Can Writers Market Themselves Without Making Eyes Roll?

“Check it out! Another 5-Star review by one of my fabulous readers!” or “Publishers Weekly just called my book the best of the year!”

We’ve all seen authors leaving comments like that around cyberland and usually it evokes one primary response: eyeballs rolling into the back of our heads. We think, “Sheesh, they’re really tooting their own horns.”

Krista Phillips asked this question: The thing about marketing that scares me is this: I do NOT want to look prideful or egotistical. I have this fear that everyone will look at me and think I'm all snooty. . . How do you market yourself without making the eyes of those around you roll?

Krista’s question reflects an issue most of us struggle with: self-promotion. We know we’ll need to market our books. If we self-publish we’ll bear the brunt of the marketing. But even with traditional publication, authors are expected to participate in the marketing plan.

We tell ourselves that we’re only seeking the attention because we have to, because that’s the modern way of selling everything, because if we don’t, other authors are going to do a better job and draw people to their books. Then ours will be left sitting on the shelves.

But is there a way to engage in self-promotion without it coming across as sounding selfish, self-serving, and self-inflated? I’m at the beginning stages of promoting my debut book, which releases in about a month. So, I’m still learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t. But here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Promotion often comes naturally out of the relationships we build.

Social media should be 90% (or more) about building relationships and 10% (or less) about mentioning our books. I’m more likely to buy a book from an author who uses social media to socialize, rather than from an author who uses social media to hit me over the head with the greatness of their books.

I’m not actively trying to sell my book. I haven’t had any contests to boost my pre-order sales. I rarely mention the book on Twitter or Facebook. And yet, people have expressed interest. Why? Because they’re getting to know me as an author.

When people like us as authors, they’re more willing and excited to give our books. In fact, Michelle Vasquez, a non-writer who reads my blog said this in a recent comment, “You already have a fan in me and I haven't even gotten a hold of your book yet!” (Thanks, Michelle!)

Maybe we can’t connect on a personal level with everyone in cyberland, but when we’re vulnerable and real, and when readers feel like they can relate to us, they’re much more willing to promote us.

Promotion works best when it comes from others.

When we take the time to develop genuine writer friendships, those friends will help promote us the most. They’ll be our biggest cheerleaders. I've found this to be an incredible blessing and benefit that's come out of using social media. We form a community that supports and promotes one another.

I’m also making use of interviews and guest posts. I’m not doing a traditional blog tour for my book release. Usually those kinds of tours end up being somewhat redundant, with everyone in the same circle of friends hosting the author and book and saying about the same thing. Instead, a large majority of my interviews and guest posts are in different places, hopefully reaching a new set of readers. It’s also another easy way I can let others showcase me, instead of having to shout out my own praises.

Promotion is received better when accompanied with genuine kindness.

In September I’ll be starting some more obvious hoopla for my debut book—countdown to the release date of Oct. 1. First of all, it’s an exciting time for me, and I want to share the wonderful memories with all my cyber friends. And secondly, I know it’s time to increase the buzz.

But in all the hoopla I don’t want to lose focus on the most important thing—friends, readers, and fellow writers. When we’re in the midst of promoting ourselves we can make sure we’re still looking out for the needs of others, promoting them, helping when appropriate, being a good listener, offering encouragement, etc.

“A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” When we give out a genuinely sweet flavor, then it’s easier for everyone to swallow the medicine of our marketing efforts.

How about you? Have you ever rolled your eyes at someone’s marketing efforts? How do you think writers can engage in self-promotion without it coming across as selfish?

*Thanks to my sweet daughter for posing for the above picture. She has perfected the art of eye-rolling!


  1. I'm not sure how I feel about all the self-promotion on social media. Sometimes I want to "hide" all my pubbed friends because my unpubbed friends are buried in the promotion. On the other hand, I want to cheer my pubbed friends on and celebrate their successes.

    I use my blog to help promote local chapter events and regional conferences, but I try to make it about how the event will benefit others. And I hope that I can lead more new writers to sources where they can learn about the craft.

    I like your promotional approach and I can't wait for your book to be released :-) And I love your daughter's eye rolling skills.

  2. Your daughter is sweet:) And so are you and that is really what counts. No one will ever think of you as self-promoting:)) I like to support writers who I have gotten to know and who aren't always shouting about themselves. You have done a great job!

  3. I am so much there with you!

    I sometimes will re-tweet when someone writes on twitter something about my books - but, I rarely talk about my books on twitter or facebook or my blog - I do sometimes, but usually it's to tell about a release date or something good that happens, etc. I don't like shoving myself down people's throat!

    And as you say, the hardest thing is tooting my own horn, and we are supposed to promote our books - but, I just find that, like you, I love social networking for the relationships made. Otherwise, I'd be pretty reclusive up here in my mountain cove!

    Whether my social networking friends buy my books or not is up to them, I'd never want them to feel pressured to do it - I learn from them as much as i hope they learn from me!

    great post!

  4. I am not offended by self-promotion. But, I am more about relationships. Ultimately, it's up to me whether I buy into an authors hype or not.

    I like real people. YOU are real and a delight.


  5. Self-promotion doesn't bother me because I'm a writer and see it every day among other writers. I worry more about how it will come across to people not in our little writing world. But, like you said, I think it is possible for it to happen without yelling, BUY MY BOOK" everywhere we go.

  6. Jody,
    Your thoughtful, instructive and objective posts go a long way toward promoting yourself as an author. You don't brag. You tell it like it is, and offer support and education along the way. In my mind, you are doing it just right.

  7. I think whenever you can give someone something of value they are more likely to "buy" in.

    Blogs and websites like yours offer not only value added information, but a chance to interact with other members of the writing/Christian community. Because I'm interested in what you have to say, I'm interested in reading your book.

    It's only natural, then that I would want to know when your book comes out, where I can obtain a copy, etc.

  8. Off the subject, I love your new blog layout.

    And yes, I agree with your post, Some folks are all about showin' off their dance steps, and they forget everyone else on the floor.

  9. My husband might say I have the perfect eye roll. ;)

    I love promoting authors I believe in. It's part of encouragement and God built me to encourage.

    Agree with your points. I also read let other promote you. I've been thinking a lot about that and have decided to promote the heck out of authors I believe in.

    Sometimes I just don't want to think about myself. It gets old.

    ~ Wendy

  10. Adorable girl!

    I agree with all you've said, but if people are asking we need to not hide what God has put in us and shirk away also. :O)

  11. Hi Jody..I feel self-promotion can be bad when writers befriend you for the sole purpose of you liking their pages, or following their blogs and following them on twitter. Like you I feel Social media should be 90% about building relationships and 10% about our books. If we build solid relationships people are more likely to remember us and buy our books then if we blatantly toot our horns.

  12. Well said here, Jody. If our focus is connection and relationship, then people will be interested in what we do. If it is self promotion, we will fall flat. People are smart and can tell the difference.

  13. I don't think self-promotion is bad. It all depends on the tone of voice and how often the person is doing it. Tweeting "My book received a 5-star review, yay!" is exciting and people should be happy for you. But retweeting that every half hour would be annoying!

    Why is it okay for people to say bad things about themselves but not good things? There's something wrong there. No one rolls their eyes when someone starts listing their flaws (which I think is way more annoying than someone listing their talents). There shouldn't be eye rolling when someone shares something good that happened for them. If only more people could accept others' accomplishments and not give in to jealousy! It'd be a much more loving, kind, and confident world.

  14. Great point, Laura!! Some of the eye-rolling could stem from jealousy. And I do think people tend to accept the put-downs better than the boasting (although I get annoyed when people complain too much too!).

    When we're using social media to socialize, then our friends can cheer for us when we mention an accomplishment that we're proud of. The trouble is that some authors primarily use social media as a billboard for promoting themselves--and that just doesn't work, and may in fact, be counter-productive.

  15. I agree with Laura - it's all in the approach. I'm bothered when people connect with me only to push their book, but when they connect with me in a short friendly way as a fellow writer, I am happy to hear about their accomplishment and share it with others.
    I do not see you as one of the pushy ones. You've very good at connecting with others genuinely. I'm looking forward to Oct. :)

  16. Your daughter has "perfected the art of eye-rolling". That is so funny! A mom would know that for sure!

    I don't think of self-promotion when I think of you and other authors I've gotten to know through their blogs. I see it more as a way to form relationships with people. Part of that relationship is sharing what's going on in your life, which happens to be your writing and your upcoming book.

  17. I can see the conflict, and I guess there's a line that crosses into too much self-promotion--but if you believe in what you've written, wouldn't you want to see how far it can go? I'm not published--*yet*--so I'm taking notes here. Great post. Thanks :-)

  18. I'm unpublished. I like to promote others' books through reviews that I hope are helpful to those authors as well as the readers.
    What hurts the most is when a certain author (whom I will not name) will promote every single review EXCEPT MINE. Or do "shout outs" about reviews EXCEPT MINE. I'm at the point where I probably won't help that author again. This author is also a self-promoter almost to the point of annoyance.

  19. I just un-followed two authors on Twitter for this very reason: they don't engage anyone except to talk about their books having just received another five-star review. Some self-promotion; yes but shoving your book in people's faces all the time; no.

    I've realized the best authors, the ones I admire, don't actually do a lot of promotion of their work. Usually, they're authors I discovered at random. They churn out great stories that leave me wanting more. They've gotten my attention and held it through excellent writing, not lauding their brilliance everyday. I try to keep that approach in mind with my own writing and promotion, that it's the story that matters most.

    Congratulations on your debut, wishing you every success.

  20. I totally agree that you can't just use social media outlets to promote your novel. I've stopped following people on Twitter because of it. If the only time you're willing to say something is if you have a product your'e trying to sell, that's going to send me running in the opposite direction.

    This is making me consider merging my personal and author accounts in social media outlets.

  21. If we really enjoy meeting people, like you say here they'll be our supporters.

    We all know we have to self-promote no matter through what source our book is published. With that being a given, I'm not offended when something says they have a book they've written; we have to get the word out. And our friends/relatives, if they like us, will want to read it.

    I met you through blogging. I don't know you through any other medium. And I'm very interested in reading your book. So blogging is good!!!

    And I LOVE your new blog design! I especially like the personal touch. I like to see photographs of the blogger's family. I don't like it when a blogger won't show his/her face, say where he/she lives in the country, or has a blog template I can barely read! Yours is absolutely stunning. I love the new design.

    This is an excellent, thought-provoking post. Thank you!

  22. Horn-tooting and wearing the carney hawker's hat -- both necessary evils in the writing arena. I think most people know if you're sincere and nice about it, or just trying to get in their pockest. :D

  23. I agree with you, Jody, that social networking is for socializing. Marketing ourselves and our books should naturally evolve from that. I have built relationships with many on Twitter that I hope to help promote (and have done a little already) and with many who I hope will help me promote something some day.

    I've always thought that being a salesperson has to be one of the most difficult jobs out there, and that's what authors are expected to be these days. Like it or not, we must find a way to successfully and humbly put ourselves out there.

  24. I worry about this too, but I’m a wallflower from way back when.
    I do think you can under promote.

    For example, I went to an author’s site/blog just yesterday to see what else she has written. I couldn’t find evidence of her already published book anywhere, not even in the side bar. This was frustrating since she’d written a good book and I wanted more! :)

  25. This is SUCH a great post. I've been feeling the same way... I want to market my book but I do NOT want to sound self-promoting. One thing I've been doing is really trying to get invovled with other authors and writers by reading blogs and I have learned SO MUCH. I'm gaining so much more from it than I ever expected... there are so many BRILLIANT authors out there so it's ended up being a double bonus: I'm building relationships and a marketing platform but I'm learning a TON in the process. Thanks for this great post.

  26. Great post!! I really felt like there was a different "personality" at blogs, facebook, and twitter...twitter seems the most promotion heavy. Great post to help me sort through exactly what might be helpful as I forge relationships and a successful path to publication!

  27. Great picture of your daughter, BTW. Isn't it great when your kids can help out with your career? I've got a couple of champion eye rollers at home too... ;)

    Good post and a topic that has crossed my mind a few times. I follow a bunch of authors on Twitter and one particular one (who shall remain nameless...) drives me nuts because the only time you here from said author is when said author has a comment on their book (how's that for vague??). They never share anything personal about about themselves, just announcements and retweets of reviews. Drives me crazy. If that was a part of your relationship with an author, it would be fine, but when that is the entire relationship, you tune it out and that kind of promotion becomes counterproductive. And yes, it DOES make me roll my eyes.

    This is not you in any way, shape or form. You share bits of your life with those of us who follow you so this will only be the dessert course, so to speak, not the whole meal. Everything in moderation and we'll be thrilled to follow along on this journey with you...

  28. Hi Jody -

    I like your approach.

    I've encountered authors, who can only talk about one thing: themselves. Ugh. I've also been on websites that specialize in the hard sell.

    As a non-fiction writer, I learned to think of the reader and always have a take-away. It's a good lesson to apply when writing fiction.

    Susan :)

  29. I think you have a wonderful attitude. I'm someone who doesn't always do well with self promotion because I simply don't want to be "annoying."

    I have rolled my eyes at someone's marketing efforts. The fact that they only wanted to be my friend to sell something was irritating.

    I think we have to show confidence in ourselves and be excited about what we love and what we have accomplished. :)

  30. I've also "hidden" two authors on FB. I loved both of their books, but 20 tweets a day, all on their books and reviews? Overload. I found myself thinking less of them, and decided the best way to preserve my positive impression was to hide them. Which made me sad.
    So when my own book came out, I knew what I didn't want to do. On the other hand - when someone goes through the effort to write a review, I want to help promote THEM too. Sigh. Finding that balance is not easy.

  31. Wow! I feel famous! LOL ;)

    I agree with your post 100%. It's all about feeling like you're getting to know the author as a person. If I'm going out to spend money on a book, I will often choose an author I feel like I "know" and like, rather than a big well-known author that I've never had any contact with. Maybe it's just me, but I would rather support that author I really like.

    Michelle V

  32. Completely agree. I've purchased books from people who toot their own horns, but every time I see it I remember what my father used to say when my brother or I would brag about something:

    "Is your trumpeter out sick, that you need to blow your own horn today?"

    Harsh words when you're five and totally psyched about the rose-water perfume you just made. Until you grow up and realize it probably smelled like dirty rose petals.

    My favorite conversation starter at writers' conferences is "So, tell me about your book." Writers can talk on that subject for hours, and it's amazing how many friends I've picked up by "letting them go first."

  33. October 1!! That's crazy close!!! Woooohooooo!!!

  34. Self promotion is fine when it's coupled with helping others. It's the authors that use social media for purely selfish needs. They are the ones that never respond, never thank, never promote anyone but themselves. I know how much I appreciate it when someone helps me. I want to be able to do that for others.

  35. Great post! I think you are right on with your ideas about self-promotion, and your upcoming plans. I think the key part of self-promotion is personal excitement combined with relationships. If I tell friends that I'm "so excited" because a poem of mine has been published on-line, I think it sounds a bit better than, "Look at me, I'm published. Everyone loves me." (a part of me is gagging and rolling my eyes as I write those sentences)

    Does that make sense?

  36. I HATE reading shameless plugs. I really do. And I vowed, even though I self-published and have to do this part myself, to not be "one of those." So far, I've been very blessed to have some great champions for my book - one at work, one at church, a couple out in the community. And like you say - it's better coming from them. I have been working on having the courage to mention the book when it works into conversation, but I do NOT force it upon people.

  37. I recently did well in some contests I entered. I wanted to put on my blog, but my spouse thought it sounded too much like bragging. I decided not to day anything on the blog.

    (Posted anonymously so I can't brag)

  38. *say, not "day."

    I really need to get some glasses.

  39. Anonymous,

    Thanks for sharing that. I think that brings up the point that Laura was talking about above. Within our community of writers, we should share each other's excitement and accomplishments. When someone gets an agent, we all rush over to congratulate and when someone lands a book deal, we set off cyber fireworks. We all know how hard those milestones are, and we want to rejoice together. Same when our books are released and when something exciting happens. We do want to share with our friends who will be excited for us. But I think there's a difference between sharing our news with those who care and support us, and then boasting so that we can market ourselves and our books. People can sense the difference, (and that usually happens with authors who use social media as a one-solo trumpet instead of participating in the band). So let's not be shy about celebrating the victories together and encouraging one another!

  40. Tyrean,

    What you said makes great sense. We want to share our good news and excitement with others. It's natural! But we do need to be careful about how we're saying it, and even to whom. Not everyone will understand the excitement and it may come across as boasting. However, usually, when we're in a give and take community of friends, we all share one another's burdens as well as the good news.

  41. UGH!!

    I'm NOT good at marketing at ALL!!!
    That's the worst part of this whole thing to me.

    I love the relationship feel to it.

    I'm building good relationships with fellow authors and I'm getting my face out there to welcome anyone else to my blog "home".

    I like that kind of "marketing" mostly cuase it's not really marketing at all. It's forming relationships...and I like that.

    Lately, I've experienced that "eye roll" about self promotion is when three well-meaning politicians came to my door...selling themselves, or worse, their ideas of themselves and what they plan on doing....UGH!

    That whole "thumbs-up-I'll-make-nice-with-the-kids" routine really grates on my nerves...but they were doing the same thing now that I think about it...forming relationships.

    My husband is a GREAT salesman, and he said his best way to sale was to get to know the person. "I can't help you if I don't know what your needs are."

    It's good to know what really sells is something that is so gentle and kind as making friends...I can do that...however, I'm going to need a pep talk when it comes to sitting across from an empty line in Books-a-Mil.


    Thanks again, girl.
    I enjoyed it

  42. I love the picture of your daughter. Yes, she does the eye-roll as well as I've ever seen it. :-)

    I love that once again you point out the importance of relationship. I think, too, that your willingness to be vulnerable and honest about your process and your response to this amazing journey adds to the authenticity.

    I look forward to coming here to learn more about our craft, but mostly to follow your story. I'm looking forward to reading your book (even though it's out of my preferred genre choices).

  43. I've read through the comments and have found some of the same things discussed I'd like to address.

    All authors with publishers are now encouraged (if not told) to have social networking platforms up and going. If you are self-published you definitely need the author platform established.

    I'm someone who is 're-issuing' my Christian children's books that were previously published and went out of print. It's my financial investment and my marketing. So I am doing whatever I can to see it succeed.

    Since I'm still waiting on the publish/printer that is getting my books out again to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie bookstores through print on demand, I am marketing on my blog (Author Website is under construction) with book trailers and a unique marketing tool, fReado which is owned by Bookbuzzr. This tool allows me to put a certain portion of my book into a template and end the story after a few pages. It's just a peek inside the books. One of the features is you can have it tweet for you when someone reads your book.

    I've seen authors who have the feature set for 'one person read my book at fReado today'. It can be set to a much higher number so you're not bugging people on Twitter all day long with that automated phrase. fRead also has the ability to tweet about milestones for people having read the 'peek feature' of your book. This might explain why you are possibly seeing tweets fly by you on your Twitter.

    All the tweeting to me is a great feature. It doesn't happen often, but if it does, you can 'raise the bar' on how often the program will tweet your people. This is all totally free and a great marketing tool.

    Publishers used to market to sell their author's books so why not authors? Facebook is a terrific set up with the new 'like' feature. Add in the book trailers and you get marketing around the world. You can also put your fReado books on Facebook Profile, FB Pages and YouTube.

    What many term as 'horn tooting' is actually marketing. It's all in the way you say it or even look at it. Let me add, you do need to have a book out first to use Bookbuzzr and fReado (unless you can get some pages from your publisher for the template and the making of a book trailer).


  44. This comment has been removed by the author.


    On my blog I offer free coloring pages for the children. I'll be having giveaways as that is the #1 thing some blogger moms are looking for. I go where the moms and grandparents are, post about helpful or fun things for them and once in a great while I mention my books.

    My problem is they want the books, but I can't supply them as they are not ready yet (Sept. 2010) and I hope they remember who I am by then.

    On my FB Page I try to reach out to writers who want to have their picture books published.

    I'm involved with a child sex slave traffic charity on the one hand and literacy on the other.
    I don't have time to be thinking about how great I am because I'm a published author.

    My focus is the people..helping them however I can and then offering what I believe is something solid that will bring more to their children and grandchildren that is of lasting value.

    I know it feels uncomfortable doing this because that's how I spent the whole time through four books being published.

    The publisher did the marketing. When the books began to wane in popularity (shelf life) I didn't know what to do to resurrect them. I was told to go out and speak which I did as a Children's Minister teaching others to do what I did in children's ministry.

    It was frustrating watching the books go out of print and I couldn't do a thing about it.

    Now I'm finding a way to do something. This is probably why I'm so involved in the marketing effort. There is value in that marketing! I have found that one thing leads to another. I've grown new neural pathways just understanding as much as I do since beginning all the online relationships, the author platform, and seeking how to further market without spending a fortune! (You will spend money doing this.)

    Like some of the commenters said, "Support that author." Go out of your way to help them up. That could be in line next looking for a helping hand.

    To the authors: Let the people know you need them to support you on ocassion without feeling like you're tooting your own horn.
    "I can't help you unless I know what your needs are" is an excellent way to end this.

  46. Hi Donna,

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your insights so well here in the comments!! I really learned a lot from reading about all that you're doing! I've never heard of the fReado! I'll have to check into that more! What great ideas! I appreciate you sharing them all!

    Blessings to you as you re-release your children's books. It sounds like you're doing a great job targeting your market!

  47. You have the best attitude about everything, and make even something like book promotion feel like a friendly gathering.

    With you, you're always giving, and that makes others want to help. You won't need to bang anyone over the head, instead, we'll be rushing to sing your praises.

  48. You're a good role model for this aspect of publishing, Jody.

    I think, too, it's important that we value our work and want to share it with others. Then promoting becomes a way of sharing good things.

  49. Agree completely 100% with your idea that authenticity, involvement, interest in others and a genuine approach are the way to be on a social network.

    As for self-promotion, I, too, struggle with that. A while back I wrote a blog called 'self promotion without cringing'...and I was only talking about putting out 'updated blog' tweets and trying to invite others to read my blog! I don't know how I'll be when its my book I've got to shout about!

    I guess its just something you have to do. But having a writer community to turn to will hopefully make it easier, because we've connected with one another and we want to celebrate each other's successes.

    Julie Johnson

  50. I'm sure you know your wonderful post was tweeted by Bubblecow then posted by Jane Friedman. It's about to be tweeted again by me. Much appreciated wisdom.

  51. Thanks for an honest evaluation of what's going on. At the end of the day, I think it depends on what you wish to achieve. A certain amount of self-promotion is essential as long as it is not crass or overdone.

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