Writers, Be Honest: What REALLY Scares You About Self-Promotion?

Be honest.

Do you like promoting your own work? Like REALLY like it?

We all feel a rush of excitement the moment we are able to share even the smallest writing accomplishments with the world. It’s totally normal to want to show off what you’re doing — after all, when you’re proud of your hard work, you certainly deserve the reward of being able to put it out there for other people to see, if you want to.

But even if you do look forward to being able to publicly celebrate your achievements, there might also be a part of you that’s dreading the moment — and if it’s not the promotion itself that has you worried, it’s much more likely anticipating people’s reactions to it that unsettles your stomach.

Not every writer dislikes or is afraid of self-promotion. But it does slow many people down and prevent them from sharing their work with more potential readers.

What is it about promoting your own work that feels intimidating? Is there a right and wrong way to self-promote? And how do you know whether or not you’re putting your work out there without spamming everyone you know?

When you post a link to your latest blog post on Twitter, sometimes — no matter how many times you have done this before — you feel a slight hint of nervousness inside when you hit the post button.

I have some theories as to why — based, obviously, on my own hesitations about promoting my work.

  • We’re terrified of feedback. Even when we want it — no, CRAVE it — there’s a small part of us that doesn’t really want to hear what people have to say — especially if what they have to say isn’t exactly positive, constructive, or helpful. Put simply: We’re afraid of not doing a good job, and if we don’t get the kind of feedback that reassures us, we’re going to struggle.
  • We want people to like us. And the reality is, many people don’t like other people’s self-promotion, especially smaller creators who have yet to earn a loyal following. Most of this comes as a response to people who over-promote their work — e.g., people who only use Twitter to share links to the same book they wrote five times a day or more — please don’t do that. We’ll get to that a little later.
  • We’re worried about getting lost in the noise. How many times have you sent a link to your work out into the void and wondered if it will ever reach anyone? Probably most times you promote something! The thing about being an online creator is that it can sometimes start to feel like EVERYONE is an online creator, EVERYONE has something they want other people to read, and wait, what was it about your work that made you feel unique and memorable again?

And honestly? Some of us just don’t think we’re good at what we do. And even though we know we have no choice but to get our work out there and see if it has an audience, we’re convinced doing so isn’t going to make a difference. After all, if it’s not good, no one is going to care, right?

Chances are, it’s probably not as awful as you think. But that’s a discussion for another post.

We can’t be afraid to put our work out there. Because if we don’t, our chances of ever attracting a loyal, worthwhile audience will remain next to zero.

Self-promotion, especially when you’re first starting out, is the ONLY way people are going to know you exist. You don’t have someone bigger and louder drawing people to you. You have to do all the work yourself. And let’s be real: Most writers are not trained marketing experts. So what the heck do you do?

Basically, you do what most of us do. You look at how other people are doing it and try to follow similar principles, figuring out by trial and error what is going to work for you and what isn’t.

That’s not the answer most people want, but hey, I’m not here to teach you how to promote your book because I don’t even currently have a book I’ve had experience promoting. But I can give you some insight on what I’ve learned from years of (mostly) shameless self-promo.

How much is too much? I think how much you promote your own work depends largely on how much you have to promote and what you want to accomplish by promoting it. A self-published author who has one book on Amazon and wants to make a certain amount of sales per quarter will develop a specific strategy that suits them, while someone like me who writes articles for multiple sites will have to be very selective about what goes out on Twitter, how often, and so on.

There are plenty of blogs and books about content marketing — I’m not going to give you specific advice because I’m not an expert. But what I was taught in graduate school, and what I do in my own day to day operations, is to share two or three of my own links on Twitter per day (where I am most active) at most, spread throughout the day. I very rarely share the same thing twice, and I spend the rest of my social media time interacting with other people and posting the occasional tip, suggestion, complaint, joke … you know. Whatever’s on my mind.

I’ve followed authors who promote the same book using the same promotional text five times a day or more, and they post nothing else. I don’t care how badly you want to sell your book, that’s just not good marketing. No one is going to want to read your stuff if you keep waving it in their faces. There is a time for “hey look I wrote a book please purchase” and more subtle, natural forms of persuasion.

If you’re linking to your work online more than two or three times per day, in most cases I’d say that’s a bit too much. Maybe that strategy works for you, and if it does, great. I just wouldn’t recommend it, especially if you’re a lesser known creator trying to make a good impression on potential readers.

Don’t be a robot. No one wants to see the same stale messages about your latest book or blog post over and over again. While there is nothing wrong with asking people to read your articles or buy your books or check out your videos or whatever it is you happen to be working on at the moment, the most important thing I’ve learned so far as an online creator is that people are much more likely to consume your content if they like you as a person.

And constantly trying to sell someone something is not a good way to get people to like you.

This is why I am a little more open about commenting on “life as it happens” on Twitter than I am publicly in most other places on the internet. Showing the “real” side of writing is what I’m all about, and I can’t draw people to that brand if I don’t live it out. So of course I link to my blog posts and many of the other things I publish throughout any given week. But I also post about my dog and contemplate the struggles of creativity and promote a fine balance between being real without oversharing.

The hope is that writers and others who follow me get to know me, as much as you can get to know a stranger, through those online channels. And then, when I do share something and invite people to look at it, they take an interest in it because they are already at least a little interested in me.

And hey — if no one’s interested and they just want to like my tweets, that’s fine. I can deal.

Getting people to read your work should always be your secondary goal. I do not share my blog posts, for example, with the intention of people clicking through to my Patreon page and giving me $1 per month. It’s awesome if and when they do, and I’m never going to say you CAN’T do that.

But I’m not constantly screaming “GIVE ME YER DOLLARS SO I CAN MAKE MORE COOL THINGS” because, uh, screaming definitely does not make people want to give you their dollars. At least not in any of the circles I happen to belong to.

First and foremost I seek to provide helpful, quality content for free to anyone who wants to read it. That’s my only goal. Would I love to get paid for every blog post I publish — since I publish over 350 a year and that could really add up nicely over time? Who DOESN’T want to get paid for everything they write?

But the truth is that I’ll probably never be a full-time blogger. And if I ever do get there, it’s going to be a slow, gradual progression. Why? Because I care about helping people, and if they stumble upon the things I have to offer and want to give $12 a year to my cause, they are more than welcome to do that. I am all about subtle promotion through providing good things and not demanding anything in return. But that’s just me.

I publish so that I have a greater chance of helping someone who needs it. I will never force anyone to read anything if they don’t want to, and I never want anyone to feel like that’s what I’m doing.

Though I could probably go on about this for a while longer, the point is, how you promote your work is completely up to you. You shouldn’t be afraid to put your work out there, but you also shouldn’t self-promote in a way that’s going to turn people off before they even have the chance to check your stuff out. Finding balance here, as with anything, is not easy. It takes a lot of practice, experimentation, making mistakes, and constant learning as you go.

So good luck out there. And hey. If this helped you out in any way, and you have a few extra dollars, I might have a suggestion as to where you can spend them. (:

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

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