While an MFA student, I met many different types of fellow student writers, and when it came to how they talked about being published, most fell into two extreme categories – born self-promoters who confidently pointed out their many publications, and incredibly modest types who hardly ever mentioned their published pieces.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz was mostly in the second group, but belongs in the first. From the first, she struck me as a writer intensely interested in improving her craft, across several genres and in many areas of interest. You wanted to be in her workshop, she always asked great questions following a faculty presentation. Yet Linda rarely mentioned her accomplishments, and unless you were lucky enough to spend a quiet one-on-one lunch together (as I was), you might conclude there wasn't much to tell. You'd be wrong. Linda is a Puschart Prize nominee, has authored a poetry chapbook, been published in dozens of quality literary journals, and is a frequently published humor and erotica essayist. More people should know about Linda's work. That's why I'm so pleased that for her guest post today, she's summarizing a panel from last week's AWP Writers Conference about…self-promotion.
Please welcome Linda K. Sienkiewicz.
When you have published a book, the notion of self promotion as being shameful is flat-out wrong. Publicity is an act of generosity. Promotion should be a joy. It is a writer’s duty and right.
This is what poet Todd Boss, novelist Marisha Chamberlain, nonfiction author Jon Spayde and poet Margaret Hasse said in one of the most exciting and well presented of the AWP conference seminars -- Shameless Promotion: Get the Book to the Readers. It was also one of the best attended, with writers sitting on the floor in the aisles and standing in the back. Their subject is an important issue because it is very hard for some humble writers to embrace "selling" themselves.
Boss, Spayde, Hasse and Chamberlain say authors need to deep-six the underlying assumption that if one has to put effort into marketing themselves, it might indicate there isn’t enough talent to carry the work. It’s foolish to believe that your talent should be recognizable to all and therefore, that there should be no need to promote your work.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, and with marketing budgets at publishing houses being slashed, you don’t want to have a box full of new books and no plan. This was something echoed in other presentations I attended, given by editors and book publishers from small presses and to trade houses.
Authors must start their own pre-book buzz, plan their readings and signings, launch a website, and basically sell themselves. There’s no need, however, to dole out thousands of dollars to hire a publicist. Create your own shameless marketing plan and fund it. And do it in the spirit of sharing yourself with the world. This is your right and your duty.
To demonstrate, attendees were given a nifty card with the four authors' color photos and bios (with, of course, their books and publishers listed) on one side and 10 “Shameless Book Publicity Tips” on the other:
1. Schlepp your books. You never know when a conversation might lead someone to say “Hey, where can I buy your book?” and when they do, you better have a copy on hand. Don’t feel guilty either. Feel good about promoting the reading of good literature. Look the person in the eye and say thanks.
2. Embrace your “authority” as an author and an expert. Spayde says it’s not inflating yourself. As a writer, you know things; you’ve done research, honed a craft, worked with editors, and undoubtedly have expertise to offer others as a speaker. Speak, teach, and interact.
3. Become a local laureate. Boss offered to be the laureate of a local coffee shop. It’s true that the coffee shop didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded good, and now he’s hosting a monthly poetry series there with 40 or so attendees. Everyone in his town knows who he is, a copy of his book is in the coffee shop where patrons can read it, and he got a feature article in the city’s newspaper’s arts section.
4. Write to your heroes. I remember reading this in Carolyn See’s book Making a Literary Life. Write fan letters to those writers or publishers you admire, and do it without expectations. When you give yourself to other writers, you never know it what ways it might come back to you. Because writing is a solitary act, we need to remember to let other writers know that what they’re doing matters to someone.
5. Blog, but blog deep. The value in this is, simply, human connection. Think about making connections and inviting response.
6. Do a little publicity daily (365 days a year). Who can’t devote 15 minutes a day toward publicity? Make a list of ideas and adjust your schedule to fit in a daily task, like a publicity multi-vitamin.
7. Snag private commissions. This was Boss’s idea. He says creating a poem for someone for a special occasion is a joy that has given back to him many times in many ways.
8. Map your fans, and travel. Collect emails and keep records of people you meet and are/were affiliated with. Contact them. Stage a themed reading with a few other writers. Go to book clubs. Cross promote. Collaborate.
9. Court opinion leaders. Think about who your ideal readers are and what organizations they might belong to. Think non-profit, leisure groups, hobbies and politics. Find the names of those who run and attend these groups and get them a copy of your book.
10. Memorize and record your work. Yes… think performance! Writers are communicators and the world is expanding in many ways. Launch a virtual tour. Get on YouTube. Record a CD, DVD, or podcast.
The message I took home is that promotion is more than self-service. Writers have an obligation to share their work with the world. We build a better world by our literary presence. As Boss states, his work is a reflection of his true spirit as a human being; “therefore, its celebration is blameless.”
The four enthusiastic authors maintain a website where you can read more.