Why Writers Dread Self-Promotion

I get it. I really do. Self-promotion feels dirty. It feels like whoring. It’s raw hucksterism, no doubt about it.

How did we writers get into this awful business, anyway?

Writers usually start writing for altruistic reasons: perhaps to teach people in their areas of expertise; perhaps they like telling stories; perhaps they are expressing themselves; or perhaps they are trying to make their marks in the field literary art.

At some point, writers decide to make a living by writing. That is when the evil Demon of Commerce appears. It changes the way they look at writing.

But the Demon of Commerce be damned. Writing is, first and foremost, an art form. By its very nature, it is a solitary act. It is the writer and the keyboard. The writer struggles to put her inner voice onto paper, unfiltered and free of outside influence.

This deep introspection drives many writers to introversion. Introversion is the psychological attribute of focusing on one’s inner psyche, or so Carl Jung first defined it. Thus, introversion is critical to good writing…and good writers are acutely aware of this. Jung also noted that extroversion is the opposite extreme on the same scale. One cannot be both introverted and extroverted, unless there is a psychological break.

When a writer faces any activity that diverts attention away from her writing, it is only natural that she feels the activity is anti-productive. Author self-promotion gobbles up a writer’s time.

Thus, self-promotion makes authors feel apprehensive.

Marketing and self-promotion are merely more writing, but their essence contrasts with the type of writing most authors pursue. Literature is artistic writing, meant to be thought provoking. Marketing, however, is crass, bold and commercial in nature. Marketing does not seek a way into the dark crevices of the human condition. Rather, marketing seeks the dark crevices of the reader’s wallet. The direct nature of self-promotion seems the antithesis of literature. Now, self-promotion grows from a flicker of apprehension to a flame of dread.

We are all familiar with ad copy: be direct, state the benefits, end with a call to action. Such writing requires a large ego, or so we are taught. We know that copywriting is just another form of writing, but is still seems contrary.

Self-promotion is a necessity. Books are a mass-media entertainment industry. Big money is involved. Success hinges on thousands of people moving in concert to read the same book at the same time.

It is impossible for the mind to look outward (extroversion) and inward (introversion) at the same time. As noted, psychology tells us that extroversion and introversion are on the same scale. Heavy on one means weak on the other.

Writers depend heavily on their introversion, their introspection. At the same time, they must pitch their work to the public at large: book tours, riding the talk-show circuit, blogging nearly daily, etcetera. This level of self-promotion is clearly extroverted behavior. The writer must make these appearances to promote herself.

No sane human can be both an introvert and an extrovert at the same time. Thus, author self-promotion seems like an exercise in schizophrenia. This is, to say the least, stressful. That flame of dread just turned into a conflagration of absolute refusal to participate—for the sake of sanity if not for the sake of literature.

These three forces—self-promotion is a diversion, self-promotion is crass and commercial, and self-promotion is just damn crazy—drive most authors to the point of contempt and derision for the self-promotion process.

However, writers know they must promote themselves and their works nonetheless. They belittle such activity. The result is that, as far as authors are concerned, book-marketing feels like hucksterism; self-promotion feels like prostitution.

Hucksterism brings negative images of pushy used car salespeople. We have come to dread this experience. More dread. All too often, hucksterism as a way to sell a thing seems unethical. Hucksters are usually insufferable braggarts and outright liars.

And prostitution! There is a loaded image! “Whoring yourself” is perhaps one of the most demeaning of activities ever conceived. It is not just the selling of one’s body, it is the selling of one’s soul.

So strong are these feelings that most all authors I have met refer to self-promotion as “whoring their books.” I hear that exact phrase, repeatedly. Whoring. It is an ugly word. The connotation reinforces the dread of self-promotion.

So prevalent is this phrase, I have included it in my upcoming book’s title, Fishnets & Platforms: The Writer’s Guide to Whoring Your Book. I did this to strike an instantly recognizable chord with writers—a form of book marketing itself. I tested about a dozen different titles. Somehow The Writer’s Guide to Book Marketing and Self-Promotion, as clear as that is, failed to light interest among writers.

So what is a writer to do? Self-promotion seems like the dirtiest, craziest diversion an author can undertake. Yet, she cannot avoid it. The market is flooded. The supply of newly published books has increased more than tenfold what it was twenty years ago.

The successful writer, even those fully established in the business, must now stand out above a very large crowd of writers. They must market themselves and their works better than anyone else does. The hardest promoting writer gets the glory. Writers cannot slack off just because self-promotion is hard or demeaning or despicable.

Fortunately, self-promotion is really not despicable. Self-promotion is nothing more than letting the public know who you are, what you do, and what your values are.

Nor is self-promotion demeaning. Readers actually look up to the authors they love to read. They want to hear about who the writer is, what she is up to, and what her values really are. When authors share that information, readers give accolades in return.

And while marketing can seem hard, it is not. It is not really an extroverted activity. In any other industry, it would be, but in literature, author self-promotion is just that. It focuses inwardly on the writer’s own psyche. Book marketing and author self-promotion are, oddly enough, an introverted activity. The marketing gets better the more the writer reaches into his own soul, just as writing does.

There is yet another obstacle to overcome—the complexity of it all. There are thousands of marketing tools out there. No one person can use them all. The vast numbers of marketing tools available often overwhelms writers. The complexity of it all only feeds the dread of self-promotion.

In Chapter 10 of Fishnets & Platforms: The Writers Guide to Whoring Your Book, I present a long list of book-marketing tools I have collected over the years as a writer and publisher. No one can possibly ever use more than a small handful of them. This list forces me to confront the complexity of it all, if I want to help authors succeed through my book.

The solution to complexity is simplicity. My book intends to simplify the process of book marketing.

In the book, I recognize that authors generally find marketing distasteful and demeaning. These feelings evolved in preconceived notions that one can easily overcome. The fact is, there is too much complexity in the process.

Therefore, the major theme of my book and this blog, which I will hammer on again and again, is that the author needs “an easy marketing plan with simple steps.”

Simple steps, because simple steps make any large, complex process become easy. More importantly, small simple steps make the goal feel attainable. The result is that the dread of book marketing disappears. Simple steps remove the dread.

Simple steps also normalize the process. A normal process keeps it dignified. The author never “sells out.” This is because simple steps are easy to change when they rub the author—or the readers—the wrong way.

Look inside yourself and determine if you dread book marketing and self-promotion. If so, ask yourself why. Hopefully, you now have some insight into how to overcome the dread.

What makes you dread self-promotion? What makes you dread marketing your book? How have you overcome those feelings?

About David Rozansky

Publisher of Flying Pen Press; Author's Business Manager; Author of Fishnets & Platforms: The Writers Guide to Whoring Your Book; Aviator; Author; Adventurer.
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One Response to Why Writers Dread Self-Promotion

  1. I received some feedback to this article on Twitter. A writer that I tweet with regularly commented that he agreed that self-promotion gives him feelings of dread.

    Specifically, he said: “I do dread self-promotion. Always have. I always feel crass and foolish putting myself forward like that.”

    I replied: “Try to focus on ways to let people know about what you stand for and why you write. Focus on passions, not on sales.”

    Tweeter: “What I stand for in my writing, or in general? Because I write to entertain people, simple as that.”

    Me: “To entertain people is a good thing! Show how much that means to you, and it won’t feel like crass marketing.”

    Tweeter: “That makes sense. I can blog about that.”

    In addition to sticking to an easy plan with simple steps, also remember to stick to your passions. In many cases, one’s passions are altruistic. In this case, entertaining others is a selfless motivation. If this author goes on to blog and write about the art and science of entertainment, it is more likely to draw readers than to blog and write about how great his latest book is. It will also compel him to write ever more, with ever more passion, and feel like his “book marketing” is doing the world a service instead of feeling like hucksterism.

    Good point indeed!

    –David Rozansky