Adventures in Cyberspace: Finding Balance, Branching Out


We live in a culture that keeps telling us we can have it all, especially if we buy whatever product that particular sweet siren of capitalism is selling to help us in our mission. Yes, you can—or at least should—have a fulfilling and demanding career while you also spend copious quality time with your spouse and kids and maintain an enviably exercised physique and stylish home. If you’re a published writer, this definition of success means, of course, that you should be constantly promoting your published work in every way possible as you simultaneously create the next great novel that will catapult you to national fame.

Well, since Shameless Self-Promotion is all about telling it like it really is, I’ll be the first to admit that I fail miserably at upholding that all-American ideal on all counts. My house is total mess, for starters, and my wardrobe is a hodge-podge of decades-old dress-up outfits and Lands’ End’s latest “fashions.” Although a number of people have expressed interest in my next novel, my most enthusiastic supporters are my kids because “when mom is writing a book we get to play more video games.” And that supposed new book? Oh, it’s been simmering away on the back burner for quite some time because the sad truth is promoting my current novel has been such a huge stretch for me psychologically, it dominated my “work hours” to the point that I sometimes wonder if I can even call myself a writer anymore.

“How do you find time to promote and write?” This question turns up regularly in writers’ discussion groups, and no one has really come up with a definitive answer as I far as I’m aware. Some respondents suggest you set aside a certain amount of time each day or designate one day a week as promotion time and preserve the rest of the time to write. It’s an excellent idea, but I found that promotion activities always took more time than I thought with all the research and follow up, not to mention the immense psychic energy I expended pretending to be something other than a complete introvert. Others have recommended that a writer devote herself full-time to promotion in the months immediately before and after the book’s release, because that is when it’s most effective and necessary. However, I also had some excellent opportunities to get the word out about my book long after that traditional window, and indeed, there is potentially a limitless audience of new readers who might enjoy your work.

Perhaps the best suggestion I can offer is to be aware of your goals and time limitations and realize both can change over time. When I discovered that my publisher assumed a dirty book would just sell itself to desperate, clammy-handed masturbators, no promotion necessary, I decided I wanted to do everything I could to have my novel (Amorous Woman) taken more seriously. This required an almost full-time commitment to the business side of writing for over a year, but I wanted to know in my heart that I tried my best, so I was willing to make the sacrifice. Now my priorities have shifted to my new novel, at least in theory. Others may prefer to focus on writing and keep the promotional work to a minimum. Or you may be able to ration the promotion time, even make researching new blogs or markets something you do to relax. The answer to the promotion vs. writing dilemma will obviously be different for each person, but I can guarantee every writer has to deal with this. It’s never easy, and you’re not alone!

The question of how much time you want to spend on promoting is actually quite relevant to this month’s second topic: how to branch out beyond your website and blog to bring attention to your book by means of the Internet. Here the opportunities truly are limited only by your willingness to commit the time, because the internet is full of chat rooms and newsgroups and friendly salons gathering at charismatic blogs and webzines who need new writers, all of which will gladly consume anything you’re willing to give to the cause of fresh, new copy. Again this will be a balancing act, because most of the time it is hard to tell if your time investment results in sales of your book. I’ve tried most of the activities I discuss below at least once, but to do all of them with proper enthusiasm would be impossible. Most promoters end up focusing on the activities they enjoy most, which is a great idea. Your passion and enjoyment will always come through to potential readers.

I already talked a bit about the uses of Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites in an earlier column (“Dreams and Realities: Our Journey Begins“), but here I wanted to mention just a few that cater specifically to writers. This is not an exhaustive list, but all offer you another presence on the web. Chronicle Books is the sponsor of Red Room, a site for authors that includes prominent as well as lesser-known authors—like me. On your page you can list publications, reviews and upcoming events, although I still can’t quite figure out how to identify myself as an erotica author, so there are some glitches. Be warned that you have to make an official application to be a member and need at least one book or several published short stories to your name. I’ve heard that self-published authors are denied membership, so if you have a mixed background, downplay that part of your resume.

Book Tour is especially useful for consolidating and announcing your author events, and subscribers to their mailing list receive updates of readings in their area monthly. Goodreads is a fairly popular site where members keep a log of book reviews, sort of a friendlier version of Amazon (I’m going to be devoting an entire future column to, so more on that hegemonic institution later). I also wanted to mention a new site for women writers called She Writes. If you sign up, be sure to join Rachel Kramer Bussel’s erotica writers group. Romance Divas is a great author resource site for erotic romance writers. However, since all of these sites are doubtless visited mostly by other writers, the benefit may come more from contacts and promotional information than recruiting new readers.

E-mail List Discussions and Yahoo Groups are other good ways to expand your presence in cyberspace. However, remember that writing focused sites such as ERWA Writers or the Erotic Author’s Association’s EAA Talk will put you in touch with members of the erotica-writing community, rather than starry-eyed new readers. My suggestion is to announce your new book there, but also try to reach out to other groups, which focus on a related theme in your novel—in my case, for example, groups interested in Japanese culture. Also, it’s considered bad form to join a group just to promote your book. Ideally, you’ll be a part of the community and your friendly participation will get people interested in reading your book because they like you. This also takes time, of course, and may not be your favorite way to invest limited resources.

Another way to meet new readers is as featured author in a chat rooms. This involves sitting at your computer for an hour or two and fielding questions from the members of a chat group about your book and your writing. Sometimes the conversation also turns to your last vacation or your favorite ice cream flavor, so in that case it’s rather like a cyberspace book party. My only personal experience with this involved being part of a list spotlight at Jeanie and Jayha’s, which is slightly different than a chat because it’s done through email and you have more time to reply. Still I was nervous, but ended up enjoying myself a great deal thanks to my hosts’ thoughtful questions. Plus my Amazon numbers moved after the event, which might be coincidence, but let’s say it’s not. While I’m practically a virgin at chat appearances, veteran promotion expert and best-selling sci-fi and erotic romance author Brenna Lyons, has a lot of advice on how to do author chats. She recommends researching the chat rooms first to determine if the style and focus are right for you. She also suggests that first-time authors consider teaming up with another writer, preferably at the same general level of experience, to minimize the stress of your first appearances. Read more of Brenna’s invaluable advice about chats and other promotional tips in her interview at the ERWA blog.

A popular, if time-consuming way, to get your name out to an interested audience is to write articles, essays or columns on a topic related to your book, even if it’s just about the experience of publishing a book. With all the webzines out there, the demand for new and exciting content is insatiable. A stint at a place like the Huffington Post is of course the shiniest brass ring, but more modest publications will also give you a byline and a bio to mention your book. You can offer your services as a regular book reviewer, propose a series on a topic you’re passionate about, or just write an essay about an interesting experience you had involving intimate waxing. In fact, I never would have had the courage to propose my columns here at ERWA on sex, food and writing [“Cooking up a Storey“] and shameless self-promotion if I hadn’t already stretched my comfort zone with my book promotion activities. And I have to say, I’m very glad I’m here.

Another method that authors use to broadcast their names and brands to a wider audience is as an “Examiner” for the nationwide web news organization, Each area of the US has a team of independent Examiners who write brief articles on their chosen “beat” such as Arts and Entertainment, Relationships, Travel, and so on through the usual list of topics newspapers cover. Apparently you can make some money from this if you get enough clicks on your article, but most writers do it to establish their name and increase their potential reading audience. This can also be a useful tool in attracting agents and publishers. For more information on the Examiner experience, check out my interview with Arizona Examiner and author Sue Thurman at the ERWA blog.

Finally, I wanted to mention one fairly low-key way to make yourself known to a wider audience. If you are a regular reader at a blog you enjoy, don’t be shy, leave comments. You might find yourself making friends, at least with the blog host, and it’s not much more time consuming than reading the blog. Posting thought-provoking comments on articles related to the theme of your book at such places as the Huffington Post definitely has the potential to bring you new readers, although again, it’s bad form to be too shameless about your self-promotion. Only work your book into the comments if it’s a natural fit. The bottom line is that if your online persona is appealing and courteous and you have interesting things to say, people will be interested in what you’ve published.

Next month, I’ll move from virtual reality back into “real” reality with a discussion of in the flesh readings, book parties and book fairs. So, help yourself to another cup of coffee and a pecan bar, and remember that if you have any questions or suggestions on others ways to promote your book through the Internet, don’t hesitate to email me or drop by my blog.

Shameless Self-Promotion Points for August

ONE: Book promotion can be a life-consuming task, so it’s not a bad idea to take a step back at regular intervals to decide which balance between getting the word out about your published book and creating new work serves you best at the time. An advantage of self-promotion is that you can be flexible. Sometimes an opportunity for promotion will come up a year after your book is released. But remember that you are an artist and your fans are waiting for more!

TWO: Think like a tree and branch out in one or two new ways on the Internet, depending on what suits your interests and desired time commitment. Develop and pitch a column idea, get yourself signed up as featured author at a chat room, or start being a more visible presence on a blog you follow. You’ll be “introducing” yourself to a wider circle of potential readers, and that’s what promotion is all about.

Donna George Storey
August 2009

“Shameless Self-Promotion” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written.

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