Self-published authors are tweeting dozens of times a day, shamelessly promoting their novels to anyone who’ll listen, and shooting up the Amazon Kindle bestseller charts as a result.

How does that work?

Salesperson or writer?

At some point on the self-publishing adventure you have to ask yourself a rather important question: do you want a career as an indie writer, producing a body of a dozen or more quality books, building a reputation (and possibly a brand) or are you happy to be a digital content salesperson, throwing out one or two novels and spending most of your time tweeting the arse off Twitter to promote them?

While supposedly writing novels numbers 2 and 3, I’ve been spending FAR too much of my time studying the methods of indie publishing authors who are selling shed loads of ebooks and rocketing up the Kindle bestseller charts.

While The Loyal Servant languishes in the doldrums, with an Amazon UK ranking somewhere between 6000 (oh happy day) and 50,000, I can only watch in awe and wonder as completely unknown authors appear from nowhere and hang on to precious top ten slots for weeks and months on end.

But am I envious? Hell yes.

Twitter abuse: How to forsake friends and irritate people

Having never really understood the appeal of Facebook (as I write this I don’t even have an author page), when I discovered the beauty and power of Twitter there was no turning back. Nice short bursts of 140 character magic – following the great and the good and the downright hysterical.

Being a writer (for that is what I’ve decided to start calling myself – ridicule is nothing to be scared of [thank you Adam]) is an awfully lonely occupation, with bouts of self-doubt and short bursts of unjustified optimism, and being able to reach out to other #amwriting people and share a thought, a joke, or a bit of a moan is a joyous and wonderful thing. Even when you feel you’ve lost the ability to write/type/form the most basic of cogent thoughts Twitter is always there to help you feel you’re not alone.

And all that is lovely stuff. But what about when you’ve got a book to promote – do you risk losing all those cherished connections for the sake of a few extra sales? I suppose it depends on what you’re in it for in the first place.

Branding yourself – commodity or artist?

Now I have no problem with the idea that what I’m doing in the field of ‘literature’ cannot and should not be regarded as anything approaching ART. I’m a storyteller and an artisan. Fashioning a story rather like a carpenter or potter lovingly crafts a piece of furniture or a fruit bowl. So the idea of branding is fine by me too – this is what I do, this is what I like, this is what I stand for.

Emotive branding isn’t just for Apple or Harley Davison, it works for writers too. When you want to read a psychological thriller featuring damaged female protagonists who’s your go-to-gal? Sophie Hannah, natch. Action-packed ‘stranger in town’ thriller set in the US? Lee Child. Legal thrillers? John Grisham. Funny feisty bounty hunters with big hair? Janet Evanovitch.

All good.

Building a brand by being out there, setting your stall, having an opinion and then trusting like-minded individuals will automatically gravitate towards you is the way it should be. Not so much ‘build it and they will come’ as build this, engage with people, be generous, attract. Build something else, engage, give, receive. Repeat. But that takes time. And patience. And maybe just a little luck.

The hard sell

A foot in your social network door and junk mail through your virtual letterbox.

These salespeople aren’t asking: ‘What problem can I solve for you?’ But hollering: BUY MY BOOK! READ MY BLOG! I’M NO.1 ON KINDLE, GET ME! RT MY FIVE STAR REVIEW! Enough with the shouting already. My ears are hurting.

Nicola Morgan on her blog and in her guide to using Twitter: Tweet Right – A Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter, suggests that it’s OK to promote yourself in 10% of your tweets. So the other 90% should be used for chatting, encouraging, promoting others, providing advice (you know that friendly kind of stuff Twitter is famous for).

So how is it that so many writers have used Twitter so successfully as a loudhailer or a billboard, haranguing followers (and anyone else who stumbles upon their Twitter stream) to purchase their books? I won’t get into naming the ‘no shamers’ – they’re obvious enough on Twitter and Facebook. These people are regular sales geniuses – and have absolutely no qualms about cynically using social media the way someone else might sell tins of beans (or car insurance, or broadband or double glazing). You would think it wouldn’t work – that they’d lose followers. But constantly shouting at people seems to produce results. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

When not promoting their own books, these marketing gurus seem to be indiscriminately promoting books by other authors who indiscriminately promote them. It’s a bit like the worst excesses of Authonomy – lots of unconsidered glowing reciprocated reviews to get to the top of the charts. But the difference is, with Kindle the writers win actual paying customers rather than a mere chance to be critiqued by an traditional publishing industry gatekeeper.

Promoting The Loyal Servant

Last December, for one week only, I tried the shouty approach myself – telling people they could pick up the ebook at Amazon for a bargain 99p/99c. It felt grubby and shameful. I thought half a dozen or so self promo tweets a day was excessive, but I carried on, feeling worse and worse about myself as the days went by for stooping so low. It was an experiment I had to see through.

It failed.

That may have been because my tweets were boring/needy/repetitive. But it may just have been my very reluctance to tweet excessively that proved to be my undoing. These marketing experts tend to tweet six or more times AN HOUR. The same three or four tweets repeated over and over.

Please – if anyone understands how this is working for them – I’d love to know.

The long view

I’ve decided (for the moment at least) to adopt the approach suggested by the likes of Dean Wesley Smith, Joe Konrath and Robin Sullivan.

The best way to promote yourself? Write a great book. Then write another. And another.

It’s awful hard though, when it’s so tempting to jump on that wagon and try to wring something out of the dregs of the e-publishing gold rush.

But there it is: priorities for me – continue to improve my craft, complete book 2, publish it, complete book 3 and publish that.

Then try to work out how the hell I tell people about those books without making an army of unfollowing twenemies.



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