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“Like” it or Not, I’m Still Going to Promote my Book, by Jude Hopkins, 4/14/24


If you’re an author published by an independent publisher, you are responsible for most of your book’s promotion and marketing. With the number of books published every year (2 to 4 million), getting strangers to buy your book is a Herculean task. As Tom Rachman wrote in “On the Pitfalls of Book Promotion in the Internet Age,” being a novelist “retains a shimmer of prestige with only a glimmer of the audieence.”

     Simply put, the author has to work at promoting her book, given that small presses don’t have the financial wherewithal to fund a marketing campaign to get a book out in front of that glimmer. What makes it even more challenging, as Rachman says, is the fact that authors, for the most part, aren’t marketers: “The skill-set for literature is not necessarily the skill-set for promoting it.”

I’ve found that after time (a few months—no more than five), some people, mostly friends who follow me on social media, have had enough of the promotional process. Like everything that is no longer redolent of that new car smell, your book ages like a song you’ve heard too many times in a grocery store. Nevertheless, you, as author, remain pressured to drive the number of books sold, so you keep churning out mentions of your book on social media, hoping to reach someone who has yet to read it. What doesn't go away is the ardent—and omnipresent—hope that one more post will result in more books sold.

To reiterate, people eventually quit feigning interest. They scroll by a promotional post and hope to find someone else doing something more exciting—and new. My question is this: At what point does book promotion turn on an author? At what point do even friends find posts or memes of your book cover off putting? And should that be enough for you to quit doing it?

I may be at that point now, ten months after my book’s debut. I presume every one of my friends who are going to buy my book has already done so. No need to pitch to them anymore. To them, the book is dead in the water—at least on some social medium platforms like Facebook. 

       Of course, some friends continue to be supportive regardless of how many times they’ve seen the cover or read the excerpts. They will “like” posts, no matter what, God bless 'em. But others not only will ignore, but some seem to actively disdain me, the book or the posts. From these friends, the message is clear: Don’t bombard us with more of the same about your damn book. We’ve supported it. Now let’s move on.

  That translates into not clicking on the “like” button on the post or interacting in any way.

Maybe humans detest overkill in general. It might just be human nature to give a new book a time to flourish; after that, it’s done, like anything else in this fungible society.

  Whatever the reason(s), I’m not going to stop promoting my book online.

  A book is something different. A lot of people want to write a book. It embodies persistence and hard work and a certain amount of talent. It has, limited though it be, a certain cachet. It may no longer be a big deal to the saturated audience, but it is to me.

  Is envy a part of their disgust? I read an editorial in The Washington Post this past week titled "How Feeling Envy helped me in Life—Mostly" by Stacy S. Kim. In it, she wrote that "harnessing the power of envy was a tool I shared—figuring out how to use it as both compass and engine to a desired career or life, without it becoming toxic....[We should] emulate, seek advice and sometimes even collaborate with those...once envied to find something more rewarding."

Do something to earn your own moment in the sun and post about it. If you're envious, then write your own book—or do something creatively comparable. Or "like" the promotional post instead, and no one will suspect you're the slightest bit envious. You'll come across as generous instead.

But if, instead, you hope, by your lack of interaction, to dish out some comeuppance to the too-ubiquitous author, forget about it. Your motives are transparent. As the great Irish writer Brendan Behan wrote, "Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done; they've seen it done every day. But they're unable to do it themselves."

Yes, I get it. Maybe once-enthusiastic supporters think they've already spent all the allottable goodwill in praising or acknowledging my book. God knows, I've "liked" their children's and pet's photos over and over again. Is it different with a book? As mentioned above, a book has some heft, something many people wish they had written because it still means something. If so, it can deepen the response after a certain point. And sometimes that takes the form of no more interaction online, since an author's humble bragging or gloating is equal to a venial sin in some people's estimation.

Which leads me to the imposter syndrome. Do some people hope, subconsciously or not, that after so much conscious waning of support, the promoting person will be humbled to the point of being forced to question her ability to do anything worthwhile? Nothing would make some detrators happier than taking such an ambitious friend down a few notches. Let her question herself. Let her think she's an imposter who got lucky.

I quote Rachman once again: "I feared that I was an imposter in writing. I've come to wonder if all literary novelists are imposters now, barging into the culture, holding up reams of pages, saying, I wrote something—look at it!...How presumptuous: engaging in make-believe, asking strangers to admire it. They too have something to say, and nowadays can, commenting, filming, liking, downvoting."

And most of them do, after a point. In my case, no person has yet to be so rude as to downvote by a thumbs down icon, but absence of any interaction can send a message almost as loud.

I got a similar vibe when I'd post reviews of books I'd read. Few interactions. Who did I think I was, reading such stuff? I was only showing up others who chose mainstream fare to read, not the high-minded books I was reading.

It seems, as I analyze this, that it's always safer and more acceptable to identify with the common man or woman, willing to act humbly rather than as one who aspires. Richard Hofstadter, who wrote about American mediocrity, said this: "Intellect is resented as a form of power or privilege." No wonder we're in the mess we're in. The truth is, I do read a lot of challenging books. I have a few friends who do, too. I like such books. I learn from them. But if I get too big for my britches, the message some folks might wish to be sending me is "Who does she think she is? We know her as the small-town girl she truly is, not the imposter she fancies herself."

I've always wondered what's wrong with pushing outselves into thinking bigger and broader and deeper. I want to know what great writers have to say about being human—and read how they said it in ways more timeless and memorable than a lot of most contemporary literature does. Maybe not reading challenging books makes us feel we're like everyone else, and dammit! that should be good enough for us Americans. Besides, who likes an upstart? It makes others feel bad or inadequate because everything's personal these days. Or maybe it tamps down the feelings we'd rather not address.

So, I'll continue to promote my book notwithstanding the sighs and comments my doing so incites. I'll do it because I wrote a damn book, am proud of it, want a wider audience and hope to write more. That's something I can't shut down, no matter the criticism it invites.

Tom Rachman sums it up beautifully: "I've been an imposter, unsure what I was doing here, frazzled by a caterwauling, distracted, outraged world, my thoughts firing, hesitating to say them—so I put them onto paper, fighting with sentences, removing commas only to replace them, judging myself a failure, hating that I minded, despairing at my irrelevance, writing to cure myself, wanting to say something that'd make others listen, trying, trying, most failing."



     

     

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