to reach *me* is by blog tours, where I see your name and learn new things about your writing process and characters and this particular book, over and over and over, until a little switch in my brain says, “I *have* to read this book!”

    Oh – the only thing I’m doing that you don’t have on your impressive list is temporary tattoos, which I intend to distribute to readers who ask, and at cons.

    Thank you so much for this great post!

  2. 2. Jim Hetley

    Another pseudonym struggling for recognition and sales, here . . .

    I think “self-promotion” terrifies a lot of us. We’re told at an early age that it is crass, a less-savory version of televangelist. And, there’s the old advertising adage, 90% of ad money is wasted. But nobody knows which 90%.

    I look forward to seeing some answers from the reader world.

    Jim, AKA “James A. Burton”

  3. 3. Deborah Blake

    Good question, and one I struggle with too.

    I like bookmarks, because I’ll use them. And I do occasionally look at one later and say, “Hey–that looks interesting. I should get that.” Postacards…meh.

    I don’t read sample chapters either, although I will occasionally read a snippet (a couple of pages max) if it is posted with a blog. I do check out authors who guest blog on the blogs of other authors I like and respect–in part because I trust those folks to be only promoting decent books. (And I’ve never been let down, as yet.) So if you were to post a guest visit on, say, Mindy Klasky’s blog, or Jim C. Hines, who I follow already, there is a much better chance I would buy the book. But I don’t chase around to the blogs of authors I don’t know…

    If I’m at a con, I am always happy to meet authors and get signed books, although if it is a big con, I tend to seek out the authors I already know and like.

    For me, recommendations from others are the biggest selling point, although if I see a cool cover and the cover blurb seems interesting, that can be enough to make me pick up the book.

    Good luck with the new book/name/series!

  4. 4. KarenJG

    I’m a voracious reader and I buy a lot of books. And I like to own them, in case I want to read them again, which means the library’s not a good option for me. So, my budget can’t afford for me to make too many mistakes. Given that, my first choice is to buy a book by an author I already know I like.

    For new-to-me authors, only a couple of promotional things really work for me. One, a recommendation from a writer I already know I like, or two, a cheap… er… promotionally-priced backlist title to check whether I like the author’s style before jumping in to buying a full-price new book. Which, for a new pseudonym, may be a problem! I love, love, LOVE discovering a new-to-me author that I like, who also has a huge backlist to keep me entertained while they write their next great novel.

    Next best thing, tell me what other authors write books similar to yours in, at minimum, tone and pacing. Chances are I might have tried one of them, and thus have at least an inkling of whether I might like your books.

  5. 5. Val Schmitt

    This is a tangential question in response – why do established authors write under a pseudonym anyway? I can understand if one started out with a pseudonym and then wanted to publish under one’s own name, or if work in one’s own name wasn’t successful to start with and a clean start was needed, but why start a new name when the old one is well respected? I tend to find authors and stick with them, but a new name just seems confusing to me.

  6. 6. Betsy Dornbusch

    I do temporary tattoos because the characters in my recent book (in most of my books, actually) have tattoos. I’m going to staple them to a little card with the book cover. Tattoos go at cons and it’s fun to see people wear them.

    Other than that, blog tours are only worthwhile if you get on a blog with a lot (hundreds or thousands, IMO) of readers; Scalzi’s Whatever or a mention on BoingBoing. That sort of thing. Definitely try for the Big Idea at Scalzi’s–I’ve definitely picked up books from there.

    Otherwise it’s just more slogging, finding one person at a time. Rather like writing (one word at a time). I’ve been online consistently since 2004 and I’ve got some numbers and followers but still not the readership.

    And yeah, buzz. I do think just hearing the name over and over helps…

    Good luck!!

  7. 7. David B. Coe

    In this case it’s a branding issue. My other books are pretty different from this one–different subgenre, different type of story–so the new name seemed to make sense.

  8. 8. Scott Seldon

    As a just starting newbie (and self-published at that), I can tell you that you have a big advantage. You have a place to start and say, “Hey, I have a new book coming out, different genre and under a pen name.” That is a big head start, being able to connect with a fan base that exists. Many readers like multiple genres. I personally love SF and the Classics (currently reading Les Miserables).

    From a general perspective, as one who is trying to spread the word about my own books, it is all a matter of getting the news to potential readers. The first step is to get them to notice it, either in the bookstore or online. The more you do, the better your chances. Guest blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, make a book trailer, if possible pay for advertising (some options are not too expensive). Connecting with other authors, especially ones who have readers in the genre/sub-genre your book is in, will help you connect to their readers. Readers don’t tend to be over focused on one author over another and will usually read multiple authors in a genre they like. After all, it takes months to write a book and days to read it.

  9. 9. Tera Fulbright

    This is a good question, David. Okay.

    I’m going to say…go to small/mid-range sized cons. I picked up your first series because I met you at a con. I’ll buy Thieftaker when it comes out (it will be Kindle’d right?) because I’m excited about the book having read about it on the various blogs I follow including yours. And I know I like your writing style so I suspect I’ll like this series as well.

    Ditto w/ Gail Martin’s Necromancer and (eventually, I’ll get to) Faith, Misty and Jana’s books. All because I met at them at cons.

    I don’t particularly pick up posters/bookmarks though they seem to be everywhere. I like the t-shirt (but then I’m biased; it’s cool.) I like the idea of tattoos but only if they don’t advertise the book specifically, more of a secret coolness.


  10. 10. Mary Osmanski

    I’m another one who bases decisions whether to read something by a new-to-me author on recommendations from a variety of sources, all of which pretty much boil down to “I know this person likes the same kinds of books that I do.” I might encounter the recommendations on blogs or other online venues such as Goodreads, in face-to-face conversations, or at a con.

    I am more likely to pay attention to what the new-to-me author has to say for himself and his works if that first encounter includes an opportunity for me to be impressed with the author’s intelligence, sense of humor, own reading experiences, etc. I handle these things better when I am part of a larger audience for what this author has to say: this might be via a guest blog, an on-line interview, a panel at a convention, or part of group socializing at a con.

    What doesn’t work: trying to chat me up one-on-one at a book signing, from behind a table in the dealers’ room at a con, or while trying to persuade me to take a bookmark or postcard–especially when you and I are not already at least acquaintances. Too much pressure! I need a bit of space/time/privacy to consider whether a concept really appeals to me enough to make me want to spend the money right now, and/or to check the places I usually go for recommendations (see first paragraph above).

    In the case of your new book and this column, I will say that I was intrigued by the term “historical urban fanasy,” so I clicked on the link at the book’s title and liked what I found at the other end. Mystery, a historical setting with some fanasty elements added… I have liked many books of that sort, so I am more than 90% convinced to give this one a try too. And it doesn’t hurt that the Amazon page shows there will be a Kindle version. That way I can buy it whenever I recall/run across a reminder that it’s out and not have to wait for a trip to a bookstore.

  11. 11. Debbie Rice

    Sounds like you are doing everything you can. I do like bookmarks and t-shirts (has to be really cute to pay more than $30 for). And an author autographing inside a bookstore makes me buy the book whether it was something I might want to read or not.

    I found this page from a facebook post by Jim C. Hines. Actually, authors I have fanned/liked on facebook and goodreads do direct me to a lot of new authors. I don’t fan everyone who ever wrote a book I read and liked; just some favorites.

    I’ve really gotten into goodreads this year and looking at author bookshelves and reading their reviews — I have found that generally my favorite authors have similar reading tastes.

    I also find my next read by perusing the blurbs on the backs of books for what interests me (an interesting cover will make me look but I have learned not to pass by a book with a bad cover). Perusing physically at bookstores or online (I’m in an area with basically a dozen bookstore chains and most independents have closed so I now only have Barnes and Noble and grocery store shelves–so online getting a lot more of my attention).

    If an unfamiliar author, I do read sample chapters. If an author I enjoyed before, I’ll just buy figuring even if not as well liked the hours of enjoyment the liked book gave me worth the cost of the stinker.

    “buzz” at goodreads or big box sites (Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc.) saying as a fan of such-and-such book I might also like the new-to-me author, I will look into a book and make my own decision. Frankly, some books I considered horrid (notably “Twilight”) really got a lot of buzz; but, will make me curious enough to checkout.

    Authors self promoting on goodreads and Amazon and other forums can be a good thing or a bad thing. Good thing — blog posts on goodreads about the book and release information, posts in various groups in the self-promotion areas — all things I read and will checkout the book. Short posts noting you are the author and self-promoting, okay. Definitely keep author pages/profiles up to dates on all the book selling sites, goodreads, facebook and all the other social media.

    Bad thing — posting and posting and posting and posting to same threads or posting without noting you are the author. My all time least favorite — posting inappropriately in some of the group discussions. For example, one of the groups were voting on the book of the month for a chick-lit beach-themed read from nominations that were submitted by a deadline 5 days past and a just self-plublished author in a completely different genre (horror) popped into the narrow-these-down-to-six-books-for-the-poll-by-seconding discussion nominating their book (nominations were over), ignoring the theme, ignoring being politely told was off theme and nomination was over, and persistently still self-promoting book until group moderators posted they were blocking her if she posted on that thread again instead of in the nomination or self-promotion threads and strongly suggesting she’d be better off in groups that liked horror books.

  12. 12. Kathryn Scannell

    An excellent question. I’m listening hopefully for ideas too. I prowl the freebie/flier table at cons, and pick up stuff, but I can’t think of a lot of things that have made me go buy a book. The buttons and pens and what have you go home with me, if they’re useful, but that doesn’t really translate into sales.

    I’ve bought books on impulse because a cover caught my eye, and then I liked the blurb, or because an author whose work I love was enthusiastic about it in a cover blurb or a review. Reviews may do it, if they happen to say something that catches my attention – even something bad sometimes works, because I may love the idea the reviewer hated. Samples are good too – a download of the first chapter or two as a DRM-free ebook will either hook me enough to go buy the book, or convince me that it isn’t for me, and that has the benefit of being cheap… Short free reads in the same setting are also a good way to sample.

    Blogging and convention appearances also sometimes work. If I read a post by you, or hear you on a panel at a con and what you said resonates with me, even if it had nothing to do with the book, that will prompt me to go looking for what someone has written.

  13. 13. Patrick Samphire

    It’s horrible to say, but almost nothing that authors do gets me to buy try their books. The main things that get me to try books are:

    1) Recommendations by people on twitter or blogs (and I tend to need several before I start to notice)

    2) Seeing an interesting looking book in a bookstore, picking it up, and trying it.

    I suspect authors can influence the first by having a series of interesting things related to a book come out sequentially, so that people mention the book multiple times, spread over a few weeks at least. For instance, I came across this blog post because Mindy Klasky mentioned it. That’s the first time I’ve seen Thieftaker mentioned anywhere (that I recall; it has to be in a context I’m interested to make it stick in my head).

    If Thieftaker gets mentioned a couple more times in interesting contexts, I’ll almost certainly be taking a look at it on Amazon and maybe downloading a sample.

    The only thing that authors actively do that has ever made me go out and get a book is if I see them on a panel at a con and they are interesting and engaging. Of course, not an enormous number of people go to cons, and then you have to be on a panel that is either really interesting or has another author I really want to hear from on it already. So, I’m not sure cons can lead to a great number of sales.

    Not helpful, I guess, but for me it’s true, at least.

  14. 14. Angela Korra'ti

    In no particular order, here are the ways that are generally most effective to get me to pick up a book by someone I haven’t read yet:

    1) Sample chapters. I read several that come across tor.com and have added quite a few to my to buy/to read lists because of those. This is the biggest thing for me. If I don’t know your work yet, let me see your first chapter or two, and if I like what I read and want to keep going, chances are very high I’ll get your book.

    2) John Scalzi’s The Big Idea column is also responsible for me buying quite a few titles.

    3) Bookmarks sometimes work, because even though I read a lot of ebooks, I ALSO still read a lot of print books as well. So I need bookmarks for that. I have a lot of them so they don’t always work well for me as an incentive, but if they look particularly awesome, I’ll still happily grab one.

    4) I am a Goodreads user and so yeah, Goodreads giveaways work for me to stir up interest! I just joined the giveaway for Thieftaker, in fact. ;)

    5) Re: blog tours… yeah, it depends on the blog and also upon the posts in question. I see a lot of blog tour posts and have participated in my fair share of them as well. I like to see something a little bit more creative than “I’m author X and would like to tell you Y and Z about my book”, though–if you do something fun with your characters, or post excerpts along a theme, or maybe even get something creative going with your blog host or anybody else joining you on the tour, that’ll increase my interest.

  15. 15. SAMK

    If you can get bookmarks/postcards (they are actually the same thing to me– anything flat or mostly flat becomes a bookmark) to cons that you cannot attend , it would also be good. I love them. Pick them up. Carry them around, lose them in public for others to see.

    I do like guest blogs, but I am a pretty limited blog reader. Facebook mentions by my favorite authors get me to look. Sample chapters, especially Amazon Free Samples are the most likely item to get me from a “Hmmm, this might be interesting” to “Bought.”

    Actually have seen buzz about Theiftaker and thought it sounded interesting. I didn’t know it was you, but (sorry, admission) since I only got one or two books into your previous stuff before bogging down, that didn’t hurt. I am still going to take a look because you say it’s different.

  16. 16. Mary

    Bookmarks sometimes work.

    A guest post might get me interested. A review by the blogger would probably work better.

  17. 17. Ziv Wities

    I’m a somewhat conservative buyer – but then, most readers are, aren’t they? Of all the methods you’ve mentioned, the short stories on IGMS and Tor are the only ones I’d see as likely to gain my interest (and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for your story in the next IGMS issue!). If I enjoy a short story, I will definitely look up the author.

    All the others, alas, are more iffy. Here’s the problem: anybody else could do the exact same thing. In fact, everybody else DOES most of those things. It’s not a matter of getting me aware of your book; I’m aware of any number of newly-published works. The trick is in persuading me that it’s worth my time and my interest (frankly? “my money” is secondary, compared to those two).

    Listening to authors promoting their books? Generally, alas, not too interesting. Most author interviews are dull as dirt; I usually don’t read them. Equally, I’m not very interested in sample chapters – I’d need actual interest in the book first.

    Consider: if a random author gave me a copy of their book for free – I’m not at all certain I’d bother reading it. If it looked interesting, I’d definitely try it. But if it didn’t, why would I? The opportunity to read a book does not, in itself, make the book more interesting.

    I have no experience with self-promotion, but as a consumer, I can tell you this: Find your target audience, and target them mercilessly; furthermore, focus on what makes your book UNIQUE. That’s what you need to get out there.

    Figure out one or two compelling elements. Characters; setting details; plot elements. For example, the idea of a “thieftaker” as a profession is unusual; on the other hand, I personally don’t have any particular interest in “Boston before the American Revolution,” and I don’t know why that would be particularly interesting to me (any more than any other “[Place] in [Period]” combo). So your page on thieftakers is much more compelling (to me) than the general “[Place] in [Period], there’s riots, there’s a murder, there’s a storm of intrigue and magic, politics and treachery,” all of which may be true and well-executed, but doesn’t grab my interest or set your book apart.

    Running with that, then, you might have promotion items based around the Thieftaker profession. A booklet with rules and regulations for Thieftakers; a badge or certificate boldly proclaiming the bearer’s authority as a Thieftaker, posters detailing jobs for thieftakers – or warnings against a thieftaker who’s untrustworthy.

    But hey, your historical element is central to your book; you could play that up too. Just take it beyond the “[Place] in [Period]” formula – tell us what cool things we can expect (revolutionaries! taxes! tea parties!); remind us of cool historical elements we can look forward to reading about. Play up the “what if?” angle, explaining how your setting diverges from reality. For promotion purposes, you could pass out revolutionary tracts – maybe referencing well-known elements, like the Tea Party, but involving the special elements of your setting. Pretty much any faux-period handout would be cool, and let you highlight the neat historical details you’ll be playing with – and how you’re messing around with them.

    Similarly, *any* central, unusual element you choose should be a great source for focused promotional ideas that get to the heart of your content, while being fun and engaging. Any element except “this book is good” – which I’m afraid is tough to convince an audience of if you’re the interested party.

    Best of luck and success to you – hope this helps!

  18. 18. David B. Coe

    GREAT comments all! Thanks so much for this feedback. Enormously helpful and absolutely stuff I will be thinking about as the release of THIEFTAKER approaches.

  19. 19. Michael J. Sullivan

    I’m going to step my foot in it big time…but here goes. I think you are looking at this all wrong. It’s not about self-promotion. It’s not about “what you have to sell.”

    So what is it about? It’s about determining why you write in the first place…what is your passion. What gets you reved up.

    Then you spend your time interacting with people and you expose your passion through those interactions. It might be twitter, or goodread, or reddit, or your blog, or a guest blog. But you become a member of the community. You are not there to “self-promote” you are there to offer a recommendation, or help someone out that has a question. You let your passion for your writing show in every exchange you have.

    Then…you’ll attract people who like you and why you do the things you do. People don’t want to be sold. They want to make their own decisions. Be a person…show people who you are…and let the rest take care of itself. People will support, people that they like.

    People dread self-promtion because it’s not plesant. So stop it. You don’t like it…the people you are trying to sell to don’t like it. Instead keep in mind the that “social networks” are all about making connections….and being…well social.

    That’s my 2 cents worth.

  20. 20. Stephen A. Watkins

    As a reader, I will say that the single biggest factor in influencing my decision on whether to buy a book or not is, in a word, buzz. The more I see an author or a specific book mentioned by other authors whom I already love and read or fellow readers whose tastes and preferences I know have important overlaps with my own… the more likely I am to find myself interested in a book. This can sometimes include guest-posts on the blogs of other well-regarded authors (for instance, in one of John Scalzi’s “Big Idea” pieces).

    The second biggest thing, probably, is a description of the book that appeals to me personally. Going back to the reference to Scalzi’s “Big Idea” guest post series, I find I’m more likely to be interested in one of the books featured there if the author (a) tells me at least a little of what the book is about and (b) that sounds interesting to me. When the Big Idea authors go on and on about their process or other minutae but never really tell me about the story I find myself bored and disinterested.

    All of the other assorted bric-a-brac related to a book’s release – the bookmarks, the t-shirts, etc. – rarely if ever interests or excites me. To me, those things are only especially interesting if the book series is already successful, I’m already a fan, and there’s already a community of fans with which to use those items as a signalling device to promote membership in that community. At which point, their usefulness as publicity to promote an upcoming work is rather limited, I think.

  21. 21. Stephen A. Watkins

    I’ll add that I didn’t mention but also find sample chapters and related in-world short stories to be useful as well: and the more accessible those samples, the better.

    For instance, I’ve read several short stories now that take place in Jay Lake’s upcoming “Sunspin” book series. The first one I read left me feeling confounded – I didn’t feel like the plot fully resolved – but it asked a question (related to the main plot of the upcoming book) that brought me back for more. The more stories I’ve read set in the same universe, the more inclined I now feel to pick up the first Sunspin book when it comes out. So I think that can be effective too – even though several commenters here didn’t feel that worked for them. Then again, those stories piqued my interest in large part because I’d already been reading Jay Lake’s blog…

    I think the key to this method is accessibility, visibility, and authority – stories published in no-name journals without a solid reputation, or with low readership or where it’s not easy to reach and read the story freely will be less effective. So there aren’t many markets where those things are all working strongly in your favor, but I think it’s doable. (For me, for example, I’m not already a subscriber to IGMS so I’m not likely to be influenced by a story published there… but they have a good reputation so I suspect it will be more effective in reaching a good cross-section of IGMS’s current subs.)


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Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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