| Don’t Write Alone
Shop Talk Promoting Your Book When the World Is On Fire
Promotion—especially self-promotion—doesn’t always feel easy. So how do we do it? For Social Media Week, literary agent Mina Hamedi helps us make room for celebration.
Why do we promote in the first place?
The easy answer is because you wrote a book and that is pretty damn wonderful. You deserve to promote it and have people buy it. You and your team worked hard and believed in your work. Your sister read your early chapters. Your coworker fixed the formatting of your proposal. Your best friend made sure you fed and bathed yourself between drafts. Your pet waited until 4 a.m. for you to finally crawl into bed.
The “bigger picture” answer is this: Because, if we give up on art, if we give up on our stories, if we don’t share them far and wide, then we lose the one thing we need to make it through the next hour, day, year, decade.
But promotion—especially self-promotion—doesn’t always feel easy. So how do we do it?
Most of us write, create, in order to share, not to lock our words and stories away where no one can find them. But that means we need to promote and draw attention to our work within greater communities, which can sometimes feel difficult to do—especially when there is so much going on in the word. As a literary agent (and writer myself), the challenges of self-promotion are something I think about a lot, both for myself and for my authors. Based on my experience and conversations with friends and colleagues, the most important thing to remember when you are promoting your book is context. What is happening in your immediate community? What conversations are taking precedence at a given time or on a given day?
“Self-promotion is always going to be fraught because it feels like a demand for attention, often against a backdrop of much-more-pressing global events. But promoting your writing is a way of honoring not just the work you put into it, but the time, attention, and labor of your editor, agent, publicist, copyeditor, etc. With the constant glut of content being thrown our way at all times, putting something out there is hardly demanding anyone’s attention, really—many won’t even see it, and people can always choose not to engage.” (Ruth Madievsky, writer)
We don’t live or create in a vacuum. We must acknowledge the climate that surrounds us and consider the context into which we release our art in whatever shape or form. This doesn’t mean you must find a one-to-one link between your stories and the various crises, chaos, and horrors that feed into our daily lives from all around the world. It is impossible to keep up. It is impossible to equally stretch not only your attention but your action in multiple directions—but you can be aware.
As someone who grew up outside of the States, I have never considered New York the center of the universe, least of all the center of all “accurate” information and facts. Writers have the privilege of being heard, and with that, I believe, comes a responsibility to constantly be reading, learning, investigating—questioning everything you see, read, and hear. It feels redundant to say words have power, but, well, words have power.
Putting that context aside, there will never be a perfect time to promote your book. So you can let that go! Instead, focus on the few weeks, days, or even hours where the world pauses and makes room for things that are meant to be celebrated, creations that are the result of countless years of work, not only by you as a writer but by agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, designers, production teams, marketing teams, and more. Inside the life of a book—or even an essay or short story—there are many people who are all invested in this one product and its success and believe in its place inside greater conversations.
So how will you choose to promote this work, once you are able to full-heartedly accepted that, yes, it deserves celebration? Maybe you find a specific day and time to post that does not overshadow an existing celebration or event. Maybe you send personalized emails asking for support rather than one single mass letter. Maybe you do a bit of research and boost causes or issues that matter to you, that will reach larger audiences.
Art (in this case, books) that directly addresses any current issue, be it pandemic related, political, socioeconomic, social, and so on, has no choice but to enforce its timeliness during promotion. It feels a little . . . awful to capitalize on actual issues to promote books, of course (we all remember the uptick in demand for Black writers and stories during the 2020 BLM/George Floyd protests), but it is also a disservice to relegate those books to a single political movement or moment. All art is political, and if we can say one thing with certainty, it is that the news is cyclical. Things have a way of coming back around, no matter how beautiful or terrifying. I see books as reminders, in a way—cautionary tales of what has come before and what may happen again.
In contrast to speaking to current events, books can also provide, yes, you guessed the word: escapism! Sometimes it is alright to promote work that has absolutely nothing to do with the news or the conversations occurring around you. You can create them and provide a much-needed release to a hungry audience. But again, this goes back to context. Are you able to promote your book and the books of other writers with respect and in acknowledgement of the reality into which you are publishing that book? If so, then go forth and promote!
“Fighting for attention feels icky. But we worked hard and sometimes we just have to remember that our art is our art: It may not have anything to do with what is going on in the world, but it is our art. Hopefully it will stand on its own, whether that means it takes you on a journey or holds a mirror to society, or possibly both and all the other wonderful things art can do. [As] artists, we do still have to promote our work, and if I am proud of the work, despite what is going on, I want to promote it and hope it touches someone. This is a particularly awful period of history, but art has been shared in similarly dire circumstances. Art won’t be an easy fix—but work made in any period does reflect that period of time, even if it is not about that period of time. So on we promote, so hopefully our work can be seen as meaningful contributions to the era.” (Mo Faramawy, writer/producer)
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve seen several writers with large Twitter followings create threads that not only listed their favorite debut books of the year but also invited the same debut authors to share in those platforms and promote their work. At the literary agency I work for, we dedicate several social media posts to promote books not only when they are published but also in the many months and weeks leading up to the publication day. We create press sheets of relevant links, coverage, and mentions. We share every bit of reference to our authors or their books with foreign rights teams, film/TV coagents, colleagues, and other writers.
“ I do try to balance out self-promotion with cheerleading other people’s work. Ideally, for every self-promoting tweet, I’m sharing at least five promoting other people.” (Ruth Madievsky, writer)
I know this is all exhausting.
We are constantly at the mercy of information.
A quick Twitter scroll interlude:
“Tensions continue in Kyiv after Russian warship sinks in the Black Sea”
“In the ‘world’s most polluted city,’ people are slowly being poisoned to death by the air: f rom sweepers to security guards, outdoor workers in Bhiwadi face a ‘slow poison’ from air pollution.”
“FDA grants emergency use authorization for first Covid-19 breath test”
“What to know about the XE variant”
“Twitter adopts ‘poison pill’ in response to Elon Musk offer”
This is just the news. There is also an insane amount of content from all the countless platforms. How can we raise our voices above the din? How do we make our content matter? And how do we get people who are already overwhelmed and, possibly, desensitized to care?
The most important answer, which has no set qualifications and many ways of being successful: You build and nurture your community, share and highlight the work of authors you admire. Attend readings, buy books!
You engage with the issues that personally matter to you (some may not, and we need to be okay with that) and educate yourself on the rest.
You create a personal promotion plan that can work in tandem with your publicity and marketing team or colleagues—whether it involves cross-scheduling posts, asking other writers to feature you on their platform in exchange for you offering your own, or being open to various forms of advertising, be it blog posts, short films, or multiple Zoom events.
As an agent, I encourage my writers to nurture their writing communities and to share their work—I’ve found that most of them have robust social presences, and if that is not their main focus, they use other outlets to share their work, whether that’s via newsletters, subscription-based aggregators of essays and stories being published online, or classic word of mouth. Collectively, we all believe in paying it forward, in helping fellow writers with their questions and outreach and providing any answers we can along the way. You need to help others in order to help yourself.
Finally: You must remember that the news will never stop, and art shouldn’t either.
We need stories, we need new conversations, and, sometimes, we just need a break from it all.
“The release of my debut, in the second year of a global pandemic, was by turns surreal and euphoric and completely demoralizing. It was a dream come true—and it took place entirely in isolation. [As] a way to cope with the anxieties and terrors of our current world, I’ve found solace with reading, with my own writing. I know that there are others like me, who need the writing and the reading to exist in this world.” (Melissa Larsen, writer)