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How NOT to Promote Your Book


Don’t do this to your friends







Here’s a common scenario.

I say to a friend, “I wonder what Sarah is up to. I haven’t heard from her since we were in that writers’ group three years ago.”

Friend: “I haven’t heard from her either. I googled her once, but she doesn’t have a website, and she’s not on Facebook.”

Me: “I wonder if she’s still working on that novel. She’s such a good writer.”

Friend, shrugging: “Who knows. It doesn’t seem like anyone from the group has heard from her.”

Fast forward one year and I get a friend request from Sarah. And I get an email from Sarah. And Sarah follows me on Twitter. And Sarah sends me a LinkedIn request. And every single message from Sarah says, “Hey guys! My book is out! Please spread the word!”

Am I going to rush out to buy Sarah’s book, to attend her readings, to “spread the word”? Mmm, probably not. Sarah has made no effort to keep in touch with me until she needed something, so by advertising Sarah’s new book for her, I’m going to feel a little … used.

BUT, you may argue, Sarah has been busy writing and revising and perfecting her book instead of wasting all her time on social media. Doesn’t she deserve some credit for that? Sure, if she’s willing to rely on traditional media to get the word out about her book. If radio interviews and book reviews and ads in the New Yorker are all she needs, more power to her. But if she wants the help of her friends through social media, then she needs to be a friend, and she needs to be social.

That doesn’t mean that she has to spend all her time Instagramming and building her blog instead of working on her book, but it does mean that she should make some effort—even just by friending people on Facebook and posting pictures of her dog now and then—to keep in touch with people if she expects them to help her out when she needs it.

Be a friend, and your friends will want to support you when your book comes out. But if you wait until your book comes out to get in touch with people, that will make them feel icky. And no one likes to feel icky.

What about you? What are your pet peeves when it comes to book promotion?

40 comments to How NOT to Promote Your Book

  • Ruth Harris

    Meghan, You're sooo right! A one-way street won't get her where she wants to go.

    • meghancward

      I had a friend email me one day and say, "Who is XXX? She says she's a friend of yours and wants to be my FB friend." And I said, "Oh, she has a book coming out. She must be trying to network." And my friend immediately refused her friend request – because no one wants to feel used!

  • Shelly King

    You're absolutely right. I work in social media for my day job and what most people don't get is that social media isn't another outlet for you to advertise on. It's a powerful resource when you use it over time to build genuine relationships. Number of followers/likes/connections don't convert into sales if you don't make an effort in those relationships.

    • meghancward

      Thanks for chiming in, Shelly. Turning followers/likes/connections into sales is not easy from what I understand, but yes, real relationships count for a lot – whether they're online or in real person.

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    I agree, and the other thing that happens sometimes is that people do the work of social media friendship and then expect me to promote their books in that basis. I try to be diplomatic , but I'm not promoting anything (even with my very limited reach and clout) if it's not actually really really good. Encouragement , yes, but not promotion. In fact, quality trumps everything else. (I apply that to real-life friends, too. 🙂 )

    • meghancward

      Anthony, great point. Some bloggers I just love write books that don't interest me, so as much as I want to support them, I can't do it by recommending their books. And sometimes a writer I don't particularly like will write an amazing book, and I will promote it despite what I think of the author – because I want other people to read his/her book.

  • I agree, by the way not all of social media used for promote a book. There are many ways to promote a book rather than social media.

    • meghancward

      Good point! I would love to hear your ideas on how to promote books other than social media! (And other than traditional media like radio interviews and book reviews.)

  • That was a good post. Though we all live in social media 24/7 anymore, the masses (those who have never read a blog) still don't quite get how it works. Oh sure, everyone has a FB account, but if they only use it to check what their distant relatives are up to, it is little more than dipping one's toes in the water.

    Promoting a book takes a lot of time. AS Sewa Mobil pointed out, there are many ways to promote a book, but learning about them is time consuming. Six months ago I hadn't heard of Bookbub, ENT, FKBooksandTips, Bookblast, EreaderCafe, BookGorilla, and a host of others. When I did learn about them, I mistakenly thought one could just pay them to run ads, but alas, they have more requests than they can fill, so one must be accepted. This is just one aspect of book marketing that must be understood.

    Add to that all that is involved in building a social media platform and it is easy to understand how some might not fully comprehend the entire book marketing process.

    I started building relationships 3.5 years ago and only in the last five months have begun to seriously publish and market my books.

    I wish your friend well, but she has a lot of time and work ahead of her if she is just starting to think about marketing.

    • meghancward

      Brian, I've never heard of any of those websites! I think traditionally published authors with decent marketing campaigns behind them can get away with avoiding social media, but self-publishing authors need to be on there a good year before publication making and building relationships. I'd love to hear more about what you've learned about online book promotion!

      • I agree, it takes a long while to build a platform. It also takes a willingness to devote considerable time to marketing immersion. By that I mean one must know everything about how their book behaves when marketed.

        I track loads of data. I know not only my sales, but the speed, the time of day (and week) when it people are most active buying books. I've run ads with the aforementioned sites in such a way as to make sure I had clean data. When ads were running, if I did any tweeting or posting about my sales, I made sure to include a link that I could track. This lets me see which sales came from where.

        The first step for an indie author, get to ten reviews (with at least four of them "Verified Amazon Purchases"). This takes a lot of work and uncomfortable bugging of anyone who has mentioned reading the book to write a review.

        From there, one can begin to submit to run ads. There is more demand than supply of available spots, so it can be difficult to get one's foot in the door.

        Then there is the concept of using free days. That can work, too, but one needs to have many thousands of free downloads for it to help. It is hard to get 30K in free downloads, but if one can do it, then there will be a nice bump. Still, one might use a free day to get the book out there and if it yields some reviews, then it may be worth it.

        Lastly, it is crucial to get in the habit of selling your book all the time. It can be unpleasant, but if one is proud of their work, then they must shout it from the rooftops and be excited to do so. If not the author, then who?

        Meghan…since I'm on the subject of selling books, have you considered my new YA Secret Doors: The Challenge? It is a YA in the style of Harry Potter, but my book has NOT one…but TWO giant guinea pigs and one of them talks.

        (See, that is what it takes. Tell everyone) Every sale counts. Every new reader is a possible evangelist for the books.

        Two months ago I had 277 sale and last month 513. I'm not sure if I'll set a new best this month, but it is possible.

        Also, it is really hard to break-out as an author (something I've not done, yet) with only one or two books. I have five novels, now, and it is just starting to grow.

        That's all I can think of for now…Did I mention the guinea pigs? Sooo cute!

  • lindseycrittenden

    liked this post. Been updating my FB page this week, and thinking about some of these issues. Shared this on the page, too! Thanks, Meghan

    • meghancward

      Thanks for sharing the post, Lindsey! I also posted it to SheWrites, where someone told me to " Be a true friend and drop the judgment by supporting her writing effort and courage it took to reach out regardless of timing." If "Sarah" were a good friend, we would have kept in touch. "Sarah" isn't a real name, but this has happened with several writers I know. It's one thing to hole up for a few months to finish a book, but to have NO online presence and to make NO effort to keep in touch with colleagues/classmates for several years, you can't expect me to run out to buy your book when you finally resurface.

  • annerallen

    You're so right, Meghan! People need to repeat this every day: "SOCIAL MEDIA IS SOCIAL." The same ruled apply to social interaction online as as in real life. So many authors act like they're wearing an advertising sandwich board 24/7. At a cocktail party, this is not the best attire. 🙂

  • Madison Woods

    I use social media to find people who like the things I like (nature, outdoors, herb lore, etc.) and my blog reflects my interests as well as my writing. I do announce when I have product releases, but the point of my social media networking is to build a network, not to hard sell anyone. When people find my blog or website and follow me, I follow back and try to get to know them a little. Some have good rapport and we talk/tweet more, some don't. My hope is that the people who like what I like will also like what I write/produce. Even if they don't, maybe someone they know will. Because they've interacted with me over time they'll be more inclined to refer my work to a friend they know who might like my writing or other multi-media products. And I do the same for them. Just like in real life.

  • mainecharacter

    This makes me wish I'd kept in touch with Suzanne Collins, from back when we were working the rodeo circuit. : p

    But really, your tips apply to life as much as promotion. If you help someone move, or look after their kid for a day, it's a lot easier to find help when you need a hand. In fact, you might not even need to ask.

  • So very true. I'd feel used and probably not promote unless I knew something had been going on in her personal life. I do tend to pop on and off. I show up for a while on one social media for a bit and then on another. But most of my followers know I struggle with chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia and was hit by a truck in March 2012. But when I am online I'm usually promoting others or offering advice and I can't imagine popping back up just to promote my book. That would go against everything I teach. If I were to finally finish my book and become active online after time off I figure people would see the book when they saw my blog post about using social media to build real relationships or book reviews for books I'd read while offline.

    Lots of great suggestions by other commenters. I'm on a ton of email list for freebie/discount books and share those list regularly with readers and authors. I get a number of my books that way. Many are those listed by a previous commenter.

    I review books on Goodreads but I'm also on a number of Goodreads groups. I'm more active on ones within my genre but I keep an eye on ones that are active and have a lot of readers in other genres and point both readers and authors to those groups reminding authors to use Goodreads as a reader unless they are doing a giveaway or participating in a R2R (read-to-review) program. I recommend books to groups and people as appropriate NOT mass recommendations so people come to trust me. I'm always up-front about my relationship with an author/publisher.

    Offline things you can do: offer to teach workshops at local library on writing, social media, publishing, have your books there but don't push them (building relationships in-person can be similar to online). Build relationships with local businesses that might benefit by showcasing local authors (not just you) or local businesses that your book(s) is complementary to (knitting mysteries/yarn store; cooking store; chef romances; etc. again think about other local authors not just yourself)

    Some ideas off the top of my head.

    • meghancward

      Thanks for the offline book marketing ideas, Tasha! And I don't think Sarah ever meant to "use" anyone. I just think people don't realize how it comes across when they have NO online presence until their book comes out, and suddenly they're pinging everyone. For those of us who are online all the time sharing advice and cheering each other on, it feels like they're trying to cut to the head of a long line of cars in a traffic jam.

      • I agree that they don't mean to use people. They just haven't met the right people to know how to do things the right way. This is why it is so important to find a mentor or have a few good friends who can steer you in the right direction.

        Most of us who are online taking the time to learn how to do things right unfortunately don't have a lot of patience for those who just blunder in. If they are friends I might privately drop them links to a few threads suggesting they might want to reconsider their behavior as it might not be having the intended effect (affect? brain fuzzy today).

  • Here is the list of most of the emails I get & you can look into being in for free & discount books. Each has its own policies for being added. I'm not sure if you can request to be added to all but I figured I'd give as complete a list as I have for getting free/discount books. I'm sure some are missing as my posts about this on Goodreads groups have disappeared. That will teach me not to have backups.

    Free & Discount Books

    You can sign up to receive these – You can also apply to have your books included

    Pixel of Ink


    ENT/Ereader News Today

    Kindle Books and Tips


    The eReader Café


    You can also look into having your book reviewed through:



    Netgalley (more expensive)

    R2R (read-to-review) programs on various Goodreads groups – it helps to be an active member of the group and for the group to be appropriate to your genre

  • Great points — it's all about a *community* of writers and truly fostering the relationship that goes beyond a spam friend request

  • andyrossagency

    Meghan. Thanks for this. And it's so true! I go to a lot of writers conferences. And there are always classes about how to promote your book or "build your platform" on social media. Of course, you have to do it. But it's probably being oversold. What really annoys me though are people who just overdo it. When writers paper by Facebook feed with hourly posts about their book, I get annoyed and want to switch channels. Just as in writing, when you are promoting your book, you need to respect the reader.

    • meghancward

      So true, Andy! And a lot of people make the mistake of waiting until their book comes out to begin building online communities. Seth Godin famously said you need to start three years before your book comes out. That said, I think a lot of people build communities with the wrong people, too. The trick is to find your audience. Easier said than done.

  • i just feel terrible for Sarah its good that she's a writer and she gave her whole effort to her book. but some times we need help from our friends like wise shop, travel and they helps lots as best they can do. and what ever sarah did its totally selfishness but in the term of sarah she want her book perfect instead of talk with friend or meets.

  • Poor Sarah. Like many authors these days, she's left to do the bulk of the marketing for her own book, and she is probably overwhelmed and may have little expertise in marketing. I'm not saying she is right, but her actions are indicative of the tough time authors have out there right now.

  • dakiwords

    I agree with you to an extent. Because I have been "Sara" lol. However, my "back story" is: I'm one of those people that is really not good with social media (in my case, this does not mean out of touch with technology, lazy, or above it all). It's just really not my favorite (or second) favorite way of staying in touch. But what some people fail to realize is I'm one of the first to support other writers and artists in general. I buy books, forward emails, am a listening ear when someone needs to vent, connect people with resources, etc.

    But I did come to realize that when you do these "private" things. You know actually buying three copies of someone's books without posting it on social media it's as though it doesn't exist. But to be fair, I have learned the error of my ways, because I have definitely tried to hard sell (or semi-hard 😉 sell my book on social media. This was not right because 1) it was inauthentic to my dislike for the platform -in this case it was Twitter 2) it's not what social media was created for and 3) people who don't know me that well were subject to me sounding like "look at me", "buy my stuff" not realizing that I'm actually not a narcissistic douche that I may sound like.

    In hindsight, we all need to be a bit more compassionate. I was annoying (although for only a few weeks). I admit it, and I'm sorry and a bit embarrassed ;/…but I'm also supportive…and learning how to promote the right way without "coming out of the darkness" after several years of absence. To my credit, I'm also pretty shy in real, non-virtual life…so I think I was just overcompensating.

    So yes, Sara's are annoying. But sometimes "we" have/had good intentions too. If you know her/him, cut him some slack, and kindly point them to this blog post ;).

  • Lakis

    Great article,

    Thank you for the helpful info. – Your No1 choice to promote your book for free

  • AMAZING Post Thanks a lot for sharing waiting for more 🙂

  • Great article,

    Thank you for the helpful info.