Do Authors Really Need to Promote Their Own Books?

This is a guest post by Mary DeMuth. She is an author, speaker and book mentor with eight published books, including her most recent, Thin Places. Mary also mentors writers on her Wanna Be Published blog. She is also active on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Recently I received a correspondence from someone who felt I over-promoted my writing. Here’s what the person wrote:

A Megaphone on a Flat Surface - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MagnusJohansson, Image #9049088

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/MagnusJohansson

Please know that I think the world of you, your family, and your writing. But I am going to give you some carefully thought out advice. Here’s as plain as I can make it.

Please stop touting your writing and your books. (Obviously I am speaking now of Facebook.) You’ve made it. You are already a very good writer of published prose, with a first-class publisher. There’s no more need for self-promotion no matter how many ‘like this’ sort of comments you elicit. There comes a time when every very good writer has to step back with confidence and let his or her writing just speak for itself. You are at that point in my humble opinion.

You got a lot of book projects pent up inside of you. Go on with these projects and let the praise come from others, if your writing merits praise. It seems to me that you have a number of aspiring writers in your group of Facebook friends. Spend your time now touting their works, whatever they may be, or, better yet, note other writers and their works that touch your soul.

As one who takes in every email, as one who internalizes critique, these words sunk into me. It took me some time to think about what I would say in response. The following is most of what I did write back, with a little more added here for some of the things I wish I would’ve added as I read it in retrospect. Suffice to say, being an author in today’s climate is not about resting on our laurels and waiting for readers.

My response:

Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate it.

First let me say that I spend a great deal of time helping authors, most of that free via informal mentoring, my aspiring writing blog, and at conferences when I meet with writers. I’m passionate about helping other writers succeed. And I love promoting others.

Early on in my career, I read this verse: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (see Proverbs 27:2). I still believe in the power of that verse, and as Seth Godin points out in his excellent book Tribes, I’ve seen the value in folks promoting me as they’ve become zealous tribe members.

But. And there’s always a but, isn’t there? Unfortunately in this climate of publishing, I face pressure to personally promote. If you know me well, it’s not my heart to toot my own horn, but the need to do it is a reality in this business.

It may appear like I’ve arrived, but financially this is not true. I wish I could just be discovered by osmosis, but that has not happened. It’s a constant financial struggle to be a writer. (Most authors make about 80 cents a book.) And if I want to continue to do what God has uniquely gifted me to do, I need to sell books. Publishers won’t take further risk with me if I don’t.

With all the creativity involved in penning a book, the bottom line is the bottom line. Publishing is a business. And like it or not, I am a businesswoman. Just as a company who rarely believes in their product enough to promote it will ultimately face financial difficulty, a writer who neglects promotion will usually see decline—in sales, in offered contracts.

Of course there are exceptions. Some writers get discovered and become overnight successes. That’s not the way God has chosen for me to walk. I’m the girl who walked through every hurdle. Laboring in obscurity for ten years (and 10,000 hours), learning how to write queries and proposals from scratch, networking at conferences, eventually landing an agent, writing proposals that didn’t sell, eventually selling my first book. I’m thankful for that journey. Because of it, God’s developed pluck and tenacity within me, and that helps me tackle promotion with vigor, yet still keeps me humble, knowing how hard it’s been to get here.

Currently this is a season where I’m releasing probably the biggest book of my career, Thin Places, and this happens to be launch week, which is why you’re seeing an uncanny amount of promotion on Facebook. It will certainly drop off next week and the following months, only to be ramped up again in May when another novel releases.

Starting last March and continuing to this May, I will have released four books, a lot to promote. That’s just how the releases happened, and I don’t anticipate I’ll be seeing that many releases again in such a short period of time. But as someone who works in partnership with a publisher, I know they have expectations that I will promote my books. And I feel the responsibility to wear at least part of the marketing and PR hat.

The old model where a writer got to write and only the publisher promoted is no longer the case. The expectation is that you to actively market your books via speaking, social media, web presence, radio, TV, video, etc. Many times this is a fun process, though it does cut into writing time.

I do feel confident in my writing, very much so. And I do believe my stories have merit. But in this publishing environment where my book is one of tens of thousands, it’s hard to get people to notice a new writer. I know it seems like I’m not new with eight books out there, but in the world of publishing I am. I am actively paying my dues.

I write in the mornings, accumulating my word count, and promote when I can. Evenings are reserved for my family. It’s a full, busy life. Sure I wish I could rest from promoting, but unfortunately that’s just not the reality of the business these days.

I do appreciate your words, especially the spirit in which you wrote them. But I did feel in this case I needed to push back a bit and show you a little bit about what most authors have to balance.

Warmly, Mary

Question: If you are a writer, do you feel this tension between writing and promoting? How do you deal with it?
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  • Lynnda Ell

    Thank you, Michael and Mary, for posting an article about this topic. Writing is my seventh career. Each field was different from the others, yet the same thing has been true in each of them: I had to sell the other person on their need to buy what I was offering and I had to ask them to buy it (that is, I had to close the sale). In my direct sales job, that happened every day with every customer. With my accounting jobs, it happened only when I needed to get the job or persuade my boss we needed to do something. Nevertheless, marketing ourselves – with or without books to sell – is something we do with every day. I learned from Zig Ziglar many years ago that if we help enough other people get what they want, we will be able to get what we want. Mary, you wrote Thin Places to meet the needs of others like yourself. If you don't tell them about the book, how can God use it to heal them? Broken people want to be mended. Your story sends them to the Great Phycian. Keep it up, Mary. This is a business, but for you it's also a ministry. Keep telling your story.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That's a really good point, Lynnda. In some way or another we're promoting something. What's hard for writers is that we're selling a message, which can come across as arrogant since the message came from us.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    I think one of the biggest problems with the debate over Christian authors promoting their books is that we are looking way too much at each other. When my book is published (I'm being positive here), I'm planning on asking God for knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and open doors. Then, when I follow what He shows me, I won't have to worry what others think. If I should overdo something, I can rely on Him to make good not only for me, but for everyone else. I don't have to justify what I do, and neither do you, Mary. Do what God places before you and everything else will work out.

    My recent post #29 BECOMING A SON OF GOD: THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (1)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I get really antsy when I handle my own marketing. But when I view it as an adventure with God opening doors, as you said, it's a joy.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JeffHolton Jeffrey Holton

    This is the second person I know of who's connected somehow to Michael Hyatt who got an unsolicited piece of critical advice in the past few days. Hmm. Must be gang-up-on-Hyatt's-friends week. I'm gonna keep my head low!

    Anyway, to whoever wrote that original comment, I like Mary's writing, so I kinda wanna hear what she has to say. She doesn't have to stop writing when she's written the final word of the book.

    Also, as someone who's looking head-on at the daunting reality of getting a book published in the first place, I like to see the daily grind of the reality of responsibly caring for your work *after* it's released, and keeping in touch with your fans. It's all about conversation and relationship.
    My recent post A day late and a dollar short: becoming patient

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Agreed. Conversation and relationship.

  • http://twitter.com/SheilaGregoire @SheilaGregoire

    I talked about this in a teleseminar I gave for Christian writers/speakers recently. I think there's a misunderstanding in Christian circles that marketing and ministry cannot go hand in hand. We think, "If God wants it to succeed, it will, so I need to leave it to Him!" And then we figure that if we try to "help God", we're failing and have little faith.

    But I don't think it works that way. I think marketing makes you better. Think of it this way: when you market, you have to UNDERSTAND your market. You have to know your niche and what makes them tick. You have to research what their heart needs are, so that you can write and speak to those needs. You're not focused on yourself–what you want to write about–you're focused on others, what God may be wanting to do in their lives.

    I think it helps you to think bigger, and be more relevant. And all in all, that's a good thing!
    My recent post Thinking About Your Audience First

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Really wise words, Sheila. Thanks. True marketing is honoring a reader's needs.

  • http://www.BrendaNixon.com Brenda Nixon, M.A.

    Excellent, informative, candid reply to an outsider in the writing industry. Thank you for your spirit in this reply, Mary. Thank you, Michael, for posting Mary's insightful letter. Even today I am speaking (for free) to a group of fiction writers about book promotion. As Mary informed her concerned reader, authors cannot rest and expect publishers to do all the promo & marketing work – and there is a difference between promotion and marketing.
    Like Mary, I am considered a newbie in the author world with three books: two parenting and a co-authored holiday book. My latest title, The Birth to Five Book: Confident Childrearing Right from the Start, probably nets me 80 cents or less, so I'm no more wealthy than Mary.
    Serious authors realize the dance of atunement with their publisher in consistently, persistently getting the book noticed every day.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      It is hard to get a book noticed every day, though. Sometimes I grow weary of that. But you're right, it's a partnership dance with the publisher.

  • http://twitter.com/BarbParentini @BarbParentini

    Thanks, Mike, for posting this. And Mary, I wholeheartedly support your viewpoints.They are words of truth! Though I am still mining my first novel, honing Living Letters, and enjoying the creation of my lifelong dream–a beautiful card line, I haven't published a string of books as you have. I am, however, going the route you have traveled: the conferences, learning and writing, creating from scratch. It makes you appreciate your journey, and builds the stuff writers are made of. I'm a contributor in several books, and look forward to the day my novel arrives at my door; until that day comes, I am clear about the expectations the publisher will have of me to promote their investment.

    So, yes, writers may succeed to literary stardom, but the marketing aspect must be forged in earnest by the author. Many years of writing success!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      How cool to have a card line someday. I hope your dreams are realized!

  • http://www.xanga.com/wondering-4 Heather Marsten

    I think any book publisher would appreciate an author helping to promote their books. If you have a good topic to share, people need to know about it. What if we just waited until people pulled a Bible off of a bookshelf, instead of reaching out to them for God? Sometimes we don't know about a book unless someone speaks about it. Regarding Thin Places, I am glad to have found an entry about it for it is a topic near and dear to my heart and I would not have heard about it without the promotion you did. I pray that you don't take that criticism to heart. I think pride would dictate not promoting your material. If you are making yourself available to people in the promotion of your book, that is a blessing.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Interesting point!

  • Dena Netherton

    What hardware company or software company, etc. could afford not to advertise, especially if the business was around the corner or tucked away in an obscure part of town? I think I read somewhere that it takes around ten to thirteen viewings of a commercial on tv before the company and the attractiveness of its offerings sink into our consciousness. Until you become a household word you must promote. The more I hear about Thin Places the more I want to read it! Keep on keeping on,lovely lady.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks Dena. If you do pick it up, shoot me an email and let me know what you think.

  • http://terrycordingley.blogspot.com Terry Cordingley

    Do writers need to promote their books? Only if they want people to read them.
    My recent post Five Tips for Scheduling a Book Signing Event

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Of course, then there's the argument that books sell primarily through word of mouth.

  • Ty Hutchinson

    Actors and directors promote their movies, singers promote their albums, painters promote their paintings, designers promote their new line, fast food restaurants promote their latest deals, manufacturers promote their products, television stations promote their shows and so forth. So it makes complete sense to me that authors would promote their books.

    This is advertising. There will be authors that do it in an irritating way like HeadOn – apply directly to the forehead and their will be ones that don't.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Yeah, there is a balance, but it seems it's okay to promote anything else, just not Christian books. I wonder where that dichotomy happened.

  • Jenn

    I am challenged by your post, Mary. At a glance I agree with everything you said and think your response was appropriate and absolutely well stated. The general public seems to hold an inaccurately glamourous view of the life of a published author.

    The one thing I question has to do with Facebook. It seems to me that people who are my friends on Facebook want to be just that — friends. Many seem to login to Facebook to unwind a little, catch up on the lives of others, click on a few pictures, and enjoy a few laughs. Since your friend specifically referred to Facebook, I wonder if she has a point. People, in general, respond negatively to their friends trying to sell things to them. (If your correspondence refers to a Facebook page, I see that as being different.)

    In my extremely limited social media experience, it seems a Facebook page or Twitter is a more appropriate place to market and self-promote. Even the terms "fans" and "followers" versus "friends" makes it more acceptable.

    I am posting this because I am curious if my experience is the same as others. I may be too late to engage in a conversation, but it would be helpful to me to hear what you or others think. Thank you!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I do have a fan page on Facebook, and will be concentrating more on that once my queue of friends fills up. The friend was right in terms of the promotion on the particular week I posted. It was launch week, and because of that, I promoted the book. But normally I don't. Normally it's quotes I find that bless me, or what recipe I'm making for dinner, or something God's taught me in the moment. I often pray my way through the day through my updates. It's not normative for me to be promoting ad nauseum.

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  • http://www.shannondittemore.com Shannon Dittemore

    Wow… I love your response. As a still pre-published author, I dread receiving a FB message or email with those words. I'm still new at this whole "marketing yourself" thing and like you, I use my FB to get the word out about new blogs, new articles, new novel segments. I do wonder if it is overwhelming to my FB friends. Still, your point is beyond valid! If we hope to make money in this industry, money to support our families, our noses are forced to the metaphorical grindstone and we market to the world around us! I suppose as we elevate our platforms, those closest to us will sigh with relief that we've acquired a larger world to holler at. Until that time, we press on and pray for open doors. Thanks for sharing!
    My recent post The End

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Shannon, that's a good point. All along the journey, we deal with promotion on some level.

  • kathryn magendie

    Boy do I feel the 'tension' – lately I've decided to have a little fun with it – throw some 'caution to the winds' – my reclusive side that lives in this mountain cove and wants to just write her words is at war with the side that has to get out ther and "toot the horn…"

    Before my book came out, I spent a lot of time helping writers with their prose, promoting writers who were published, etc, but now I don't have as much time to do that as I like, and I have to spend a lot of time with this "look at me look at me look at me!' – I walk that fine line between being who I am and what I believe in, and what I must do to promote my book(s). I know I could probably do more, and maybe should, but there is a line I have drawn – we'll see if I ever have to cross it….although some may say I've crossed it recently with my "nekkid reading" and other things – taking suggestions from readers on promo ideas and running with it . . .that's a whole other story *smiling*

    nice post…and good luck!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for the "good luck," Kathryn. I like what you said toward the end about asking help from readers about promotion. They're great catalysts for creative ideas.

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  • http://www.robynbeazley.com Robyn Beazley

    As I prepare to publish my first book, this post was amazing to read. Thank you very much for being transparent Mary, about what I will most likely face during my upcoming journey. Have an amazing day!

  • http://kennishahill.blogspot.com Kennisha

    I love your response, Mary.

    Well, here's my answer to your question. I really do feel tension between writing and promoting. I'm a stay-at-home mom to two little ones (almost 3 year old and an almost 1 year old) plus we're 'expecting' again. And so, that alone gives me very little time to promote…although Facebook is an easy way to do it. My biggest problem is knowing what to do or how to effectively promote. I took the rebel route and self-published. I just want to and don't really have a strong desire to publish the traditional way. =) That's just a preference of mine for the moment. But, I would love to learn ways to effectively promote. That's the only part that is a little stressful.

    BTW, I believe you're doing great! Baby writers like myself are watching the pro's like you very carefully. And, you are a great example to many!

    Blessings,
    Kennisha

  • http://www.myspace.com/dezdot Dez Electrik

    I can truly connect with your last question, me , being in the music industry, I recently launched an indie label to release and publish my own albums. I finished production of the 1st album and have been promoting it for the past 2 months, caught a break in my schedule and went back to the keyboard to start on some new material for album #2 and found myself so mentally drained that I couldn't get anything done. So I feel when you're in writing mode set a mark for multiple projects in a financially responsible space of time so when you do go out to promote there are multiple projects in the can.

    for a preview of the album http://www.myspace.com/dezdot

  • http://www.aldrichdesign.com Dave Aldrich

    Wonderful response, Mary.

    I’m a book cover designer who works mostly with first-time, self-published authors, and I am always touting the horn of self-promotion; that being so important.

    I often struggle with the idea of promoting myself. My heart wants to simply be a humble follower of Jesus. Yes, this is business and in some ways we separate that from our identity in Him, but I think of the fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. I believe that He has given us talents and abilities that we may shine and glorify Him. And if our focus is kept on Him then I think the balance for humility will be there. So we needn’t worry about all those voices telling us to quiet down!

    Thanks again!

    Dave

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  • Mikedpettit

    Thanks for a timely article. I tell other authors that we spend 80% of our time promoting and 20% writing. This just a fact of the business. Selling books is like selling any other consumer product, you must have your brand out in the public’s face every single day…down every isle. If you are good at your 20% writing then you don’t need to worry, the customer will come back for more.

  • http://www.gypsyink.com Leeana Tankersley

    Thank you for this post, Mary. You name a very distinct dilemma. Not just the philosophy of how much to self-promote but also the time allocation to writing vs. promotion.

    The tension of writing and promoting has been huge for me. I became a mother (to twins) just as I was finishing my manuscript, and my children were still under a year old when my book released (Found Art, Zondervan 2009). Just slightly overwhelming.

    I feel very willing and motivated to promote, but I also feel ever-conflicted about how much time to dedicate to all the necessary activities of being an author. I want to promote in ways that will make a big impact and not spread myself too thin. But sometimes that requires a lot of trial and error. Thanks for naming this struggle, and for naming this reality in the industry. I’d love to see another post from you on what promotional strategies you’ve found to be most effective! :)

  • Rubydiana

    It’s hard to toot our own horn when it comes to promoting our own book.  With this said,
    you will find EVERY CHILD filled with everything that makes a book worth the price.
    Google it!  EVERY CHILD by Ruby Diana.  You will also find it at Barnes & Noble and on
    Amazon.  So there, I did toot my own horn, because I need your VOICE for the good of
    EVERY CHILD… 

  • http://www.faithfulchoices.com Paula

    I timidly and fearfully say, “I agree with you”

    If we as writers don’t believe in what we’ve created enough to put ourselves and our integrity on the line by promoting it, why should anyone else. 

    That doesn’t make it easy and it doesn’t mean I like it…but it does mean, if this is a light God lit, our job is to let that light shine bright.  Sharing and promoting is part of holding up the light and letting others know its there.

    Thanks for your honesty.

  • author essentials

    author promotionthanks for this post it will help to other to promote their own book… 

  • kamal

     I have been using a website it gives a simple and amazing promotion tool, that
    we easily can use to promote our products with.
    http://goo.gl/xRzkb

  • Shirley Corder

    Excellent post Mary, thank you – from one who is about to embark on this same process and scared stiff!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       I’m glad it helped, Shirley.

  • Linda Chontos

    I just want to add my little bit to what others have said Mary. I have found you to be one of the most generous, encouraging writers I know. You do far more of that than the promotional things. You are a blessing.

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  • http://twitter.com/rubydiana BOOK: EVERY CHILD

    Until you write a book, you will never know the work that goes into it.  Self Promotion is part of it.  If that offends, then you’ve got to be offended by millions of authors who promote their books.  Books are our friends.  A good book that may never be read because someone
    was offended by its promotion, is a great loss. 
    With this said, I need you all to read EVERY CHILD by Ruby Diana.   Get a free sample read on amazon.com…Search books: Type in: EVERY CHILD by Ruby Diana.
    There, now I’ve promoted my book, now you go ahead and promote yours, or start writing one!

  • Deborah H. Bateman

    Thanks for sharing your post. I too find the struggle of promoting my books and wondering what people will think, but in the end it is my responsibility to promote what I have spent so many hours writing, editing, and publishing. I have had people make remarks about me promoting my books and it does hurt when people think you are doing something wrong when you are just trying to get the word out. You are not trying to force anybody to buy your books. As authors we are just trying to let people know about our books and it is their choice as to whether they want to buy them and read them. Your sweet spirit comes through in your response. You made your point clear, but did it in a professional manner.
    Blessings,

    Deborah H. Bateman – Author