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Author Self Promotion

An Author Enters a Reader Discussion and Promotes Her Own Book

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I’m working on an article of author online promotional dos/donts. This issue came to my attention by a reader who participates on the Amazon Discussion boards. The reader has been noticing an increase in author participation on the boards. The problem is that authors aren’t adding insight into the discussions but see the discussion threads as opportunities for self promotion.

For example, a reader posts that she is looking for a book set in a certain time period and unknown authors come forward suggesting their own books. From my email:

A recent post at the Romance boards at Amazon tried to address the issue as well, with mixed opinions from said authors. Here’s a recent post at the historical boards where the poor poster was inundated with them and tried to tell them to stop and they just kept coming and coming. Some of the posts are so poorly written you have to wonder how bad the book is.

How do you feel about this?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

34 Comments

  1. Bree
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 08:59:57

    I picked “Time & Place” but “I don’t like it if the author is saying something negative about another author” is a pretty strong one for me, too. Not to say I think authors should never say anything negative about other authors, but I think doing so in the context of self promotion is so far beyond tacky that I lack words for it.

    I’m also getting very, very tired of authors I don’t know recommending their books to me on services such as Goodreads. Especially when the barest glance at my goodreads profile would make my genre preferences clear, and the books being recommended fall so far outside of those preferences that it’s obvious the person is just randomly spamming everyone.

  2. MB (Leah)
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:17:04

    I think it’s OK for an author to promote themselves in a thread like that if they’ve been participating and it’s pertinent to the topic and discussion.

    Many times, especially over on the Amazon boards, authors just jump in and promo their book and it’s like a non sequitur. Those authors bother me and instead of looking for their book I dismiss them.

  3. Isis FG
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:22:08

    This is a pretty common problem on the Goodreads website. I’ve gotten personal messages from random authors saying “I see that you like young adult books, perhaps you would enjoy my book XYZ”…and I don’t even have any young adult books on my Goodreads book shelves. Then there are authors who join groups there and post self-promotional stuff. They’ll just copy and paste the same message into 6 or 7 groups…and if your a member of all those groups, you get to read it 6 or 7 times. There was one author who whenever they got a review or a mention somewhere, they would use it for promotion and post to a bunch of groups saying “If you like books about _____, you should check out my book ABCDEFG. It just got reviewed and check out the great stuff said about it: (insert excerpt of review here).” Plus there are the authors who pimp their book in the middle of an unrelated thread.

    The authors may think they are getting readers interested in their books, but they’re just pissing people off and making them NOT want to read the books. It’s a negative association thing. Readers associate the author’s behavior with their work.

    For the couple of Romance groups I mod at Goodreads, I made it a rule on a couple that no self-promotion is allowed, and on another it has to be done in an appropriate manner. It seems to help cut down on the spam.

  4. Lorelie
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:34:45

    The second link isn’t working right. It only goes to the thread list for historical fiction. Maybe got pulled?

  5. Misfit
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:34:49

    Authors can bring a tremendous amount of input to a book discussion board, as several do at historicalfictiononline.com, and if they sign off with their website/blog etc. that’s great – if I like what they’re saying I’m more likely to consider reading their books. On the other side of the coin, I do not appreciate authors jumping on to a thread merely for the purpose of shilling their own book – do you really think when I post asking for say books set in India I’m looking for self-published POD books? Then there are the authors on Amazon who spam every thread (whether relevant or not) with promos and/or excerpts of their novels – I can’t imagine any quicker way to turn off a reader than that.

    The spamming issue just came up again recently at Amazon where an unsuspecting author did it and all his posts were deleted and he was banned for posting, see the two links below discussing it.

    http://www.amazon.com/tag/historical%20fiction/forum/ref=cm_cd_ef_tft_tp?%5Fencoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1GAYRAS8PX4CC&cdThread=Tx1Y8J1JS6F1PVQ&displayType=tagsDetail

    http://www.amazon.com/tag/fantasy/forum/ref=cm_cd_ef_tft_tp?%5Fencoding=UTF8&cdForum=FxRHP2KEWXI0H1&cdThread=Tx1G7BYOXIBCREB&displayType=tagsDetail

    A recent author post just to give you an idea what authors will do on these boards here, http://www.amazon.com/tag/fantasy/forum/ref=cm_cd_ef_tft_tp?%5Fencoding=UTF8&cdForum=FxRHP2KEWXI0H1&cdThread=Tx352PEAID48VCI&displayType=tagsDetail. You’ll have to click to see all of shagadenise’s posts as no one has found them very helpful.

  6. Misfit
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:45:06

  7. theo
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:50:50

    I chose Time and Place as well. I’ve found often that the author is participating in the thread just to promote their book, mentioning in almost every post why everyone should read it. What happened to just putting your book title and, if you have a website, the addy in the bottom of your posts and then discussing like a real person, rather than a marketer? Does that make sense? Maybe not. But I sure don’t want someone’s book shoved down my throat at every opportunity because, like others, it only makes me not want to read it at all.

    And Jane? That second link goes to the forum, but not the thread where the problem takes place.

  8. Catherine
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:55:53

    I guess if the post is specifically asking authors to recommend books with certain characteristics it would be ok. If it’s directed at readers I don’t think it’s ok at all.

    When most casual readers (by that I mean people who don’t spend a lot of time on blogs and don’t care about the industry at all – beyond the fact that it produces books) request help from readers they are not referring to authors even though authors can be readers too. They want to talk to straight readers who have no gain in recommending a book.

    So, in my opinion, unless author recommendations are solicited it’s tacky and makes me uncomfortable to see them posting about their books.

  9. Kayleigh Jamison
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 09:57:16

    It drives me crazy. Now, I will freely admit that when I was a brand new author with my first book, I was guilty of such things. Hey, I’d written a book! People could buy it! I wanted to tell the world! So I think that, at least some of the time, it’s a simple newbie mistake.

    But I’m a reader too (what writer isn’t??), and as a reader, I don’t want authors pushing their books on me like that. So, I have a few rules for myself now:

    1. If it annoys me when other people do it, I don’t do it.
    2. If there’s an appropriate place for promotion (a section of the forum for authors to talk about their work, a thread to post your book info, etc) I will use it IF I am an active participant in the community. (I hate drive-by promo)
    3. Other than that, I do not talk about my books unless I’m asked about them. That isn’t to say I hide the fact that I’m an author, I don’t. It’s pretty clear I’m an author, and I will talk about my own experiences in various discussions (in a thread about how authors do research for historical romance, for example, I may talk about how I go about it) but there’s a difference in my opinion.

  10. she reads
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 10:03:59

    I picked time & place because it really, really depends. If someone is asking for a specific subject I think it’s totally FINE for an author to say “well I wrote ____” in a transparent and clear way.

    I think that’s the big thing- be transparent in your on-line dealings. No secret hidden agendas or sneakiness and I’ll respect you for it.

    I’d way rather hear an author self promote then have her e-mail a friend to do it for her…

  11. Maili
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 10:29:31

    The problem is that authors aren't adding insight into the discussions but see the discussion threads as opportunities for self promotion.

    It’s practically a rite of passage for new authors. :P

    There are some authors that continue doing it years after their first book releases. It’s them who need to realise it’s a bad habit. And that there are better ways of promoting their books. IMO, the best form of self-promotion is wear the Reader hat when taking part in discussions.

    Making a hit-and-run stint of self-promotion — “Hi guys, I see you all talking about Victorian assholes, check out LORD DRAKE! I had fun writing it and I’m sure you’ll love reading it! I love you guys and all my fans! Love & fuzzies! (author’s name, web address and a very long list of books)” – rarely impressed me.

    If I like an author’s contributions (whether I agree with these or not), I’m likely to check out her site for info on her books. How she interact with other people or compose her opinions is usually a reliable clue on what her novel writing is like.

    Sorry, went on for a bit there. Yes, it’s time and place for me.

  12. Angela James
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 10:43:41

    Time and place. I get particularly cranky when I get multiple promo emails from authors simply because I happen to be in their address book (with multiple emails sometime) and they’re mass mailing their address book. I also don’t care to get messages on Facebook that are promotional, though I do recognize that people see Facebook as a free-for-all promotional venue. But when I get those messages, and then get all the responses to them, it feels more like spam.

    Finding promo that doesn’t make someone cranky or that doesn’t feel intrusive, while still getting word out there and being inventive, reaching a wide audience, can be a really tricky thing.

  13. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 11:19:13

    It's practically a rite of passage for new authors. :P

    Snicker. How very true.

    Time and place for me. Promotion is one thing I absolutely hate about writing for a living. It’s a necessary evil, but I hate it. Haunting discussions boards just to plug my book sounds a weekend vacation to promotion hell, IMO.

    I’ll join into a discussion if I’m interested in the topics. But other than that, I’ll stick to the least painful avenues of promo, my blog, my newsletter and my yahoo group.

  14. SonomaLass
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 11:31:03

    Don’t diss other authors is rule one for me, especially if you are wearing your professional author hat. Unless the diss is for plagiarism, in which care, fire away.

    After that, it’s time and place. Online interaction follows some of the same rules as in-person interaction — if you want me to buy your book, don’t prejudice me against you with obnoxious behavior!

  15. Jaci Burton
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 11:36:03

    Absolutely time and place. I like to pop around discussion boards and talk about books I’ve read and loved. I am a reader, too. To nudge in there and blatantly promote my own books is rude insertion in my opinion. Now if someone says ‘hey authors, which of your books do you recommend….”, then yeah, that’s the venue to talk about your own books. Otherwise it just seems to smack of blatant promo and I see that as a turnoff.

    And I totally agree with what Kayleigh said…if it annoys me when someone else does it, then I don’t do it. Though I think there are many authors out there who are simply oblivious to the annoyance factor of some of their self promo.

  16. tricia
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 11:49:21

    Part of me hopes that newbie writers will read this thread and tone it down. I cannot put in polite words how viscerally I am bothered by author desperation. I can think of five authors in the past year or so who went on such a tacky media blitz that I’ll never read their books, no matter how many good reviews they get. Yeah, I learned your name. And now it makes me cringe! Stop that! Stop it!

    I know that new authors are encouraged to put their names out there everywhere. And I can understand the worry about their sales figures. The author who wins my support, whose books I buy instead of taking them from the library, and whose work I’ll always recommend… that author trusts in the book itself to win me over. She trusts me to be able to see the good in her book (through a blurb, excerpt, or interview/review) for myself without sending me a message on Goodreads. She allows me to seek *her* out. She’s aloof enough that I don’t get the feeling she’s breathlessly thinking of the next place to put her name.

    Of course, to behave like that, she has to have confidence in her book. She knows that the book will sell me on her next five. And she’s probably right.

  17. Vivienne Westlake
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 12:32:51

    I chose “Time and Place” also. I also don’t like it when authors who never post anything start spamming about their books. And, if you are going to self promote, I’d prefer a personalized message, not something that gets posted everywhere.

    On one of my yahoo loops, there is this woman who posts pretty much every day or every other day about the same book or two books. I mean every week she’s posting an excerpt of her book. I didn’t read the excerpt for the last seven weeks, what makes her think I’m going to read it this week? I’ve seriously considered writing to the loop owner about this. What bugs me is that if I post something on this thread, sometimes my messages don’t even get approved and they are not about promoting any of my books. I’ve posted about my RWA chapter looking for promo items from authors and it doesn’t get approved or about our annual workshop/booksigning. I wonder at times if this loop is just for self-promotion and pr companies promoting romance books. I thought is was supposed to be a place for readers and writers to discuss romance books or romance news.

    I think authors can post on reader sites if they have something good to contribute. I like looking at what people are reading and I will often recommend books I love. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recommended Kresley Cole’s books on various forums, but that is simply because, as a reader, I LOVE those books and I tell anyone and everyone who asks for a good paranormal book to check her books out.

    Ultimately, it comes down to acting like a person, not a pr machine. If you speak thoughtfully, people will listen. That is likely to get you more readers and friends than just posting randomly to talk about ME, Me, me.

  18. Julieb
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 12:40:07

    Oh, dear Lord, yes. Time. And. Place.

    Beyond that, pretty much what every other author here has said.

  19. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 13:45:09

    Time. And. Place.

    I’m far more likely to pimp other authors than I am to promote my own books (it feels weird, even when my books totally fit what the readers are discussing or looking for). If I do mention my own books, I’ll certainly ALWAYS mention them in conjunction with those of other authors I love and read.

  20. joanne
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 13:46:05

    Why in the world would a new author even think about saying something negative about another author online and/or in public? Gad, talk about burning bridges you may someday need to cross.

    My vote is for Time and Place, always. If an author enters a thread with comments about books they’ve read and liked and then adds their own book title as a recommendation it seems appropriate. Does it sell books? dunno. My purchases of new authors always come from recommendations from other readers or from reviewers, never the author themself.

    Now if I see an author I’ve read before on a discussion I may click on their link to see what’s going on with new releases from them. That works. Being visible. Or not— since I just thought about how invisible Linda Howard is online and yet —- there she goes scampering off to the bank with another bestseller under her arm. A PR person I am not!

  21. Isis FG
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 14:40:51

    I agree that being visible and interacting with readers is the best way to garner some interest. I’m much more likely to check out an author if they join in a discussion about romance or a book than if they shove a promo under my nose screaming “look at me! look at me! go read me book!”

    Readers like to see authors as people, not machines just trying to sell a book.

  22. emmad
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 14:53:42

    I picked time and place but probably more because I would have liked a combination of the first two options as both are how I feel.

  23. K. Z. Snow
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 16:24:11

    HUGE turn-off to see authors squeezing like stealthy mice through the smallest cracks of opportunity. Even when I fleetingly consider doing that, I creep myself out. It also makes me flee in disgust when I see the same promo-crazed people throwing up multiple posts at chat loops, day in and day out.

    Okay if somebody has asked for recommendations. Okay if a venue specifically for pimpage has been offered (like DA does once a month). Sort of okay if a book or some aspect thereof relates in a particular, enlightening way to a discussion — but even then, the reference to one’s own work should be as succinct and relevant as possible.

    I believe it’s far more productive, in all kinds of ways, simply to interact with other writers and readers. If people like your “style,” they’ll look you up. (BTW, I’ve never known an author to hype his/her work by denigrating someone else’s. I found that an odd choice.)

  24. Keishon
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 16:35:47

    Many times, especially over on the Amazon boards, authors just jump in and promo their book and it's like a non sequitur.

    Yeah and those books get voted as adding nothing to the discussion. I picked “time and place” as there is a time and place to self-promote and if the book you have is a historical romance and we’re talking about historical romances then sure, no prob but just don’t jump into discussion and give us a romantic suspense you’ve working on. But usually, I disregard author promo’s anyway.

  25. DS
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 19:50:16

    Also time and place.

    I have seen this going on for almost as long as I’ve been hanging on book sites and listservs. Reader mentions she like books with angsty heroes and ask for recommendations. Author posts, “If you like books about angsty heroes, my latest PublishAmerica release has five angsty heroes, four of whom will be featured in my next four books.” If someone posted about wanting to read a book where the hero sticks a artichoke up his bum, I’m sure some clueless author would post, “In my newest Regency Lord Percival sticks an artichoke, a kumquat and a rutabaga up his.”

    I have never bought a book suggested in this way and I sincerely doubt if I ever will.

    Whatever happened to the discreet sig line with a web site or book title? Handy in case the author’s witty and on topic posts inspire other posters with the idea that they might want to check out what this person publishes.

  26. Maili
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 04:25:13

    @tricia

    I know that new authors are encouraged to put their names out there everywhere. And I can understand the worry about their sales figures. The author who wins my support, whose books I buy instead of taking them from the library, and whose work I'll always recommend… that author trusts in the book itself to win me over. She trusts me to be able to see the good in her book (through a blurb, excerpt, or interview/review) for myself without sending me a message on Goodreads. She allows me to seek *her* out.

    So true. IMO, the all-time best forms of promotion are the word of mouth and reader discussions.

    If an author has faith in her book, then send copies to at least three reviewers (two you know will enjoy and one that won’t). If the book is as good as the author believes it is, reviews will gather enough to set off a word of mouth.

    I know many authors fear and loathe negative reviews or critical discussions, hence the avoidance of sending their books to “mean girls” readers/reviewers/sites. Honestly, it’s a mistake to see it that way. Authors should look at it as a form of promotion.

    For example. I avoid reading Scottish historical romances (because I have absolutely no sense of humour about how Scotland is portrayed) and some of online friends are wild about that genre.

    Once in a while, we get in a fight about a certain Scottish historical romance. I might dismiss it as a “stupid piece of fantasy crap” and those friends might try to bitch-slap me while defending the book as one of best Scottish historical romances. Some others might wade in and say it was so-so.

    Should the author worry about the negative aspect of the discussion? No. In fact, it’s probably the best thing that happened to the author–because the very fact this book was the subject of a heated debate among us is likely to get other readers to check out the book themselves. This is more effective than spending a lot of money, time and effort on campaigning a book, surely?

    IMO, if authors want to promote their books the cheapest (and probably the fastest) way, trust their books to do the work. If it’s that good, readers and reviewers will do the actual promotion.

    Of course, authors will have to invest time in getting know to readers because it helps to gauge which readers are most likely to spark a discussion about their books, positively or not.

    That’s my overscretched two pennies spent. :D

  27. Karen Templeton
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 09:06:42

    The sense of desperation about a lot of author promo drives me nuts. But then, I’m a salesperson’s worst nightmare — I balk at any attempt to talk me into doing/buying/reading something I’m not already interesting in doing/buying/reading. So a shoehorned “You’ll love my book!” into a discussion that has nothing to do with said book is a total turn-off.

    Followed closely by unsolicited emails from authors I don’t know, assuming because I’m “one of them” I’m automatically interested in their book. I’m not. Like any other reader, I only check out new-to-me authors if word-of-mouth buzz indicates their book is something I might like.

    Now, sure, I’ll toss out one of my own titles if someone asks for a specific character type or storyline (or says they never see X character or Y storyline), and I can say, “Yeah, I’ve written that.” Although — in my head, at least — that’s usually more about debunking misconceptions about what “never” happens in romance than in promoting my own books. But generally I only participate on blogs/MBs/discussions that genuinely interest me, not for blatantly promotional purposes. If something I’ve said piques a poster’s interest, my website link is there should they wish to check out my stuff. ;-)

    I’ve been in this game for more than ten years now, participating in online discussions and the like. Yet I’ve noticed that my numbers didn’t stay consistently strong until OTHER people started talking about my books — people I hadn’t even known (at first) or sent books to for review. An author can only do so much self-promotion — and how effective any of it is has never been quantifiable — but word of mouth remains the most important element in the whole shebang. And that, alas, is largely serendipitous.

  28. kirsten saell
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 10:37:16

    What Karen Templeton said. You leave a much more positive impression from simply being present online in discussions that matter to you and are pertinent to your books, and letting readers know you’re an author. Readers can and do click through to your site when they like what you had to say, and they do often buy your books as a result. And then they talk about them to others.

    It just feels more natural to me, less intrusive, and more apt to get you reader support than being a promo machine.

  29. Lynne
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 11:25:04

    Definitely time and place. A couple of years ago, I was a member of an RWA chapter loop that was overrun with repetitive and often over-the-top author promo. The loop was supposed to be about chapter business, writing craft, and the publishing world in general, but every day the same few people would spam the loop with more promo.

  30. Jeannie Ruesch
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 11:49:44

    Absolutely time and place, as well as not bashing another author or trying to make yourself look good. The relationship between an author and the reader (in my opinion) is about trust… would you trust someone who bashed your friends and constantly talked ONLY about their achievements?

    I agree 100% with Karen Templeton — word of mouth will do a tremendous amount for any author. If that word of mouth is “oh, that author never participates but to spam the loops with promo,” they aren’t going to get very far.

  31. Tammy
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 16:32:01

    Time and place, time and place. There are very few scents as pungent and onerous as Desperation du Loop-Whore.

  32. Jane O
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 19:37:12

    Ideally, a book will sell itself, but when there are hundreds (thousands?) of books coming out every year, it’s easy for one -‘ especially one by a new author -‘ to get lost. I realize that authors are expected to do a lot of their own publicizing these days, and I always feel a bit embarrassed for them when the do this kind of self-promo. But not, I’m afraid, sympathetic enough to buy the book.

    It eventually dawned on me that many of the people who comment on sites like this are authors themselves. (The fact that many of them give their whole name and a website was a clue – DUH!) This indirect method is probably a more effective way to promote oneself. Authors’ comments sometimes made me think I might like their books, so I tried them, and I have found books I like this way.

    Of course, it also works the other way. Comments have sometimes made me think that this author has an outlook/attitude/whatever that I dislike, so I will probably dislike her books. That is probably a good thing too. Dear author, you don’t really want a reader who will dislike your book and tell all her friends how awful it is.

  33. Karen Templeton
    Apr 30, 2009 @ 20:09:49

    Dear author, you don't really want a reader who will dislike your book and tell all her friends how awful it is.

    Yeah, well, that’s a risk we take every time somebody reads one of our books. ;-)

    The point of promo — blatant or subtle — is to get our name out there, hopefully making SOME kind of connection with potential readers who then might be intrigued enough to check out our work. I’m not gonna lie, if somebody’s picked up one of my books because she’s “met” me online, that’s great…although I by no means expect most readers to do that. If she then likes the book and talks it up, that’s even better…but again, not expected. I pop up on (very few) message boards and blogs because I like those boards/blogs, enjoy the discussions there. The rest of it, if it happens, is a fringe benefit.

    IMO, of course.

  34. Rachel
    May 05, 2009 @ 06:52:54

    I’m more a lurker on the Amazon hist-fic boards but I couldn’t agree more with Misfit – author spammage really bugs me. It is a time and place issue – I have no issue with someone posting something that actually contributes to the discussion, and either has their book title as their signature, or tactfully mentions their novel at the end. In some cases, I’ve actually bought the book referred to – one author started an interesting discussion about what readers were looking for in historical fiction generally, and made such good points (and also seemed so nice) that I couldn’t resist buying his novel. But the ones who barge in with, “You after Tudor fiction? Try my novel about Vlad the Impaler!” (in the discussion I referred to above, another author did exactly that “I’m also interested in what readers want … so BUY MY BOOK!”)… DO NOT WANT. Fellow author-bashing would definitely be another turn off, though thankfully I haven’t seen much of that.

    Even in the “come tell us about your book” threads, there are several authors who *repeatedly* spam with multiple adverts for their books, including a c&p of the latest review on Amazon. One of the worst offenders writes novels that I might otherwise have considered buying, but the repetitive posting has become so irritating that I have him permanently on “ignore.”

    I do feel for writers trying to get their work out there, especially if they don’t have a massive promotional budget – my father published a couple of novels as well as academic work, and he’d have been lucky to sell a handful. However, as a reader who lives in a country where books are quite expensive (and the cost of the exchange rate and international shipping really bites), I’m selective about whose works I spend my money on. It’s like saturation advertising for the “PREMIERE ACTION THRILLER MOVIE EVENT!!!” on TV – the more ads I see for it, the less likely I am to watch.

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