This morning, I deleted eight emails from people I don't know personally, telling me about the exciting opportunity I have to purchase their brand new book. Five were ebook-only, four were genres I don't follow, two were in genres I explicitly don't read ever (hint: I am not the target market for your "raping serial killer rape-ily rapes his way through Rapetown adventure).
This morning, I received five targeted tweets from people I don't know personally, telling me about the exciting opportunity I have to purchase their brand new book. I don't know the breakdowns there; I don't click unsolicited links.
Look: I understand the excitement of a new book, or even of a not-so-new book. It's your baby, it's your imaginary friend dressed in the very finest clothes you can buy, and it's all alone in an increasingly large and tangled marketplace. We want to give our stories every advantage that we can, and it's pretty clear that "more readers" is a huge advantage. Sometimes I wish I had my mother's blatant salesmanship. She hands out bookmarks advertising my books everywhere she goes. Grocery stores. Funerals. Wherever. But she's not me. When she does it, it's a mother supporting her daughter, and it's harmless enthusiasm. From me, those same actions take on an air of desperation. I have to find a better way. We all do.
The accessibility of readers (and authors) on the internet has changed the shape of the game, and is still changing it, as we try to sort out who stands where. But, well...
Have you ever parked at a supermarket or a movie theater or another place where parking happens, and come back to your care to find like thirty flyers shoved up under the window wipers, waiting for you? They're all advertising services that may have relevance to your life, like pet sitting and yard work and, I don't know, exorcisms. But the odds are good that you don't know, because the odds are good that you, like the rest of us, threw those flyers away. Maybe one of them gave you a paper cut. Maybe that was enough to make you notice what it was advertising. If it did, do you think that became a service you wanted to buy? Or did the negative impression rule the day?
The internet is not a neighborhood in need of door-to-door salesmen. In order to promote books, we need to be engaging and engaged. We need to talk about our lives and our pets and the current season of So You Think You Can Dance (your TV mileage may vary). And then, yes, we can talk about our books. But—and this is the big one—that needs to happen on our space.
If I turn my Twitter feed into the all-my-new-book, all-the-time channel, you can unfollow me. If I @ you constantly, unless you want to block me, you're screwed. If (and when) I turn this blog into the all-my-new-book, all-the-time channel, you can unfriend me. A few people do, every time promo season arrives. Most of them come back when it's over, having safely weathered the storm...but I don't follow them into their own blogs and insist that they listen.
If you want to be seen by more eyes, buy ad space on popular webcomics with a theme similar to yours. See if one of the major book blogs has space for a guest post, or whether you'd qualify for John Scalzi's Big Idea. Or just keep blogging, saying interesting things, and increasing the size of your platform. There are ways. It just takes time.
There is a difference between promotion in our own spaces and promotion in the spaces of others. One is appropriate and necessary. The other is a very fine line, and stepping over it can result in lost readers and hurt sensibilities, and that's never a good thing.