Ain’t Too Proud to Beg (or: The Art of Promotion)

By David Corbett

In August last year, Alexandra had a post titled Wanna Be a Writer? Learn to Love Promotion. In no-nonsense terms, Alex laid out the cold hard truth: In today’s publishing world, you’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there or risk getting lost in the numbers game.

In the opposite corner, both Gar and I are on the record concerning our uneasiness with self-promotion. For me it smacks of begging. If the book’s good, it’ll sell itself, right? (I know, how dumb can you get?)

Something about self-promotion makes me feel like the guy who always needs to be the center of attention, making sure the limelight never strays far from where he’s standing. 

But I’ve got a book out and it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable I am, I need to get off my duff and make the thing a success. The fact it’s not a novel but a book on writing changes little except points of emphasis.

As anyone with a mainstream publisher knows, if you’re not a top name, you’re not getting the love from the marketing or publicity departments. Everyone’s perfectly nice, they just don’t have the funds or the time for your book. They’ll do all they can within the confines of their virtually non-existent budget.

Which means you’re largely on your own. And it’s a very crowded marketplace.

But how to turn around that reticence, that squeamishness, that fear of becoming the yammering nitwit bellowing: Look at me!

 Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1.         I believe in the book, and wrote it with an almost passionate intensity. I need to bring that same belief and passion to making sure potential readers know about it, want it, buy it.

2.         I didn’t write the book for myself, I wrote it for writers and students of writing hoping to expand and deepen their understanding and command of the craft of characterization. The book is for them. Try to find them, reach them.

3.         If I ground my PR efforts in that belief, that passion, and that concern for readers who might truly benefit from the book, I’ll come from a place that balances pride with humility, and that will eliminate some of the sense that I’m being a pushy shmuck.

4.         Go back and reread the book and remember all the valuable things it has to offer. Promote them. Find a way for people to hear about them so they can make up their own minds if they want the book.

I know this must sound hopelessly fundamental and obvious. I mean, after four books, you’d think I’d get this. But I still sometimes need to remind myself of these simple things. I need to get comfortable with the idea of promoting me, David Corbett, and my work.

I think most writers are prone to a profound self-doubt, salted with guarded optimism and talent and pride. Something about self-promotion begs us to deny that self-doubt. Think positive, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will, etc.

I realized I need instead to embrace my misgivings, accept the ways in which the book may fall short of what I wanted it to be, and make that acceptance part of the package, so my genuine pride in the book doesn’t get mucked up with phoniness. I know the book’s not perfect. But the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the book really is quite good.

If I don’t find a way to get comfortable with the salesmanship side of writing, the book will die a slow, steady death. And it deserves better. The students who could benefit from the book deserve better. And yes, even solitary, self-doubting me — I deserve better.

So: Please check out the book and see if it’s something you or someone you know might enjoy or benefit from. Frankly, I think if you start reading it, you’ll love it.

You can read excerpts here and here, and blog discussions here and here. And you can find a variety of places to buy it in both physical and digital format here.

If you’ve read the book and have something to say, I’d love it if you’d write an Amazon review.

Thank you.

(BTW: In one of those scheduling things that happen from time to time here on Murderati, I’ll also be up tomorrow for my regularly scheduled post. Try not to weary of me.)

* * * * *

So, Murderateros—what aspect of promotion do you find most daunting? Most annoying?

What strategy have you devised to overcome that?

Has a writer’s PR effort ever turned you off to his or her book?

Any great anecdotes about PR efforts that went arwy—whether your own or someone else’s?

* * * * *

Jukebox Heroes of the Week: Who else? (With a stunning remix of the original.)




18 thoughts on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg (or: The Art of Promotion)

  1. Steven Hart

    I enjoy doing readings, giving interviews, all that. Maybe I'm just a ham. The worst part, though, is the knowledge that my efforts can be undone if the other party isn't pulling at least as hard as I am to get the word out about an event.

  2. F.T. Bradley

    I think your point #4 is golden. It works to talk about something other than the book–for me, that's about reaching reluctant middle-grade readers. And it helps to simply make friends, in person or on the internet; often they'll want to help you promote the book, and it's so much better when it someone else.

    Blog tours and giveaways are helpful.

    The worst I see is those authors who post on Twitter all day in that 'buy-my-book!' fashion. Say something smart or interesting instead.

  3. David Corbett

    You're right, Steven, the actual events are quite fun. It's the nonstop ordeal of asking, of the old ABC mindset — Always Be Clsoing — that I find difficult. I'm a ham too, and I love too much talking about myself. It's inserting myself or the book into conversations where it perhaps doesn't belong, but an opportunity is sensed, that gives me trouble. A good seller sees the opening and grabs it. I'm still getting there — and it's my own misgivings undermining me. I find if I admit them, embrace them, stepping forward isn't as hard, because I don't feel false. I find a way to make that extra step feel genuine and reasonable. I guess I'm just saying I need to be mindful, not pushy.

  4. David Corbett

    Erik: Thanks for the kind words — and for picking up the book. Hope all is well back east.

    F.T.: I agree. The more I ground myself in the worth of the book and realize there are others who can benefit from the book or just enjoy it, the easier and more natural promoting it becomes. In the flurry of activity that suddenly descends upon you such simply things get easily lost.

    And yes, the buzzsaw tweets annoy. Stuff a book down my throat, I'm likely to spit it out.

  5. Allison Davis

    If you think of yourself as a start up, an entrepreneur (who are the darlings of our society now), perhaps that moniker works better. Because you are your own business, even though it is art. I have a friend who is an amazing painter — right there on the edge — but few have seen what she does because she is frozen and just can't get out there. I just finished producing a CD for a wonderful songwriter from New Orleans who was in a rut and the CD pushed him out of it and into the limelight. All arts suffer from the PR issue, and what differentiates you from the others is getting the word out. If you have the tenacity to get the work done, then have the chutzbah to promote. It's all ok, it's not ego, it's part of the work.

    And I loved Hustle & Flow, that was a great movie. You probably don't want "Money" by Pink Floyd either.

  6. Dee

    My copy of the Art of Character arrived yesterday at the end of a long draining day. I started my usual sample the chapters test, and had to stop. The book is too rich, deep, and well written–worth so much more than a flip through. I am impressed with the craft on display, and so looking forward to savouring this book.

    Long ago Margaret Atwood came for a reading of Handmaid's Tale at a church in a town only hours away. I dragged another English teacher to her short but masterful reading, and we stood for ages in a signing line. I was so impressed with the layer of meaning her reading had added to my experience that I told her so as she signed my book. She looked up and through me, turned to her handler and said clearly, in her stylized way, "When is this over?" The line shuffled forward in a chilly silence, and I have never bought another Atwood title.

  7. David Corbett

    Allison: That's just it, artists don't think of themselves as entrepreneurs. This places the emphasis of art object on the object, not the art. And it's just something you've got to get out of.

    I make the point in the book that writers who write for themselves are "scribbling to a ghost." You write for readers — that's what keeps you honest, if you approach it right. And wanting to find your readers is no crime. It's just weird how resistant I am to the hustle. I feel tacky. And yet some of that is also plain old-fashioned doubt and insecurity. Geddoverit already.

    Oh, and if I was gonna play a tune with money as a theme, it'd be this one:

    Dee: Thanks (I think). I'm glad you think the book is worth a slow read. Hope it rewards the effort.

    As for Atwood, see my remark above about readers. The gifted are not always gracious. Pity.

  8. Pari Noskin

    I have refrained from buying books from folks who do nothing but "hustle." There's an author here in NM that used to specialize in making people so uncomfortable — by pressuring them — in bookstores that they'd say they were buying his book, would get him to autograph it, and then would leave the book somewhere else in the store. The stores finally created special policies when he was around.

    Dee, re: Margaret Atwood
    She's one of my favorite writers. I also know that she is very, very shy. I bet signings are almost unendurable for her. That's why some writers simply shouldn't do them. Ever.

  9. Lisa Alber

    Hi David,

    I should be receiving your book any time now, and I'm looking forward to digging into it!

    If there were a "The Art of Self-Promotion" book, it would surely include a bit about having humility even as we're out there self-promoting. Humility and grace count for a lot. (How disappointing about Atwood–she's one of my all-time favorite authors.)

    Cheers, Lisa

  10. David Corbett

    Lisa: Thanks for the kind words, and I agree on both counts. Maybe once you're mega-famous like Atwood you can take readers for granted. I sure can't.

  11. Larry Gasper

    Like Erik and Dee I've started the book, but I'm taking my time, as it requires thought and applying the principles to your characters. I'm also talking it up, so you've got some promotion in the frozen north country covered.

  12. David Corbett

    Larry: "you've got some promotion in the frozen north"

    I know. My publisher's not named Penguin for nuthin.

    Oh, how droll.

    Thanks for the many kind and supportive marks here and elsewhere. Don't think I don't notice.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi David

    It IS the kind of book that SHOULD sell itself, but you're getting the word out in a restrained an non-buzzsaw manner. I, too, have been trying to spread the word 🙂

    I agree with FT – the 'buy my book, buy my book, buy my book' posts etc from some authors do actively put me off. When I follow someone on Twitter it does not inspire me when their first response is to direct message me with a link to their latest tome on Amazon or to their website. I'm likely to have visited that anyway before I followed them.

    And yet this approach must surely work for some people …?

  14. PD Martin

    Just bought it! Can't wait until it arrives 🙂 And I'm sure it will be on my 'must read' recommended list for my students this year.

  15. Susan Shea

    David, You'd never do the Twitter overkill, which is a good thing. But those authors (whose books I only hear about on THEIR tweets, by the way) promote with terms like "best-selling," "amazing read," etc. that are pure inventions as far as I can see. I think quotes from genuine blurbers – that is, people who read the book – are a decent way to let someone else carry the flag for you. I'm going to buy it, maybe for one of my writer sons. All right, maybe I have to buy two copies…! Hang in there, do lots of readings and signings, let your friends – including me – help with word of mouth.

  16. Beth Rudetsky

    Hi David, I enjoy promoting authors and their novels. Being a singer-songwriter, one of the ways that I do it is to compose and sing original song that highlights the story in the novel and that reflects the emotions of the novel's characters. I then enlist filmmaker/director Mark Ezovski to create a book-trailer that is more like a mini-film/video and features live action footage. I also like to use actors from film and the Broadway stage to perform the lead characters. The trailers and my music attract alot of great feedback and attention and new readers that are intrigued, want to know more about the novel and then go out and buy the book.

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