03 November 2018

How B Is Your SP?

by John M. Floyd

This past Tuesday night I attended the "launch" of The Barrens, my seventh collection of short mystery fiction, hosted by Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a fun evening, with a (thankfully) good crowd and a lot of old friends and fellow writers; I signed at five o'clock and then did a reading and Q&A. My publisher always considers the date of the Lemuria launch event to be the release date of the book, so he waited until afterward to get copies to the distributors for other area bookstores. (I did cheat a little, though: a few weeks ago Michael Bracken and I participated in the Bayou Writers Group conference in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and since this was out-of-state I was allowed to take copies of the as-yet-unreleased book along to sell at the conference. Maybe not as exciting as the early release of a new iPhone, but still . . .)

Anyhow, we had a good time at the book launch, and the whole experience reminded me how we writers not only have to write--we have to promote as well. And I'm not good at promoting. I have nine or ten more signings scheduled between now and Christmas (most of them at Books-A-Millions on weekends), and I always enjoy those because it's a chance to see old acquaintances and make new ones, as well as sell books. But arranging all this and publicizing it isn't fun, for me. On this particular occasion earlier this week, it was especially hard because my mother had passed away a little more than a week earlier, and my heart just wasn't in it. I wound up not having the time to mail out any written invitations--I sometimes do, because I have a few friends who don't like computers or social media--and ended up sending out only a few emails and Facebook messages and posting the event on my FB page a couple of days beforehand.

Spreading the word

I'm fortunate in that my great publisher handles most of the publicity and advertising, produces and furnishes my bookmarks, brochures, posters, press releases, etc., and sets up my interviews and events. He not only enjoys doing that, he has the contacts and he's extremely good at it. He's the main reason my book launch was successful. Don't get me wrong--I have the utmost admiration for fellow writers who self-publish and thus pretty much do everything themselves. But doing everything would be hard for me. I'm afraid I just don't like the "business" side (the non-writing side) of writing.

                        An unexpected sketch by my friend Bill Wilson, at my "launch" signing.

Back to the subject: My signing event the other night, and all the preparation and commotion involved, made me wonder--not for the first time--how much promotion is too much promotion? On the one hand, I owe it to my publisher, and to myself, to help make sure the word gets out and to try to make the new book as successful as possible. That's common sense, and good business. I certainly want it to be successful. On the other hand, I don't want to be a nuisance. In a world where we're bombarded daily with phone calls from telemarketers, endless commercials on TV, and newspapers so packed with advertisements it's hard to lug them into the house from the driveway--well, folks who sell things need to tread softly. And I think we probably agree that there's a fine line between being informative and being a pain in the ass.

The B word

We all joke about BSP. Everybody knows, by now, that we're not talking about the Bulgarian Socialist Party or Business Systems Providers. We use the abbreviation often, and playfully admit that our self-promotion is blatant in order to somehow lessen its aggravation--but it can still be aggravating. At best, the reader/listener welcomes the news, sometimes he sighs and endures it, and at worst he flees from the room and runs screaming down the street.

Remember, BSP is a slippery little devil. If you watch closely you can catch it sneaking its way into regular conversations and otherwise unbiased pieces of writing. Example: the first paragraph of this column, which I wrote as a sort of an introduction to today's topic, is thinly disguised BSP. So is the sketch I included, above. Look at me, everybody--I've got a new book!

But let's face it, self-promotion is necessary, at least to some degree. Not many people are fond of blowing their own horn, but even in the midst of the groaning and eye-rolling from your audience, one fact remains: if you don't blow your horn, who will? My publisher, as effective as he is, can only do so much. The rest is up to me.

Aggressive or excessive?

So here are the big questions. How much promotion do you feel comfortable doing? How far are you willing to go to ensure that your name and your product are recognized and will be successful? What part of it makes you uncomfortable? What's the right mix?

They're tough questions to answer. A lot of it depends on your personality. A shy, amateur writer will have a harder time crowing his message from the rooftops than, say, a writer who's a former salesman or politician. And on the receiving end of that, some of us have lower annoyance thresholds than others. Personally, I really want to know when new books are coming out by Stephen King and Lee Child and Joe Lansdale, etc., and from most of my writer friends. Books by other folks . . . well, I don't much care. And hearing about it too often is irritating.

Where do you set the limits, if you set them at all? When and where is self-promotion most effective? Least effective? Most and least maddening?

I'd like to find out before my next book release.


  1. Hi, John --
    First and foremost, I'm sorry to hear about your mother. I hadn't heard this latest sad news, though I knew she had been having poor health recently. I'm hoping you and Carolyn are doing OK and your whole family as well. Sending good thoughts now and always.

    In another direction: Congratulations on the new book, of course, the great launch, and the other events ahead. And thanks for the great post here on marketing and promotion—touching on the challenges we writers face in that department, both internally (personalities) and externally (are people getting sick of us?), and how to navigate all that.

    Best wishes as you make your way through with the new book here! An exciting time, I hope, even in the midst of a sad one.

  2. Yes John, I set limits. I have 15 published books, and am a former professional marketing director.

    I advertise on Facebook and Twitter when I have *news.* I do NOT spam everyone every week with my books that are already out. So...when I have a new release coming, I inform everyone of the launch date. When it is available on Amazon et al, I post that. When I have an in-person launch, I post that info. If my publisher has a sale on my book/s (therefore news) I post that. But posting continually about a book that has been out a while...that's where I draw the line. I really hate seeing posts over and over about a book I've already heard about.

    If I'm lucky enough to get a review from EQMM, Library Journal, PW or Booklist, I'll post that. Again, it's news. But usually those come just before or after a book is out.

    It's the golden rule. Why would anyone want to see continual posts with the same news? I'm sure my friends and readers wouldn't want to see that from me. But of course they want to know if a new book is out.

  3. John,
    I'm sorry to hear about your mother, too. And, again, congratulations on the new collection.

    I don't enjoy promotion, but I'm self-published so it's necessary.

    In late January, I usually print out an updated bio, a one-page description of my workshops, and visit 37 libraries in central Connecticut with bookmarks and business cards. I try to talk with every librarian, explain my programs, talk about my books, try to arrange a discount for sales to that library, encourage writing groups, and whatever else I can do. Many libraries in Connecticut have had budgets slashed and may not even know how much money they will have yet, but I try to get my name in early.

    There are a couple of new bookstores in the area and I visit them, too. So far, no luck.
    I do several workshops at a delightful writing venue twenty miles away, but they can't accommodate many people. It's a terrific place, though, and I'm planning an upcoming blog about them.

    Outside of that, it's carry bookmarks and business cards with me in my gym bag, guitar case, and glove compartment. My bookmarks have my picture, website and Facebook page on one side and my thirteen titles on the back. I'll have to get new cards soon because the fourteenth book will be out before Christmas.

    The best promotion is still a good book, a good workshop, or selling another short story (You certainly know about that better than I do) so I can post that on various sites.

    As for "too much," there is a local author who posts frequently about his events and tells how many books he sold at each event. A few of us have suggested to him that less is more, but he hasn't figured that out yet.

  4. Art, how kind of you. Many thanks. Yep, the last half of October was a sad time. Mom was in the hospital for a week but was then allowed to go back home, and died peacefully in her own bed, which was, I suppose, a blessing. We miss her terribly but she had a long, happy life.

    As you know, any book launch is a thrill, and a mix of fun and stress. All of us had a good time there, and I think it was good therapy for me right now. As for BSP, I'll probably continue to do it because it has to be done, and probably continue to wonder if I do too much of it.

    Take care, Art, and thanks again. Best to you and family.

  5. Melodie -- Good points. Your skill and experience as a marketing director is coming through, here. That's a great measuring stick: if it's news, let people know.

    Steve -- I too have seen huge cuts in library budgets, and it's good to hear about your strategy there. Sounds as if you have a great plan, and it's working. Fourteen books!!!!--it MUST be working. And yes, the workshops are always a great way to promote your writing--I hadn't even mentioned that.

    Many thanks to you both for sharing your thoughts. I think all of us can use good advice on this subject.

  6. John,

    You seem to be doing it correctly.

    I think too much self-promoting turns off readers. But I could be wrong. I've gotten a few mean comments on social networks when we pushed a couple of my books.

  7. O'Neil, there's always somebody who'll complain, about anything. You just have to do what you feel is right.

    I think I get less forgiving as I get older, of being hounded by folks selling something, whether it's authors or lawyers or shoe salesmen. But, as has been said, a certain amount of SP is required of writers, self-published or not, and everyone knows that. Keeping it balanced is a hard task.

  8. I think as long as we aren't as annoying as all those Robo calls pre election, writers are doing well with promotions. Personally , I am energized by meeting people and talking about books -- mine or others. Congratulations on another published book. Many condolences about your mom. I wish I did not know exactly how you feel. Praying for your family.


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