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Promoting Without Selling

October 31, 2011

Since he is too modest to say so, we will mention that the third book of Chris Evans’ Iron Elves trilogy was released this month.  The series begins with A Darkness Forged in Fire.  More information can be found at http://chrisevansauthor.com/books/

Promoting without Selling – The Paradoxical Way to Sell

by Chris Evans

Finding a way to get your name out there and that of your writing is in many respects a fine art, but too often writers approach the task with a blunt instrument by simply jumping onto every site and chat group and saying “read my story”. The impulse to do that is strong, and I’ve felt it myself, but I’m going to strongly suggest you fight that urge and consider a more circumspect approach. I’m far from a smooth operator in this arena, but I’ve learned a few things by trial and error and hope they’ll be of some use to you.

I avoid the hard sell because it just doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it’s my Canadian upbringing of civility in all things except when I put on a pair of skates, but I know I get my back up whenever someone tries an aggressive sales pitch with me, so in turn I don’t like to use it on anyone else. Writing this article for Clarion is a good example. By writing it I am being introduced to an audience of fellow writers and readers without making any claims about how I’m the next anything. Odds are at least a few of you will be intrigued enough to check me out and perhaps give my series a try. Even for those who don’t I’m still thrilled to write this because the more informed and successful writers are the stronger the publishing industry will be, and that’s a great thing for book lovers the world over. So avail yourself of chances to contribute to sites about writing, and focus on being entertaining and informative. Sell your books by selling yourself.

If you’re like me, you’ve cruised the shelves in your local bookstore looking at all the titles there and picturing yours nestled among them. No doubt there are fancy terms and courses about that kind of visualization, but all I knew is I saw where I wanted to be and set out to make it happen. So I talked with the booksellers, and more importantly, I listened. I’ll say that again because this is extremely important when selling – you need to be able to listen. Not only will you learn things, but you’ll make the other person feel like you actually give a damn about what they have to say, and that’s the gold at the end of the rainbow.

Have you ever walked into a bookstore and seen an author sitting at a table with a pile of books? Odds are you have, and odds are that unless that person was a best seller or celebrity there wasn’t a line. I don’t do the traditional signing at stores. It’s partly fear of the lonely, desperate vigil at one of those tables, but also because it’s not the best use of your time in a store. I go to stores to chat with the staff. I make the effort to get their names, find out what they’re interested in, and then thank them on my blog. Long after I am gone, they’re the folks that will be there suggesting which books Mrs. Smith’s nephew might like when she’s standing there bewildered and starting to think it would be easier to just get him a savings bond or a sweater. But because I also blog and tweet about when I’m going to pop into a store to sign the copies they have, fans have a chance to meet me and talk in an informal and friendly setting.

But I’m published by a big New York publishing house you might rightly say, and have a New York agent, and am an insider with all that secret information (which, much like making hotdogs, most of it you wish you didn’t know). It’s easy for me to talk about a soft sell when I’ve got the weight of all that promotional muscle behind me. All true, but there was a time when none of that was the case (and there’s a very real question about just how much weight all of that carries these days). There was a time in the not too distant past when I was attending Clarion with big dreams, overwhelming odds stacked against me, and not much of a clue what to do. The one thing I did do, and you can too, is ask a lot of questions, and then listen. But there’s something more, and if you take nothing else away from this, I hope this sticks – word of mouth is king.

The one rule about word of mouth is that you really shouldn’t talk about your book. Not directly, not obliviously to the actual conversation, and not without being asked. The whole point is that you create a sales force of friends and fans who do the selling for you. And they will because you’ve spent your energy becoming a better writer and based on your online persona and perhaps even by meeting you in person, they like you.

Unless they ever played hockey against you, in which case forget it.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2011 6:57 pm

    Wow. That is great advice. I am just beginning to try and get some of my work looked at and I have had many questions in my mind about the line between pushing and sharing. Thanks for giving me some good stuff to think about.

  2. November 1, 2011 10:21 am

    Hi Chris,
    I really liked what you had to say here, especially because I am self-publishing my fantasy trilogy, Wolf Moon, and don’t want to be hoofing it all over to promote my book–(I am also very shy, which doesn’t help)
    My strategy so far is to pick sites (like Goodreads and Bookblog.ing) and try to get followers–but now I’ve realized that I need to narrow the focus or all my time is spent on social media and I don’t have time for my work!
    Nikki Broadwell–http://niksblog-authorinprogress.blogspot.com

  3. November 1, 2011 6:21 pm

    Great post. I’ve actually left forums before because there was too much “Here’s my new book, please read it!”

    I believe that with all the social media noise out there right now, the best way to make fans (and friends) is face-to-face and one at a time.

    I encourage new writers to go to conferences and get on panels, teach a workshop if they can, etc. People there want to talk to you and ask questions and learn who you are.

    Case in point, I had never read any of Libba Bray’s work before, but when I heard her speak at a conference I immediately (seriously, right after her talk) went and bought one of her books because I liked HER. She was funny and charming.

  4. November 2, 2011 6:04 am

    Hi, Nikki: The number one thing any author can and should do is focus on being a better writer. All the social media and ad buys can’t fix a bad book. I hear you about being shy. Maybe that’s why I prefer the softer sell. And yes, I think you’re smart to keep the focus narrow and concentrate on a few places. And remember, it all takes time. I got to NY in 2000 and was finally published in 2008. But I’d wanted to be a published author since I was a kid.

    By the way, I like the title of your trilogy.

    Cheers,

    Chris

  5. November 3, 2011 4:25 pm

    agreed, hard sales are annoying as hell

  6. November 4, 2011 10:28 am

    Most writers I know, myself included, are a little shy. Maybe that’s a good thing. I’m always happy to let someone else talk, take over the conversation, and take the pressure off me. I love listening.

    • November 4, 2011 11:40 am

      Maybe it’s part of being a writer–most of us who write are content in our own skins…thanks for the reply!

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