It seems I struck a chord when I posted about blatant self-promotion. What I discovered is that a lot of people are confusing BSP with your regular every day, garden-variety self-promotion -- something that we all must and do engage in.

BSP, however, is called Blatant self-promotion because of its in-your-face, take no prisoners nature. Yes, most of us are guilty of it once in awhile, but there are also those who can't seem to post a comment on a blog or a forum anywhere without shamelessly promoting their work. Much of this is outright spam -- ignoring or paying little attention to the subject at hand, or going to truly torturous lengths to tie their "product" to the discussion.

And, as many comments here have indicated, such BSP is not appreciated by those who are interested in having a legitimate discussion.

Please don't misunderstand me. Again, self-promotion is a VITAL part of what we writers do.

But BSP is a different thing entirely.

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I think Blatant Self Promotion is, by definition, incredibly annoying. Whenever I see it, I waver between feeling very embarrassed for the person doing it and just pissed off by them. Nobody likes being on the end of a hard sell, do they - to be made to feel like all they are to you is a customer? Writing's a job, sure, I get that. And when you meet someone, or have a chat, you might mention what you do for a living if it comes up, the same way you might mention anything. But you'd run out of friends quickly (and never make any others) if you were always talking about yourself and trying to sell them something. People would correctly decide you were a dick. "Me, me, me. I don't care about you or what you're saying, just give me your money." There's a time and a place. You can talk about your books in interviews, publicity work, at signings, on your website ... all places where I have fair warning to expect it. Most other times and places, it's transparent and (for me) counter-productive.

 

But that's just my gut reaction. The problem with this issue is people have different responses and attitudes, including about what constitutes 'blatant' in the first place.

Maybe we should try to get specific. I'll offer myself up as an example. In BSP 1, I threw out a one-liner about taking down my tuna picture. But it wasn't just an attempted joke. After reading people's comments and thinking about it, I decided that picture was in fact BSP. Everytime I commented on anything, anywhere, here's a picture telling everyone my book's got a big fish story. I took it down. But this morning, I'm thinking what's the difference between putting up the tuna picture and putting up the cover of your book--which I've also done, here and elsewhere. Is it BSP to remind people of your book with your signature picture? Or not?
Jack - your tuna picture would definitely NOT be BSP in my view, nor is anyone's signature picture BSP if they have the cover of their book. I don't think I would consider ANY signature picture BSP (well, maybe if their signature picture was a placard that said "Buy my book you fat, red-headed Englishwoman you" Well,actually that would probably just be upsetting rather than BSP...but anyhow...)

NOT BSP - I say to you on the forum "Jack, tell me about yor book." Or, "Jack, how did you come up with your protagonist?", Or "Jack, where are you doing events in the next year?" and you respond.

BSP - if I ask Pocahontas McGlumpfer in the chatter on HER Crimespace webpage "Pokey my dear woman, tell me about your book" and YOU respond telling me all about yours, without even mentioning Pocahontas' book which, by the way, is a really excellent book - you should read it - A serial killer is stalking the streets of St Mary Mood and leaving a verse of Amazonian love poetry wrapped around a chess piece carved out of brie tucked in the ear of the victim which has been sliced off using a silver potato peeler. Our intrepid amateur sleuth Bibbity Babbit solves the crime with the assistance of only her overly large nostrils and her pet aardvaark Samuel, who's really the ghost of Joan of Arc.

ALSO BSP - if I say to you "Jack, I'm really rather peckish and I fancy something to eat. What do you suggest?" And you say "Well Donna, if I were you I would have tuna casserole Oh, by the way, you should buy my book to read while you are having your dinner because it features a man who is about to be murdered, tied to a large six hundred pound tuna."

As it happens, I got that titbit of information off your website and it has made me add your book to the growing list of "Books I want to buy by Crimespace members." Most of those books have been added because I have enjoyed what the author has had to say in the forums - some of them have mentioned their books, some haven't. They may have SP'd but they haven't B'd.

As Robert and Steve, and many others in BSP Part 1 have said, it's the B which is annoying. As a reader, it really turns me off and is the most sure fire way to guarantee I will NEVER read your book. Well, maybe not the MOST sure fire way. I think if you stood behind me and pee'd in my coat pocket, that would pretty much do it too.
I don't think the tuna picture or using the cover of your book as your icon is blatant self-promotion at all. What it is, in fact, is a kind of brand identification. It's a way for people to identify you and what you do without you having to remind them every ten seconds that HEY, GUYS, I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT.

Is it subtle? Probably not. But it's certainly an ACCEPTED form of promotion that doesn't cross any lines.
Speaking as a reader who seems to have a finely tuned BSP antenna. No, Jack, I don't regard having a tuna pic as your photo is BSP. It's in similar territory as an email signature line. You participate in discussions and it's just there as a little nudge to remind people. If, on the other hand you were trying to bring every topic back around to telling everyone about your book, that's BSP. What you were doing with your pic is simple promotion.
I agree with Steve that there's a time and place for self-promotion. I moderate three discussion lists where BSP is not allowed because we want to get to the meat of the writing: characters, perspective, execution, etc. There's no time for commercial breaks.

Here on Crimespace, the goals are to discuss and socialize, and in that regard I agree with JD Rhoades that the best thing you can do in discussion is be interesting, seem like the kind of person whose books I'd want to read. If you're a frequent contributor to discussion and you go out of your way every time to mention your book, that's blatant. On the other hand, if you only post occasionally, I don't mind your sig line.

I don't mind people using their book covers as their avatars here on Crimespace, but after a while I like to see faces. You may still be looking to sell yourself, but isn't it better to sell yourself--everything you do--than to sell one book?

I'm more likely to mention my website/blog than any one thing I've written. After a while, a project isn't new anymore and I'd rather move on than keep mentioning it ("Buy the novel I wrote four years ago. It's the best starting point for my series.")
I don't mind at all about avatars because they're intended to represent you, so it's natural enough to have a book cover. And more importantly, because they're just there and you don't have to look at them if you don't want. I don't even mind the sex ads down the right-hand side of the forum, for the same reason.

For me, thinking about it some more, it's all about interrupting people: stopping them doing what they were quite happily doing before you came along. If I visit your website, attend a reading or read the review pages, that's what I'm doing and so I'm clearly open to a bit of promotion. If you're on the radio, I'm listening to it and know what to expect. Walking along the street, a billboard doesn't actually stop me from walking. Newspaper ads, I know they're there, and I'm turning pages anyway and can ignore them. And so on.

But if you derail a forum discussion to promote yourself, you're interrupting people. They were talking about something, and you got in the way, uninvited, and took up their time. If you spam mail me, I didn't ask for that and you're taking up my time. If you come up to me in a bookshop, you're interrupting my browsing time. At Harrogate last year, lots of friendly people came up, said hi and had a conversation. Which is brilliant; I like that. But someone came up to talk to me just to tell me about her book. She interrupted my sitting time purely to benefit herself, and that's not brilliant. I wanted to scream at her like the freak in the Aphex Twin video.

I think it's basically just about having some fucking respect for people.
Well, you've struck a chord with me. Anyone who reads my regular blog knows I almost never mention the book, and only when there's something major (like finally having a cover). I try to avoid mentioning it in comments here, etc., but the one time I blog on a review, (and I let my main character razz me about it, very tongue-in-cheek), I started feeling umcomfortable having it up there. It's too late to take down, but I doubt I'll post anything like that again. (My attempt was to make fun of the whole getting-your-first-big-review sort of thing, but I don't think it worked.)

My publisher wants me to promote and loves that I've made a book trailer (director, actors, whole shebang) and I still can't bring myself to load it here, since this place is more about hanging out. I'll mention it on other sites on the specific day alloted to notifying a group about something promotional, but I'll tie it in with a contest or something to give back.

The whole promotion thing just stresses me more than anything positive. I doubt much of it works, anyway.
I think Toni has actually hit the nail on the head. How much of it really works, anyway? Anne Frasier mentioned in the other BSP post about a woman who would come to a blog or forum and contribute nothing but blatant and heavy-handed self-promotion. That woman subsequently landed on the NYT list. But do you think her BSP had anything to do with it?

Somehow I don't think so. I have a feeling the book would have done just as well if she had chosen to promote herself in a more dignified way.

I could, however be wrong. So much of this self-promotion game is about throwing crap against the wall to see if it sticks. And the sad part is that we never really know what works and what doesn't.
It's not about what you have to sell. It's about what you have to offer.

Book sales have less to do with trying to get people to read you, and more to do with being available to those who want to read you anyway.

If you want to sell books, figure out why you buy books.

BSP doesn't work. Neither does advertising. Touring is notoriously cost and time ineffective. But furthering name-recognition through a generous internet presence can sell books. But here's the catch:

There are no more than 5000 diehard crime fiction fans. These are the folks who attend the conferences, read DorothyL, visit the blogs and forums. These 5000 have varied tastes and interests, and it's unlikely that your book will appeal to every single one of them, even if they all know who you are.

But even if you did manage to sell a book to every diehard crime fiction fan, you're still not selling many books.

We see the same names on all the forums, the same faces at all the conferences, and we're all still midlist at best.

We need to find the wider audience. The casual fans. And we're not going to find them here. The average fan picks up a book in the check out line at Walmart, not while reading blogs. Figure out how to reach her.

It doesn't matter how much BSP we do online. The majority of our fans don't even check out our websites. They haven't ever encountered us, in real life or on the web. They don't care how often you post on DorthyL, or if your email sig line encourages people to buy your new release, or if you like to steer every forum topic to the research you're currently doing on the next title in your series.

You want to sell books? Get off the internet and meet some booksellers. Talk at libraries. Attend ALA or BEA rather than Bouchercon. Find fans outside the community, because if you want to be a success, you'll have to sell a shitload more than those 5000 you're so concerned about...
Figure out how to get into Walmart. And then tell the rest of us. Or tell me, anyway.

Seriously, the thing that makes BSP especially difficult is the sense of desperation that comes with it. It's depressing to be around someone who wants to be liked so badly.

So why do people write, anyway? I'm keeping my day job, so I'm not doing this for the money. If I was, I'd give myself a stern talking to and smack upside the head. I want to sell books because my publisher and my agent do this for their jobs, and I owe them. But I write because I enjoy writing and it gives me something in my life that I don't otherwise get. Being successful as a writer for me is about being able to get the story, the characters, the pacing, the whole thing right. That's what makes me feel good. Which is probably just as well, because if I defined success as a writer as being someone whose picture is on the back of books in airport shops I'd probably feel bad. And go around bothering people with obnoxious and desperate BSP.

But do attend ALA. I'm a librarian. We're a nice bunch and talking to writers beats talking to people selling overpriced and klutzy database systems.
Joe,
I partially agree.

But I think the internet can be a powerful tool even within our community of writers/die-hard fans because of the tipping-point factor. We're both in PR. We know that if you have a few people who really want you to succeed, they can have a major impact on your career.

These incredible word-of-mouth sellers can be found ANYWHERE. That's why I believe most PR isn't wasted, but it's chancy. For every dedicated reader who'll go out there and sell your work for you, you often have hundreds -- or thousands -- who'll passively wait until your next book comes to their local library or used book store.

Re: Finding fans outside our community
YES! This is difficult to do, but possible and quite illuminating. I used to only like to sign at mystery indies. Now I've taken it further because at those ego-deflating, in-the-mall box stores -- I have the chance to find people who'd have no other way of hearing about me. It's a good way to expand my reach.

I'm still investigating the library angle . . . beyond New Mexico. That's a bit more challenging IMHO.

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