The Pushmi-Pullyu of Promotion

I am, to my surprise, still carrying around some of the societal attitudes of my yout’.  I was a toddler in pre-Betty Friedan America; I hit my teens about the same time as Woodstock and Our Bodies Ourselves and (a few years later) Watergate.  My attitudes are, not surprisingly, shaped by a lot of that stuff.

But there’s a part of my brain installed by my mom, with help from her mother and very likely her grandmother.  That’s the part of me that says “You’re not supposed to put yourself forward.”  “Nice girls don’t draw attention to themselves.”  “It’s not polite to brag,” (for certain values in which “brag” is to say anything positive about yourself).  When it comes to self-promotion, all that stuff comes back to haunt me in the most unhelpful way.  I can sell almost anything except myself.

Last week I had to write a brief promotional piece on (clutchclutchclutch) myself. Writers’ block time: I read a dozen similar things, trying to figure out how I could copy them, file off the serial numbers and shove my own information in.  Finally I put on my big-girl pants and just wrote the wretched thing.  To do it I had to let go of my mother’s voice saying “Nice girls don’t brag!”  How?  In this case, I sidestepped the notion of writing about me and made the piece about events; put in just enough narrative to glue it together, and had the bones of it.

I don’t know that that will work next time.

The whole notion of promotion has changed enormously since I published my first book. In those days a writer wrote and, having written, sat down and wrote something else.  It was left to the publisher to decide what if any promotion to do for a book.  “Building your brand?”  The concept undoubtedly existed, but no one put it that way.  Networking?  It was nice to meet other writers and talk shop, but the idea that this was somehow going to improve your sales was certainly not on my radar.

And the tools for promotion are way different.  It’s not just postcards and bookmarks anymore.  When I began reading SF did anyone imagine Twitter?  Or podcasts? Or blogging, Live Journal, Facebook?  Facetime events with readers–signings, book tours, speaking appearances–are terrific, but mostly arranged by the writer herself (“Hi, wouldn’t you like to have a book signing staring ME?” pushes every button my mother ever sewed on).  And it takes time to do all this stuff, too.

That’s the real question: how much time do I want to spend in promoting my work or my “brand”?  Is it old school of me to believe that my job is writing?  Could be.  Could be, not so much.  Internet success story Amanda Hocking has now got a book deal with St. Martin’s Press, in part because she doesn’t want to be doing all the incidental work–including promotion:  “I want to be a writer,” Hocking says. “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.”

This is one reason why Book View Café is so great–we’ve got a group of talented people with skills in all sorts of publishing-related tasks, including promotion.  Our strength is our diversity of abilities.  And maybe, just a little bit, our strength is that each of us can promote the work of colleagues we admire, and no one has to worry about our own Mom button.  If I need a push, someone else may need a pull, and we each get where we need to be.


Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone WarPoint of Honour, Petty Treason,  and a double-handful of short stories which are available on her bookshelf.  She has just finished The Salernitan Women, set in medieval Italy, and a new Sarah Tolerance novel, The Sleeping Partner (which will be out in fall of 2011 from Plus One Press).  Her first Regency romance, Althea, will be available in April from Book View Cafe

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About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


The Pushmi-Pullyu of Promotion — 12 Comments

  1. I have a lot of the same ingrained habits as Madeleine.

    Fortunately, nobody ever brainwashed me about saying nice things about other people and their work.

    If you haven’t read Madeleine’s work, you’re in for a treat. I was delighted to hear that she’s soon publishing a third Sarah Tolerance novel. It isn’t availble for pre-order yet, but as soon as it is you can be sure we’ll mention it on the blog, on the website, and on the Events Calendar.

    In the meantime you can catch up with her novels via her Powell’s Bookshelf: and Althea will be available from Book View Cafe on April 19.


  2. Sarah Tolerance! Also, her Regency romance Althea is now out, which I mean to get. There are times when a light and sprightly romance in the lovely London-that-never was of silver fork novels is just the ticket.

    I too was raised the same way, with the result that I actually feel physically ill at the idea of putting myself forward, but part of that is the intense awareness that I don’t have the charisma to pull it off. And so very many people who are pushing themselves just fine all over the internet sound like commercials. I don’t need more commercial yammering at me, there’s enough on the tube.

    So what’s the alternative? Content, I think: people discussing what they genuinely like, and why they like it. That seems the most likely way to draw readers who share one’s tastes.

  3. It isn’t just your mothers’ voices in your heads, or even the constant socialization that backed up the “don’t talk about yourself” advice to girls (which includes, but is not limited to, bragging). It’s the fact that, even today, when women do make the effort to talk about their work, they are often either ignored or labeled as “pushy.”

    I’ll bring this around once again to Anna Fels’s brilliant analysis, Necessary Dreams, in which she talks about the importance of recognition in helping people achieve their ambitions and dreams. Women still don’t get the recognition that men do, and putting yourself out there only to be ignored or jumped on for bragging, makes it hard to keep doing this.

    My review of the book is here, but the book’s still in print. Go buy a copy or get it at your library! It’ll help deal with these issues.

    (I suck at promoting my own work, but I’m really good at promoting Fels’s.)

  4. Mad et al.,

    Yes, most of us probably are pretty bad at it. I enjoy promoting BVC, but not myself. I’m glad we’re at least sharing information on what works.

    The problem I have is social media. It’s supposed to be the be-all and end-all for ebook promoting. I’m sure it works. Unfortunately, I’m not that crazy about it. Who has time?

    A lot of writers are not social people. That’s why we’re writers. I think the writer of the future is going to be a totally different person than the writer of the past. But we’ll see.

  5. Oh, I recognise this: it was the same with me (and I’m from the punk rock generation). Nice girls don’t get up and yell. Nice girls give way. I find the whole thing almost impossible.
    But yes to promoting others. I can talk about my favourites all day and show the shiny.

  6. Oh gosh… What Everyone Said. I think the first of Mad’s books I read was THE STONE WAR. By the time I met Sarah Tolerance, I was thoroughly hooked. She’s addictive, is our Mad.

    In person, I’m quite sociable. I love meeting other writers and readers. When I offer encouragement, I benefit as well. I’ve had the experience of being part of someone else’s life-saver network, and have been the grateful recipient of similar care.

    But as for “branding my work” or figuring out how to get readers to even take a look at it, I’m mostly clueless. The best I can offer is that if you like what I have to say about other things, you’ll probably like my writing, too.

  7. widdershins — I have to disagree. Recommending a book is something I take a good deal more seriously than “I’ll recommend yours if you recommend mine.” My impression is that most writers feel the same way.

    Mutual backscratching is a good way to end up being dismissed as insincere and useless.

    Friends sometimes blurb or recommend each other’s work; that’s usually because they became friends *because* of liking each other’s work, not the other way around. They might not even know they’re reading each other’s ARCs, if the editor is one who does the traditional editor’s job of asking for blurbs, rather than expecting the writer to do it. (Which many of us find extremely difficult and awkward.)


  8. Vonda -Thanks for calling me on that. I agree with you about the quality of a work being paramount in my recommending it. I now officially add that qualifier to my original comment.