Promotion for Introverts
by Charles D. Hayes
Although I'm happy to learn
about book promotion from authors who enjoy talking about their
work with as much enthusiasm as they had writing it, the sad truth
is that not all of us are born promoters. Not all of us are great
speakers and some of us are even shy. I can give a pretty good
talk, but whenever I put on that hat for any extended period of
time it seems to sap the very energy that enables me to write in
the first place.
A chapter in Tom and Marylyn
Ross's book, Jump Start Your Book Sales, is entitled:
"Publicity Horsepower: Shameless Print Promotion for Brazen
Hustlers." Good advice, no doubt, but I'm not a hustler and
don't want to be. So I approach book promotion from a different angle.
In my view, the most important thing to remember is that you don't
have to be naturally good at self-promotion in this business to succeed,
but you do have to learn to value the process with enough enthusiasm
to see that it gets done.
In 1988, I attended Stanford
University's Professional Publishing Course. The first piece of
advice they offered me was, "It takes a brilliant person to
write a book, but a genius to sell one." I wouldn't go quite
that far, but I wouldn't spend a lot of time arguing the point
either. One of the most useful things I learned at Stanford is
that when it comes to promotion, everyone is in the same boat.
The folks at Random House are feeling their way every bit as much
as the single book publisher, although they do have a decided advantage.
I went to Stanford thinking that out there somewhere, someone had
the answers, and I ended up more than a little disappointed to
find out that most folks there were just as confused as me. Not
that there aren't many good books out there about successful promotion,
and if you're serious about this business you should read them
When it comes to publishing,
these are truly paradoxical times. It has never been harder to
promote a book than it is today, but the opposite is equally true:
It's never been easier to promote a book than right now. The reason
it's so hard is that so many people are doing it. The reason it's
so easy is that there's never been so many ways to go about it.
Technology is simply moving too fast. The Internet has everyone
excited and scared at the same time.
Of course, there are lots
of books that sell thousands of copies via word of mouth alone.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a good example: It
sells enough copies each year to be considered a best seller by
most small presses. But 22 publishers rejected Robert M. Pirsig's
book before it was accepted and moreover, Pirsig never promoted
the book. His publisher decided to make him seem like a mysterious
person by making information about him scant and it worked.
The reality of our business
is this: Successful promotion means reaching critical mass, and
books that are not continually promoted will die on the vine. But
the very nature of critical mass is an interesting phenomenon.
Not only does it require imagination, resourcefulness and (above
all) persistence, it means making a big enough splash so that publicity
and word of mouth becomes a self-sustaining process for long periods
A year ago, Malcolm Gladwell
published a book called The Tipping Point, which offers some insightful
information about this dynamic. Gladwell identified three major
players instrumental in achieving a critical mass of attention:
Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Connectors know lots of people
and frequently communicate with them. Mavens are obsessed with
getting the best deal possible and are just as anxious to let you
in on it. Salesmen, as we all know, are persuaders. Study these
'types' and then engage as many of them as you can to help call
attention to your work. If you have a specific genre then you need
to reach the connectors, mavens, and salesmen who would be most
enthusiastic about purchasing the particular kind of books that
you publish. I'm using the Internet to do just that: I post a free
quarterly online newsletter and have several major
"connectors" as subscribers. If they like a particular
issue they spread the word, which travels fast, like the ripples
created when a rock is tossed into a pond. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance, and scores of books like it are self-sustaining. They
make their own waves. Connect with enough connectors and you can
create a tsunami without anyone seeing the rock that set it in motion.
You can make waves without being in the media limelight.
And believe it or not,
too much polish can actually work against you. When a producer
called me to appear on "Talk of the Nation" she said
I would be sharing the hour with another author in my genre that
at the time was very well known. I came prepared to share the spotlight,
but wound up being the only guest. The producer told me that the
other author was too self-promoting and they decided not to include
him. Score one for the introvert. Turns out her only criteria for
a guest was sincerity and enthusiasm for the subject at hand. Which
proves that you don't have to be a Stephen Covey, Harvey MacKay
or a Greg Godek to succeed in this business. Nor do you need a "dynamic
personality". All you do need to have is
"something" to say, the willingness to say it, and tenacity
Finally, keep in mind that
victory is often nothing more than a rule which someone has successfully
broken, and that many of the people who succeed are the very ones
who don't know they "can't do that."
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