[PATH TO PUBLICATION] That Awkward Promotion Phase
Written by
Elizabeth Enslin
August 2014
Written by
Elizabeth Enslin
August 2014

The memoir I’ve been working on for years comes out at the end of September. I loved the process of writing and revising. Sure, I hit rough patches and moments of despair, but as a writer, I knew how to get through those.

Now with the book at the printer, I need to step into a new role: promoter. I’m grateful to have a publicist to ease my way, but I still have work to do. I try to share interesting tidbits and praise related to my memoir on Facebook and Twitter. I upload relevant photos for #throwbackthursday. I wait for an appropriate opening, then nudge lovely promotional postcards into the hands at writing conferences, book signings, restaurants, outdoor concerts. I do the work cheerfully and am sometimes surprised that I enjoy it a bit. But after each promotional transaction, I often feel a little icky too. Something inside me twists and shrivels. The word soul-sucking comes to mind, though I’m not sure what a soul is.

It’s not that I don’t believe in myself or the worth of the book. I’m not that self-effacing. I’m proud of my creation and want it to succeed. I’m eager to share it and help it find an audience. And I remind myself that this book isn’t just about me, me, me. It is a memoir, but it invites consideration of broader concerns, especially the diverse experiences of women across class, ethnicity, nationality. That should be reason enough to promote it with joy and enthusiasm. I am a vehicle for a larger, more important story.

Still, promotional activities turn the spotlight back on me. I understand why that's necessary, but it makes me squirm.

For the past few months I’ve tried to be mindful of what helps diminish that restless, icky feeling I get from promoting myself. Mostly practical tasks, I’ve discovered: spending time each week on my writing, making hummus for a fundraiser for our local literary arts organization, encouraging emerging writers, deciding where to donate proceeds from my book. And what ties all those tasks together? They all involve doing what I love and would be involved with anyway: making art, connecting with others in the artistic community, helping where I can, and figuring out ways for my art to contribute to larger causes.

Nothing surprising in my discovery, I suppose. It all dovetails with what others (e.g., Jane Friedman, Roxane Gay, Bethane Patrick) have written on literary citizenship. Perhaps it mostly boils down to a common sense understanding of balancing out what we give and take in the world. But in this new realm of book launching and promotion, I had to learn it for myself.

Who else out there has experienced some odd feelings around promoting their writing? What helps you?

Elizabeth Enslin is the author of While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal (Seal Press, October 2014) which won the 2013 She Writes to Seal Press Publishing Contract Contest.

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  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Thanks for the shoutout, Pamela! The blurb you provided means a lot to me. I hate bothering people too, but I'm also learning that it's a necessary task. And when people respond positively (as they often do), it's wonderfully uplifting. I'd love to know more as you discover what's different about promoting a novel (vs. nonfiction).

    And for all of you reading the comments, check out Pamela's book, Fast Times in Palestine. It provides an intimate glimpse of another culture on the margins -- important reading for anyone trying to understand the current Israel-Gaza conflict.

  • Pamela Olson

    I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Ms. Enslin's book, and I recommend it highly. A fascinating glimpse into a part of the world that would otherwise have been completely dark to me. As exotic as it is in many ways, I also recognized many universal, human issues that come up when people "on the margins" are trying to figure out their place in the world (at least it has been in my experience, mostly in the Middle East).

    And of course, every society also has its wonderful aspects -- food, family, hospitality, beauty, culture, kindness. We're a fascinating human family.

    Back on topic: I still hate promoting myself or my book or even raising funds for worthy causes -- basically, I hate bothering people and asking them for things. But I try to remember that I'm doing a job. Not a normal 9-5 job with an official title, but (hopefully) an important one that might help make this world a little less lonely and more connected. (Someone has to do it, and in many ways it is much harder than sitting behind a desk with a nice official title to make us feel like a "real person.")

    One of the most important things to keep me sane is unsolicited feedback from readers. I don't always write to authors who move me profoundly, so I have to assume for every nice letter I get, at least a few more folks are also getting something out of it. And that makes the work feel more like service than self-aggrandizement. At the end of the day, it's really not about me.

    Of course, that's easier when it comes to nonfiction books. I'm working on my first novel now, and when that comes out, it will be mostly about entertainment (though it's by no means "just fluff"). It will be interesting to see how it's different trying to promote something that is more about my own self-expression (and enjoyment) than about specifically trying to help the world know a little-known part of the world a little better.

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Thanks, Ann.

  • Ann Hamilton

    I feel your pain and I share your icky feeling about the process.  My book came out in July and in retrospect I wish I'd been more aggressive in promoting it, but I felt so annoying sending emails and doing constant reminders about the book on social media.  But I've learned a lot and I would approach things differently the next time (like hire a publicist).  Good luck to you.

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Jan- I loved that image and your reminder that I'm promoting the book, not myself. Thanks for that.

    Shakuntala - Oh yes, taking money from friends and family will be another hurdle. How wonderful that your doctor friend put all that into perspective for you. I do think seeing the work as a social outing rather than a business will be key for me too, so thanks for that reminder.

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Small world, indeed, Melanie!

  • Shakuntala Rajagopal

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I also had a hard time promoting my novel, and especially taking 'money' from friends and family who attended my readings. A doctor friend put it in perspective, when I gave my book to him as a gift. He insisted on paying me full price and said:"Shaku, you worked hard to get this book in print. Take the money with pride and don't feel guilty." Promoting my book then fell in place as completing the job I had started in producing the book, and decided to let go and enjoy the process by getting to know the people buying my book, and considering it as a social outing rather than a business. It worked! When the spotlight hits you smile graciously and smile wide.

    I can't wait to read your book. Sounds like some unique experiences you are sharing with the rest of us.

  • Melanie Bishop

    Ah yes, Amalesh. I did not work with him but knew who he was. And many of my students were close with him. I was in meetings with Pramod sometimes, but didn't know him well. My husband, Ted, worked more directly with him. SMALL WORLD!

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Patricia- I know what you mean. It's partly why I live in a remote area. And Helen - I love your attitude. I'm not sure my book helps anyone directly or solves problems, but I do hope it opens minds. And I think your approach is a healthy one. On Brain Pickings, I just came across this review of Art, Inc: The Essential Guide to Building Your Career as an Artist, by Lisa Congdon. She encourages a "thriving artist mindset" rather than a "starving artist mindset." Seems like some good wisdom there for writers too.

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Melanie- His name is Amalesh. His dad, Pramod, teaches in the PhD program at Prescott. Amalesh studied Eco-Design, but also tutored in writing for awhile and took some creative writing classes (which he loved).

  • Helen Gallagher

    Hello Elizabeth,

    I'm a total introvert, but I find the author promotion role easy, online and in-person. I tell myself that my books help people, and they are happy to have found someone with the solution to their problem.

    Helen Gallagher

  • Melanie Bishop

    I don't recognize the last name, but I wonder if I worked with your son? What did he study?

  • Elizabeth Enslin

    Thank you, Melanie, Pamela and Elizabeth for sharing your experiences with promotion and giving some insights into how you dealt with the icky angles. I also appreciate the details on what worked for you promotion-wise, Melanie -- all great ideas! And I love that we have Prescott College in common. As much as I value opportunities to be an occasional graduate mentor there, I'm especially thrilled to be the parent of a Prescott graduate. He loved his undergraduate education there.

  • Patricia Robertson

    The nail that sticks out gets hammered on! That's part of the reason why I hate self-promotion. I don't like drawing attention to myself out of fear of getting beat up on. I think I could happily be Emily Dickinson, writing and hiding from the world.

  • Hi Elizabeth, I am also Elizabeth. I do share your soul-searching thoughts when promoting one's work. After book signings, and book readings, and after talks on the journey of writing my book, The Long Night Moon, I left with my mind churning...did I talk too much, or oversell my work, had I left an impression of self-grandiose advertisement in any way that bordered on vainly proud? Yet...who knows your characters better than you, who is prouder of the birthing of your work...you, again. I still get antsy inside when reading new work. I feel very vulnerable, as though my soul is on display and I've no hidey hole to crawl in. After giving talks, I often felt of two minds on leaving...sick actually at my stomach on admitting how proud I was of myself, and next, turn that same coin and be glad I'd seen the work through, put the hours in, and over the wall when bought by a publishing house. What I'm trying to say is...unless there's another road to travel, this path is probably worn thin by like members, by minds equally proud, but ready to beat up on one's self for feeling proud of one's accomplishments. Enjoy the moment Elizabeth, life just gave you a hand up...climb! Elizabeth Towles

  • Pamela Jane

    When a friend of mine got a new computer some years ago, he said, "it has so much stuff on it and all I want to do is type."  I sometimes feel that way ("type" meaning "write".)  I just want to type away on my computer!  But I try to remind myself that if I get a "B" or even a "B-" on promotion, that's OK.  We are not all geniuses at it, but we try!  And then a little bit of magic has to kick in, too.  I hope that happens with your new book!

  • Melanie Bishop

    Also, just realized we have Prescott College in common. I was on the Creative Writing/Lit faculty for 22 years. Just retired last June.

  • Melanie Bishop

    Hey Elizabeth! Boy do I know this icky feeling of which you speak. If you think about it, promotion is a sales activity and most writers I I know are the LAST type of people to ever go into sales. And that's even if we're selling something that someone else made. We're not likely to want to be pushy on such matters. To promote and sell something that is ours, we just become even more awkward about asking people to buy the book, post amazon reviews, spread the word, etc. It's akin to going door-to-door with cookies, but my guess is cookies would be easier to sell! My book came out in January and I've done all the stuff you are doing. And felt at times great about promoting my book and at other times, slimy and embarrassed. I think the thing that has helped me the most is promoting the work of others. It's like we're all in this new author club, and we're all facing the same startling statistics about book sales, and the decreasing budgets from publishing houses, and however we can help each other, that's a great thing. Write reviews of your friends' new books, blog about them, promote them on FB and Twitter. It's also just fun to get engaged and invested in all these other great books, and it sort of dilutes the awkwardness about having to also promote your own book, which feels self-centered at times. One great thing about SheWrites and Binders and all these networks of writers (in those two examples, women writers) is that you have a community from which you can find others with new books coming out and agree to help each other get the word out. At a panel discussion I attended at AWP in Seattle, someone said that it's always much more effective to have someone else send your book in for reviews, or send copies as nominations for awards your book might be eligible for. This person said, have a friend do it, or a publicist, or a relative, anyone. She said while we're expected to be very involved in our own promotion these days, it still looks better if we can have someone else doing some of the horn tooting. Pair up with a writer friend who has a pub date near your own and help each other out. It's also, like all those other things you mentioned above, a way of distracting yourself away from obsessing about your own sales. I've been writing lots of reviews, publishing some of them online, and some in Carmel Magazine. It feels good. Also, you have probably already done this, but offer to show up for any local book club doing your book, or to Skype with any book club anywhere. That's also been fun. 

    Good luck! And don't spend all your time on promotional stuff. Keep writing, work on the next thing, and do other stuff you love.