5 Ways to Take the Ickiness Out of Marketing Our Books

My twin daughters joined a synchronized swim team this fall. As part of the process of trying to reduce the fees, the team has several fundraisers throughout the year.

After the first practice, my girls brought home a sheet of pies to sell (similar to the Girl Scout cookie sheet).

At first, the girls were enthusiastic. They made lists of friends and neighbors they wanted to target. They divided the list, deciding which families each of them “got.” Then they headed out together to sell pies.

I wasn’t surprised when they returned a short while later after going to just two neighbors. One of the families bought a couple of pies and the other didn’t. My more dramatic daughter shuddered and said, “I didn’t like having to ask them to buy something. It felt icky.”

The initial gusto had faded, replaced by the reality of what they were doing.

If you’ve been around the industry a while, then you know marketing our books is not optional. It’s necessary for survival in today’s over-saturated market. We’re competing with a million other writers for diminishing shelf space and ultimately the attention of readers.

With two published books out there, I’ve learned from first-hand experience that my books won’t walk around and sell themselves. I have to go out and knock on doors (so-to-speak). And sometimes that marketing leaves me with an icky feeling.

I recently read an article titled Does Marketing Your Writing Feel Like Prostitution? It starts with this: “So there we writers stand, on the virtual street corner with our computers, wearing sexy sweat pants, hawking our books, articles, and ‘content creation services’.”

Nowadays, authors are searching for THE best ways to get their books noticed. We’re striving for the most creative, the most eye-catching, and the most vocal marketing techniques. But after a while it can begin to feel like we’re standing out on the corner hawking ourselves.

How can we market without feeling icky? Is it possible?

Here are a few things we can do to keep the ickiness out of marketing our books (as much as possible):

1. Don’t send new followers the links to your website or Amazon book page. I can’t tell you lately how many new followers (both on twitter and facebook) have asked me to go “check out” their books. I never, ever go to those links. It feels like they followed me only to make a sale (and they likely did), which is a complete turn-off and will only do more harm than good.

2. Don’t ask people to retweet or help you promote your book unless you already have a strong relationship with them. Asking mere acquaintances for that kind of support makes people feel used. However, when we’ve already developed a relationship, often our friends will be the ones asking us how they can help.

3. Make sure you’re showing up on social media on a regular basis—NOT just when you want to talk about your books. I’ve seen several authors continually promote their books through email loops, on twitter, etc. But I don’t know them, simply because they only talk about their books. I’d be more inclined to like them and buy their books if I got to know them personally.

4. When befriending people, don’t have ulterior motives. I quickly lose my respect for people who are really nice to me and not too long afterward ask me for a favor. Of course, there’s always that unspoken realization that all writers have an underlying motivation for using social media. We eventually want it to help us sell books. But even if it starts out that way, social media has to become SO much more than just a marketing tool. We can't forget that real people are behind the avatars, and they deserve to be treated with genuineness and respect.

5. Engage in meaningful relationships with other people without thought of what we gain in return. We shouldn’t have an air of entitlement and expect people to buy our books or follow us back. I’ve found that over time, many people support me because they’ve come to know me in a real way.

My Summary: I wish my books could just stand-alone and market themselves simply because of the quality. But even with well-written, compelling books, we all have to market our books to help give them an advantage. That’s the reality in today’s market. But honestly, I’d rather NOT make a sale, then make one in pushy and icky way.

What about you? What are some other icky marketing techniques you’ve noticed? How can we take the “ick” out of the whole process? Is it possible or will we always have a bit of that icky feeling?


  1. Ick. I have an icky feeling just thinking about one day having to do icky marketing! LOL Oh the irony... my career (before kids) was always sales and marketing. Now after all these years as a SAHM and discovering my love of writing, I was looking forward to doing something that didn't involve sales. Enter the new publishing "system" and I guess I can't escape it.

    I'd have to say your numbers 4 & 5 would sum up my thoughts exactly. I would MUCH rather engage in meaningful relationships through social media than to have an agenda behind it. I wish the books would market themselves too, lol. I guess this is one of those issues where I'll just have to wait and see (since I'm nowhere near published).

    For the record Jody... you are 100% authentic, and it is a pleasure to "support" you by investing in your books. :D

  2. My most recent icky one was a friend request on FB, with a personal message saying "I've followed your blog. Please follow mine too." with a link ... :/ No hello, or nice to meet you, nuttin'. Not nice. Don't like it at all.

  3. I agree with all your points here, but particularly the one about people DM'ing you on Twitter with 'follow my blog' or 'like my Facebook page'. It makes the relationship feel very shallow - never a good start!

  4. Hi ladies!

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Barb! It's never easy to know how we're doing and how people really perceive us. But as I said, I'd rather not make a sale than do so in a way that offends others.

    And Cally and Jessica, I get those "follow" messages on Twitter and Facebook too. I agree, they're not effective in the least. I never respond to DM's/messages like that. People need a reason to go check out a blog or book--and usually that reason is because they've gotten to know you OR you write an interesting post that draws attention.

  5. Thank you. I want to rant, I mean blog about this issue but I'm not published so I don't want to step on anyone's toes. But I am getting really tired of the hyper-marketers.

    There is an author I hung out with only once who's getting ready for a book release and will not stop spamming aggressively for us to do things. This person actually said they would not stop their messages until we complied. Yeesh!

  6. Oh, how I began this post nodding in empathy with your daughters!

    I'm in the marketing stage for two nonfiction books for families right now (Advent and Lent), and I'm feeling all of that. For me, social media is more a general platform kind of thing, at least at present...I know I don't use it properly, but I know it's useless to go around hawking books, so I don't. I always feel like I should be more forward about it than I am. So thank you for the affirmation that I'm better off not overblowing my own horn!

  7. Such wise advice, Jody. I think we all feel a little icky about marketing, whether we're approaching it right or not. For a while, I had my blog automatically feed to Facebook, but then I took it down. Even though it wasn't a "book", I didn't want my friends to think I was just a machine cranking out links that said, "Visit me!". :)

  8. Thank you Jody for an honest and truthful post and for saying something I have wanted to say but didn't know how to say it nicely:)) I hate the self promotion but I know it is there and has to be. But there is a way to go about it and a way NOT to go about it. I love ALL your points--especially about people using others to only promote their self and book. It makes me not ever want to get a book published because I don't want to be that kind of person. THANK YOU!!

  9. Yes I get those linky dinks on Twitter from strangers. It's a turn off and like you, I hardly ever click on.

    Love your #5. It's what I love working's really what I'm living for, too.

    ~ Wendy

  10. Wonderful advice, Jodi! I am going through this right now with the upcoming release of my first book. As you said, it would be so nice if our books could just sell themselves! The biggest challenge for me is time. It's so easy to just post a link and much more time-consuming to personally connect with people. Let's face it - building relationships takes time and energy. But you're absolutely right. Connecting with our readers on a personal level is vital and so much more meaningful (and effective) than simply promoting ourselves and our books. Thanks for a great post.

  11. Jody,

    This post was great. You addressed all the fears I have with marketing. I never want to come off as if I'm using people or connecting just to see what I can get out of other people. It's hard, though, when our whole lives we've been told "it's all about who you know." This mindset has made it so it's tempting to network and form relationships in hopes that they'll one day lead to something profitable for us, not because we're genuinely interested in people and relationships. But I'm like you. I'd rather form real relationships of support and encouragement.

    Sometimes it seems like Twitter is just a bunch of people following each other so that those people will follow them. I know there is genuine value to Twitter, but a lot of people don't use it properly.

    Thanks for a great post and some great reminders!

  12. I like to write, I don't like to market, so I don't really. It's not that I would reject fame and fortune if it came my way through my books but aside from the occasional fantasy I realize it's a pipe dream.

    I do have a 'day job' and am old enough to be financially secure enough to not want to do much of what I don't want to do. I only have a finite amount of time in each day and I prefer to spend my spare time writing, playing the piano or taking my dogs for a walk now that my children are grown.

    With the 20% royalty I receive for each book sold (I'm self-published) it just seems it takes too much effort to make, say $100.

    I suppose I hope and believe that a good book will find it's audience even though it may take a long time.

  13. Sounds like it's about genuine connections with people. Which is harder and more time-consuming than sending out a bunch of spam, but ultimately more rewarding (emotionally and marketing-wise) and just more respectful to the other person.

    Too many writers market as if they're just asking for a few minutes of the other person's time, which ignores the reality that reading a book is at least a six hour commitment. So in a way, lazy spamming just feels...not fair?

    I'm only drawn to buy books through things that I can see took the writer some time - i.e., interviews, reviews on book review sites (because I know the writer probably contacted and networked with the owner of the site), guest blogs, even bloggers just recommending the books of their friends because that tells me that the writer took the time to genuinely connect and network with other bloggers. Something that tells me that they were willing to spend a little extra time giving me just a little more of them.

  14. Hey everyone! Am loving all of your thoughts today on this topic! It's amazing how so many of us feel the same "ick" when it comes to having to convince others to buy our books. I've truly found that even though genuine relationships take more time, they are absolutely worthwhile not just from a marketing standpoint, but from a personal friendship level too. The online writing community can really be a fantastic support group once we take the time to jump in and get to know each other.

  15. This is so great! This helped me put my thoughts straight. Because you're right, we writers do have the somewhat mercenary reason of using social help sell books. But what it really comes down to is sincere relationships.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  16. No other industry expects people to do their job exceptionally well, plus do everything else. A doctor isn't expected to treat patients, mop the hospital floors, and handle all the insurance claims. It is an icky feeling to have to advertise your own books and toot your own horn so people notice you. I have no suggestions, just commiseration.

  17. Love this post. You're right. I hate it when someone friends me only to promote their book. And worse, is when I receive a group email asking me to review a book from someone I hardly know. I've cut down on reviews because of this.

    You handled your blog tour very professionally and had many people offering to help spread the word about your novel. That's how it should be done.

    Yes, it's hard work to promote a novel, but you've set a wonderful example. Thanks!

  18. it's true. I hate feeling like a sales person when I'm supposed to be an artist, and advertising to the converted (ie. other authors) is a real waste of time. It's the READERS that you should advertise to.
    One way I recently endeavoured to promote my books is was by participating in an anthology. Not only did I have 13 other authors also promoting it, I can also display my other book at signings.

  19. Jody,
    Great post! It's nice to know I'm not the only one struggling with the "icky" feelings that come with marketing my books. I'm the type person who'll more likely than not say, "You don't want to buy a copy of my book, do you?" :-)

    As for your comments about using social media, I have to confess I finally got on FB and Twitter only recently because people kept telling me both were great marketing tools. And while I'm discovering that's true, I'm also discovering both are great ways to simply connect with people. I came across your blog and several others through Twitter, and I'm so glad I did. So much helpful information and insight out there I didn't even know existed. Now I find myself spending so much time reading what others have posted I have to remind myself to stop and add my two cents every once in a while - both personal and marketing.

    Thanks for the time you give in order to help others.

  20. Excellent post, Jody! Glad I'm not the only one who thinks marketing is icky. And time-consuming. Good suggestions about using FB and Twitter.

  21. Seriously?! So hard not to be icky. I just published my first book earlier this week (yay me!) and so far, it's helped that the people closest to me were more than willing to buy a copy and review it for me (I'm not even asking them for a positive review. Just A review). So, I'm hoping that doing that first, as well as asking people to try the sample, and not oversaturating with BUY MY BOOK tweets will be the right way to go.

  22. For so many of us that aren't comfortable as salespeople (*waves hand*), the idea of any kind of pushy marketing squicks us out. I think you've hit the nail on the head about genuine relationships vs. fast follows and BUY BUY BUY! No one likes the latter, but most will go far to help out the former because we want to see others succeed. Definitely the best way to go in my mind.

  23. Excellent topic Judy. I hope you won't find this too icky, but I posted your article on the Writing Platform Facebook page!

  24. AWESOME post. I have one month that my book is on the shelves so I'm trying to start early with light marketing because I never want to use anyone or be annoying or make someone feel used. I'd like to find the right balance for this.

  25. As always, you addressed this issue with just the right amount of practical advice. It's true that self promotion is probably the most difficult thing for anyone, and authors are certainly not excluded. Sometimes I get that icky feeling, as you say, and then other times I feel as if I am not being pushy enough ... It's a dilemma to strike just the right balance.

  26. Great points, Jody (as usual)!

    I absolutely agree with #4 and #5. And I can fully support your statement here: "I’ve found that over time, many people support me because they’ve come to know me in a real way." I first read your blog, followed you on Twitter, then interacted with you on Twitter, and then bought your books (and LOVED them). Your authentic nature and eagerness to share your writing knowledge with us "novice" writers (and the not-so-novice ones who love your thoughts as well) reinforces that you are a real person (not just a marketer)!

    Thanks, Jody.

  27. Excellent article, Jody. I appreiciate you being forthright enough to say, "It's tacky to use sm just to gain favors," or words to that affect.

    Relationships fuel that second mile. I gladly promote books and buy pies from people I love.

    P.S. If your daughters lived nearby, I'd ask for a peach or pumpkin!

  28. I found a way to enjoy selling. Not kidding. I have to believe in the product. Years ago, in desperation, I began selling a line of skin care/cosmetics. It was easy because instead of selling, I was telling. Telling people about this great product that would help them. I was being helpful, and I love that. The money was a bit more awkward, but logic compels that. When I begin to accept money for my book I will tell myself the story is helpful, it will give readers a new perspective on aging, and I collect the money out of respect for my main character, who deserves it!

  29. Oops - that makes me feel a bit bad about the fact that I've just posted a jokey little tweet about my book - but it was just meant to be a bit of fun and I didn't even add a link or anything!
    Seriously though - your points are totally valid and I agree one hundred per cent with all of them. In a way it actually worries me that people even need to be told all this - why can't they see for themselves the tactics that will just put others off?
    Marketing and PR is still very new and difficult territory for most writers so I suppose inevitably we will get it wrong at least some of the time - but helpful tips and advice like yours should certainly go a long way towards helping us to see the light!

  30. Thank you for this post! It should be required reading for writers. I hate hate hate it when I follow someone new and get a DM that says "Thanks for the follow. Here's a link to my books," but the absolute worst thing I've had happen is someone read my free book, told me it was awesome and gave me a great review. When I said thank you, they responded with something like "Glad I could help, here's my book". Turned a high into a low pretty darn quick.

  31. Thank you Jodi for bringing up this difficult subject.

    Marketing is something that freaks writers out because it uses the practical side of the brain as opposed to the creative side and surprisingly most writers are on the shy side.

    This is where writers who have embraced technology and built a fan base before they have a book published have the edge when it comes to marketing. If you don't have these platforms then a writer needs to work as creating them pronto.

    A good way to self promote without that "Icky" tag and attract and grow loyal followers who will go out and buy your book is to offer followers and fans something for free.

    A short Novella in serial form on your blog is a good one. Writing excerpts, teaser excerpts about your book.

    Have you followed Sharon Sala on Facebook where she gives readers a more or less daily diary of her life with no strings attached. And the number of fans who are waiting on her next book which is about killing a bear by the way.

    The key to successful marketing is not what you can get from followers but what you can give them or do for them.

    This advice comes from many years in retail.

    The key to successful marketing is to develop the mindset of what can I do to reward my loyal fans and followers not what can I ask people to do for me.

    One will follow the others. And remember selling books is just the same as every other retail activity you need to create your own niche market.

  32. Hi Jody, great blog. Really enjoyed it, especially as I have been stressing these last few months over developing (or not!) my 'social' platform. And after flapping about like a headless chicken, I have come to realise that there are certain blogs and sites that I keep coming back to, and these are the ones I find interesting and enjoy. And it is a little fitting that I am back reading your blog, one which I bookmarked at the beginning of my slog, and that the post is about developing meaningful relationships with colleagues based on mutual respect and shared interests. It's as if the mist is lifting. It seems so obvious but sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. THis is sound advice! As for feeling 'icky', well I always feel a little bit icky when I think I am blowing my own trumpet, and never more so than when I am talking about my writing, even when I have been invited to do so! I don't know why that is. That said, I agree that we have to market our books to give them an advantage, but as you rightly suggest, that doesn't mean have to turn into 'foot-in-the-door sales people to do so. Thanks again for great post :)

  33. Hi everyone! I'm REALLY loving ALL of your thoughts on this topic! Thank you for joining in!

    Shirley, you bring up a great point for us all to remember: that marketing is not what you can get from followers but what you can give them or do for them. LOVE that!

  34. I'm with Kelly H. -- I don't care for the BUY MY BOOKS tweet avalanche ... or the "I wish someone in (name a city/state) would BUY MY BOOK" tweet.
    (And congratulations, Kelly H. on your book coming out!)
    You're right, Jody, marketing can feel so ... icky. I find doing a little bit at a time helps. Or trying something new and then getting comfortable with it before adding something else to the social media soup. (One day I will get back to Google+.)
    And if you lived nearby, I would buy pie from your daughters. I have mercy on all school kids selling fundraiser products!

  35. All great points! My number one twitter pet peeve is when someone follows me, and as soon as I follow them back, they unfollow me. Do they really think they're winning any friends this way. Ugh!

  36. Solid, sound advice Jody. The biggest struggle in modern marketing (regardless of product) is trying to get the marketer to understand that by not pitching they'll actually have a better reputation and more sales in the long run.

  37. I think using Twitter and Facebook to promote something, like I'm doing this week because I'm running a week long feature in honor of Veteran's Day, is ok. Since we have to market our books, no other way around it, social networking is the quickest way to get word out fast. I wish there was an easier way too, as I hate trying to 'sell' myself, especially when it seems like I'm doing a whole lot of work for very little return. I don't like the spammers though. Promotional tweets from writers are acceptable to me though.

  38. YES!!! I wish reading this post was mandatory for any person new to social media.

    I think people are so much more likely to support writers who make an effort to be genuine and kind. There is nothing that annoys me more than people who see me not as a person, but a sale.

  39. Great blog, as always!

    Count me in among the people who hate the auto-DMs. Another pet peeve is when people add "Worth the RT?" or "Please RT" to their tweets. If it is truly worth the RT, I'll be sure to RT it -- without being asked.

    On Twitter, I always err on the side of relationships. I tweet interesting links, I RT stuff, I send encouragement or cheers, and I only link to my own stuff about once a day (that's 10% of my tweets or less).

    My big problem is balance. I'm really enjoying talking to other writers on Twitter, commiserating and cheering and challenging each other to write. But that can be incredibly time-consuming if you let it.

    How do you keep building relationships without letting social media take over your writing time?

  40. Siri, it IS really hard to keep social media from taking over writing time. When I sit down to do my actual word count for the day, I turn off the internet and then only check email/twitter during short breaks. But then I close it back up again and keep writing until I get my words in. Then once I'm done with that, I use my free time to socialize. I always make sure to get in my writing time and don't let that suffer.

    I also think the amount of time we'll need to put into social media is going to vary depending upon where we're at in the road to publication, and whether we're intending to go the traditional route vs. self-publish. Even so, I say no matter where we're at, we HAVE to keep our writing top priority in every day's to-do list.

  41. Thanks for this post, Jody. I love twitter and Facebook, but it is a struggle to do it right - and yes, it can feel icky. Like life, it's a balancing act :)

  42. Thanks for a great post, Jody. I have become annoyed lately with all the ads on Twitter from people I follow. I have actually considered cleaning house and removing all the writers and book bloggers (book giveaways that I am not interested in) from my follow list for this reason. If a writer has a new book published, I am happy to celebrate that with them, but when my feed list becomes a list of advertisements promoting work for people I don't know, it becomes a problem.

    On the other side of things, with two books of my own published, I have wondered how much my followers want to hear about them. I appreciate your thoughts and will be weighing them as I continue to re-think my marketing strategy.

    On a somewhat separate note, as a first-time visitor (who by the way found a link for your article on Twitter), I wanted to say that you have a beautiful blog with great content. Thanks for sharing.

  43. Jody -
    Great post dealing with a difficult subject. It's a delicate balance to want to get the word out about a "product" you believe in and pushing it in the faces (or computers) of those you want to "help" with your product.

    I too love what Shirley said, "The key to successful marketing is not what you can get from followers but what you can give them or do for them."

    If we keep that as our focus, our message is more apt to be received well.

    And when my kids were in school, they had to sell cheesecakes. The first year, I bought one and it didn't fit in my narrow freezer. That was the end of that! We chose other fundraisers to support.

    Thanks for your ever-helpful blog. You do give more than you get!

    ps - sorry I missed your blog tour for the Doctors Lady. I was on a blog hiatus. But I'll be sure to participate in your next one! Your writing shines!

  44. Amy Joy, Thank you for your kind words about my blog! It's so nice to hear that it's a warm and inviting place! I wish you all the best as you move forward with marketing your books and finding the balance we're all striving for!

    Hi Susan! Welcome back from your blogging hiatus. I appreciate your kind words too! Thank you so much!! :-)

  45. I agree with everything you said.

    Like you, I never follow links DM'd to me on Twitter and I never retweet links just because someone I only just followed asked me to. I don't follow back automatically, and I don't like people's Facebook pages just because they ask me to.

    I've learned a whole lot from Facebook and Twitter about what not to do. I hope I remember to put it all into practice when I have a book to sell.

  46. I'm in self promotion madness now and I've probably done a few things wrong, and hopefully some things right. Guess time will tell, but I try to make it FUN, and not take it so seriously! Hopefully that attitude comes out in my social media posts. Everyone in the industry knows when you have a book coming out you have to promote it, so I'm willing to offer a measure of Grace for other people's marketing mistakes in hopes they'll extend the same back to me.I hate the "buy my book" spammers myself, though if someone friend requests me on facebook, I sometimes invite them to my author page. Is that right or wrong? IDK, but I'm assuming they were interested in me as an author and they initiated the relationship. What do you think, Jody?

  47. Gina, I do think we need to extend grace to each other. We'll all be in the position of having to sell our books at one point or another.

    But I really do think we need to keep the "social" in social media. And quite frankly, that takes a whole lot more time and effort than just posting info. about our books. But it's the real relationships that people crave. And when we have genuine interactions, we're more likely to want to support others. Otherwise, it feels slightly pushy.

    As far as FB. I haven't done that. If someone follows me on my personal account, I figure I can relate with them there just as easily as my author page. When my personal account gets full (to the 5000 limit), then I'll have to kindly ask people to go over to my author page and follow me there. But for now, I figure either one is serving the purpose of relating with others.

  48. Well stated, with good practical suggestions for relations with new friends... and potential readers!

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