Some Unpleasant Truths about Publishing and Self-Promotion

A big theme during the books portion of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute that scared me as a writer was that many publishers were publicly announcing that they would not take on an author–even if they were so in love with their manuscript or book proposal that they wanted to marry it–unless they had a platform and a pretty established following of readers.  They either have to have a popular blog, or an avid twitter following, a lecture tour, a string of exhibits (think how well-known and well-established Postsecret was before their first book came out), or a kagillion fans on Facebook.  Maybe Google+ will start factoring in sometime soon, but at this point I agree with Neil Gaiman on that front.

After reading that, is anyone else having a major panic attack right now?

I was assigned a publicity role in a group project at the Institute and learned how to navigate a lot of these things I once had a great deal of distaste for (key example: twitter.  But now I like it because it’s like Facebook updates with the distinct purpose of being interesting for an audience, but I’m not clogging up my friend’s news feeds the way a lot of them do with “I love you” and “I love you more” posting banter…I digress).  I appreciate the amount of work that publicists do.  When I become an author, I totally want my own publicist.  But I agree with Nathan Brandsford and, at the same time, desperately don’t want to be my own publicist.  It feels a little skeevy.  And if you’re a self-published author, it’s probably even worse because you’re pretty much a one-man band and you’re really responsible for getting the word out there.  What do you think?  Is self-promotion a necessary evil in today’s publishing world?  Do you embrace it like bad-tasting medicine, love it like candy, or pretend it just doesn’t exist?

For those of you who are published, do you think it’s really necessary at all?  Does your book do fine without heaps of self-promotion?

Questions of our time.

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5 thoughts on “Some Unpleasant Truths about Publishing and Self-Promotion

  1. yukisukinomoto says:

    I am absolutely terrified after reading this and I, unfortunately, have given in to the sudden pressure over the topic. I made a wordpress, but I have no idea how to go about getting a following..

    And here I was thinking that all I had to do was finish editing and polishing my book, and that it had to be good enough for someone to want to read it.

    D: I’m a little disheartened!

  2. hannahkarena says:

    Don’t feel too disheartened! If you’re taking the literary agent route, all you do really need is to make them fall in love with your manuscript. If the agent thinks that a publisher’s going to need the whole package–manuscript and a social media following–then they’ll probably encourage you and give you some guidance on that front. (Stay tuned for another post in a minute about a very active literary agent, what she’s looking for, and her response times).

    As for your new wordpress adventure, only do it if you have something unique and interesting to say. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, in my opinion. If you’re writing just to get a following, you won’t get a following because everyone will notice it’s written with complete self-promotion in mind rather than offering interesting thoughts. I’m sure you’ll think up an awesome idea though. I look forward to following your blog! Good luck!

  3. blueghoul says:

    Being my own publicist and gaining a platform is definitely not something I look forward to, and that’s without all the querying and literary agent things. Self-promotion, though, is something that I think is definitely necessary despite how ill it might make you feel. On the one hand, it is skeevy business and leaves somewhat of a sour taste, but on the other…you do need to eat, do need to sell some books, get your name out there, especially nowadays, it seems, but how is the question. How can you self-promote without sounding like an arrogant jerk?

    • hannahkarena says:

      Dear blueghoul,

      I’ve been thinking about your question all day and this is the analogy I came up with: self-promote the way you would in a job interview. Definitely point out all of your skills and accomplishments–hey, you want to get the job, right?–but only if they apply to the situation. For example, if you are on an interview to be a house painter (work with me here!), make sure you give your references, examples of the most recent houses you painted, etc. It would be really out of place to brag that you won an award for the best pumpkin pie at the town fair, however, or that you’re certified in CPR. Also, if you talk about yourself too long, you’re going to sound long-winded, pompous, and probably not somebody anybody is going to like working with, personally.

      Okay, that analogy may or may not have worked. It worked in my head. But basically, I think it comes down to appropriateness of time and place. It’s appropriate to self-promote on your blog, on twitter, on your facebook. It’s not appropriate to hop around the blogsphere and post randomly on different blogs that you are a really awesome writer with a really awesome book coming out. And concerning the social media sites, it’s only appropriate to self-promote if you offer a balance of new material and fresh thoughts and occasionally throw in some self-promotion. Honestly, I think getting people to like reading your posts is self-promotion of yourself and your writing in and of itself. If you occasionally mention that you also have a new book out, they might ignore you or they might go grab a copy. If you say it too often, they’ll stop reading you in every medium all together.

      In summary: everyone knows what an arrogant jerk sounds like. Just avoid sounding/being as obnoxious as him, I guess.

      Do you agree or disagree?

  4. blueghoul says:

    I definitely do agree! That painter/job interview analogy made a lot of sense, actually. And blogging…there is a balance to it, but it sort of all boils down to common sense. You don’t like it when other people troll blogs with comments about their latest work–therefore, you take measures to not be that person. You don’t like it when other people over-promote themselves–so you take care not to be that sort of person. The summary you wrote is really just what it is. Everybody does know what an arrogant jerk sounds like. Avoid him, and it should be alright. It all makes a lot of sense when it’s broken down like that. Thank you!

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