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Book Promotion for Introverts

This post is for newcomers. Extroverts read no farther. Most of the advice on this list about book promotion is right on target. When list members offer advice about how to get publicity I always pay attention. But the sad truth is not all of us are born promoters. I would even argue that the tendencies for introversion are more prevalent among writers than for most other occupations. Not all of us are great speakers and some of us are even shy. I can give a pretty good talk, but whenever I put on that hat for any extended period of time it seems to sap the very energy that enables me to write in the first place.

A chapter in Tom and Marylyn Ross's book, "Jump Start Your Book Sales" is titled: "Publicity Horsepower: Shameless Print Promotion for Brazen Hustlers." Good advice, no doubt, but I'm not one and don't want to be. So, I approach book promotion from a different angle. In my view, the most important thing to remember is that you don't have to be naturally good at self-promotion in this business to succeed, but you do have to learn to "value" the process with enough enthusiasm to see that it gets done.

In 1988, I attended Stanford University's Professional Publishing Course. The first piece of advice they offered was, "It takes a brilliant person to write a book, but it takes a genius to sell one." I wouldn't go quite that far, but I wouldn't spend a lot of time arguing the point either. One of the most useful things I learned at Stanford is that everyone is in the same boat in the promotion department. The folks at Random House, and Simon and Schuster are feeling their way along just like the single book publisher, although they do have a decided advantage. I went to Stanford thinking that out there somewhere, someone, had the answers and was more than a little disappointed to find out most of the people there were just as confused as I was. But, in a way it's a relief to know that no one has all of the answers in this business and that everyone, including the seasoned veterans are groping their way along to find something that works.

There are many good books about successful promotion. My advice is that if you are serious about this business is to read all of them. These are truly paradoxical times in publishing. It has never been harder to promote a book than it is today. But and opposite statement is also true: It's never been easier to promote a book than it is today. The reason it's so hard is that so many people are doing it. The reason it's so easy is that there has never been so much uncertainty about how to get people's attention and there's never been so many ways to go about it. Technology is simply moving too fast. The Internet has everyone excited and scared at the same time.

Successful promotion is in my view about reaching critical mass. There are lots of books that sell thousands of copies each and every year, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a good example: It sells enough copies each year via word of mouth to be considered a best seller by most small presses. But 22 publishers rejected Robert M. Pirsig's book before it was accepted. Moreover, Pirsig never promoted the book. His publisher decided to make him seem like a mysterious person by making information about him scant and it worked.

The reality of the book business is this: Books that are not continually promoted will die on the vine like ripe fruit. Reaching critical mass depends upon imagination, resourcefulness and above all persistence. But the very nature of critical mass is an interesting phenomenon. Reaching critical mass means making a big enough splash so that publicity and word of mouth becomes a self-sustaining process for long periods of time.

Malcolm Gladwell published a book a year ago titled "The Tipping Point." It would have made a better magazine article than a book, but it does offer some insightful information about the dynamics of promotion. Gladwell identified three major players instrumental in achieving a critical mass of attention: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Connectors know lots of people and frequently communicate with them. Mavens are obsessed with getting the best deal possible and are just as anxious to let you in on it. Salesmen as we all know are persuaders. Several key contributors to this list fit these characterizations like a glove, but I will let you use your imagination in figuring out who they are.

The obvious goal of reaching a critical mass of attention is to engage as many of these types of people as possible in calling attention to our work, especially connectors. At present, I'm relying mostly on the Internet to do that. There is a big difference, however, in chatting and sharing information with people in the publishing business as opposed to reaching our own individual respective markets. Sharing information as we do on this list is great, but unless you are a vendor for publishers this list in not where you need to focus your efforts. If you have a specific genre then you need to reach the connectors, mavens, and salesmen who would be most enthusiastic about purchasing the particular kind of books that you publish. I post a free quarterly online newsletter and I have several major "connectors" as subscribers. If they like a particular issue they spread the word, which travels fast, and ripples like a rock thrown into a pond. As my circulation grows the rock gets bigger as do the ripples.

What happens when one of us achieves national attention is that we connect with a slew of connectors at one time and the repercussions mimic the attributes most commonly associated with chaos theory. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and scores of books like it are self-sustaining. They make their own waves. My point in this analogy is that you can create a tsunami without anyone seeing the rock that set it in motion. Connect with enough connectors and you can still make waves without being in the media limelight.

Another benefit in book publishing for introverts is longevity. If you are in this business long enough, particularly on the web you will leave a long trail of material. You will be easy to track for anyone interested in your subject matter. I've been writing about self-education and lifelong learning for so long that it's hard to do very much research in the field without coming across my name which is precisely how I wound up on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" (this was a big rock) a couple of years ago. And as I learned from this experience sometimes too much polish can work against you. When the producer called me for "Talk of the Nation" she said I would be sharing the hour with another author in my genre that at the time was very well known. I wound up, however, being the only guest. The next day I asked the producer what happened since I did the whole show by myself, expecting that this other author would be introduced at any moment. She said he was too self-promoting and they decided not to include him. Score one for the introvert. Turns out her only criteria for a guest was sincerity and enthusiasm for the subject at hand.

So, you don't have to be a Stephen Covey, Harvey MacKay or a Greg Godek to succeed in this business. There is plenty of room for introverts. You don't have to have a dynamic personality to succeed in publishing, but you do need to have to have "something" to say. You also need to go to great pains to say it and you need tenacity to spare.

Finally one of the most important lessons you can learn about book promotion is that every rule is a guideline that someone has successfully broken and many of the people who succeed are the ones "who don't know that you can't do that."

Charles D. Hayes
Autodidactic Press

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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