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Social Media: How Much is Too Much Self-Promotion?

Writers are expected to help in the promotion of their books. In the age of “Books-a-Million” why wouldn’t we want to make all the effort we can to help our books stand out from the other millions of books?

But how much is enough promotion? And how much borders on too much?

We’ve all seen others work at promoting not only their books, but their blog posts, articles, links, etc. If you’re like me, sometimes you might wonder if a particular author is trying too hard. There are times when I wonder how others perceive my self-promotion and whether they think I’m too pushy.

That’s the thing about promoting ourselves. It’s about US. We’re tooting our own horn on what we’re accomplishing or writing. And it feels a little strange to actively attempt to bring attention upon ourselves when we’re accustomed to living humbly and in relative obscurity.

Recently the Bethany House marketing and publicity department sent me a questionnaire. It read: As a department, we strive to do the best we can to publicize and sell your book. In order for us to do this the most effectively, we’ve come up with twenty questions that will help us get to know you and your book a little better.

Even though the questionnaire took some time and deep thinking, I was excited to fill it out, knowing I have a group of people who are willing to help me sell my book. It brought to mind a couple of concepts in relation to self-promotion:

Self-promotion is always better when you get others to join your effort.

When someone tries to sell you something, are you more likely to take them seriously when they say “My book is great”? Or when someone else says, “Her book is great”? Which statement has more credibility?

I’d much rather have Bethany House publicizing my book, getting out the word, and shining the light on me, than me trying to do it all on my own. Likewise, I’d prefer to have supportive friends who get behind me and spread the word about my book.

When we get others to join us in promoting our books, blogs, or whatever it is, we take some of the pressure off ourselves. In the process we gain credibility because the “shout out” isn’t just coming from our own mouth.

Pre-publication is a great time to begin forming relationships with people who will someday genuinely be excited about spreading the word about our books. I’m sure we can all think of those who’ve befriended us once their book was almost out, and we felt as if they were “using” us for their promotion. Instead we ought to spend the early months and years joining the writing community, getting connected, and forming real friendships.

Self-promotion is always better when we’re able to strike a balance.

If all we do is promote ourselves and our books or blogs, eventually that’s going to come across to our followers. Yes, the social media outlets are the place to “sell” ourselves, but if that’s our primary focus we’re likely to turn others off.

Instead, we should look for ways to promote others too. I mentioned this in my post about Twitter Etiquette. Twitter is a great way to help point the spotlight on others, particularly when they have a helpful or inspiring blog post. I’m sure Facebook can operate in the same way.

Also, we should find ways to give back to the writing community. Whether through helpful advice, links, critiques, contests, or encouragement, we can be working to make this writing journey less about us and more about others. In other words, we're trying to strike a balance.

My summary on self-promotion? It’s a necessary part of the writing business. But like anything else, we should strive to do it professionally and with humility.

What do you think? Have you ever been turned off by someone’s self-promotion? How much is too much? And how much is enough?

59 comments:

  1. I've been turned off plenty. I can't stand self-promotion when it is BLUNTLY self-promotion. It's one thing saying, "hey this is me, come and check my stuff out one day if you're interested", and another saying "I've written an amazing book, you really should read it. Here's the link to Amazon." Hmm, not nice - it puts me off completely.

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  2. It definitely is a balance. I guess, whenever I get to that stage where I have to start self-promoting....I guess I just pray that I'll be authentic and real. Not falsely humble or overbearing. Just me. Just real.

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  3. Oh yes, I've definitely been turned off before by pesky promoters. I'm sure it is a fine line to walk, but it's too bad some don't "get it". I'm all for trusting God and not being so desperate that you become desperate. :)

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  4. Somehow, even just through social media, a self-promotor can come across authentically or pushy. Just like an author's writing, you can feel if the promotor's heart is true, or if he/she is just looking to be looked at, egotiscally. When we work from the heart, I believe our self-promotion is done "professionally and with humility." Nice post and so well said, Judy.

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  5. It's so hard. I hate self-promotion... I feel like I'm all "oh, look at me, look at me!" and I am so totally opposite of that! But... my mother who is miss expert sales woman always says, "Krista, you have to sell yourself!" And she's right... usually she's talking about a job interview or something else like that, but selling ourself as authors is needed to.

    I think though, that good salesmanship can be applied. Ever have that pesky salesman at your door who just won't leave, or the one badgering you over the phone, or the person following you around the department store that you would love to just punch really hard? (Sorry, I'm probably the only one with that violent thought!) but seriously, a salesman that doesn't know their boundaries, doesn't see when they are going from helpful to pushy and annoying... they are stinky salesmen:-) LOL, I think I'll have my mom guest blog someday about sales techniques! *grin*

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  6. Sorry, I meant Jody, Jody! It's only 5:50am where I am!

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  7. I am just a blogger, no published books. I get caught up in the same promotion frenzy as well. My new mantra in the blog world is "slow and steady." I have given up trying to become famouse in ten minutes. I have also given up contacting each person on earth one by one. So now I just tweet a bit and write!

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  8. You've touched on something that bothers me a great deal. We've all seen "tweets" and Facebook posts that are so obviously self-serving we want to stop following the person doing it. On the other hand, authors are constantly being urged to use the social media to let readers know about our books.
    There's a delicate balance here, and I'm not sure I've achieved it. I'll be watching the comments for the magic answer. But thanks for bringing up the question.

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  9. Yes, I agree that self-promotion can backfire. Our girls did an interesting study on "humility" in their Bright Lights group, and I really like the guidance the Bible gives on this issue. For example, Proverbs 27:2 says "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." Matthew 23:12 teaches that "whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." And I love God's promise in 1 Peter 5:5-6. It's a good reminder to me that my life's purpose is in God's "mighty" hand, and He will orchestrate its completion in due time.

    ~ Betsy

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  10. I wholeheartedly agree and think you've described the balance well. The key word I came across is humility. That is one of the most attractive qualities.

    Have a wonderful weekend, Jody.
    ~ Wendy

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  11. I agree with "The Alliterative Allomorph" in that it's blunt, sometimes over the top promotion that's a major turn off. The trouble is, the line between "this person sounds cool, I should look up their book" and "this person is annoying" is different for each reader.

    I think the key is to mostly be out there and give people something interesting, rather than directly trying to sell "the books and nothing but the books". There are actually a couple writers' blogs I read because there is so much good content that is not just self-promotion -- I mean to read their books, but haven't got to them yet: Neil Gaiman, Deanna Raybourn and (it seems) now this one. ;)

    Several emerging and established authors who've met me online did not know at the time that I'm a bookseller by day and will likely stay one until the last brick comes down on the brick and mortar stores (ie: at least the rest of my natural life). One of my joys in is finding those great books that aren't getting enough attention and helping to get them more sales, sometimes way more (I shocked myself and one author by getting to a hundred sales). As Jody points out, it's much easier to trust me saying "Jody's book is awesome" than when she says it herself.

    There are folks like me all over the web, and you never know where we will pop up, so just stay out there, be yourself and concentrate on making friends and readers rather than mere sales and followers -- I never picked up an author because they spammed my Twitter stream. ;)

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  12. I dislike when someone comments vaguely, then says 'oh, come check me out.' Their comment alone should pique my interest to know more about them as a writer. If they can't comment interestingly enough, or have faith that their comment alone would induce me to click on their icon, then perhaps they should focus more on their writing than their promoting.

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  13. Bethany House seems like such a dream. Wow!

    I think (from my current perspective) it's about how we present our efforts. While there's need to market ourselves, it can be done with humility and grace. Don't you think?

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  14. Sigh. YOu are striking a pinched nerve here.

    I have several writer acquaintances who never talk about anything (in conversations, on e-mail, blogs, Facebook) but THEMSELVES. It really drives me nuts. I see it as counter-scripture though certainly not countercultural.

    Sigh. I don't know the happy medium, but if you write for the Audience of One to the best of your ability and with Holy Spirit guidance, it sure helps.

    Blessings, dear one.
    Patti

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  15. That is tough, Jody, and I think something that nearly all writers struggle with because, most of us, by nature, are at least somewhat introverted. We're comfortable behind our computer screens, after all! :) This is one of the things I liked about being published through the traditional means. The thought of taking all of the promotion on through self-publishing puts me in a tizzy. I needed the support. One of the things Sleeping Bear Press did was make pins of book covers of all their authors, and posters, too. I treasure these little promotional items that I can give out during author visits and books signings. One more way to get the word out in a fun way. But yes, definitely helps to not have it all on our shoulders. We can't do it all!

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  16. I'm often concerned that I'm pushing too hard, so I always think about what I'm going to say and how I'm going to say it. I try to use humor sometimes to make it fun, try to involve others' works so it's not always just about me, and try to try and solicit feedback rather than having all my communication going one-way.

    So, here's a question: is it ok then to finish a blog comment with a gentle nudge in the direction of one's own book?

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  17. I can definitely sense when someone is in a relationship just to promote themselves. And, I'm sure it's a turn off to just about everybody. That said, I don't mind going to blogs or Twitter when writers are announcing good news - that's totally different. It's more an attitude.

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  18. Jody, I think you're a shining example of how to engage in promotion. You tell us about your book, yes, but at the same time you're busy paying it forward as you share what you're learning with us. Kudos on doing such a great job.

    And for the record, I'm eager to read The Preacher's Bride and tell everyone how great it is. :D

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  19. Loved your post today, Jody. It is such a delicate balance, and since I'm in the midst of marketing my first book, I'm in the trenches, learning as I go. I think several comments here were spot on. Humility is key. And trusting in God to get your book into the hands of those who need it is more important than deperate pushing.

    There is an element of stewardship, though, too. I want to do the best I can for the publisher who produced my book. I also don't want be guilty of hiding my talent in the sand.

    So, my philosophy is to give people something that is of value to them instead of asking them to give me something of value - i.e., a book sale. Here are some of the ways I have tried to implement this:

    I have contests on my website where I give away other Christian fiction books in my genre. Hopefully this will draw readers who would be interested in my book as well while giving them something for signing up for my newsletter. Also, each person who signs up is given a free download of a biblical fiction piece/Bible study that I have written. This way, everyone is guaranteed to get something even if they don't win one of my monthly book drawings.

    I try to post fun comments about the Victorian era on Facebook to add humor and some education about the past to those who read them.

    When I hand out bookmarks and other promo items, I ask first if the person is interested instead of forcing them to take them (and try really hard not to be hurt if they say no, LOL.)

    I offer to promote for other authors in exchange for them promoting for me.

    I'm still learning, and will no doubt make mistakes along the way, but maybe these ideas will help spark some thoughts on ways to find a balance when it comes to marketing.

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  21. Yes, yes, and YES! I have been totally turned off by people so eager to promote themselves they lose sight of relationship. There's nothing wrong with putting oneself out there and letting people know, but it's good to know when enough is enough.

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  22. Self-promotion is such a hard thing to do well, without comign across sounding too arrogant. I think it is all about balance. You need to sue your relationships wisely, and not abuse them. Especially with things like Twitter.

    It's great if you have a big publisher who can help out promotion, but I think with smaller presses the onus is more on the author. Either way, a balance is required not to turn people off!

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  23. And you also need to be able to type without making blatant typos, something I clearly can't do! Sorry!

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  24. I think being a part of the conversation in social media is so important. I think that the problem occurs when someone is only talking at people and not with them.

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  25. Jody, Your posts are always so relevant and this one is no exception! I've often struggled with this balance, even though I'm not to the point of being forced to self-promote yet. I have friends who self-promote products or businesses, and sometimes I feel like they're only my friend to get me to buy things from them. I never want to be like that, and I think your comment about involving others in promotion is a great one!

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  26. It's really difficult to strike a balance. I try, but I can only hope I'm doing the right things and the right times.

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  27. Jody, thanks for posting this topic. It's becoming more and more important, I think, as more people join social media.

    Georgiana, you are right on when you use the word "relationship." Life is about the people we touch, not the status we achieve. When we see that a person truly does not care about *us,* but only about his own goals, it's a big turn off.

    Still, I give people grace in this process. We all have time challenges. I assume that someone's heart is in the right place unless he or she blatantly proves otherwise, and the latter has only happened once or twice.

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  28. Hi Jody -

    A huge turn-off for me are blogs that do nothing but promote the authors products. I'm a relatonship kind of gal, and relationship is a two-way street.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  29. This is definitely something to remember for the future! I don't mind self-promotion as long as it's done respectfully. But I try to be understanding because someday that will be me! It's hard putting yourself out there and just like anything, self-promotion is a learning process. I'm sure some people probably kick themselves later for their rude, annoying behavior. As long as they learn from it and don't repeat it, then it's okay the one time!

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  30. Thanks for posting this, Jody (and for re-tweeting it, Keli). What a dilemma for the Christian writer between God's call for humility and the business necessity of promotion. I've hidden some wonderful writers on Facebook because their promotion left me with a bad taste. And now, with my first book just out, I'm trying to find that balance - and it's hard! My blog tour posts 5 reviews a day, but I sure don't want to tweet all of them! On the other hand, I want to promote my friends who wrote the review in the first place. If anyone finds the perfect formula, please let me know :)

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  31. There must absolutely be a balance, otherwise people end up being force-fed. Another fabulous post, Jody! :-)

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  32. Thanks, Jody, for an informative post.

    Like almost anything else, too much of something, whether it's as healthy broccoli or as yummy as chocolate, can be toxic. The same is true, I think, of self-promotion.

    You have to reach out, let people know who you are, what you do, what you have to offer the world. There are ways to do that that are not so invasive.

    I'm pretty much a novice in terms of social media and promotion but I suspect that slow and steady is the best way to go, to promote other's work who you believe in and to do that in an unconditional way, to expect nothing in return. And yes, to team up with other people because the world is a big place.

    Thanks, Jody!

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  33. I agree. Humility and balance. Without those it's painful for the rest of us to watch. Have a great weekend!

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  34. It's all about humility in my opinion. I'm much more receptive to someone who shows it.

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  35. I've definitely been turned off from self-promotion before, even though I realize authors have to to market themselves. For me, I'm not yet published, but if I want people to read my blog, I don't comment on someone's blog with a 'please come read my latest post' comment. That just annoys people. I figure if people are interested, they'll click on my profile and read my blog ;)

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  36. Balance in everything... absolutley. It is easier for me to talk about myself doing something funny over serious or personal. :O)

    www.dianeestrella.com

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  37. That reminds me of something that just happened here. We were invited to a birthday party for a friend of ours and when we asked what we could bring, the person said most were bringing a present.
    And now I don't want to.
    Sometimes self-promotion comes off like self-aggrandizement. And totally turns people off.
    I think you hit the nail right on the head.

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  38. Thoughtful post. I like that the publisher gave you a questionnaire.

    Most of the blogs of aspiring authors who then get agents and book deals are fine, but the ones where the author set up the blog just for the book are usually too much about promotion. I'm sure it's because they didn't have a vision before-hand, so it all became about the book.

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  39. Good post as always:) I love how consistent and professional your posts are:)
    As to too much self-promotion, yes, I think an author can go too far and turn others off.

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  40. I haven't had much experience running across annoying self-promoters. Most of the authors I've "met" online have been genuine, kind, and have contributed to online discussions.

    For me the balance issue I can't seem to get around is my own. Social media has made a big dent in my already-limited writing time.

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  41. Yes, yes. Balance. I want a relationship with my FB and Twitter friends. To engage in conversation or glean wisdom from inspiring quotes. I also want them to remind me of new blog posts and successes, etc., so I can grow and learn and rejoice with them. I would otherwise miss so much!

    But I'm frustrated with those who are ONLY about promoting, and I struggle with how many times I should "promote" something I've written.

    Good post. Good thoughtful comments. As always.

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  42. Thank you for sharing, I agree with Sandra and Roxanne totally hit it for me on the introverted comment.

    What is hard is trying to work out all these social media outlets, thank you to Debra Schubert for her insightful tweets to help me learn the ropes! I am an aspiring writer trying to make connections, not self promo at all but to learn from all the wonderful advice writers, agents and their blogs and tweets have to offer. Your blog has been one of them, thanks so much.

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  43. I'm reminding that everything that I am is a reflection of God's grace, my writing is His stamp of purpose on my life and I am eternally grateful.

    So if should boast I will boast on the Lord and His goodness.

    When the times comes to open my mouth about my work to a larger audience I know that meekness will be my angle.

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  44. Oh,Jody, you've hit on a tough one here. As authors, we need to self-promote. But how do we do that without putting people off and pushing them away? I was in marketing and PR for years, and my philosophy is that we need to engage people by sharing of ourselves, not about ourselves. There's a big difference.
    Karen

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  45. A little self promotion to me, shows initiative. But too much becomes cloying, offensive, even.

    It's vital to self-promote, and vital to strike a balance with it.

    Fab post!!

    Happy weekend & happy writing!

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  46. I've stopped reading a few blogs where the author did nothing but self-promote. Don't just tell me to read your book. Make me WANT to by actually writing posts worth reading.

    (I think you're doing a great job, btw!)

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  47. Self-promotion IS necessary, but I believe by creating a welcoming, open atmosphere whether through our blogs, FB, Twitter, or even in person, we naturally promote ourselves and our books.

    I want to buy books written by people I like!

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  48. I love hearing about book launches, book sales, and other good news. But when it's all I hear I do find myself tuning out.

    It's a delicate balance. You want to promote yourself and tell people about your work but also I believe in serving others with things you learned or helpful advice -- and also tooting and promoting other fellow writers.

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  49. I was helping at a conference table and was fascinated by two authors who had very different marketing methods. On one side of me an elderly couple tried to sell copies of the man's self-published memoir by accosting people and verbally arm-wrestling them to buy copies. They kept three copies of the book on the otherwise bare table.

    On the other side, a woman whose first book had just debuted with an established publisher smiled at people and silently handed out bookmarks. She had an attractive display with large poster of her book cover, piles of the book and a dish of candies on the table.

    Believe me, far more people stopped to talk to her about her book. I wondered if her publisher had given her some tips on promotion or if she just had a more approachable persona.

    I think your summary is bang on, Jody. Authors have to be willing to go the extra mile to help promote sales of their books, but there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

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  50. You have hit the nail on the head Jody. I am constantly wondering about this self promotion blitzkrieg that few writers have adopted. More often than not its a huge turn off. Everyone is blowing their own trumpet loudly and often.
    To strike a balance is very important. "Her book is good, is way better than my book is good."
    I am trying to strike a balance. Hopefully I will achieve that.

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  51. I just found your blog, and I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject. I'm new to the world of writing, the very beginning stages, and as an unknown I've been struggling with and praying about this issue of self-promotion. Your words bring the wisdom I needed to get started on the right foot. Thank you!

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  52. The difference between The Dead Sea and The Red Sea is that the first only takes, while the other gives as well as takes. It works with humans too.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. And if you're of a mind and have the time, please come check out my entry in the murder scene Blogfest. It's from my historical fantasy, RITES OF PASSAGE, set in 1853.
    http://rolandyeomans.blogspot.com/. Thanks, Roland

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  53. I found this post through a retweet; essentially someone celebrating other peoples works. I think the ideas in here are interesting.

    There is a swedish concept of Jantelagen (literally Jante's laws; Jante is a town in Sweden) which effectively state don't think you are special. I've always found it difficult to self-promote because it feels wrong to toot my own horn, effectively claim I'm special. I recognize, there needs to be balance. Ironically, in Sweden, they are seeing Jantelagen decrease with the advent of social media and youngsters getting more involved in putting their work out for peers.

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  54. This is a really good question (like always). I haven’t been to any blog or author site that has turned me off. I expect them to tell me about their work.

    Your right about others selling your work being received better then when you sell your own stuff.

    I think you’re also right about giving back. I think that is important for everyone no matter what they choose to do.

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  55. Have you ever been turned off by someone’s self-promotion? YES! However, it was someone who often only thinks of themselves. It was clear they were never interested in a relationship with me, just using me so they could sell their product.

    I don't see you as the overselling, song & dance, "look at me" type Jody! :) Your sincerity shines through and that's a quality that will help promote you along the way.

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  56. I have to admit, I got into a dangerous game recently when I was in mega blog follow mode -- just jumping around, commenting on and following bloggers willy nilly just to attract more readers to mine. That felt very ungenuine (is that even a word), and I felt guilty about it. A much-needed social media fast during Lent broke me of the habit. Now I am trying to make a conscious effort to be mindful of who I am reading and why. It's hard not to get caught up in the vortex of self-promotion, but at the end of the day, I feel like a more genuine person!

    Thanks for the great post, Jody!

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  57. Good post as always:) I love how consistent and professional your posts are:)
    data entry india

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