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September 18, 2020

How to Do Self-Promotion

“There is nothing wrong with self-promotion!” someone tweeted at me a few weeks ago, an attempt at encouragement that demonstrated that they don’t know me very well, because clearly, I already know this . If I could afford to buy billboards for my selfies, I probably would. I really do hope that you will pre-order my new book (coming October 27 from Doubleday Canada!), is what I’m saying, but also that all self-promotion is not good self-promotion. There is a certain kind of grace required.

This all started because I have the best part time job ever, and I work with the best people , who fill my life with goodness and have been so supportive of my work for the past nearly-ten years. And my job involves getting excited about Canadian books, which is the greatest pleasure, and comes pretty naturally to me. But I am careful not to use this particular platform to promote my own work. I have other platforms after all, and it would be more than a little gauche. For me to include my book on the site’s Fiction Preview, for example, a project I care very much about and work hard on compiling.

So I didn’t, and my friend/colleague Kiley didn’t notice (it was a very busy summer!) until my book ended up on the Toronto Star and CBC Books’ Fall Previews the other weekend. And then she tweeted from the 49thShelf account about my forthcoming book, and how I hadn’t included it on our list. I replied that it’s kind of tacky to put your own book on your own list, and that it is to be hoped instead that somebody else might be anticipating my book, someone who isn’t even me—a gamble that had paid off (phew!) because at least two media outlets were.

Um, and yes, props to my fantastic publicist at PRH, of course. I suppose it’s easier to be kind of laissez faire when you have such people in your corner. It’s not all karma, is what I’m saying. But some of it actually is.

And what I mean by this is that the best way I know to do self-promotion is to create the space, instead of focusing on my own book specifically. This is a long-term goal, of course. You don’t start this six weeks before your pub date. Instead, you use whatever platforms you have—both digitally and in the actual world—with the intention of creating meaningful conversation, in my case about books and reading in general. Supporting a culture of literature in the places I hang out in, connecting with others who do so. And this culture matters. As Virginia Woolf wrote 95 years ago of the importance of readers in her essay “How Should One Read a Book?”—“The standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work.”

So how to create this space? Maybe you have a book blog. Maybe you interview writers on Youtube. Maybe you started an online literary magazine. Maybe you post about the books you love on Facebook. Maybe you run a reading series. Maybe you post photos of your library haul on Instagram. Maybe you talk about books exuberantly to the people you encounter in your everyday life. Maybe you support independent bookstores/ Maybe you read conspicuously in public. Maybe you do things to support the spaces that were created by other people, attending literary events, buying books, reading book reviews. Maybe you listen to books podcasts, and then tell other people about the books podcasts. Maybe you write Goodreads reviews, and leave reviews on Amazon—although even typing this makes me nauseous because nothing associated with Amazon is good for anybody, so if these are your tactics, perhaps think of one more.

The point of this space you’re creating is still not to promote your own book. Forget about your own book, for now. This is not about you. The point of this space you’re creating is to make more room in the world for books and readers, and even just a little tiny bit more space means something significant. And you’re benefiting from this space, because you are a reader, and you live in the world, and you’ve done your part to make the world a little closer to the kind of world you want to see—where books and reading matter.

And then, yes, because there is more space, there will also be more room for you and your book. Because you’re steeped in the atmosphere of books and reading, it will not seem so awkward to make your own book a part of the conversation. And because you’ve cultivated connections and built relationships, you won’t be the only person talking about your book either, which is the kind of promotion that really matters, which is really just living the dream.

But first, you have to make that space. Talk about and share the books you really love. You are not in competition with other writers—a world where people love and value books is good for everyone, even if the books they’re loving and valuing aren’t yours. There is room enough for everyone, especially if you’re making space. The success of any writer can be a success for all writers.

Of course, feel free to take all this with a grain of salt because modest success is all I’ve ever known anyway. I’m a blogger after all, inherently on the margins. But still.

When you hear someone asking for a book recommendation, resist the urge to suggest your own book (because of course you’re going to suggest your own book). Not because there is anything wrong with self-promotion, but because it’s just too easy and obvious to create any meaningful connection. You really do have to go the long way around, but it’s worth it. Because it’s real.

One thought on “How to Do Self-Promotion”

  1. Ariel Gordon says:

    Hear hear!

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