The misery of self-promotion – Marianne Kavanagh

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By Marianne Kavanagh

So you’ve written your book. You may have a traditional publisher. Or you may have self-published. But the next step is the same. You have to introduce the book to potential readers. ♥

In the long-distant days of horse-drawn carriages and fountain pens, this was the publisher’s job. The sales and marketing team got on with it. Nowadays, whichever way a book is published, the author is expected to join in.

There are exceptions, like best-selling Italian novelist Elena Ferrante who refuses to reveal the face behind the pseudonym. She said, in a letter to her editor, ‘If the book is worth something, it should be enough.’

But 99.9% of writers aren’t that brave. You are terrified by the idea of self-promotion. But you’re even more terrified that a book that’s taken you a year to write will end up being read only by your mum.

So first things first. You get a haircut, and have a nice photo done. It’s an appalling shock, seeing a big picture of yourself on screen. But you grit your teeth and produce a website. For the next few weeks, you scuttle around with your head bent in case anyone recognises you. Then you look at the site stats and see that one person – one person – has logged on since it went live.

You start thinking about social media. Matt Haig, author of The Humans and Reasons to Stay Alive, has 77K Twitter followers. That’s got to help sales. Obviously, loud yelling on the lines of READ MY BOOK NOW!!! isn’t going to work. A tweet bent on self-promotion has to be subtle. But after a whole day of staring at your phone, you can’t think of anything that isn’t full-frontal exhibitionism. Facebook’s no better. How many different ways can you tell your friends that you’ve got a book coming out? And once you’ve circulated a photo of the cover to your 20 followers on Instagram, what next?

And this, I think, is what I’ve learnt from the experience of publishing my first novel. Maybe when you’re incredibly successful and famous, like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, a social media campaign makes sense, because people hang on your every hashtag. And if you enjoy chatting to millions, go ahead. But if you die with anxiety each time you tweet, worrying over every word, think again. It’s like exercise. You’re more likely to get out there if it’s something you genuinely enjoy doing.

You might be able to work up the courage to give a reading if it’s in your local bookshop. You might be happy to talk about your novel if it’s to a book group full of friends. Suggest a signing in the library, in the pub, or the café at the bottom of your road. Talk to your local paper. Steel yourself to do something small, through people you already know, and it’s more like catching up with neighbours at the front gate than shouting to a city from a rooftop.

What’s important to remember is that book sales ultimately depend on two things. The first is luck. (Imagine being Teresa Heapy, the author of the book that David Beckham tells his 6.5 Instagram followers he’s reading to Harper.) The second – and this is obvious, but can’t be said too often – is writing something that people want to read. Clara Nelson of Vintage Books won an award for the publicity campaign behind Stoner. But the book would never have got extensive and long-lasting coverage if it had been rubbish. It deserved every glowing review it received.

Self-promotion is hard. Grab every opportunity that comes your way. But whatever kind of publicity you choose, remember this: your first and most important job is to write the best book you can.

The rest can wait.


Marianne Kavanagh’s second novel Don’t Get Me Wrong is published in the US on 25 August and in the UK and Australia on 24 September.

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