Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The line between self-promotion and being obnoxious

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Just this past week, I received two e-mails with this apologetic introduction: “Sorry about the shameless self-promotion”. The senders then went on to announce a reading or new book.

The phrase, “shameless self-promotion” begs the question: is self-promotion shameful? And by extension, is promotion by others—publicists, friends, reviewers—somehow more valid or perhaps more tasteful?

As a therapist, I know that shame, at least for most of us, is a pretty damaging and useless emotion. It’s a skin-tight outfit we’re trained to wear early on in life, and by the time we’re adults, we forget it doesn’t even belong on our bodies. But I digress.

I’ve wondered about the nature of self-promotion ever since I realized that it was part of an author’s job. Even if you have the benefit of a publicist and sales staff, an author is required to hustle her books. You’ve got to organize most of your own readings, blog tours and do your own social media publicity. If you don’t, chances are your book won’t reach its audience. Not only does that mean low sales stats, but it’s possible your next book won’t find an interested publisher.

Six months before my first novel was due to be released, I set to work to learn everything I could about self-promotion. At first I wondered what the line was between marketing and being obnoxiously self-centred. I had to push aside the question, knowing it would only increase my shyness to send e-mails about readings, or to update my Facebook status about the latest book news.

Eventually I developed the elevator speech, mastered cold-calls to bookstores, started MailChimping. I stopped shaking so much when I spoke to journalists. Over time, and with practice, self-promotion became easier, if not always completely comfortable.

I still wonder what’s appropriate. I’ve observed others, those who didn’t take the time to develop a relationship with me before spamming my Facebook wall with their notices. Writers who don’t seem to read anyone else’s books, or promote others’ events. Authors whose unsubscribe buttons don’t work no matter how many times I press them.

And then there are the folks who send out only a single announcement about their new novel, and then recede into their studies to go back to work, their newly published work withering in the world all alone. These writers eschew marketing because they just want to write, a feeling with which I completely sympathize.

So what about this elusive line between good marketing and straying into the obnoxious? If there is one, I’m still walking it. Perhaps I’ve crossed it once in a while. I know I’ve fatigued some friends with my repetitive announcements and invitations.

For now, I’m just trying to keep shame out it.


Hi Thom,
Sorry I missed your comment last week! I agree, it's all about relationships and being part of a community that supports one another.

Great post, Farzana. It's a quandry, eh? I actually enjoy the phase of talking about the book and connecting to other writing and things-going-on-in-the-world. Before, and then around the time of launch and for a few months after, I was game to plug, plug and plug. There is a lot of 'shame' in the world but it isn't in the self-promotion of author's work. Plus, as you so deftly point out, look, it's about relationships. Not so much an 'I scratch yours, you scratch mine' but an actual interest in other people and what what else is being written out there. I have had people whom I have only come to know because of 'The Drifts'. We see something in each other that we recognize or that strikes a chord. If I didn't shout from the rooftops that I have a book out there, I'm sure many of us wouldn't connect. Valiant Evan, (author of 'The Dead Kids' Detective Agency' [ECW, 2011] and Coach House publicist) can only be expected to do so much.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Farzana Doctor

Farzana Doctor is a Toronto-based author and the recipient of the Writers' Trust of Canada's Dayne Ogilvie Grant for an emerging gay Canadian author (2011). Her first novel, Stealing Nasreen, received critical acclaim and earned a devoted readership upon its release in 2007. She is currently touring her second book, Six Metres of Pavement (Dundurn 2011).

Go to Farzana Doctor’s Author Page