Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blatant Self Poisoning?

Recently I was having a meal with a friend – another author. As always, our conversation turned to discussing books we’d read, those we were reading and those added to our To Be Read Pile. When I mentioned a book I’d recently picked up, she groaned. “I wanted to read that book,” she said, “but if I see one more word about it or even the cover again, I’ll vomit.”

Not exactly the response the author of that book was going for, I’m sure.

What went wrong? Why did my friend go from dying to read that particular book to considering it a leper?

The answer: Too much blatant self promotion.

For any newbies out there, blatant self promotion or “BSP” as it is fondly and not-so-fondly referred to in the writing community, is when an author personally pushes his or her own book. It’s not the promotional campaign the publisher puts in motion.

Sadly, I couldn’t disagree with my friend. I’d seen the author’s personal promotional campaign myself. If you spent any time on the Internet, it was impossible to miss. Blogs, digests, social networking – you name it, the author was there hawking the book over and over like a cure for cancer. I’d read so much about it, at times I felt I’d already read the book itself. Which leads me to wonder if, like my friend, I should even bother.

BSP – every author does it. We do it every time we open our mouths or type anything about our own books. What’s more, every author MUST do it. There’s no getting around it. Lack of sales can translate into lack of future contracts. Something every author is keenly aware of and fears. We can’t be shy or overly humble about promoting our own books. If we don’t believe in them, how can we expect readers to plop down their hard earned money for them, especially in such a shaky economy. We have to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to having confidence in our own work.

But when does blatant self promotion become blatant self poisoning? When do we cross the line from helping ourselves to hurting, and possibly even killing, ourselves in front of readers? What’s the cutoff, the edge of the cliff, between having faith in your book and shoving it down people’s throats until they back away in horror? When does confident PR start looking like an act of desperation?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am curious and a bit worried. You see, my book, Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini, the 2nd installment in the Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series, was just released (there, I got in my own BSP), and I sure don’t want to turn folks off.

Sue Ann Jaffarian
Odelia Grey mystery series
Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series
Madison Rose vampire mysteries
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook


Lisa Bork said...

For me, the promotion becomes off-putting when an author is on every list, every day, sometimes more than once.

Love your new title, Sue Ann! Looking forward to reading it.

Unknown said...

Self-promotion becomes blatant, for me the reader, when I see it more than once on Twitter.

And yet for me the writer, I rather want as many people to be sick of promotions of my work as possible, because I know for every 1000 people who hear about it, at least 1 person will buy it.


It's...it's a hard line.

Jen Forbus said...

Sue Ann, what a great topic to blog on. I'm a reader and I have several books right now that I refuse to read for that exact purpose. Here's what I can recommend from my view point.

If you're on social networks be there consistently and interact with people whether you have a book coming out or now. And when I say interact, I mean interact, not shove your writing at everyone constantly. Care about what your followers are saying, respond when they ask you a question, be involved in fun conversations. You do that well Sue Ann!

Then when your book comes out, mention it is out. You can mention it multiple times, you can link and show where others have talked about it - miminally. Don't link to every review and don't let your conversations ONLY be about your books.

But what's better is when OTHER people are willing to talk about your books. So the most important step is always to write the best book you can, get it started and then let it speak for itself...and others will do that work for you.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

A very hard line, David, and it's also a very thin one to walk.

Jen, thanks for your kind words. I remember when I first got on Facebook and Twitter reading a post by an avid reader. She said she never friended authors who used their bookcovers as their profile pics or only had fan pages. Nor did she care for folks who used their characters as their online personality. She wanted to know about the author. It was very good advice which I still follow.

Alan Orloff said...

Good post, and quite a conundrum. I would hope that if I start BSPing too much, one of my writer friends would pull me aside and let me know. Of course, everyone draws the line in a different place, which make the waters even more difficult to negotiate.

Mark Terry said...

Always a problem, I think. There are some authors out there that are always in your face and it has a negative effect for me. I think maybe they heard that "it takes 6 mentions before people take action" mantra a little too much to heart. And for some, I've noticed an almost hysterical quality to some of the BSP, a kind of, "Dear God, notice me, notice me, or I'll never get a contract again." Desperation is not a selling point.

I remember a very well-known self-marketing author once saying that if he could convince a person in a restaurant to pay $50 for an overpriced steak, he could convince him to buy a copy of his book.

It's stayed with me because I thought, "And was that customer pissed off that you somehow convinced him to buy that overpriced steak, so he'll never come back to the restaurant again?"

Fine line.

Beth Groundwater said...

What Alan said, and I sure hope we Midnight Ink authors could do that for each other. Sue Ann, I think your avid reader had it right. People know right away when someone is hanging out with them or in an on-line group just to pitch their books. You have to be engaged in the conversation otherwise. I'm glad you mentioned that about her not befriending authors who used their book covers as their profile pics. I had considered doing that on Facebook just during my release week, but now I think not.

Darrell James said...

Very Thought provoking topic, Sue Ann. I have avoided some books, myself, because I was sick of hearing from the author.

I believe, as with most everything in life, moderation and good taste are the keys. As for social networking I agree about "faceless" Facebook pages. I think it's important to show your interest in others. Then they'll show you theirs in return. (School Yard 101)

Kathleen Ernst said...

You raise an important question. We all walk a very thin line. I get turned off very quickly when an author does too much self-promotion. And I worry constantly about finding the right balance for me and my books.

Keith Raffel said...

Sue Ann, good post. I've had "friends" whom I only hear from when they need something. I don't much care for that. Same thing applies to BSP. If the only time I hear from a writer "friend" is when s/he is self-promoting -- no good. OTOH, if a friend whom I've hung with online or in person wants to do some online promotion and wants some help doing it, I'm there.

Mark Baker said...

There is one author I refused to read. We were part of a mystery discussion group, but every single one of their posts was basically "Buy my book." Someone posted about a book they'd read and enjoyed. "If you liked that, you'll like my book." Welcoming a new member? "Welcome. I think you'll like my book." And I'm only simplifying a little.

Yes, I want to know when my favorite authors have new books coming out. That's why I hunt up information, usually months in advance. And knowing they are out is a great reminder. And I love getting information about signings as well.

But I don't want to see it all day every day. Let me know something else about you. You never know when I might discover a new hobby thanks to something you are interested in. And I find it lots of fun seeing little things from your life pop up in your books. That makes me love you and your books even more.

If all you do is promotion, it becomes poison. If you act like a normal person who happens to be a writer, it works as promotion.

Barb Goffman said...

I remember a panel from Bouchercon 2001, where one author went so overboard with BSP that you could see the other three authors on the panel actually physically moving away from her, their dislike was so palpable. No matter what question someone posed from the audience, this author's book was perfect. "My son likes book about flying goats." This author's book was right for him. "My grandmother likes books about the mob." This author's book was right for her, too. I felt bad for the other panelists, but the author in question went so overboard that it actually became amusing. (Not that I've ever purchased her books...)

Barb Goffman

G.M. Malliet said...

The author who turns every single topic into a reference to his/her book...SO offputting! Most authors exercise common sense, and they know when enough is enough.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to add their thoughts. It was really helpful to see many readers weighing in on this delicate subject.

Barb, I've been on panels with authors like that. And I've been on panels when authors in the audience ask questions or make comments specifically for the purpose of showcasing their books. Very bad manners.

C. N. Nevets said...

Sue Ann, I think for me one of the biggest factors is the percentage of their output that's BSP. I have connections with some authors who do quite a bit of BSP, but it's 50% or less of what they put out in their social media. They also show their personality and engage readers and colleagues in other ways.

There are other authors with whom I have broken connection because even though they only used social media a few times a day perhaps, it was 100% BSP.

My advice:

Don't take the social out of social media, or you'll blend in with the never-ending stream of commercials.

(Came here by the say via a tweet by Janet Rudolph.)

Unknown said...

Sue Ann - You hit on a topic that I, a publcist, discuss with authors one-on-one nearly every day. BSP Overload.

Its out there, we all see it, it causes us to unfriend authors, avoid certain blogsites, and the biggie... not buy their books!

I think every author should have a person in their life who can be an honest sounding board. Someone to give you honest critique about your latest headshots, your blog posts (if it is controversial, get feedback before you post it), your writing, etc.

The sad truth is that your writer friends are not going to tell you that you've hit BSP overload. They're just not going to. The world of authors is a tight knit community, and no one is going to risk offending another.

Where is your "line"? If you don't have one, how will you know when you've crossed it?

Diana James, P.R. Me Publicity

February Grace said...

I came here by way of a Tweet by Nevets and I have to say- bravo. There are authors whose future books I have little or no interest in because they pounded their followers on Twitter and Blogger so hard the first time around.

I agree with what Nevets said about percentage- anything in large amounts makes you sick. If people only talk about their books, they lose me completely.

If they can use humor and a light hand in their promotion...then I will be first to jump on the bandwagon, and spread the word for them, and in the end, I think that word of mouth from others beats BSP every time.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I think it's significant that many folks re-tweeted the link to this particular blog post. It's telling us that a lot of folks have been quietly disconnecting from authors who utilize overkill or self-centered BSP. I, for one, will definitely keep an eye on what and how much I do.

And WELCOME to those of you who are new to Inkspot. This is a great blog with great authors.

Alice Loweecey said...

Late to the discussion (the Day Job)but thanks for this post, Sue Ann. As a debut author (there's my BSP!) I'm definitely wondering what's too much and what's not enough. Everyone's comments are more food for thought.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I agree with what Mark said. Some authors can't create a blog post or leave a comment without mentioning their books. It's at that point the self-promotion goes overboard.
I think book bloggers can contribute to the over-promotion, too. If a book appears on everyone's site, no matter how great the reviews, it's a turnoff.
Yes, we need to promote our work. However, our lives should not revolve around our books! What else can we tell folks? What can we give back to others?

Carl Dierschow said...

Great discussion! For me, BSP is over the line when there's no balance between GIVING and GETTING. Selling your book, after all, is about GETTING - namely money. So what are you giving in return? The content of the book. No fair - I don't get any of that wonderful content until I've bought your book.

You have to give something first. Freely. Something useful. Something interesting.

H. S. Stavropoulos said...

BSP is over the line, for me, when that author gives nothing back to the community of writers that supported and nurtured them. There are authors who never comment on other's blogs, or talk about others books, or respond to a post unless they can give BSP about their own blog, book, website etc. Very noticeable and off-putting every time.