05 August 2017

Who Put the B in the BSP?


by John M. Floyd



Here's the question of the day, for all you writers out there: How Blatant should Self-Promotion be?

Consider this definition, found at the Oxford Learner's Dictionaries site:
Blatant self-promotion is the activity of making people notice you and your abilities, especially in a way that annoys other people.

Everyone knows what the key word is, in that sentence. And nobody wants to be annoying. The sad thing is, I think many of us are annoying without realizing it--and somehow that's even worse. Most of us grow weary of having people show us their grandchildren's (or their cats' and dogs' ) photos on their cell phones, but we can't imagine how anyone could grow weary of seeing ours. This isn't quite the same as the blinders we wear regarding self-promotion, but it comes close.

These days, it's an unpleasant fact of life that we authors, whether self-published or not, are expected to do a certain amount of marketing, of both ourselves and our product. Otherwise, unless we're famous to begin with, no one except friends and family are going to know who we are or what we've done. I understand that. We're told constantly that we need a "platform," and a plan for spreading the word, whether it's via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, websites, interviews, signings, speaking engagements, or all of the above. But the question is, how much of that can you do before you go overboard, and become an embarrassment to yourself and to friends and family?


How much is too much?

One thing that makes self-promotion appealing, at least to the self-promoter, is that talking or writing about yourself isn't all that hard. You know yourself and your accomplishments, better than anybody else does. Whether you can be objective about it is another matter, but the truth is, something like a blog post about your latest project is pretty darn easy to do--it doesn't require any research or any real work. So, do I do that, now and then? Sure I do. But nobody, including my mother, wants to hear too much about me, or to hear about me all the time. (Well, maybe Mom does, but she's the only one.)

I think the answer--and it seems to be the answer to a lot of life's problems--is moderation. Of course we should try to get our names out there, and put our best foot forward in things like bios, cover letters, press releases, etc. But I think that process has to be grounded in some measure  of common sense. Nobody wants to get emails every day from the same person, asking for five-star reviews and "likes" and visits to author websites and votes for best-novel-cover contests. I mean, Sweet Jumpin' Jiminy.

By the way, I am not innocent of BSP crimes. After all, my post here at SleuthSayers a week ago was a discussion of several of my own stories that appeared in recent publications. I guess all of us do that kind of thing occasionally--some more than others. As Brother Dave Gardner once said, of a traveling preacher who made a whistle stop in Irondale, Alabama, and was addressing the crowd: "He said, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,' and BLAP that rock hit him."

Bios and egos

BSP can take many forms. A writer's bio that goes on and on and on can make a reader's stomach cramp and his eyes glaze over, and there's even a school of thought that says the longer the printed bio, the less the writer has actually accomplished--the wannabe author just writes more words about less important things. Even the automatic signature you place at the end of your emails can be too much. Twenty lines of text following your name and listing all your publications and awards and nominations and third-place wins in contests might be overdoing it just a bit. In fact, it might be eighteen or nineteen lines too long.
Same thing goes for booksignings. I'm not saying it's a good idea to sit there at the signing table and stare at prospective buyers like a frog on a log, but it's also not good to call out to passersby like a snake-oil salesman at the county fair or chase them down and pester them with questions. As a customer, I have often strolled over to chat with an author, especially one who smiles and makes eye contact, and I have often (maybe too often) bought his or her book as a result--but I will probably never buy anything from an author who eagerly blurts "Hey, do you like reading mysteries? You'll like this one. Come over here and take a look." Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like to feel that the buy/no-buy decision is my own to make, without a lot of arm-twisting. Whether it's a book or a pair of shoes or a bag of peanuts.

I do try to post my upcoming booksignings on Facebook, mainly because my publisher (who's much smarter than I am, on these matters) has encouraged me to, and also because I know that it has occasionally steered folks to the bookstore on the day I'm there. I don't think that kind of thing is being too pushy; I think it makes sense. But some of the all-out blitzes people do on social media, especially regarding book launches, can get out of hand. All of you know what I mean. There's a fine line there, between aggressive and excessive, and I'm thinking (and hoping) that most of us know where to draw that line and not to leap over it.

What do you think?

Author and editor Ramona DeFelice Long said, at her blog, that writers should keep Goldilocks in mind and do what feels right.

But what does feel right? Do too little, you're shy or lazy. Do too much, you're obnoxious. You're either a wallflower that nobody knows or an insurance salesman that nobody wants to know.

What's your response to this? How do you, as a writer, try to do what's required without being overwhelming? What are your personal "rules"? Also, what makes you, as a potential buyer of a piece of fiction, uncomfortable or annoyed? When does SP become BSP?

By the way, do you like reading mysteries? Have I got a deal for you . . .

Just kidding.







23 comments:

David Dean said...

A very timely topic here, John. One of the things that I notice is how often writers present themselves, their work, and their creative processes as truly unique. Oh, but were it so. If anything signals an ego (or ad campaign)careening out of control more blatantly, I'm not sure what it would be. Whenever I see, or read, blogs, blurbs, etc...that carry on in this tone, I quietly step away, book unread.

Paul D. Marks said...

John, I guess it’s a fine line between doing the right amount of BSP and going over the top. I know I’m probably guilty of that too sometimes. My e-mail signature tends to be long. Things just kept getting added to it and nothing removed. I also like to put whatever new-ish stuff I have going at the end of my blogs. And I wonder sometimes if it’s too much. But on the other hand you know the old saw, if you don’t toot your own horn who will? And, as you say, if we don’t the only people reading our stuff will be our families and maybe a friend or two. So I think it’s a necessary evil, but if that’s all one talks about then it’s probably going too far.

John Floyd said...

David, good to hear from you! "But were it so," indeed--who among us IS truly unique? The scary thing is, BSP is so "expected" nowadays, we all do it and we all have to do it, at least to some degree. I always find myself wondering if I've overstepped.

Paul, I agree with you: it's a necessary evil. I don't think any of us enjoy promoting ourselves, but it has become a fact of life, for writers. All we can do is search for the middle ground, and try not to do too much or too little.

Steve Liskow said...

Timely post on a tough topic, John. As a self-published novelist, I have to do a fair amount of promoting because most stores won't stock my books, BUT most of my known associates already know that I write, so I don't remind them.

I try to do guest blogs (did one yesterday, in fact) and use Facebook for my events, but you know as well as I do how iffy THAT is.

I don't like to offer nothing for something, so I seldom if ever do a pure "signing." I like joining other authors for a panel (doing one this coming Tuesday evening in fact, with local authors I've joined before) or presenting a workshop because then I feel like the audience is getting something return if they buy my book.

The bad news here is that fewer people who come to my workshops buy a book than used to be the case. The other problem is that with big budget cuts, fewer libraries want me for a workshop than even a couple of years ago.

I'm still grappling with ways to deal. I carry bookmarks in my guitar case, but how often can you sing a blues song and seque into "Hey, I've got a new mystery out!"

Maybe I should learn Elvis Costello's song "Watching the Detectives."

John Floyd said...

Steve, you bring up some great points. Guest posting is a good thing to do, when the opportunity presents itself, plus participating in panels, running workshops, etc. Anything to make more folks aware of you and your work. (The money-crunch libraries are experiencing is a whole 'nother story, of course--I continue to do library events, like everyone else, but I no longer "expect" the libraries themselves to buy a lot of my books.)

I'm also glad you mentioned promotional materials--bookmarks and brochures are a good thing to have on hand.

Bottom line: yes, self-promotion IS a tough topic. Writing is a "lonely" pastime, and I think all of us would agree that a lot of writers aren't extroverts by nature and don't enjoy hyping-up themselves or their work. But, unless your publisher does most of this for you (who among us can afford to hire a publicist?), it's something that has to be done.

Steve Liskow said...

John, you've just touched on another point.

Yes, a lot of us are more introverted than not, but if you stay at your desk or keyboard constantly without some social interaction, it doesn't help your writing.

You lose touch with how people behave and respond...and you get a little weird.

I get to the health club three or four days a week and play guitar at open mics partly to see how real people interact, and partly because I'm already strange enough.

Oh, yeah, it's fun, too.

Melodie Campbell said...

Gotta say, I do miss the 90s, when an agent sold my comedy, and I didn't have to do anything but write (and occasionally show up for a gala and smile.) These days, I've made a rule for myself: I post something on Facebook or Twitter only when it's new, when it's on sale, or when there's been a really important review, like Booklist or Library Journal (not merely Amazon reviews.) In other words, when there is *news*. What I hate is authors posting the same thing over and over again, on Facebook and Twitter. That's spam.
Adding a short book plug to the end of a blog post? That's different, and perfectly acceptable, I feel, John.

John Floyd said...

What? Writers are weird??

I think you're right, Steve--the image of the writer closeted in his/her office with the shades drawn and the phone disconnected is over and done--but I still know many writers who say they're uncomfortable with public speaking, and even with conferences or crowds. I'm crazy enough to enjoy all that, but that again is another story. I agree that it's a great benefit to get out and experience the real world, and I'm sure your musical performances--like my fiction classes--wind up helping you write as well as helping to "get the word out."

Melodie, I like your point, about posting to Facebook when something new comes out or something notable happens. I actually think people LIKE that, and want to see it. And yes, I think what gets irritating is when we see the same posts or get the same emails over and over and over again. All this is such a hard thing to get a handle on, and I still, after all this time, haven't figured out how to do it right.

O'Neil De Noux said...

My publisher and Fans of O'Neil De Noux just started posting about my 'lost novels'. Didn't know they were lost. They're right on my bookshelf. It stems from readers coming to one of my rare signings and finding books on the table they didn't know existed. I keep referring them to my web site, but people pay more attention to social media than websites. I don't know the answer to publicity. Hell, we thought original oil paintings of nude women on the covers of THE BLUE NUDE and NUDE IN RED would attract readers. Nope. Heads up y'all - the saying SEX SELLS doesn't work. The 21st Century is full of prudes. Damn English sent their Puritans here and they are still around. John Steinbeck once said, “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”

John Floyd said...

Hey the paintings attracted ME, O'Neil. But you're right, nobody knows the secret--I guess if they did it wouldn't be much of a secret. I do think it's great that your fans are out there blowing your horn--that's fantastic. As for signings, I'm supposed to get down there in your neckathewoods before long, and I'll try to get some De Noux fans to drop in. (How's that for BSP?)

Larry W. Chavis said...

One thing I find offputting is to find a daily (or more than daily) FB post from the same author about the same book for days, weeks, even months on end. Not that once is enough, but an unending stream is too much.

Peter DiChellis said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post on a delicate topic. For my BSP, I try to remember a lesson from the years I spent in advertising. Always ask: What's in it for the audience? Why should they spend their valuable time engaging in my promotional message?

John Floyd said...

Larry, that IS too much. Reminds me of telemarketers and robocalls--just blitz the universe and offend the masses in the hope that you'll get a few "bites."

Peter, good point! That's a lesson we can all learn from. If I keep it in mind, maybe I can take some of the B (and the BS) out of my self-promotion efforts. Thanks for your thoughts.

The crazy thing is, I think all of us have good intentions here. No one WANTS to be a nuisance. It's just hard to be realistic and practical about it.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

What grinds my nerves are the authors who post every couple of hours about their book day after day on FB. All that does is make me think of them as spammers.

Anyone who had paid any attention at all to my blog knows guest posters are more than welcome. All I ask is that folks stay away from politics or religion unless it ties directly into the book or project as those are live wire topics. Despite my openness to just about anything, I have very few takers.

That also is why I stopped doing excerpt Sundays where folks could come and have the first chapter or whatever they wanted from their book as an excerpt. Other than Bill Crider and a couple of other folks, nobody took advantage of the opportunity.

Same thing is also true of the SMFS blog where I have constantly begged list members to generate content and gotten nowhere.

It is what it is and these days I don't have the time or the patience to try and get folks to help themselves. And I certainly won't be reading the folks who claim to be the only one doing whatever or hammer the FB groups four and five times a day.

John Floyd said...

Hey Kevin -- Thanks for stopping in, old friend. I think you're the second person to point out that repetitive FB posts about the same project are soon regarded as spam--and are, at the very least, not taken seriously.

As for promoting our work through guest-posting at other blogs, I am one of those guilty of not taking advantage of that opportunity. Since I post a column two or three times a month here at SleuthSayers I honestly can't think of anything more to say that would be worthwhile (or even anything that wouldn't be). I am well aware, though, of your continued generosity to those of us in the mystery-writing community, and I thank you sincerely for that.

O'Neil De Noux said...

John, let me know when you're coming for a signing. I don't want to miss it.

John Floyd said...

Thanks, O’Neil—will do. Hopefully I’ll be at the 2nd & Charles in Covington sometime this fall.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Announcements of book signings and events can be posted on my blog to hep get the word out.

John Floyd said...

Thank you, Kevin. I plan to do that, and hope others will too.

Judy Penz Sheluk, author said...

Awesome post. I have definitely unfollowed authors who are constantly "Buy my book." I get that we HAVE to try to sell our books, but that, to my mind, is not the way to go about it.

It's funny...I have gained the most FB "friends" and "likes" by posting pictures of my dog, Gibbs, with cute little blurbs, the most recent his attempt at "Downward Dog" yoga pose on my author page. And as much as I've never been a huge FB person, friends and followers do tend to buy your books, share posts etc.

My blogs that share bits of my personal life -- sunsets at the cottage -- get the most hits. People want to know we are regular folk, not, as you so aptly put it, a snake oil salesman!

Judy

John Floyd said...

Hey Judy! Sounds as if Gibbs has been hard at work, advancing your writing career!!

I agree that FB posts, blogs, etc., are good and reasonable ways to reach potential book-buyers. As you said, though, the best way to do that is to try to be natural and unassuming. I think most of us can spot, and tend to avoid, the all-out, insensitive sales campaigns that some authors use. There is indeed a fine line between honest enthusiasm and overstepping.

Many thanks for the insights!

Mary Sutton said...

I hate talking about myself. I rarely seem interesting to me so I figure why would other people think anything I said was interesting?

And I always feel a little weird promoting. "Hey, I wrote this. Maybe you'll read it - pretty please?" Ugh.

John Floyd said...

Mary, I feel the same way. The truth is, most writers just don't have the personality traits one usually needs to be an effective salesman. I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing, but circumstances are such that nowadays most authors do have to "sell" their work, at least to some degree. A sign of the times . . .