In which I refuse to shut up: a response to Delilah Dawson

no-utl;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.

Published by

Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

20 thoughts on “In which I refuse to shut up: a response to Delilah Dawson

  1. I enjoyed the article quite a bit actually. Didn’t make me angry at all. I agree with your points, but I think she does, too. She’s talking about the obnoxious style of self-promotion, which has unfortunately become synonymous with a door-to-door salesman with his foot in the door. I think what she was basically getting at is that social media is about selling the author before the book. Even your examples of talking with someone on Twitter – that’s you being a real person with another person that leads to a sale. Just my opinion, though.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Part of my frustration, and I didn’t get to this in the piece, is from the feeling that she’s punching down. She can afford to say DON’T PROMOTE YOUR WORK because she’s trad-pubbed and she literally has folks who make a living to shill her work for her. There’s plenty of room to be very clear about “don’t promote obnoxiously,” but “shut up” is not the way to start that conversation.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Given the whole tone of the article, I didn’t take it harshly… things like all-capitals “UGH.” in response to being added to FB groups without being asked, or “see you in hell” suggest it was a bit tongue-in-cheek.

        In response to her “team” working for her, this is true, which is why where I was talking about this with someone else, I added the caveat that indie authors DO need to go seek out reviews, but they need to do so in the proper forums. Social media isn’t that place. At least in my experience.

        I contacted book bloggers and did giveaways for a total of 15 reviews on an anthology I did the acquisitions editing for. They were hard won, but they helped sales immensely, because none of the reviews were from friends, or fellow authors. All of them came from avid readers who gave lengthy, honest reviews. This is turn made customers who saw the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads have more confidence in the buy. That’s the only promotion I did, other than sharing those reviews on the book’s FB page.

        It still makes sales now, and people contact me every so often saying they hope another book like it is going to come out again soon. not mega sales, but enough to build a loyal following. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I just lost my reply (grrr) so I’ll try again.

    I think the bias shows up really early in Ms. Dawson’s post, which is that she says she doesn’t like to ask people to review or otherwise engage people other than “colleagues.” She’s doing this from having a traditional publishing contract in her hands as well, which gives her the safety to throw stones and fail to realize that some of us aren’t just willing to do NOTHING until we have a traditional publishing contract, instead, we’re willing to try and climb the mountain ourselves.

    Ms. Dawson comes across, rightly or wrongly, as one of those people I run into every now and then who just wishes all of we “vanity published” (I get that thrown out sometimes) would just go away. Why? Because we’re just messing it up for ‘them’. I’m not sure how, but we’re “those people.”

    The perfect analogy, given I come from IT, are startups. 99% of startups outright fail, about 0.5% of them go on to become somewhat successful small or medium companies, 0.4% get acquired in an early stage, and … 0.1% become Facebook, Twitter or something else along these lines. These are my numbers.

    If we were to believe Ms. Dawson that one should not create, or work for, a startup because so many of them fail, because almost ALL of them fail.

    Those who “just want to be writers” are going to find themselves having a harder and harder time getting traditional publishing contracts as more and more experienced indies show up with author-preneurs. Those that are willing to learn what it takes to be successful, regardless of whether or not they can do it entirely on their own, will simply start earning those contracts more and more frequently. It’s analogous to the Microsofts of the world buying the Mindcrafts and what not.

    Ms. Dawson’s comment to the person with the blog was showing her type of spite. The real answer to that person (and it tells me a lot about the panel she was on), is to tell the person it’s a great challenge to find something of sufficient value to people, but it’s not impossible. That value proposition needs to also be looked at in terms of how it could be monetized, and it likely requires some innovation instead of just defaulting to ads.

    In Ms. Dawson’s world, it would seem that startups and trying something out of the current norm wouldn’t exist. Something that I’m sure if she had the right type of people on a panel with her, she’d have to admit needs to exist because ultimately it makes things better for everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dude. This is going to come across as way more catty than intend it to come across. Who is Delilah Dawson? I honestly do not know who she is. I MAY be following her on Twitter, and the name rings a bell, but I cannot place her.

    You are right about who will promote your books if you do not. Absolutely right. There is a reason I am spending nearly all of my free time talking on the internet instead of being by myself with a blank page and trying to write beautiful books and finish them and get an agent and go the traditional publishing route. That reason? Traditional publishing where you produce a book and send out a bunch of letters and someone picks you and says “yes, let’s sell this one” is dead.

    There is a novel titled The Last Day of Publishing. It is ten years old. I haven’t read it, but the title is telling, and I followed the blog of the guy who wrote it for YEARS. f

    I am so happy to see you looking at this as a long game and saying on your front page you have a plan (maybe you said that already and I did not notice, but I noticed tonight, lol).

    All the crazy social media stuff I spend so much time on is directed toward one goal, ultimately. Build a big-ass megaphone and use it to get writers read who can’t get read any other way.

    This is why I am so circumspect about engaging in politics on the Internet, and why I shied away from profanity in the early going.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Time to rebuttal with a link to a guest post by another commenter on this very thread! META!

      I link to Alex Hurst talking about Traditional Publishing because it got me thinking a lot (you may notice in the comments on her re-blog, in particular…). There’s a strong part of me that wants to go the Traditional Publishing route. There’s the practical side of me – the practical side that saw me getting a Master’s Degree in a non-writing field so I would have A Stable Job so that I could then afford to write – that is 100% literally completely with you, Gene’O. That we are building something awesome on the Internet so that we can be real, interesting people that people are really interested in, and then maybe they’ll read a book by one of us. Or if we’re lucky, both.

      But what that also shows me, and commenting with Alex Hurst shows me, and Luther’s post here… it’s about community. It’s about relating with people not as accounts or as followers but as people. It’s teamwork and collaboration. Having each other’s backs. Hard work, and time, and writing, and luck.

      And the reason that people go overboard on the marketing, automate it and hit every channel in existence? It’s because they’re desperately trying to control for that luck factor. I think we’re going at it from a different angle. We’re trying to control for luck via the Hard Work angle. Someone like Elmore Leonard (Now I’m linking to you… did it via more writing.

      Oh, and for Luther: why am I here? Others recommended you, and the A to Z Challenge. And now, I think I’ma go buy a book. And share some links on Twitter.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ha! Very good.

        There’s no controlling for luck, is the fundamental error in the automation schemes. The way to be unlucky is to try and get lucky. Diana and I have been plenty lucky, and I think that’s because we mostly do what we do, support our friends as much as we can, and most of all, maintain a sort of serendipity in our blogging that attracts luck.

        We’ve not been as lucky in the past six months as we were in the first six. That’s because we’ve gotten more rational and more controlling with things as we’ve gone along. We talk about our “growth,” but really, if you look at just our numbers, where we are now .vs where we were after the first six weeks of blogging is not a statistically significant difference.

        The significant difference is in the friends we have. And that is not about numbers. It’s about honest relationships. We’re doing good, but you’d never know if you just looked at our traffic. It’s all about the threads, and the parts of the internet that are hard to see. Like the secret Facebook groups. And all the things that land at odd intervals in our inboxes. 😀

        I feel as though I botched this comment, but hopefully you’ll get half of what I am saying here. You’re right, is what I mean.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. A friend who’d been a web cartoonist for a decade-plus was fuming about that essay earlier. He did suffer the particular agony of putting out his best work to not much response, and have a friend get much more successful in her comic strip work.


  5. I follow you because you are entertaining AND because you do well, what I fail to do, which is self-promotion. I have this foolish idea that I will learn how to do this if I read it enough.


  6. You’d be a fun one to see speaking on something. Do you do many speaking engagements to promote your books? We should try to set something up for you.


  7. Torn. I really liked her article (read it yesterday) and I really liked your article! I see both sides. As someone who is far from even having her first book published, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt on this one because your case is realistic. But the thought of being able to sell without self-promotion? I mean, isn’t that all of our dreams? So I’ll treat that as such. A dream that may come true if I work hard and occasionally do some smart self-promotion and maybe with a little luck sprinkled in. I can’t hate her for living the dream, but yeah I get what you’re saying.


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