I recently read an excellent post by Rowena Cherry on some of the cardinal sins writers commit, and it really struck a chord, probably because in the past I've been guilty of most of them.
So here's my advice on how to to make blatant self-promotion (aka BSP) less blatant...
- Mailing lists: only add people who actually agree to be added. I've opened my inbox to discover newsletters from people I served on panels with, people I helped out by reading their manuscripts, and people I've never even heard of. As it is, I receive a few hundred emails a day- the last thing I want is more to sift through, UNLESS I signed up independently. The irony is that some of these newsletters I probably would be interested in, but being added without my permission is such a turn-off, it puts a black mark next to that writer's name for me.
- Newsletters: Send them out occasionally, and as John so aptly said on Friday, only when you have real news to report. If I'm getting a newsletter from someone on a weekly basis, I tend to delete it without opening, or to unsubscribe. Not many of us have exciting news occurring on a daily basis (I'm lucky to have one exciting thing happen a month, actually). I tend to send out newsletters 4-6 times/year, mostly clustered around release dates.
- Newsgroups: A large portion of those hundreds of emails that I receive originate from various newsgroups and listservs. And invariably, on almost a daily basis, there's a post that starts, "If you like reading such-and-so, you'll love my new thriller about...The best way to get people interested in your book is not to push it every time someone starts a thread about Lee Child. Participate: if you enjoy those author's books as well, say so. Be an active member of a listserv, not just popping out of lurkdom to announce the release of your latest opus. Because unless the other participants have some familiarity with you, chances are it will do more harm than good. As you build up a presence, then you can-OCCASIONALLY- mention your next book. Better yet, just include the title and release date as part of your signature. As members start to recognize your name, they'll most likely become curious about your work, too. Anything else smacks of tooting your own horn.
- Groups like GoodReads, 4MA, Shelfari, Dorothy L, and many others exist mainly for fans. I remember one time when the author of one group's monthly read discovered they were discussing his book. He joined the list, and popped up with all sorts of explanations. And the conversation promptly shut down. Because the truth is, sometimes fans are thrilled to have an author participate in their discussions- but if that's what they want, they'll usually invite you. If you show up unannounced, you become the equivalent of a party crasher. They clearly were not about to say anything negative about the book when the author was reading every word (after all, some of these fans have their own manuscripts tucked away in a drawer, and wisely didn't want to annoy someone they might seek a blurb from down the line). If you're going to take part in these groups, do so as a fan. If you want to directly promote your book, take part in GoodReads giveaway program, or buy advertising with one of the sites targeted to readers of your genre.
- Likewise, if all you do on your Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter pages is post updates on your own work, everyone outside of immediate family will probably rapidly tire of it. It's the virtual equivalent of the guy at a cocktail party who won't stop talking about himself. Instead, post links to interesting articles you stumble across, writing-related or otherwise. Respond to people who take the time to comment on your links. Answer messages people send. The trick is to have a real dialogue, rather than perpetually shouting the title of your book from the rooftops.
- Poking, hugging, and otherwise molesting social network friends: personally, I find the deluge of emails inviting me to join fairy kingdoms, battle mobsters, or start a farm annoying. I barely have time to maintain my ongoing feud with the Petriarca family in real life, for Pete's sake, never mind planting green beans that I could actually eat. Now, I know there are people out there who love those aspects of Facebook and MySpace; but don't assume that others want to participate. That checkbox, where you can invite all your friends? I recommend avoiding it. Same goes for virtual hugs, flowers, postcards, angels, and whatever else is out there.
- Make it easy for people to sign up for your newsletter, and to friend you on the social networking sites (in other words, clear and user-friendly website design is crucial). Also make sure to keep the information on your website current.
- If you see that someone has read your books on Shelfari or Goodreads, extend a friend invitation- then it's their choice (this works better with people who liked your books).
- Keep your author pages up to date across all social networking sites, focusing mainly on the ones you have the time and inclination to maintain.
- Bring a notebook to any and all author events, making it clear that people only need sign it if they want to join your newsletter mailing list.
- When you craft a newsletter, keep it short, to the point, and interesting.
- On the newsgroups, follow my Southern friend's "ABC" rule- Always Be Charming. Getting into a spirited debate is fine, but there are people on the listservs who quickly become notorious for abrasive or obnoxious posts. That sort of behavior definitely won't help sell books.