HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR BOOKS (hint: don’t ask me) – by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko JohnstonMiko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

 

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Why do so many writers avoid or neglect promoting their work? Take me, for example. Deep down I believe I’m a capable writer, the author of books that are well written and enjoyable to read, literary enough to satisfy the mind, exciting enough to keep turning pages. But will I tell this to anyone? No.

I just did, you say? Not really. When you write something, you can detach from the words. Not so when you say them to someone face to face. With conviction, so they know you’re telling the truth and not exaggerating.

And it’s not just me. I’ve spoken about this to other writers, particularly women, and nearly all agree they have the same difficulty as me being direct when we talk about our work. We can state facts, like having a best seller on Amazon or having won an award. We can describe what the book is about. But if a prospective buyer asked us flat out if our book is good, I’m not sure any of us would answer, “Yes. Absolutely”.

I suspect one reason is what I call the Good Girl Syndrome. I was raised in an era when females were taught to be modest, not only in appearance, but in manner.  A proper lady never bragged, no matter how exceptional or accomplished. I think it’s why I find it difficult to talk about the quality of my novels to prospective readers, despite my enthusiasm.

I’m not alone. I belong to a writers group that has banded together to sell our books at local Farmers’ markets. We help each other and sell whatever is on the stand. I only feel comfortable presenting my own books to customers when they ask if any of them are mine, or if we carry historical fiction. A handful of writers plug their own work, often blatantly, and they sell far more than I do. Most of us hang back and let the customers decide what they want to buy, or we talk up each other’s books. Maybe that sounds more sincere.

I’m thrilled when I hear people who’ve read my novels tell me how much they’ve enjoyed them, how they’re looking forward to the next sequel. More than one has urged me to “hurry up and write more”. I’m most flattered when someone far from my target audience compliments my work. Yet somehow I can’t turn that around and use it to encourage others to buy my work. This has led to a theory: In fiction, the good guys win. In life, the good girls lose. But it hasn’t led to a solution.

 

22 thoughts on “HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR BOOKS (hint: don’t ask me) – by Miko Johnston”

  1. Promoting ourselves is the elephant in the room for most writers. So maybe this post is a way to have other writers give some suggestions on what works and even what doesn’t work. What works is doing events even if there are only three people in the audience. I did one with four authors and only one person showed up. We did the entire program for her. But doing any kind of event is better than doing none. That’s my suggestion. Where do you find these events? Ask a local shopkeeper or librarian or woman’s club if they would like to have an author speak at their venue. Some do say yes.

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    1. Good suggestions, Gayle. It does take some effort and putting yourself out there. It may feel uncomfortable, but if (and I know it is) your book is good….how will people find it among the MILLIONS of books available unless you tell (okay SHOW them)?

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  2. So true, Miko! It’s far easier to praise a fellow author’s work than my own. I think it comes with practice, though. I’ve done several author events, and as GB points out, that can generate sales and word-of-mouth buzz. I’ve been asked to speak about my new, as-yet-unpublished novel to an alumni group composed of former co-workers, and thank goodness for my Toastmasters club where I can practice and refine my “pitch.” I think talking about the book itself, or how you came up with the idea, or the research you did, is a good approach instead of saying yours is the greatest book since [fill in the blank.] That’s very hard to pull off without sounding like an egomaniac, but if you simply talk about the story and what it means to you, that seems to hit home with readers.

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  3. I’m always amazed by authors who can promote themselves without a second thought (doubly so if they’re super arrogant about it. But then again, those are the ones whose writing tends to be…meh. C’mon, you know what I’m talking about). Writing is such an introverted experience, and I think it draws a lot of introverted people to it. So glad I found an agent to go to bat for me, but promoting my self-published stuff…yikes.

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  4. BLATANT SELF PROMOTION are all bad words for some authors, but if most of us strive for “blatant” we will arrive at barely moderate. You don’t have to be obnoxious, just persistent and as thorough as you can. This is your book, your “baby,” you are asking people to consider and admire (buy), not your self. You “gave birth to it.” It’s your pride and joy! Show it off. Direct them to its winsome features.
    We can come up with good ideas – we are authors. How about asking ourselves “what if–” as it pertains to advertising our books. If personal appearances are difficult, how about working on an email list, not only of friends and acquaintances, but of groups and organizations that might have even the smallest interest in your book’s topic or theme. Perhaps a short blurb or piece of a review might kindle interest. (Or a chance to appear and speak, as Bonnie mentioned.) Use that email list to begin sending out monthly newsletters about you, your appearances, your progress on the next book (joys and frustrations, research finds or road blocks – I love how Louise Penny does this), or interesting trivia connected somehow with your books.
    Other writing blogs might be willing to interview you about your book, especially if it is in a similar genre and you offer a free copy to give away (or for the interviewer to read beforehand). Query a few of the online writing groups or better yet, join them for a feeling community. See how they are promoting their books.
    Use advertising bookmarks generously, in personal contacts or to leave in libraries , doctor’s offices, workplaces, stores etc.
    And developed a healthy presence on social media sites like Facebook (an author page?) and Twitter.
    It takes work and time away from your writing, but if in the long run many more people read and love your books, isn’t it worth it?

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    1. I find that getting your name out there can be easier than direct promotion. Joining writers’ organizations, going to conferences, actually schmoozing at book signings, buttonholing strangers with books, carrying and leaving your bookmarks all over, and volunteering for panels, charity baskets and book talks all can help. Social media is great, too – but I find special-interest groups (I write science fiction as well as mystery and women’s commercial fiction) can turn into book club appearances and interviews. And never pass up a chance to speak at a Public Library! There is a world of book buyers out there – they need to know who you are. It’s important to realize, though, that other writers – while readers – are not always interested in being bombarded by your promotions.

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      1. All good suggestions, Kate. It’s important to realize that not everyone will be interested in a particular genre, or subject matter, regardless of the quality of writing. Targeting your audience is critical.

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    2. I love what you said about striving for ‘blatant’ to attain barely moderate. I’ve always thought that the way to stand out from the crowd is to sidestep it entirely, avoid doing what everyone else was doing, but then you must find another way to reach your audience.

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    3. Glad you mentioned bookmarks, Jackie. I always have some with me, and a while back I was paying for something at my local Chico’s and somehow the subject of books came up. I asked the sales associate what she liked to read, and when she said “fiction,” my eyes lit up and I whipped out a bookmark. Don’t know if it made a sale or not, but you never know when you might get the chance to promote, blatantly or otherwise.

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      1. You reminded me of a time when I manned our Farmer’s Market booth alone. A woman approached and when I asked her what she liked to read, she said historical fiction that takes place in Eastern Europe. Fortunately, I had just the book for her – mine. Opportunities like that rarely arise, though, so writers should your advice about starting the conversation whenever possible.

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  5. Great post and topic, Miko! And all the comments, excellent. Lots of truth. I can say flat out I don’t like promoting, but I do like when others asks me questions or give me feedback on liking (even disliking!) my books. And I certainly feel wonderful and love when they say good stuff. I do sell books (not a lot) at the few events I go to, but it’s usually to someone I’m talking to about a shared interest, like mysteries etc. and they ending up buying a book. Go to few events these days–at a point where I don’t give a ### about the promoting, and not having the time/energy for promoting and writing. Right now, writing is winning.

    Again, excellent post.

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  6. Whee–finally found a minute to read Miko’s blog and great conversation on self promotion. I have a solution: Promote in pairs, each extolling the virtues of the other’s book. BTW, people who wander by the book booths at the farmers’ markets often respond to a friendly smile and an invitation to engage. “Do you enjoy reading?” That is not self-promotion. “Do you enjoy reading mysteries?” with a follow-up of “Here is my series.” could be considered pretty blatant. On the other hand, if you’re there to sell books…

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    1. When selling as part of a group, then teamwork makes sense. Bookstores may be more willing to book a group of writers for a signing than a single author (unless the author’s famous). Thanks for stopping by, Dot.

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