I don’t mean things your spouse or kids or friends requested — “pick me up a sandwich, would you?” — but products or items for your own use. Why did you buy the toothpaste you brush with? Why did you buy the mug you drink your coffee out of? Maybe you saw a commercial. Maybe a friend recommended it. Maybe you were in the store and it caught your eye. There could be a hundred different reasons, or more.
But chances are you didn’t buy it because the person who made it asked you to. Or told you to.
So why do so many authors litter their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and e-mail traffic with the plain, unvarnished command: BUY MY BOOK?
Self-promotion and social media can both be fraught terms among authors. And this is part of the reason. “I’m an artist!” say the authors. “I shouldn’t have to be out there telling people to buy my book! It makes me feel icky!”
So here’s how to solve that, easily: never, ever tell anyone to buy your book. There, simple, done.
Let’s go back to the toothpaste. No, better yet, the coffee mug. Would you buy a coffee mug from an artisan at a street fair because she told you she made it herself? Maybe. If she showed it to you and you thought it was beautiful, “maybe” goes up to “probably.” But would you buy that mug online, sight unseen, because the artisan Tweeted BUY MY MUG! or wrote a long blog post about how it had always been her dream to make mugs, and if not enough people buy those mugs, she’ll have to get a job doing something besides mug-making? That explains what’s in it for her, but you’re the buyer. You’re making the decision. And it doesn’t at all explain what’s in it for you.
We buy things for two reasons: a) we want them or b) we need them.
Your job in self-promotion is not to insist, or browbeat, or command. Your job is to convince people — in a way you feel comfortable with — that they either want or need your book(s). That can take a zillion different forms. Not a single one of them has to involve actually telling people to buy your book.
Think about the last book that you bought. Why did you buy it? Personally, I am sitting at my kitchen table as I write this, looking at a copy of Molly Birnbaum’s memoir Season To Taste, which I bought a few days ago. It’s about an aspiring chef who loses her sense of taste, and I’d seen a few reviews, but I wasn’t inspired to buy it until I saw it in person, picked it up, and leafed through it. (It was the table of contents, where each chapter of her life is summarized with a smell or taste, that really sold me.) We buy books because our friends recommend them to us, because their summaries sound interesting, because their covers catch our eye, or for a hundred other reasons.
As authors, many of those reasons are out of our control. But the way we promote our books through social media is completely within our control, and that can be a powerful, powerful tool. When I say “never tell anyone to buy your book” I certainly don’t mean “don’t promote your book.” I think you absolutely should be out there doing what you can to spread the word.
And when I say “never tell anyone to buy your book” I also don’t mean “ask people politely to buy your book.” I mean, tell people about your book. Share great reviews, show your excitement, point them toward information they need to make their own decision. Be interesting in a way that makes people want to see more from you. That’s the only kind of promotion that really works.
(Flickr photo by sapphireblue)