tl;dr: See the image. But hopefully a trifle more polite.
Earlier today, Delilah Dawson posted a piece on her blog entitled Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work. I discovered the piece when a fellow independent author Tweeted out an approving link to it. I suggest you go read it before you continue further here.
I am thinking carefully about how best to respond to this piece, and part of me feels like the best way to respond to it is to pretend I never read it and walk away. I am struggling with tone, for one thing. I will admit that at the moment my blood has been angried up a bit. I’m going to try to keep that from coming through; my apologies if I fail.
Let’s start with this: I sold six books today. So far in April I have sold 53 books. In 2015 I have sold 236, and over my entire career as an author– which began last May— I have sold 760. I am using an idiosyncratic definition of “sold,” as well, because as far as I’m concerned if people download something I’m offering for free that counts as a sale. Quibble as you like, if you want. I made an attempt to get my book Skylights traditionally published. I sent out query letters to agents for months. It failed. I’ve sold 115 copies on my own, and “sold” means “sold” that time.
My point is this: I am small-time. I am small-time, but the trendline is absolutely pointing the right way. My third book comes out in less than a month. It is looking, right now, like launch day for that book (April 28!) is going to be the best day I have ever had for sales.
And if I had paid any attention to anything Delilah Dawson says in her post, I would not have sold a single damn book. Well, okay. My mom might have bought one. Maybe a couple of my aunts. But that’s it.
The piece starts off oddly. The post-colonic part of the title reads Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work, but the first half of the piece appears to be about why stupid self-promotion doesn’t work, which is not the same thing. In fact, I agree with a number of the points Ms. Dawson makes here. Facebook, for example, is genuinely useless, and it’s useless because they’ve deliberately crippled it. Twitter messages from “insane cuckoo clocks” are ineffective. I admit to being entirely clueless as to why anyone would attempt to use Instagram to market books, and I’m a year older than Dawson is and I promise I understand Tumblr even less than she does. I’ve sent my book to a handful of book bloggers who I genuinely thought would like it (and gotten good reviews in response) and I don’t have a newsletter. (Possibly appending a “yet” to that last one.)
Stupid marketing is stupid. Wasting time is wasting time. These are both bad things. But neither of these reasonably lead to Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work, and they sure as hell don’t lead to Shut up.
Let’s continue. Allow me to quote a section of the piece:
Are you seeing the thread here?
Social media is PUSHING.
And today’s reader doesn’t buy things because the author pushed them.
As a reader, I want a book to pull me.
When I see a book’s name pop up again and again among people I trust, I want to read it.
When the cover is beautiful and the hook is compelling, I want to read it.
When I meet the author and they are gracious and kind and insightful, I want to read it.
When I listen in on a panel and like what I hear, I want to read it.
When I chat with someone on Twitter, and they make me laugh and add value to my life, I start to think that their book might add value, too.
How, I ask, are any of these things actually possible without some degree of self-promotion by an author, particularly an independent author? Here is a list of people who will promote my work if I don’t do it:
That is the entire list.
I’m an independent author. I don’t get invited to be on panels. Amazon isn’t doing anything for me to put my book cover in front of readers. Bookstores won’t stock me without some mighty buzz, and Barnes and Noble won’t stock me at all because CreateSpace currently handles my print distribution. And while I’m doing a signing in a few weeks– my first one, in fact– signings are terrifying, and finding opportunities to do them is not exactly easy.
So how in the world do I make that connection with readers if I’m supposed to “shut up” and not promote myself? The answer is simple: I can’t. It’s literally impossible. I can be the most charming person in the world on Twitter and if I don’t occasionally say oh by the way folks you might like The Benevolence Archives not a one of those people I’ve charmed is gonna type my name in the search bar at Amazon to see if maybe I have a book. Not one of them.
Another couple of pull quotes, if I may. This is all one paragraph, but I’m breaking it up for the purpose of responding to it:
I have a book out tomorrow, and I feel like I’ve done everything in my power to get the word out. And I also feel like what I’ve done is not enough. And I can’t imagine what amount of publicity or work would *ever* feel like enough.
I suspect what you have not done, Ms. Dawson, is shut up.
There is no road map to success here. Most of the authors seeing the results I would like have either been writing for 20 years, have publishers dead-set on a bestseller and paying mad bank to help it happen, or wrote a book better than what I believe I’m capable of writing, and all I can do is keep trying to level up.
This part of the paragraph is exactly and completely true and I feel exactly the same way about my book.
One more tweet from me is not going to get HIT on the airport bookseller shelves, and it might just lose a few followers who are sick to death of that teal and blood-spattered cover.
And here’s the rub, right? There is a balance here, and shut up is not a proper response to that necessary balance. If all I ever did was Tweet links to my books, no one would ever click on them, and I’d have nothing but spammers and ‘bots as my followers after a while. If my blog contained nothing but promotional material about my books, no one would read it. I have to be interesting in order to have any chance of the promotion being effective.
When I put Skylights on one of those Kindle Countdown Sales last month, I Tweeted about the sale roughly once an hour. I was rewarded with 31 sales over five days. Is that a lot? Not to a Real Author, I imagine, but for me it was immense, especially since every one of those sales resulted in money in my pocket. And if I’d not promoted it, I’d have had zero sales instead of 31. On an average day, if I’m on Twitter at all, I’ll Tweet about my books two or three times– at least once for Skylights, and once or twice for Benevolence Archives since it’s available in a few different places.
Has that lost me some followers? Maybe. I don’t care. We will both be fine. Will “one more tweet” get your book on the bestseller list? Probably not. But it might get one more reader to notice you, and at my rung on the ladder I need every reader I can find. And shutting up will find me zero of them.
Two anecdotes and then I’ll shut up. This portion may be a bit snide, and I apologize for it in advance if I come off that way: I am only aware of who Delilah Dawson is because of Twitter. I’ve been following her account for some time, and at one point was under the impression that she was a fellow indie author; why I thought that is lost to the mists of time. I didn’t realize she was agented and traditionally published until I had reason to look at her profile one day just a few weeks ago. Most of the trad-pubbed authors I follow (or, mostly, have on a list) are folks whose work I have read. I have not read anything of Ms. Dawson’s, but I’m going to order a copy of Hit, her new book, because I love the cover:
The only reason she’s made that sale is because of Twitter. Now, I’m sure she’ll sell many other copies through non-Twitter methods. I’m not trying to pretend that the $3 or whatever she’ll get from my hardcover sale is some magic set of dollars that she needs to treasure forever. She’d live if I didn’t buy her book. I’m not doing her a favor. But Twitter sold that book.
The second anecdote: I said earlier I’ve sold six books today. Before I found out about this article, I had sold five. I literally sold a copy of my book to someone who was talking with me about whether Twitter sells books. It entertained the crap out of me when she told me about it.
Twitter does sell books. It just does so slowly.
Blogs sell books. But, again, they do it slowly.
Self-promotion sells books. It is, in fact, the only thing that sells books, if you’re an independent author. You just have to make sure to not be an idiot about it.
I’ve got a plan here, kids, and while I completely agree with Ms. Dawson’s contention that the most important thing is to write the next book, it would be nice if someone would buy the first books while I was doing that.
And if I shut up?
They never will.