I'm very pleased to announce that a very short article that I have written appears in the current edition of Jackson Brigade Quarterly (Vol. 18, No.2 issue dated February 2010). Actually it is a self-promotional piece about me and my blog. I plan to discuss this in more depth in my posting for this coming Wednesday, February 17. But this inspired my post for today: How are you at promoting yourself?
Over the course of my various careers, I have had several instances where my writing has appeared in print, primarily in the form of press releases or feature stories that have promoted myself, someone I know (usually a family member), or a business enterprise in which I was involved. Often this was just a matter doing what I needed to do to promote business and I didn't really think of it as my writing--after all my name didn't appear as an author of the piece and nobody probably even thought about who wrote it. Some of these articles were clipped and sit in a box or a file somewhere in my house and some I probably never even actually saw.
The press release is standard procedure for anyone who is trying to promote themselves or their agenda. Usually if the release is formatted correctly, sent to the right person, and has some relevant topical interest it will appear in the pages of a newspaper. But is that all you really want? Is it adequate enough to just have a little blurb hidden away somewhere in the newsprint pages announcing the publication of your book or a book signing where you will be appearing? As far as I am concerned that is better than nothing, but why not shoot for more?
In my many years in show business I found that a newspaper would like to see a show buy some advertising to promote the appearance of that show in their town, but they are also hungry for interesting stories that can appear on their pages. It was standard procedure for our show's advance team to provide local media with press kits with press releases and photos. That was often enough to get at least one story in print. However, sometimes when I could see an additional tie-in with our show, I would write up a special story to send to the appropriate editor. Sometimes they would use that story and more often than not they would send a reporter and photographer to do their own feature story. If I hadn't taken the effort to promote myself and my agenda nobody else would have.
For example, if our show was going to play a town where I or one of my cast members had come from or gone to school, I would let the local media know. This was an item of local interest. Or, my wife and I were traveling with our children and sometimes there might be a story related to that--human interest. Occasionally, we would visit a hospital or school and media would show up to capture those special charitible moments which in turn called attention to our show. Somebody had to make the contacts to make these connections that in turn inspired stories in which people would be interested.
If you want to become a more widely known writer and you don't have someone doing the work for you, you should definitely consider more self-promotion. Come on--it's not that bad of a thing. Sometimes we might think we are bragging or being egotistical. Is there anything wrong with that if it is true? Get over any embarrassment or fear that you might have about self-promotion. Distance yourself from the project of promotion if you must; in other words make you, the author, and you, the promotional business person, two seperate things. However, if you are truly confident in your book, you should be proud to get it out into the hands of the public. Let's face it, if the public does not know about you and your work, then you are going to have a much more difficult time in getting your product into their hands.
While you are out there promoting, try to find exceptionally creative ways of getting yourself and your book known. Make yourself and your book relevant to the reading public. Part of this is your platform and you should take advantage of that to the greatest extent that you can. The other part is creatively finding opportunities to which you can connect yourself. Contact media in locales where you may have connections to do a story about you and your book. If you have written something historical, connect your piece with a local celebration of the event or in conjunction with a feature about a historical site or the like. Call attention to something notable that you have recently done or been involved with and casually mention your book in the process. Your opportunities are really unlimited. You just have to find them and exploit them.
You can spend all the money you can get your hands on to promote the sales of your books and there is no guarantee that you'll make back a penny of it. You can invest in book fairs and conferences--it can help but it's still self-promotion. If you don't have a big bankroll to spend on these things, the best thing you can do is start investing your time and creativity into what is essentially free advertising. After all, the best advertising is the free advertising you get through word of mouth and stories in the press. More than likely this will all have to start with you.
Whatever your circumstance may be, you should not be embarrassed to self-promote yourself. All businesses do it to generate sales. If you are trying to sell your books, then you are a business. For most of us our books aren't going to sell on the basis of our names and good looks alone. That's why we have to get out there and make our names known and convince people that there is something about us and our books that they might--no should!---be interested in.