When Self Promotion Attacks

I was recently reading a discussion over on the Amazon discussion boards about a new feature Amazon is introducing, to try and crack down on the infestation of blatant, clumsy, and otherwise invasive self-promo that has been cropping up, choking out a lot of reader discussion. (One reader called the forum “Village of the Spamned.”)  The readers on the romance forum were overjoyed that Amazon was finally policing their policy.

Frankly, I can’t blame them. And as one commenter pointed out, “the worst part is, their publishers are telling them to do this.”

The difference between good self promotion, and bad self promotion.

You’ve got a book coming out in a few months.  Your publisher tells you, “You need to start building your platform!  Get out there!  Get on some forums!”

They don’t tell you what to say, or how to say it.  They’re not quite sure which forums they’re talking about, although “That KindleBoards thing seems to be really hot, look at what it’s done for Amanda Hocking!”

They don’t tell you about the culture.  And they don’t prepare you for what’s about to happen next.

One of the lowest rings in hell.

If you’re a true introvert, going into a busy, social forum can be like going to a cocktail party where you don’t know anyone.  You’re a little nervous to make a comment, because you’re afraid you’re either going to be mocked or ignored.

At this point, you’re not quite sure which is worse.

But your publisher has told you to get your name out there, and damn it, you’re about to tunnel out from your cubicle with plastic spoons you’ve stolen from the break room. You are going to make this book a success if it kills you.

So you jump on a board, and announce:

“Hi, my name is Jane Author, and I’ve got a book out in two months.  It’s about (one sentence high concept elevator pitch)!  I hope you like it!”

Then you duck behind a couch and pray that the worst doesn’t happen.

What’s the worst?

You will hear one of two things.

One:  the awkward chirps of crickets as there is a huge crush of indifference to your post, and various conversations continue around you.

Or two:  the quick “fwoomp” sound of flamethrowers being lit, as you are roundly pointed out as a self-aggrandizing clumsy promowhore who is automatically not going to be purchased by anyone in the near future.

Actually, there is a third sound you might overlook: the soft “click” of a link called:  report abuse.

Obviously, you don’t want to do that.

Don’t do this, either.

Some authors try the Clumsy Random Segue.

Let’s say there’s a discussion going on about albino vampires who drink V8.  You have a vampire book.  You then post a comment like this:

“I love vampire books!  In fact, that’s why I wrote my vampire book.  It’s called Puncture and it comes out in June!”

Again.  Crickets or flames, or that soft little click.

So what do you do?

Pretend you’re a reader.  Only a reader.

That doesn’t mean put on the persona of a reader.  That means tap into that part of yourself that started out just loving books, unaware that you would also one day be writing your own and having them published.

It doesn’t mean that you lie and say you don’t write books. It means you don’t mention it unless someone asks.  Don’t make a big production of it.  Don’t make a signature block that looks like a billboard.

Just say, “Hi, I’m Jane Author.  I love books by (favorite authors.)”


If you can give something to the conversation, even if it’s just “I didn’t know about this author, thanks for the rec!” or “I can not wait until (whoever’s) next book comes out.”

Or if you know other authors that you genuinely love, not that you’re trying to impress or whatever, mention them.

“So how does that help build my platform?”

One is the number one reason why readers don’t read your books?  It’s not because they don’t know about them.  It’s not because they’re not interested in the concept.

The number one reason a reader doesn’t buy your book is because she does not trust you.

These days, even $1.99 can be too much to risk on a book that’s going to suck.  She needs some reassurance.

She doesn’t need to hear how cool your premise is.  Doesn’t want to know who your main characters are.  Doesn’t care about your blog tour.

She wants to know that you’re like her: someone who loves stories.  And who hates being harassed by over eager advertising.

“Am I supposed to befriend 100,000 readers to make a bestseller list, then?  I don’t have that kind of time!”

There is a short-cut, of sorts, to this “get to know me” approach.  If you’re on a forum, odds are good you are connecting with connectors.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he mentions Connectors, people who are part of a large group of “loose bond” friends.  They also tend to be really plugged in, and have an almost compulsive need to share information with their networks.

You don’t need to know everybody in the network.  You just need to know the Connector… and have her vouch for you.

They even have a fancy information marketing name for it.


I’ll be blogging more about social proof soon, but in the meantime, if you’re on a forum, think about what you’re posting.  Pretend you don’t know you.  If someone sent you that post… how would you feel?

If you’ve been the victim of some other author’s self-promo attack, or otherwise found this article helpful, be a love and hit the Retweet button, please?  😀


I just wanted to clarify a few things, after some very cogent points from the fine folk on the Amazon romance forum.

This is NOT advocating “okay, Amazon is cracking down, we’re just going to be more covert in our attempts to snag readers.”

This “strategy” is not about figuring out a “sneaky backdoor to promotion.”  No, no, NO!

Yes, you want to promote your books as an author.  Nobody’s saying shave your head, wear brown paper robes and give away your fiction for free.

What I am saying is:  people in forums do not wish to be “promoted at.”

Let me repeat that, loudly.  PEOPLE IN FORUMS DO NOT WANT TO BE “PROMOTED AT”!

So what do they want?

They want to have conversations about books they enjoy, and don’t enjoy.  They want to share a love of reading and connect around a passion we all should share.

They are not sheep waiting to be fleeced.  They’re not a market to be harvested.  They are people who love to read.

I’m going to be blogging about having a strategy without sounding like a criminal mastermind, too.  Sounds like I’ve got a busy week!  😀


12 Replies to “When Self Promotion Attacks”

  1. >>It doesn’t mean that you lie and say you don’t write books. It means you don’t mention it unless someone asks. Don’t make a big production of it.<<

    Okay, full disclosure: I am a publisher and an author. I am confused by the above statement. I am adamantly opposed to authors force feeding their books to readers on forums and the like, BUT to tell authors not to mention their book until someone asks is not a viable option. Especially if you don't use your signature properly. They cannot ask if they do not know.

    No one knows you have a product if you do not tell them. Now, to tell them over and over, and never contribute anything else is horrible and should be a hangig offense, but there is absolutely no reason and author cannot introduce themself and their work if it is relevant to the topic at hand.

    The V8 slugging vampire topic should allow an author a brief intro to their target audience without backing off with singed fingertips. It's not spam if you say it once in a public forum and then let readers ake their own choice. It is suicide to never tell anyone about your book because you are afraid you will offend someone.

    On the other hand, if the topic is religion with regard to self-fulfillment, then your vampire book is probably not relevant no matter how you spin it. Authors need to be smart enough to know when it's the right time.

    But to tell them not to do it, is like telling a preacher not to remind sinners there is a hell.

    Authors are in business and they have a product to sell, never promoting that product is the kiss of death.

    Karen Syed

    1. Thanks, Karen, for being so honest!

      I’ll try to be more clear here. This advice is more for forums and message boards, and blog comments. If it’s a thread where they’ve already said “if you’ve got a book out, let us know!” that’s one thing. But I personally believe that if you mention your book, even if it’s relevant, especially on one of your first visits to a forum, you’re going to get a bad response.

      This is not about worrying re: offending. (And I can hear several friends snickering because I’m not generally shy to offend. ) This is just simple cause and effect. If you look at the Amazon forum I’ve linked to, I think the responses from readers, and one particularly smart author, show that they don’t care whether or not an author “should be allowed” to do so.

      Rights be damned, this is how they feel: blatantly promote at your peril. You’re gonna get singed, and worse, you’ve been warned.

      I don’t think all forums are quite this vocal, but with the proliferation of authors out there, I think that the abuse of a few is washing back on the many. I think if you become a contributing member of a forum, you’ll find that people get to know you, and will spread the word about you. At least, that’s been my experience.

      If you’ve been a member for a few months, I think that you’ll find a safe place to announce your book release. I think you can enlist the help of your friends, once you’ve actually cultivated some friendships. There is a lot of footwork involved, and I personally believe if you’re not authentic with that, you’re going to get mixed to no results.

      I am certainly not advocating “never promoting.” Coax them, connect with them. Lead them to where you do describe your products, through your social media, your blog, your book landing page. Make other connections through a systematic blog comment strategy. Have a pre-launch plan.

      I think a carefully thought out plan of connection and tribe building is much more effective than going to random places and shouting your title, whether you’re genteel about it or not. Not all publicity is good. Just my opinion.

  2. The necessity of self-promotion and the pressure to do so is a lot like bomb defusion — it needs to be done and YOU have to do it, but one misstep and BOOM! You’ve destroyed your credibility with potential readers. Thanks for an excellent blog and some usable advice.

    1. Well, I think it takes more than one misstep to truly knock yourself out, and I think you can rebuild a rep over time. (Trust me, I have pulled some real facepalm stupidity while promoting! ) Still, if you can avoid it, all the better. Glad you found this helpful! 😀

  3. Great post; great comments; great replies! This is a really touchy topic and folks approach it very, very differently. I am very introverted and it’s hard for me to announce myself out of the blue. I generlaly take a “wade in and get my feet wet” approach. I started slow and built on and, I think, have found my stride. I don’t hear as many crickets chirping and I think I’ve stopped stepping on toes and annoying the heck out of people. (I *think*) But like you said, no one tells you how to do this and even when they do, they can only tell you waht works for them. I’ve made many mistakes and tried to learn from every one. You can’t unring a bell but the good news is that the world isn’t generally hanging on your every word so if you screw up in one forum, you’ll know to do better in the next, and so on. Again, GREAT post and I’m glad I came across it…

    1. Thanks so much, Rusty! I think taking it slowly as an introvert is the smart way to go. Building gradually from a foundation is also perfect. Love the phrase “can’t unring a bell!” Stop on by anytime.

    1. I swear, one of my missions in life is to create a promo system that’s easier for ficiton authors. (Like by November.) 😀

      Thanks, Erin!

  4. Great discussion. This is such a tricky thing. People are being told to go to these 5 or 6 places and promote your books and then that’s all you see there – even the writing groups are full of self-promo. As an author, you don’t know what to do – do I mention my book, do I not mention it? If I don’t mention it, how will they know? I agree that the best way is to have somebody else mention your book. But how do you make that happen? lol! It’s crazy out there. I just mentioned on Facebook that my news stream seems to be all authors promoting their books and I’m not their target audience – I’ve got my own books to promote. And they probably don’t want to read about those. I’ll be tuning in to see your new promo system.

    1. It is tricky. I’ve had to sign off of several loops that simply devolved into a few people promoting their work rather than really contributing to a conversation. Not that I wish them ill — I just didn’t get anything, and I didn’t feel like the posts I was contributing to were being heard. It’s like when you talk to someone, and you know they’re just listening for a gap so they can start talking again. 🙁 Like you said, you’ve got your own books to promote; just because you like writing doesn’t mean you’re an easy target!

      I’m still working out the promo system and getting some case studies together, to see how it works. But will definitely let you know when it launches! 🙂

  5. Thankx for the post Cathy. I enjoyed it as both a self-published, self-promoting author and an author publicist. I set this link up to post several times over the next month to my social media because I think others will really benefit from it and the lively discussion. And of course retweeted and “liked.” Thankx Cathy.


  6. I think I’m quite familiar with the Rings of Hell when my first novella came out. I tweeted myself almost a year, then the light bulb went off and I’ve got a regular growing reader/author following. New authors are looking for credibility given to traditional published, established authors. It’s hard, but in the long run I love it. So I have around 100 FB friends and my friends have 5K. It will grow but it takes commitment. The social network experts give great advice, and I recommend to any new author to seek them out for advice. I try to stay on target in the reading/writing sphere, also starting reviewing other authors’ work. I’ve learned much from that.

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