In For Writers, Self-Promotion

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation I recently overheard at a used book sale…

“Oh, I like that author too,” the first woman said.

“You know, I recently attended one of her events,” the other woman replied.

“Really? How was it?”

Well, she was kind of smarmy. To be honest, I liked her a lot more before she opened her mouth. Now I don’t think I can read any more of her books.”

Okay, by this point I was flat out eavesdropping. I’ve attended authors’ events over the years, and I’ve always found the authors to be funny and charming, to the point of wanting to read more of their work. (Which is kind of the point of doing author events). But, I never really thought about how those events could have the opposite effect.

As writers, we spend so much time building our “author brand” that we probably don’t give much thought to how we might inadvertently destroy it. (Apparently, being smarmy is one way). I got to thinking about some authors I’ve met informally over the years, who – one way or another – managed to leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. In my experience, here are some surefire ways to destroy your author brand and deter people from reading your books (a.k.a. what not to do)…

  • Be full of yourself. As an author, I think it’s important to be proud of your work. I also think it’s important to be humble. I once encountered an author who kept boasting about how good his own book was. That was a major turn-off for me. If your book is really that good, hook me with your description and let me discover its greatness on my own.
  • Be self-centered. Even though you need to be out there promoting yourself and your book, be careful not to be too me, me, me. I’ve met a number of authors who were so focused on talking about themselves and their own interests, that they failed to engage their audience. One-sided conversations are tiresome for the listener and eventually he or she will tune you out. When people take the time to talk with me about my book, I always keep the me, me, me to a minimum and try to find out more about them, like what other books are they reading? and have they ever thought about writing their own book? You can learn so much about people with those two questions.
  • Be competitive. An author once asked me who’s been reviewing my book and where I’m doing signings, and then, in response to everything I told him, he said, “Oh yeah, I was reviewed by them” or “Yeah, I had a signing there” in a tone that clearly meant you’re no better than me.
  • Be a know-it-all. One time, at a festival, a fellow author told me my selling style was wrong. He suggested I do it a different way. At first, the criticism stung (after all, I spent years in corporate sales crushing my quotas). I thanked him for his advice and explained why I felt my approach was best for me, and I continued on with what I was doing. By the end of the day, I had sold five times as many books as him. (Okay, yes, inside I was doing a little victory dance – I’m only human!) But the point is: when it comes to selling anything, each person has his or her own unique style. Don’t force yours onto anyone else.
  • Be intrusive. At a recent book festival, I witnessed an author shouting her book’s description to any passerby who happened to glance in her direction. No hello. No may I tell you about my book? She sounded like a paperboy (“Extra! Extra! Read all out it!”) and was about as personable as a robot. Some people hurried by and pretended not to hear her, others stared at her like she was crazy. Readers are human and 9 times out of 10, if you simply ask them if you can tell them about your book, they will say “Yes!” and stop to listen to what you have to say.
  • Be literary snob. A fellow author recently grilled me about the types of books I read. I mentioned a few books that I recently enjoyed and then she started inquiring about titles that are, frankly, too high-brow and stuffy for my taste. Every time I told her that I hadn’t read the book she was asking about, I could feel her looking down her nose at me, as if you must read certain books in order to be a worthwhile writer.
  • Be drunk. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? You’d think. But a few authors I know enjoy a libation (or several) while meeting with book clubs and  attending other literary events. Before they know it, they’re slurring their words and admitting things they normally wouldn’t to a group of stunned strangers. I think it’s better to let people remember you for your charm and wit, not for your bad behavior.
  • Be a diva. I once heard an author publicly complaining about readers sharing her book. She didn’t want people passing her book along to friends and family members, she wanted them each to buy their own copy. How selfish and petty! I think writers should be thankful for every reader they’ve got…no matter how they come by your book.

Well, those are just a handful of obnoxious traits that I’ve encountered over the years, but you must have a few of your own.

So tell me, what bad author behavior have you experienced?

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Showing 2 comments
  • P.I. Barrington

    That incredible headline struck terror in my chest! Am I doing any of those things and if so how many?
    Actually, this is a great great post! It’s great not only for the information but as a reminder and outline for good behavior on the part of authors. We need to be reminded and to practice graciousness wherever we may be not just writing events. I may have it tattooed on my body in a conspicuous place.

  • Scott Neilson

    Loved your post!

    It got me thinking about how I present myself to people…not so much in the programs, but when in more casual discussion about the concepts and my interests and motivations. Interestingly, I found myself being a bit sappy a couple of weeks ago…too idealistic about what I am hoping to contribute with these programs. I didn’t notice any vomiting or hysterical laughter at my comments, but I was aware that it sounded too sappy. So, the other end of the spectrum might be worth avoiding as well.

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