[Insert Annoying Self-Promoting Message Here]

oldpost

I’ve decided to change the way I blog.

From now on, day in and day out, all I’m going to post are blogs that consist of an image of my book’s cover, a link to where it’s for sale online and an excerpt from “another 5* review!” (the word another and the exclamation mark being the most important elements of that phrase).

Will you stick around?

I’m guessing not, and I wouldn’t expect you to. Were you to change your blog to consist exclusively of such blatant, repetitive, smug and utterly pointless – more on the pointless bit in a minute – content, I’m sure you wouldn’t expect anyone to hang around either.

And yet this is exactly how an alarming number of writers are treating Twitter every minute of every day.

I thought we all understood. I thought we had this thing down. I thought we’d all realized that people follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and “like” our Facebook pages not to be sold something but to find things that either:

  1. Entertain them
  2. Inform them
  3. Make them feel like they connect with someone else, i.e. like they can relate to you because you have a shared problem/experience

or a combination of the above. I thought incessantly tweeting updates about how many five star reviews your book has now, or asking us to vote for you in some internet-votes-decided competition, or posting nothing but advertisements for your book that promise us “fans of Dan Brown will think this is even better!” had all gone the way of thinking Cover Creator can create professional-looking covers or that editing is optional.

But it’s getting worse. Actually, I think it got much better and then got worse than ever before. I’ve noticed it myself lately and then today my Twitter friend Mariam tweeted this (see below), and I realized the increase in this activity wasn’t in my imagination, and I decided to blog about it.

So, here goes:

stopsignIT.

What is “it”?

It’s silly to say that any kind of activity should be subject to a blanket ban. We’re all trying to sell books, engage with new readers and increase our Twitter following, so of course there will always be an element of self-promotion to our online presence. Please feel free to tell us about five star reviews, and encourage us to vote for you in some competition or other, or let us know when your book is free or you have a little launch party going on (as I did recently).

But FOR THE LOVE OF FUDGE people: stop doing it all the damn time.

Permission marketing is a term coined by Seth Godin that essentially means promoting only to people who have opted-in to be promoted to. (Like when you buy something on Gap.com in September, check the box marked “Subscribe to newsletter” and then get at least two e-mails about layers every day for three months.) But I like to use the term and the idea to convey a simple instruction about your promotional activity: you must earn the right to sell me something.

If 99% of the time – or even, say, 75% of the time – you tweet hilarious observations, share links to fascinating blog posts and stroke my ego by retweeting my hilarious observations and links to fascinating blog posts, how am I going to feel when you tweet “ANOTHER 5* review for The Best Novel Ever!”?

Not that bothered. I might even go check it out. But if every other tweet before it has said the same thing, and all your tweets yesterday said the same thing, and all the tweets the day before said the same thing and so on, how am I going to feel?

It’d be more like this:

trex

Or on a good day:

wince

We’re not talking about occasional self-promotion here. We’re talking about a tweet stream infested with it. I think if it’s taking up more than 3 out of every 10 tweets – and that’s not including stuff you retweet; I mean your original tweets – then you’re in trouble, and all your followers are already pissed off.

Perfectly Pointless

The thing that really gets my goat about this kind of promotion is that it is COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY POINTLESS. It doesn’t work. It never has. It can’t work, because you can’t sell to people who are annoyed with you. So it’s not going to win you any sales and it’s going to cost you (virtual) friends. Why do it then?

I think people do it for two reasons:

  1. They don’t know any better OR
  2. They think they’re getting away with it.

What I mean by “they don’t know any better” is this: maybe Twitter doesn’t look to them the way it looks to you and me. Remember that Twitter is what you make of it. It’s an entirely different kettle of fish to each and every user. For example to me, it’s a fantastically interesting and friendly place packed full of people with a deep love of books, with some Irish and celebrity news thrown in. (Don’t judge me…) But for the person who just signed up yesterday, it may just be a place to keep up with traffic alerts and giveaways by their favorite brands. Twitter may look to them like a billboard, just because of who they’ve chosen to follow. Therefore, they may not know that it’s wrong – or pointless – to treat it as such. There’s not much we can do about them.

However if you’re in the second group, brace yourself: you’re not getting away with it. You may have a healthy follower count, but what’s your engagement level like? When you tweet “ANOTHER 5* review!” do you instantly get a string of retweets and a stream of congratulatory messages? I very much doubt it. And just because your follower count doesn’t go down doesn’t mean you’re not losing followers. You know we can “mute” you now, right? Unfollow you, for all intents and purposes, except you won’t know it. We’ll never see you in our stream and yet if you check, we’ll still be in your follower list. Except we won’t be really, because you’ve annoyed us so much we’ve put you on mute.

Check Your Content’s Value

I outlined above the three reasons people are spending their time online. I’ve blogged about it before and I cover it at length in Self-Printed, but here’s a quick recap again:

When you put something promotional online, be it a blog post, tweet or Facebook update, your goal should be to improve the internet above all else. Make it a better place – or a more interesting place, or a funnier place, or a more helpful place – than it was five minutes ago. Don’t just add to the white noise, because your content will disappear like a fleck of white in a screen full of static. (So it will be, say it with me: POINTLESS!)

Make sure your promotional content is doing one or more of the following things: entertaining (e.g. a funny book trailer), informing (e.g. sharing details of a writing competition on Facebook) or connecting (e.g. writing a blog post about how you’re feeling about NaNoWriMo this year or your struggle to get an agent).

Then, here’s the kicker: does it still do one or more of those three things when you take the advertising bit out of it?

Take these examples:

They are advertising:

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (a novel)
  • Self-Printed 3.0 (my book)
  • Transworld titles (i.e. corporate account)

But pretending for a second that none of the things in that list really exist, that none of those products are really available to buy, would the items above still have a value? Yes, they would: the video is entertaining, my blog post is helpful and when we see the picture Transworld shared, I’m sure most of us think, I love that – that’s so me!

Looking at your promotional content, if your book didn’t exist, could the content still stand alone? Does it have a value of its own?

What if we took away the advertising from a tweet that read:

tweet

What would we be left with? Could it stand by itself if the book didn’t exist? If the answer is no, then forget it.

The Real Life Test

Here’s another, even easier test you can do: would you say this to me in real life? Is your tweet (or blog post or Facebook update) a reflection of how you behave in the real, 3-D world?

Last week I launched the third edition of Self-Printed, and I had a fantastic prize from eBookPartnership to give away. I confined the whole thing to two days and have not mentioned it since, as you may have noticed. And this is what I did in real life too – I e-mailed my writer friends, just the once, to say the new edition was out now and that I had a fab prize going on my blog if they knew any self-publishers who might be interested. But when I meet them for coffee, do we all sit at the table saying “I just got ANOTHER 5* star review for my book!”? I can assure you we don’t, because we wouldn’t be invited back again. But because I almost never promote my stuff to my friends, they weren’t annoyed when I did it the once – in fact, they were all congratulatory  and were happy to pass the message on. I’d earned it.

So try the Real Life test before you tweet your next “Fabulous stuff ANOTHER person said about my book!” tweet.

Twitter isn’t a billboard. Stop treating it like one . It doesn’t work and we’re all going to end up muting you.

55 thoughts on “[Insert Annoying Self-Promoting Message Here]

  1. Mariam Kobras says:

    Absolutely brilliant! Yes, we’re authors, and yes, we need to promote our books. But as you said, Cathryn, there are ways to do it, and there are ways that are just plain simply wrong. Readers, these days, with the many possibilities of the internet, want to know the *person* behind a book, and engage. There is no stronger way to promote your books than being yourself!

  2. Corine Channell says:

    Really good advice. I wrote an Ebook and tweeted about it for the first 2 weeks after it came out – I tried to only do it about 3 times a day, but honestly – I got annoyed with seeing it myself, and I thought – hmmm, maybe this ISN’T the place to do this. I think people like me, new to social media, are just learning and really do not know what works or doesn’t work. So, thank you for the wealth of wise words. I shall no longer annoy my facebook friends. I am sure they would thank you. 🙂

  3. avrilsilk says:

    All you said is why I wanted to love Twitter in the first place, then found myself loathing it. Seemed like a lot of people shouting, ‘Look at me!’ In four part harmony.

    You write like an angel… a somewhat pissed-off angel, but always, unfailingly, for ever and ever amen, entertaining.

    Avril

  4. Nona King says:

    hahahaha! Thank YOU so much for this. I hardly ever go on Twitter (or Facebook) any longer because of the self-promotion ALL THE TIME. There are a few people who I actually pay attention to their posts because they have something worthwhile to say.

  5. Theresa Nash says:

    Here, here!!! Promoting one’s book is vital but it can be done in a manner that doesn’t bore the readers. There’s so many things that could be discussed about a book – the setting, the characters, marketing experiences, anecdotes about the writing of, etc.,etc. Let’s get back to interesting and informative content.

  6. thenovelprojectchronicles says:

    Brilliant advice that I wish more writers on twitter would take heed of. Twitterers whose feed are mostly taken up with shameless self promotion of their latest 5* book is a quick route to the unfollow button for me.

    Of course I want to hear about your book and I’m very happy for you getting 5 star reviews but I don’t want to hear about this all the time. Just a brief reminder that its out there every once in a while is plenty (if i had an angry dinosaur emoji it would go right about here!!!).

    Caroline.

  7. Cynthia Tveit says:

    Thank you. We’re bombarded wtih “ads” enough — even with TV in line at the grocery store and trying to buy gas! Bring me content — not advertisements.

  8. Joel D Canfield says:

    Some years ago when I was very active in a boatload of online communities, I found myself worried about my content: was I being a jerk? (Not impossible, nope.)

    So I started asking myself, every time I was going to post, comment, or reply, “Is this about ME, or is this about THEM?”

    If it was about them, I posted with glee. If it was about me, I wrote it on a napkin and wiped the sweat off my neck with it later when it got warm.

    Also, I would like to publicly thank you for proper use of phrases like “get my goat” and “for all intents and purposes.”

  9. Ian Sutherland says:

    I used to be one of THOSE people you’re talking about Catherine!! You know, the spammers with the annoying promotional tweets and very little else.

    Three months ago, I received a blunt tweet from one very annoyed follower that simply asked me, “Why do you keep tweeting the same things over and over? Spam much?” He made me sit back and completely rethink my approach. And once I’d mulled it over, I immediately removed all the repeating spam and wrote a very liberating blog post to celebrate my epiphany 🙂 You and your other blog readers might enjoy it: http://ianhsutherland.com/2013/08/27/confessions-of-an-ex-spam-tweeter/

    And, for the record, I’ve not been called a spammer since! Hopefully, your post will encourage other authors who are making the same mistake I did to rethink their approach.

  10. Skye Warren (@skye_warren) says:

    While I’ve made some great friends under one pen name’s twitter handle, that hasn’t translated into sales. Meanwhile my promo-only twitter account under another pen performs about the same, in both retweets and number of sales that come in through twitter. Which, in both cases, is pretty low compared to what FB or my newsletter does.

    I’m just one example, of course. But I’ve seen plenty of bestselling authors who are promo heavy on twitter and plenty of very twitter-witty authors have dismal sales ranks.

    If you want to tell people to be chatty on twitter because it’s more fun that way? Okay. And I agree, it is more fun that way. But if you’re saying it’s a smarter, more effective marketing strategy when… well, I haven’t seen any data backing that up.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I think this is a problem with using social media to sell books across the board: it’s difficult to say “I did X and it directly translated into y sales”. Much of the evidence for any of it is anecdotal. (I’d be interested, for example, in how you can identify sales that come through Twitter?) Book trailers are a prime example. How can anyway say whether they’re effective or not, when no one has data that categorically proves they added to sales or not? (Even if you used one for one title and not for another, you’d have no way of proving that some other factor didn’t influence the sales of the other title.)

      So I don’t think of promotion like that. Instead I think about my core of support, the people around my online platform (Twitter followers, Facebook fans/friends, blog readers etc that I engage with) who are there to help me launch titles, or spread links to blog posts I’ve written, etc, and how they’re feeling or receiving whatever content I’m putting out there at any one time. Basically my audience, whether they end up buying my books or not. And I know – from my POV as a member of the audience of other writers and bloggers – the quickest ways to lose them and/or piss them off. That’s what I’m talking about here.

      I just don’t think you can say anything in particular – tweeting, Goodreads giveaways, book trailers – leads directly to sales. At least there’s no hard and fast data to back it up, because there’s so many factors at play. So I don’t think about that. I focus on whether or not the people reading my stuff online are going to stick around, or care when my next book comes out. And I don’t care about people who treat Twitter this way. I don’t know how or why anyone would. It adds nothing to my Twitter experience whatsoever, so why would I follow them?

      I would stress that I am talking about extremes, about people who do nothing BUT send out these promotional tweets.

  11. Caroline Mitchell says:

    Ah yes this needed to be said, and I totally agree. Twitter gives the option to pin a tweet to the top of your feed and I’ve used it to link to my book. That way when anyone is interested enough to visit my page they often retweet it. I often retweet for other authors and a lot of the time I post some interesting / silly non book related stuff, so I’m forgiven when it’s Halloween and I go into ‘buy my spooky book’ mode for a day or two! I’d also say that people who spam find their followers dropping off very quickly. On another note Catherine I’d love you to blog about the quality of self published books out there. When I have on the rare occasion clicked on a spam book tweet out of curiosity, I have come across the equivalent of word vomit. Books which aren’t formatted, spelt checked, or written properly. If you’re gonna spam your book please format it before you publish! OK rant over 🙂

  12. King Samuel Benson says:

    A very interesting and fun article!
    One thing I’ve observed from this end is that writers who stick to that wrong kind of social media promotion strategy often tend to believe that the sales they get are actually direct results of such promotions. I used to be one of such writers until, amid all the controversy surrounding the subject, I decided to ‘test’.
    There’s nothing that works as great as testing your promotion strategies, I’ll continue to say it. No matter what platform you use, there’ll always be a way to test if you really look.
    What I did back then was that I methodically stopped all of such promotions and watched the results. I didn’t know what I was actually looking out for — perhaps a drop in sales? The funny thing is that NOTHING HAPPENED. Sales remained in the same range – no unusual drop or rise. Even months into stopping those annoying promos, I still continued to receive sales at the same range. My incessant promotion rampage wasn’t contributing anything to my book sales. That was when I realized that it was all a waste of time. Precious time.

  13. Evanesca Feuerblut says:

    Thank you for this post, it was just on time.
    Recently I followed a nice writer – who constantly RETWEETS all those self promoting messages. So of someone she follows has posted five to ten of them within an hour, she’s retweeting every single one.
    So today I was busy muting a giant bunch of people I don’t even know since I don’t want to kick the nice writer but it highly annoys me that she consumed almost my entire stream.

  14. Julie Christine says:

    Thank you. I find myself Muting more than ever and it’s this- the godawful self-promotional tweets or retweets. The valuable posts are there, but being buried by the noise. And I can’t believe people are still sending form DMs after a follow. It screams phony and amateur. Let’s take back Twitter!

  15. Deborah Nam-Krane says:

    Right? I have no idea why people tweet out that they got 5-star reviews. Seriously? So have a lot of other people.

    You can’t use social media as an advertising channel. It’s best for the public relations side of marketing: build a reputation- a good one, not a crazy-vendor-on-Yelp one- and get people excited about engaging with you.

    I don’t think my approach has netted me any sales, but it *has* gotten me some reviewers. Considering where I am in my publishing career, I’ll take it.

  16. MELewis says:

    Your title should be: “How to lose all of your followers in 10 easy Tweets!” Lol. But seriously, a lot of the blame goes to the agents and so-called self-publishing ‘experts’ who insist that authors build a platform and promote themselves ad nauseum. Your post is a reality check. Good going!

  17. lividlili says:

    Great article, thanks. I’d like to add to this that people seem un-generous when it comes to sharing other people’s successes as well. Whenever I read a great story in a lit journal, I’ll try to find that person on Twitter and send them a ‘nice story!’ tweet. It takes one minute of my time and yet people LOVE to get feedback like that. We could ALL do with being more generous on social media – even just retweeting excellent blog posts, like this one 🙂

  18. djunamod says:

    Nice points here. My sister has a Twitter follower who is a sci-fi writer and he doesn’t seem to get it that constant self-promotion is not valuable. He constantly is posting stuff like, “Another 5 star review!” and “my book is so awesome, I just can’t get over it!” She wants to be supportive but when he sent her his book, she just kind of skimmed through it, knowing what to expect already from his self-promotions. That’s one of the sad things – someone who self-promotes too much can be taken as trying to compensate for either low self-esteem or bad writing.

    Djuna

  19. barryknister says:

    And there you have it–why I don’t tweet anymore. What ever possessed me to start in the first place? Thank you for firming up my resolve.

  20. Pearson Sharp says:

    That’s a hard line to walk. I completely agree you oughtn’t pester your loyal followers with an obnoxious barrage of flagrant self-promotion. But there needs to be some self-promotion, that’s what branding is all about. I think the trick is to suggest the book or whatever it is by talking about it; i.e., explaining parts and how you’re having trouble here or a revelation about writing it there or something you discovered that you can apply to your book and think is a good hint for readers. You become informative, can be entertaining, and provide useful insights. Like I said, a fine line, but no doubt far more effective.

    That said, buy my book. ^.^

  21. Katy Haye says:

    I read this, then looked on Twitter and in my tweet stream was, “Better than the Da Vinci code! 27 5* reviews! “. Well, at least it gave me a laugh…

  22. hilarycustancegreen says:

    What’s your advice for the idiots in the other camp? I have an unused Twitter account, a Facebook account on which I haven’t yet mentioned my book, and a blog where posts on the funny or tricky aspects of self-publishing have appeared as well as on preparations for the launch (this Saturday). The official publication date is December 5th. I’m sure I ought to be trying harder to promote the book, but maybe not…

  23. Ernie Zelinski says:

    As for me, I discovered that the best way to use social media (Twitter or Facebook) to market my books was to avoid it as much as possible.

    Fact is, there are many creative ways to market books that are much more effective than social media. I have at least 50 to 100 original creative techniques that I have used over the years to sell over 850,000 copies of my books (mainly self-published). I have used similar unique marketing techniques to get 111 books deals with various foreign publishers around the world. My books are now published in 22 languages in 29 different countries.

    Regarding creative marketing, I like this quip by an author whose nickname is “The Name Tag Guy”:

    “I once saw my book for sale on Ebay. For two dollars. (sniff) So, do you know what I did? I bid $250 on it. Then bought it. That’s marketing baby!”
    — Scott Ginsberg (The Name Tag Guy)

    In short, I suggest that authors who want to be much more effective than 99 percent of authors in promoting their books go against conventional wisdom. Stay away from social media. Also stay away from other things the majority is doing such as the trendy free ebook promotions on Amazon. You will find, as I have found, that you will attain greater success than 99 percent of authors attain. As Scott Ginsberg says, “That’s marketing baby.”

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I disagree. First of all, social media IS an unconventional method of selling books. It’s easy to forget when one is inside the self-publishing/online bubble, but the vast majority of books that are sold in the world are not sold like this, but are promoted using traditional methods (print media, etc). Secondly I have zero time for hyper specific “techniques” as recreating the success their creator enjoyed is impossible. Also having to hand over cash to discover them leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For example, John Locke sold millions of ebooks by what I would describe as incredibly odd and manipulative methods that no one else could realistically make work for them, and them sold truckloads more with a “How I Sold a Million E-books..” title. But how many purchasers of it sold a million copies of their titles? None. Therefore I’d much rather invest my time and energy in methods that have worked moderately well for the majority as opposed to something that’s worked astronomically well for one person or a handful of people.

  24. Jason Lee APF says:

    Great piece… Catherine!

    Caught sight of it via Elizabeth Rose Murray & Linked In

    I see the same in art / photo / band related tweets… Along with lazy links-only to an FB page…

    In your text I noticed, and guessing it’s an autocorrect blip, ‘Permission Marketing … Seth Godwin’ rather than Seth Godin.

    Regards
    Jason Lee

  25. Sydney Strand says:

    I so, so, so completely agree. It gets to the point that when someone follows me, I look at their feed first to see if they have anything fun/interesting/informative to say. It it’s all “Buy my book! 99 cents!” and “Thanks for the RTs @everybodyandtheirmother” I do not follow back. Oy, how I hate the thanking of the RTs!!!

  26. Other Side of the Trees says:

    Stumbled across your blog link that came up, while visiting “A Silver Voice From Ireland”. Great blog. Maybe I’ll grab a copy of your book. I liked this post, because … well, yeah its well written … because this whole thing of twitter seemed overwhelming from the start. I have a twitter account and I tried it a few times. Your post is helpful to educate a cyber-challenged blogger. I hope to come back soon. Peace to you.

  27. Linda Maye Adams says:

    I’ve hated Twitter for that reason. Anything even remotely related to writing and the writers zoom in and start spamming other writers. Just insane. I’ve found that blogging is much better for me than Twitter. I sort of stumbled across a subject that I know intimately and that a lot of people have been interested in, and is also good for me to finally write about. But it was a long road to get to that topic, and I think a lot of writers are impatient with getting success and sales right now. I’m about to hit a major historical anniversary next year and I unintentionally have been positioning myself for it for the last two years. Promotion is something really ongoing and that you have to work at even if it doesn’t look successful. I almost gave up the blog at one point until I saw how two posts on that subject get drawing people back.

  28. Danika Maia says:

    I don’t have a book (yet) but I write for several different blogs including my own and I’m always posting my own articles, it seems silly and narcissistic but at the same time why am I writing this stuff if not to share? I guess it’s not the same as posting about your reviews, but I still feel a bit bad about it sometimes.

    Danika
    http://www.danikamaia.com

  29. lilpickmeup says:

    I just discovered your blog. ❤ your sense of humor and frankness. I enjoy blunt honesty. As someone who gets hired to help companies and individuals with their social media. I can say that most people are not sure how to use it and when they do it's used in a way that turns people off. I never thought that 10 years ago they'd have a social media manager positions, but they do now for a good reason I suppose. 🙂

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