Thursday, February 10, 2011

Blatant Self-Poisoning

ROSEMARY: Last weekend Sue Ann Jaffarian and I had a terrific time in Alabama - first at Murder in the Magic City and then at Murder on the Menu - two terrific events which we both heartily recommend and which benefit the Homewood and Wetumpka AL libraries.
In our down time - when we weren't yakking about the Super Bowl, the snow and upcoming events we got to talking about a subject that's never far from any writer's thoughts - promotion.
Sue Ann had us in stitches and I asked her if it was okay to reprint this piece she wrote on a new and virulent form of BSP.

SUE ANN: Recently I was having a meal with a friend – another author. As always, our conversation turned to discussing books we’d read, those we were reading and those added to our To Be Read Pile. When I mentioned a book I’d recently picked up, she groaned.
“I wanted to read that book,” she said, “but if I see one more word about it or even the cover again, I’ll vomit.”

Not exactly the response the author of that book was going for, I’m sure.

What went wrong? Why did my friend go from dying to read that particular book to considering it a leper?

The answer: Too much blatant self promotion.

For any newbies out there, blatant self promotion or “BSP” as it is fondly and not-so-fondly referred to in the writing community, is when an author personally pushes his or her own book. It’s not the promotional campaign the publisher puts in motion.

Sadly, I couldn’t disagree with my friend. I’d seen the author’s personal promotional campaign myself. If you spent any time on the Internet, it was impossible to miss. Blogs, digests, social networking – you name it, the author was there hawking the book over and over like a cure for cancer. I’d read so much about it, at times I felt I’d already read the book itself. Which leads me to wonder if, like my friend, I should even bother.

BSP – every author does it. We do it every time we open our mouths or type anything about our own books. What’s more, every author MUST do it. There’s no getting around it.

Lack of sales can translate into lack of future contracts. Something every author is keenly aware of and fears. We can’t be shy or overly humble about promoting our own books. If we don’t believe in them, how can we expect readers to plop down their hard earned money for them, especially in such a shaky economy. We have to walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to having confidence in our own work.

But when does blatant self promotion become blatant self poisoning? When do we cross the line from helping ourselves to hurting, and possibly even killing, ourselves in front of readers? What’s the cutoff, the edge of the cliff, between having faith in your book and shoving it down people’s throats until they back away in horror? When does confident PR start looking like an act of desperation?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am curious and a bit worried.
You see, my book, Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini, the 2nd installment in the Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series, was just released (there, I got in my own BSP), and I sure don’t want to turn folks off.

ROSEMARY: It's a fine line. And the rest of us joked about it all weekend - starting every other sentence with.. "in my first book XXXX, available from XXX and on Kindle for only XXX."
What do the rest of you think?

Visit Sue Ann at


  1. Such a great question, Ro - I've witnessed self promotion that seems so frantic it's embarrassing, and so counter-productive.

    But we all have to self promote! I think an author who self promotes can neutralize the poison by, among other things, being genuinely interested in other people, not just because they can buy your book. Also by being supportive of other authors instead of trying to hog the spotlight.

  2. I want to thank Jungle Red for having me 2 days in a row. I promise not to be a pest.

    The interesting thing about this post was how many readers commented on it when it was originally published. And they weren't shy about voicing their displeasure about over-the-top BSP. Most said exactly what you did, Hallie, that authors should be genuinely interested in others, not just in pushing their books.

  3. Very wise comment Hallie! I was going to say over-the-top promotion is like pornography, you know it when you see it. Unfortunately, it's too late by then.

    One suggestion is to watch how veterans you admire handle this. And Hallie's suggestions are right on target. And Sue did a good job here over the last two days by bringing something to the table--she made us laugh and she poked some fun at herself too. Makes it seem like those are books you want to read!

  4. Moderation! It's not possible to hit every blog and list, no matter how hard we try--and some writers try very hard. But as you point out, Sue, when you've seen the same "buy my book!" post everywhere, you get annoyed.

    And sharing. If you're using social networking, etc., readers need to get to know an author, and that takes ongoing participation. If a reader sees the author only when he or she is trying to sell a book, the reader feels used. You have to build a relationship with your readers over time.

  5. Hey, Sue Ann - it's great HAVING you here for 2 days in a row. Such insightful posts.

  6. And Sue Ann,...very very clever, how you manged to get your cute self here for two days...xoxoxo You could NEVER be a pest.

    And great points--every time I hear an author begin a question that's not about him/her with "In my new book XXXX," I just--stop listening.

    There's also a point on social networking, or even blog commenting, where you see that happening. I think--him/her again? Just saying: "Great post!" It's sometimes the on line equivalent of a rubber stamp. And people know that.

    Um, right?

  7. Hank..good point...I refer to that kind of post as
    "You're right, Bob!" followed by the eight line signature.

    As someone who's just about to start the process again, I hope my inner Sue Ann alerts me if I step over the line!

  8. Before I comment, I'm going to check if I CAN comment. Blogger didn't like me yesterday.

  9. Yikes, I'd better rethink my "good post" posts! I often do that to let the blogger know I read the post and liked it, so they don't wonder if their thoughts are floating out there in some black hole.

  10. Ha! We're friends again.

    I've been thinking a lot about this lately because I've A) recently become a member of this blog B) am blog-touring around the internets to let folks know about the upcoming book and C) have had several heated discussions with a man whose name rhymes with "Floss" about the proper mix of "social" to "marketing" in social media.

    I think if you use the same rules for being a good dinner party guest, you can't go too far afield.

    1. Bring something to the table. If it's not potluck, sing for your supper.

    2. Don't hog the conversation. Encourage others to participate.

    3. Don't just sit there thinking of your next bon mot, listen to what others say.

    4. Keep a sense of humor.

    5. Don't stuff your face or drain the wine bottle. Everything in moderation.

    6. Manners!

    7. All Joints on the Table Will Be Carved. (Okay, that's not really applicable even as a metaphor, but it was one of my grandmother's sayings and I can't resist it.)

  11. Julia - please say to "Floss" for me. :)

    BSP is such a tough issue to pin down. One author's 25 guest blog posts in 25 days may be overkill, yet it works for a different author just fine. I wish there was a magical solution...

  12. If you want to see what readers said in their comments to the original posting of this topic, you can read them here. I also received quite a few via FB and Twitter.

  13. I suspect there is no magic formula here. I wholeheartedly agree that the author must be genuinely interested in other people's books--and other people--and if not, it's quickly obvious. And I think you have to be able to sense when you've reached the tipping point on self-promotion, but there will always be those who lack the self-awareness. Just like there will always be the boors at the dinner party. Love the analogy, Julia!

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  15. Sue Ann, hmmm. I see what you mean. Interesting. Maybe it's the eight-line signature Ro refers to that's the turn off.

    I do agree..sometimes it's nice just to hear "Hello." So, as we all seem to be deciding, it depends.

    Julia, that is quite perfect!

    (When we sat on the floor, my mother would say: "Bugs on the floor get stepped on." I bet the tone was exactly the same.)

  16. Julia, I'm printing your 7 points and packing them for my next book, which I'm gearing up to promote.

  17. Great post!

    Laura DiSilverio
    Author of an Award-nominated Book
    and the Forthcoming Next Novel
    Appearing at Many Place this Month
    and on Many Fabulous Blogs
    Am I at eight yet? :-)

  18. Can't write...laughing too hard..

    Laura, we're giving you a TIME OUT

  19. You're all out of control - and that's not a bad thing. Gee, I like hanging it out here.

  20. Great topic! When a writer's FB and Twitter posts resemble the volume of political ads the day before election, I tune out. Sometimes forever. You'd hope creative types would be more creative.

    Promotion is a 24/7/52 job. Sometimes I think it would be easier to date a movie star and let the tabloids get the word out. "seen at the party in a vintage Chanel holding, as always, her latest novel XXX."

    As if.

  21. What a great topic! Sue Ann, not to worry, you brought something to the table.

    Love the dinner analogy and I'm printing that list also.

    Sorry, I can't even think of an eight line signature. I guess I'll never have to worry about BSP.

  22. Ah, I wish, too, Rochelle. Hey, when do you need "the thing"???

    And Pat, you never know...xoxo