• Irene Allison
  • [SWP: Behind the Book] How Not to Promote Your Book!
This blog was featured on 07/02/2018
[SWP: Behind the Book] How Not to Promote Your Book!
Written by
Irene Allison
July 2018
Written by
Irene Allison
July 2018

If writing a book and getting it out into the world isn't difficult enough, along comes promotion. For writers who love to grab a megaphone and shout out to the world, promotion is probably a lot of fun. But if you're like me, an introvert, nothing could be more challenging, especially with a topic that's emotionally charged.

Introvert or not, to get your book read, you have to do a lot of talking. So it helps to be prepared ahead of time.

First you need a hook, a pithy, engaging, verbal tag line that captures the essence of your book and kindles the interest of potential readers. 

It's worth getting the hook right because it will serve your book throughout the publication process and for the rest of its journey.        

My first attempt to describe my non-fiction book -- "the alleviation of suffering in serious illness" -- had the opposite effect of what I wanted. Only a few souls were brave enough to ask for more information. Often, the hook stopped the conversation short. Sometimes it even caused people to step away, as if fearful of catching a deadly disease.

I got the message. Talking about real-life challenges like serious illness and suffering scares some people. And yet the book itself is all about life, love, compassion, and healing. Obviously, my hook was wrong.

So I kept experimenting.

After equal measures of hair-pulling and revision, the hook finally gelled. My new hook became "bringing heart and compassion back into health care by reviving the art of care".

Not only did this better capture the essence of my book, the hook was positive, created a bridge to the listener, and invited conversation.

Surely that was it. My work was done. Finally, I had a hook and I could toss it out whenever needed. Surely that was enough.  


Turns out the Universe had other ideas. It wanted to teach me something ... the hard way. The lesson I needed to learn is that it's not enough to have a hook, you must be ready to use it at any time, and then be willing to engage. Because if you aren't enthusiastic about your book, no one else will be either.

Time for my lesson.

Two weeks ago, in the steam room at the public pool, I'm spilling forth in a debate about economics with two men who are on the opposite side of a thick, opaque cloud of steam. I have no idea of the identity of my debaters, obscured as they are by the puffy steam and my wickedly poor eyesight. But the topic is lively and keeps us animated for a good half hour. Normally, I don't talk much to strangers, especially when I can't see them. But the thick blanket of steam is a great equalizer because they can't see me either. We're simply disembodied voices sharing an interesting conversation.

But all good things come to an end and my body begs for cooler, drier air.

I stumble out of the steam room and collapse into an empty deck chair. Through the fuzzy veil of my eyesight, human blobs dive into the pool and splash around. Without my glasses, I'm almost blind.

A moment later, a wet swoosh as a man plops into the empty deck chair beside me.

"Oh, that was just great," he says, "that discussion in the steam room. Just great."

I glance over at what should be a face, but instead of features all I see is a blur.

"So you're a prof at the university?" he asks, referring to the college, just a stone's throw from the public pool.

"Ah, no, not at all," I say.

"But you teach something? I mean that was such a great conversation in the steam room."

The more he presses, the greater my discomfort, because not only can I not see his face, every inch of me is still sweating profusely. And I'm in a bathing suit, which, as an introvert feels a little skimpy. Worse, I know from experience, that my face is still fire-engine-red. Not exactly the best of circumstances for meeting someone new, especially not in elbow-to-elbow proximity.

"Surely you're a teacher?" he insists.

"No. I just read a lot." My answer seems painfully thin, as painful as the discomfort of my burning, sweating, scantily clad self. So I blurt out, "I'm a writer." It's a throwaway, intended to satisfy the man's curiosity and end the conversation.

No such luck.

"Oh," he says, "what do you write?" 

Instantly, I recognize the cue for my hook, the one I've practiced so diligently for months. I toss it out with ease. And naively I hope that somehow it will explain everything and let me gracefully escape to the mercy of a cold shower. 

I'm just about to push up from the deck chair, as the man says, "How wonderful." He explains that he's a psychologist who helps patients. He tells me he's convinced that a lack of compassion and whole-person care is one of the biggest weaknesses of the health care system. And he's keen to see ways of bringing heart into medicine. "You're so right," he says, "the medical system needs more compassion." 

This man is a kindred spirit! He really gets the topic of my book! 

But I am still so embarrassed by the rivulets of sweat dripping from my arms and legs, the wildfire still blazing across my face, the near nakedness of my torso, and my almost sightless eyes, that I just can't seize the moment. I just can't get past the embarrassment of my physical state. 

Seemingly unperturbed, the man chatters on, all talky-talky like everything is perfectly normal! He tells me about his work. It's fascinating. He's fascinating. 

And yet ... 

Despite his questions about my book, I somehow fail to give him the title, or my name. I just can't engage. Mindless discomfort prevents me from doing anything other than nodding and mumbling a few garbled words. 

As soon as he's gone, I understand my mistake. Can I correct it if I see him again at the pool? No, because I don't know what he looks like and I never asked his name! 

Truly this is an example of how not to promote a book. 

Because if someone is enthusiastic about the ideas in your book, whether or not the time seems right, you have to engage, converse, and connect. It's a golden opportunity that you don't want to throw away. 

So ... want to avoid my mistake? Then I suggest that you:

  1. Practice that all-important hook.
  2. Be ready to use your hook at any moment, because you never know when or where you'll meet someone who's interested.
  3. Forget about your own discomfort, no matter your appearance: bad hair, sweating, scantily clad, blind, and red-faced, no matter.
  4. Just be ready and willing to engage like there's no tomorrow and let an interested person know more about your book. 

After all, promotion is about engagement and that engagement starts with one potential reader at a time. No matter where and how that engagement takes place! 

*  *  *

Come visit me at:




* This post was originally published in March 2016.

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Irene Allison

    Thanks, Michelle. Practice sure helps, but I know that you are on your way to great success with your novel. And I'm cheering you on!

  • Michelle Cox

    Enjoyed this, Irene!  Good tips.  I definitely need to practice my hook!

  • Irene Allison

    Wow, Jo Anne! Thanks for sharing. Your comments really resonated with me. And I suspect you're right -- that female reticence is somehow a part of it. Now that's a topic worthy of discussion!

    So ... we need to learn to toot our own horns in a way that really does ourselves and our accomplishments proud! I don't know about you, but I find it very easy (and very pleasurable!) to celebrate the successes and accomplishments of others. And yet, like you, I don't talk much about my own. Hmmm...

    I love your title: "Body Wisdom, Body Care" and it is definitely a book I'd love to read! And it seems to me that there would be an audience for this topic, especially now.

    Regarding the journey of my book, co-authored with my mother (a pioneer in palliative care), we found it tricky pitching to editors and agents because of issues it raises. We had a super publisher lined up in the UK, but then it got side-tracked for a book on business. I shared this journey in an earlier blog post:


    Anyway, we kept chipping away, despite frustrations. Finally, two things helped: 1) the rising tide of voices discussing important issues in medicine, and 2) the change in publishing options.

    Ultimately, we opted to partner with a hybrid publisher. 

    One thing to keep in mind though, whatever publishing option you pursue, you will be responsible for the marketing. It's all up to the author these days. 

    Hmm, lots of choices, lots of decisions. But I sure hope you'll find what suits you best. Your book has a place in the world ... and I'm looking forward to reading it. As for self-promo, just keep practicing. And keep in touch!

    Good luck!


  • Great post! I, too, have always been reluctant to self-promote--on any topic. So people I've known for some time are often surprised to find out about things I've done/accomplished. I'm not really an introvert (although not a strong extrovert either). Is this simply female reticence? 

    And your book topic of caring resonates strongly with me. I have been working for five years on a book that addresses patient education and engagement in health care. The tentative title is "Body Wisdom, Body Care." I've been having trouble getting myself to promote it to prospective agents and publishers, even though I have a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences and taught medical students for three decades! How did you overcome your barrier to self-promotion enough to get your book published?

    I have two previous books our, but they were self-published. I probably took that route to avoid having to deal with self-promotion to agents and publishers. But I think the book I've been working on is too important and potentially valuable to languish without some professional marketing behind it. Any ideas? Take the bit in my teeth and start sending out queries every week? Sigh... I'd rather write another book than a dozen query letters!

  • Irene Allison

    Purabi, thank you for sharing. And don't give up. Get a good one-liner and practice until it feels comfortable. Then share it with the world! With me, I let that be the starter and as long as the person doesn't get "glassy-eyed" as you say, and if they ask for more, then I add another little bit. It's hard work, isn't it? Keep at it and you'll turn into a pro! Good luck!

  • Irene Allison

    Stacey, isn't it amazing to hear how many of us are in the same boat! Well ... keep chipping away at it, and you're sure to succeed. Good luck!

  • Irene Allison

    Molly, thanks for sharing my post. And yes, chip away at that hook, practice on friends, and you're sure to find something that captures your book and connects with others. Wishing you lots of success!

  • Irene Allison

    Betty, I'm glad you found it useful! 

  • Purabi Das

    Hi Irene,

    Thank you for your insightful post. It felt as though you were talking to me because you have discussed some very pertinent points-and these have been on my mind for quite a while. Most importantly, I never know how to respond when I am asked that hugely important question "What do you write?" For one I hesitate to give out too much information (how much is too much?) and then worry they might get bored. I don't want to see that glassy eyed look come into their eyes when a person tries hard to look interested but isn't. You know what I mean? I am rather introverted myself when it comes to promoting my work, so thank you, once again, for this timely post.


  • Stacey Wiedower

    Ah, you're not alone! I've done this multiples times ... I'm in a situation with a stranger or a new acquaintance, and we're literally talking about my books, or at least about books, and I fail to self-promote. It's really hard to do when you're a little shy or you're not a natural salesperson. Like you, I'm working on it! I enjoyed your post.

  • Molly McHugh

    Great article - shared on Build Book Buzz facebook group and a private group I run for e-book writers/publishers.  I am just getting the paperback version of my book (months late, but still...) "Bipolar 1 Disorder - How to Survive and Thrive" and thinking what my hook should be.  I have ideas but want to be clear like is recommended above... and make sure it's an appealing hook (like above!) - my topic is sensitive and personal as well, don't want to turn others off.

    Great read, thanks for sharing!

  • Betty Hafner

    This was extremely helpful and such fun to read!