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Opinion: Promote Your Self-Published Books Your Way

Opinion: Promote Your Self-Published Books Your Way

Debbie Young waving book

I do it my way (photo by Rebecca Millar)

In this week's Bookseller magazine, the trade paper of the British publishing industry, Sarah Shaffi writes:

“Authors should feel comfortable with any digital activity they are asked to undertake, using tweeting, blogging, and other online platforms to build an audience, rather than explicitly becoming a tool to sell books.”

While her article focuses on the relationship between trade publishers and their contracted authors, I believe the same applies to self-published and indie authors. While acting as our own publishers, we can be even harder taskmasters. I think it's time to cut ourselves some slack, folks!

Just because we can tweet/Facebook/Pinterest/Instagram etc around the clock, it doesn't mean we should. Too many of us believe that if we don't put in a significant amount of time, effort and budget into doing so, we're failing.

Drop that thought right now. There are now so many ways to (try to) influence our book sales, if we did nothing else for the rest of our lives, we'd still go to our graves clutching a long to-do list. I say, let's focus on writing our books, and pick and choose what marketing we positively want to do.

Terror of Twitter

Twitter bird outline

Twitter – not always as lovable as it looks

So, if the idea of staging online conversations in fewer than 140 characters makes you cringe, avoid Twitter. Twitter might be good mental exercise for any writer wanting to polish up his precis skills, and it might be a fabulous way of identifying readers that you couldn't reach in any other way, but if it feels like torture, it'll do you more harm than good.

I'm personally rather fond of Twitter, and am enjoying Ian Sutherland's new book, Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors, on how to become an “advanced” Twitter user, but this week, pressed for time, I'm using it only frivolously, as comic relief to myself, because I have other priorities. (Key topics of today: my bad habit of sitting on my foot while I'm writing, cooking rhubarb in a slow cooker,  and my talent for falling over.)

Fear of Facebook

A protagonist, that's me (image via www.16personalities.com)

A protagonist, that's me, according to www.16personalities.com (their image)

If you're going to be irked by people posting cat videos and games requests in front of you every day, forget Facebook. On the other hand, you may find that a bonus!

Again, I like Facebook, especially the ALLi forum and the various pages that I manage, but I find it much too easy to spend unproductive time there. For example, I've just done yet another personality test that's doing the rounds. By my age, I should have worked out who I am already. By the way, the test told me I'm a “Protagonist”, which made me feel like I should  be featuring in my own novel, and reminded me to get back to writing it.

Affiliate Anguish

When I set up a book blog earlier this year, I found that the pressure to add affiliate bookstore links every time I mentioned a title put me off posting at all. So I've ditched the links. When I started using the Amazon affiliate links, I thought the facility was fabulous: if someone clicks one of your links, you get commission on anything they buy in the store for the next 24 hours, not just on the item that they clicked. How cool is that?

But then I started to feel bad that I wasn't also adding affiliate links to all the other online retailers, in the interests of fairness. I didn't want to upset Kobo, for example, if they saw my website full of links to their rival, nor bricks-and-mortar stores who saw me driving all my readers to online stores. On the other hand, I'd worry that I'd only added the UK and US links – would that offend friends in other countries? I didn't want to come across as xenophobic.

Actually, as a reader, a blog full of multiple store links distracts me from the content of a blog post. I recognise that by turning my back on these opportunities, I may be reducing the number of books I sell, by not making it as easy as possible for a visitor to my site to hop over to buy a book. But frankly, if someone lacks the wit to remember my name or my book title long enough to paste into the search engine of their favourite retailer, they're probably too dim to read my books. It's not as if my name or my book titles are hard to spell or remember.

Doing It My Way

cover of Bartleby the Scrivener

Photo via Amazon, ironically enough

Some online tricks and widgets I'm happy to stick with, e.g. the ALLi Affiliate badge, which you input only once to your sidebar or footer and it's there forever, earning you 30% of the first year's membership fee for anyone who joins the group after accessing the website via my link. I've done nicely out of that, thank you very much, sometimes earning commission from complete strangers.

Equally, I was happy to set up the “find your nearest bookshop” widget in my book blog's sidebar, in the interests of supporting bricks and mortar stores, but there's still no way I'd put it on every post.

So from now on, I will try not to feel the need to justify my actions every time I turn my back on a marketing trick. Instead, I'll take inspiration from the eponymous character from Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, who, as I remember from high school, quietly declines opportunities with the refrain:I would prefer not to”. My English teacher, Mr Campbell, (who I think quite often fancied using Bartleby's line in staff meetings), would be proud of me. Even if, in the story, Bartleby does eventually die of starvation.


Does the pressure to “do it all” get on top of you, or do you think I just need to get a grip? Do you have pet hates that you feel obliged to accomplish? I'll be glad to hear your views, though I reserve the right to carry on as I am!

Want the excuse to ignore Twitter for a bit? Here's why @DebbieYoungBN does Share on X


This Post Has 39 Comments
  1. It is good advice to do it the Frank Sinatra way, my family history book called TURNER TREES by KEITH POTT TURNER, was always going to need more marketing than ‘Fifty Shades’ there is only one person who is interested in selling your own book, so make sure you ‘bake your own bread’ so to speak. Try some experimenting and tagging your book to a similar subject, also I would advice people to make a book trailer and make use of their author page, it works for me.

  2. I decide to focus on twitter for the “social” aspect. Although as you might know it’s a bit … well tricky under 140 characters. Sometimes it’s unclear when I’m trying to be funny, and I just come across as a prick weed.

    One thing I’ve considered is pinning book tweets to top, and focus on getting to know people.

    I want Pinterest to do the heavy lifting, so I use that platform to post my varied interests. Sort of like if you’re wanting to build a character profile, but instead of a character it’s you. Which may or may not help depending on what you’re looking for.

    The hard part for me is I like very very experimental genres.

  3. Thank you for sharing your advices.

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    Books Butterfly does $0.99 book and free book promotions to email lists of 125,000+ email subscribers. We have 128,888+ daily active readers. We offer a prorated refund in case a promotion does not hit the specified targets. We’d really appreciate it if you’d add our site to your lists of useful resources.

    Our Page for Paid Book Promotions

    Our Page for Free Book Promotions http://www.booksbutterfly.com/order/?tag=op250_free_blogs_2_selfpublish

    Where we promote: http://www.booksbutterfly.com/order/wherepromote/?tag=op250_selfpublish

  4. Thank you all for your comments! I myself feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of promoting it will take to sell my first book. I am not a natural in the marketing arena, especially on the internet. I love that you said to “do it my way”, it made me take a deep sigh of relief that I am not alone or “am not cut out for this”. I love the challenge the whole process of writing and getting my book published, it has definitely made me grow and feel good about myself. I will peruse Twitter and a few other options as fully as my time will allow. My book will be released the first of August so I am busy building my platform, Twitter does sound like fun. I invite you to visit my website, sueroya.com and would welcome your comments. Most of all…enjoy the journey! xo

  5. What great timing for this article. I just this weekend posted a note on my Facebook wall that I’m “done with Facebook for a while.” It certainly is a productivity sucker-outer, and it’s a bit discouraging, honestly, to post info on blog posts and updates on my published work only to get one or two “Likes” — sometimes nothing. There’s problems with how FB posts to one’s “Friends” of course, but there’s also just the overkill factor.

    More importantly, I think a lot of the “social media” advice to writers isn’t specific enough. For those writing non-fiction of all kinds, social media makes a helluva lot of sense as a tool. But for those of us who write fiction, especially general or literary fiction, I have questions about the real value of all that effort. Reviews, guest posts, readings, blog posts, and somehow developing a presence at sites like Amazon, Kobo, B&N (and smaller boutiques) seems like a more productive, though time consuming approach.

    1. Seems I’m not the only one who questioned it’s value for fiction.:/ Plus when you have trade publishing people follow it’s easier for me just to hide than debate the value of self-publishing.

  6. […] What If You Can’t Be Bothered With Twitter? The current issue of The Bookseller discusses the huge emphasis placed on social media for authors, indie and traditional alike. Social media is “not the most important thing”, writers and industry insiders say, while author Benjamin Wood, who is active on Twitter, said that online media had “begun to resemble an air balloon that has to be inflated with the tepid gas of  ‘content’ every day to keep from crash-landing, and this presents a problem for most writers.”  Kristen Harrison of The Curved House, says it’s “important to have presence and visibility, but people put a lot of emphasis on promotion, which is the number one way to demotivate an author and turn readers off”. She added: “Ultimately an author needs to be comfortable with what they are doing and saying online.” Blogging, as opposed to ballooning, the feature suggests, may be the more comfortable route for the timorous tweeter. (The Bookseller article was also the starting point for this week’s Opinion piece on the ALLi blog.) […]

  7. I would go to Jane Friedman’s web site for how to think about social marketing. She has lots of great thoughts about that. http://janefriedman.com

    You should have your own domain. A place that you cam make the rules. You have no control over places like Facebook that can change the game anytime they like. They can even lock you out.

    Then there is a moral problem. I simply will not use Pinterest as it is a huge violation of copyright–just read their terms and conditions. You do know that when you pin something to Pinterest that you are stating that you have the copyright of the material and that you transfer that copyright to Pinterest.

    1. Hi William… this bit about transferring copyright was new to me, so I read the Pinterest Terms and Conditions again. Here’s some relevant bits I pulled out:


      “Pinterest allows you to post content, including photos, comments, links, and other materials. Anything that you post or otherwise make available on our Products is referred to as “User Content.” You retain all rights in, and are solely responsible for, the User Content you post to Pinterest.”

      And in their own words… “More simply put: If you post your content on Pinterest, it still belongs to you but Pinterest can show it to people and others can re-pin it.”


      “You grant Pinterest and its users a non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, store, display, reproduce, re-pin, modify, create derivative works, perform, and distribute your User Content on Pinterest solely for the purposes of operating, developing, providing, and using the Pinterest Products”

      So based on these segments, there doesn’t appear to be any transfer of Copyright, it seems to be more of a licensing agreement. I’m a big Pinterest fan, and work with authors to incorporate it into their social media strategy. Would it be possible to let me know where you read that there’s a transfer of copyright? I’d like to investigate to make sure there’s no ambiguity around content owner’s rights.

      thanks, Jay

  8. I’ve decided to focus on Twitter as a way to build an audience by connecting with others. I haven’t quite mastered it yet, but I’ll get there. The concern about wasting time on Facebook is a valid one; when am I supposed to WRITE? For now, I figure I will write one day and connect with others on Twitter the next. Let’s see how we’ll that system works.

    1. Hi Nathaniel.. sounds like a good approach. Set yourself a daily (or session) time limit to connect. And just focus on the task and hand (connecting with others, not scrolling through twitter streams getting side-tracked scanning content!) There’s plenty of tools that will help to streamline the process of monitoring mentions and notifications… Tweetdeck is the one that I find most useful for the task. It allows you to create targeted streams to track, and you can clear each stream after you’ve reviewed it. So that each day you are starting with a clean slate.

  9. Debbie (and Jay in), first of all, thanks so much for the shout out about Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors.

    I have to agree with the sentiment behind your post. Lately, I’ve got completely caught up in a massively long list of digital marketing related things to do (reworking my website, trialing Facebook advertising, landing pages, mailing lists, etc) leaving very little time to write. I’ve decided to give myself a deadline to complete all this other stuff and then knuckle down on the next book because, as you quite rightly say, there’s no better marketing strategy for an author than getting the next book out.

  10. Thanks, Marianne. RSI does focus the mind on the essentials, doesn’t it? I think that’s a good point about Twitter – it is a bit easier to flit in and out of (I often tweet when I’m on the move, as a passenger in the car, or in a queue), and much easier to tear yourself away from than Facebook! But attitude is all, and I’m glad you’re able to reassure your students from your own experience.

  11. Excellent advice! As someone who must limit time on the computer due to repetitive strain injuries I find it difficult to manage all the “musts” concerning marketing and promotion with writing. I recently decided to put my blinders on and focus on finishing my WIP. This means limiting time on social media. I also use automated tools to get the job done. Twitter is my platform of choice and easy to get in and out of on the fly when a free moment arises. I teach self-publishing classes and when I introduce this topic to my students I see panic. It’s overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be.

  12. Great post for me to read this morning Debbie – I like Twitter, am not so keen on Facebook but have had to step back from it all in order to write otherwise I’d never get the next book out…and on that note I am off editing 😉

  13. You had me at “I would prefer not to” — which has been my secret mantra since high school, too!

    If only “I would prefer not to” was compatible with “I would prefer to get more readers.”

    I am wasting much more time anguishing about how to promote without making a pest/ass/(rest of this redacted due to obscenities) of myself than I would actually promoting. But I can’t seem to break out of the “read this new book about promoting” cycle and actually do it. Can’t decide if it’s fear of failure, fear of success, or just that my mother-in-law is living with us… until November!

    If only she would prefer not to…

    1. Teehee! The trouble is, there will always be more how-to books out there (and I am guilty of adding to the crowd with mine). I have several more buried in the black hole of my Kindle, that I will get round to reading one day, but in the meantime, I prefer to get on with writing my next book…

      Maybe NaNoWriMo will come just at the right time for you, Lindy!

  14. Great post, Debbie. Definitely agree with your sentiments – have recently given myself permission not to feel I should be doing Twitter/FB more than the modest amount that I do and enjoy. The ‘just get on with writing the next book’ has got to be the best advice, hasn’t it? The biggest problem is reading an inspiring post like yours and wanting to add a comment when perhaps I should be working on that book… must dash!

  15. I agree wholeheartedly. When I first heard about Twitter I was like, that’s great if you’re already famous and already have a fan base, because really, who ever got famous for tweeting, and then became known as a great artist?

    1. Good point, Andy! I think Twitter is great for helping an author to reach audiences whose interests match their books via appropriate hashtags, and I don’t know of anything else that can do it the same way, but I don’t see it as an end in itself.

  16. I have to say I struggle with this daily, but think I have it even worse than you Debbie.
    I often procrastinate on posting anywhere as I go round in circles with wanting to have “all my ducks in a row” first. Like having xyz on my website finished first so that when I post on Facebook and people go look at my website they will find xyz related information.
    Or “I just have to set up xyz first” to maximize on the opportunity before I can post, tweet etc about it, and so consequently I seem to move forward at a very slow pace with blogging, posting etc.
    Does anyone else suffer from this? If so how do you deal with it?

    1. I know what you mean, Vanessa. ALLi’s Karen Lotter always advises that everything you do should radiate out from and lead back to your author website – so I suggest you try making updating your website the leading duck in your roW!

  17. How ironic is it that I showed love for this post by re-tweeting it?! “The best marketing is to write the next book”. It took two years for that to sink in, but I believe it now. Even Hugh Howey says nothing much happened for him until he had six books out. I recall him saying that first he saw royalties pay a bill each month. And then it paid a bigger bill, and so on. And damned if he isn’t right! I post to social media when I have something interesting to say, and the rest of the time I don’t worry about it.

    1. Haha, yes, gotta love the irony! Thanks for citing Hugh Howey’s advice there, Kathryn. Five or six books is a figure that crops up a lot, and they have to be five or six books in the same genre – which makes it particularly hard for those who write in different genres, as I do! (No more than two in any one area at the moment, not counting singles.) I think I’d better put a sign saying that over my keyboard, to keep me on track whenever I’m tempted to spend too long on social media! I’ve also just put an egg-timer on my desk so that when I say to myself “I’ll just take a quick look at Twitter” or whatever, I can time myself and make sure it really is a quick look!

  18. Great Article Debbie .. and sound advice that authors need to settle on what’s works for them and ignore the rest. I began my book marketing journey spreading myself too thinly, trying to be everywhere and ending up feeling that I wasn’t meeting the criteria for success on any one of the social networks.

    It was only recently that I’ve settled on the one’s that I look forward to using. For me, Twitter and Pinterest hit the spot. They help me reach my goals of engaging with an audience, but they’re also enjoyable. So it doesn’t feel like effort to use them.

    Nice shout out for Ian’s Twitter book. I bought a copy at our Indie Fringe event at Foyles (part of IndieReCon 2015) – and started putting the techniques into action straight away. The basis of his approach is to automate certain activities to create a solid foundation of SHARP content – so that you can focus your time on engaging and interacting with people. In just a couple of weeks my audience has grown organically, and the level of engagement has been amazing.

    So when it comes to “doing social” only do what feels right for you. Social is personal, and what works for one author, won’t necessarily work for you.

  19. I too agree with this posting. I’m 69, and I waited until retirement to begin my “writing career.” I don’t have the energy for doing everything everybody tells me I should be doing every day, every hour, every minute. I’d really just like to enjoy writing, living life with my husband, and doing something I want to do every once in a while.

    I will finish my book. I will market. I will publish. I will not become a droid-like creature living on all social media outlets only because someone else says it will make me successful!

    Living happy and healthy is success!

  20. Dear godlings, how I hate Bartleby! That story drove me absolutely nuts when I was in school. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the comparison, because I would love to be able to say “I prefer not to,” but then I wouldn’t sell any books.

    Seriously, the problem comes when I start trying to think of marketing methods that *don’t* feel like torture. If I eliminate them all, then nothing’s left except playing with my website and writing the occasional blog post (the subject matter of which basically has nothing to do with my books, alas — when I try to blog about the subjects my books are about, I apparently have nothing useful to say). Which aren’t really marketing.

    Any thoughts on how to deal with that?

      1. Unfortunately, you can write and publish as many books as you want, but if people don’t know about them, they don’t sell.

        I have 8 books out. I’m lucky if I sell 10 copies of all of them combined in a month.

        1. You said a mouth full on that one. Five books that I have gotten great local reviews on do nothing on Amazon. Spent money on promotion both through Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and a radio talk show host. NOTHING has broken but my wallet. My sixth book is in stall mode due to the discouragement. Many say it’s about doing it because I like it but I like fishing too.

          1. I’m with you, M.M. and Jerry. 10 books, and I’m lucky to sell 15 books of all of them combined in a month. I’m totally discouraged, too. Writing is not a hobby. I want to make money, but I’m not.

  21. I so agree with this, Debbie. I tweet/use Facebook etc when I want to and have stopped worrying about what/how often I should be doing it. I don’t blog but that’s not to say I won’t in the future. It’s just that I’ve chosen not to do it now. Once you stop beating yourself up over it, it’s quite liberating.

  22. Thank you for this article!

    I’ve been slowly coming to this same conclusion. I’m still figuring out how to build my online platform and the idea of joining all the social media networks was freaking me out! I use a couple of things on a regular basis. I think I’ll just stick to those for now. 😉

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