Five Levels of Self-Promotion
I love self-promotion. Cheesy though it may be, nothing makes me happier than handing someone a copy of a freshly-minted postcard emblazoned with my book cover. Unfortunately, what should be a sweet moment of pride for me is often discolored by tiny twinges of anxiety, wondering: Is it really appropriate to ramble on about my book and press information into the hands of unsuspecting acquaintances? Is now the time? Is this the place?
Experience has taught me not to be shy about handing people my contact information. I’ve come to realize that people who end up in conversation with me about my writing are genuinely interested in it. The others will blow me off or change the subject without a second’s hesitation.
Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to proceed with caution when self-promoting, because while your ultimate goal never changes (sell, sell, sell!) you do want to adjust your behavior to your surroundings. Just have faith that there is always a way to get your networking done.
Five Levels of Self-Promotion*
Level 1: Pedal to the Metal
All out, no holds barred promotion.
You’re at a American Library Association conference, or an industry networking fair, like Book Expo America. People are wearing badges displaying their name and affiliation, walking around the trade show floor and looking at the booths. This event is all about swag. In this environment it is TOTALLY appropriate to walk up to complete strangers and say, “I’m a young adult author; my debut novel comes out next month. Would you like a bookmark?” (People love bookmarks, especially teachers and librarians.) Then just go ahead and hand it to them. They will take it, and they’ll be pleased. EVERY SINGLE person you talk with at a big conference should get a card, or bookmark or some little memorable token with your name, your book title and ideally also your website and/or email. You don’t have to stand at a busy corner and hawk them, but you should always have a few in your hand, so that each encounter can end with you handing someone your card. Don’t feel weird. Do accept any materials given to you in return. It’s part of the conference culture!
Level 2: Givin’ it Gas
Targeted approaches. As many as possible.
Every industry event is a little bit about networking, but when it isn’t the central purpose, you’ll want to behave more subtly. If you’re at a panel event, keynote speech, or other organized event, look around the room. See who you might want to talk to afterward. Strike up conversations with people sitting near you. Exchange cards. It is always appropriate to go up to the presenter after the event and introduce yourself. Compliment them on something you genuniely liked about their presentation, or learned from it. Or, ask a follow-up question if you have one. Give them your card. Give cards also to people who may be standing with you during that conversation. If another audience member said something during Q&A that interested you, that is a point of entry. If you see them later, you can say hello, and thank them for sharing their thoughts.
Level 3: Yield to Oncoming Traffic
Assertive action, but initiated casually.
You’re at someone else’s book launch or reading event. You are not the focus of the night. You are there to celebrate your friend’s success. But the audience is full of potential readers of your book. Yes, it is okay to capitalize on that. No, it is not okay to try to steal your colleague’s thunder. These things are not mutually exclusive. When you are chatting with people in social settings, it is very common for folks to ask, “What do you do?” Even if you claim a different day job as your primary occupation, be sure that you also mention that you’re an author in the same breath. People who’ve come to a book event will be interested in hearing about your writing, so feel free to tell them about it. Give them your card. The same holds true for any social event. It’s not heavy networking, but there’s nothing wrong with slipping your card to people you’ve spoken to at a cocktail gathering, or in a mosh pit, or on church bowling night. (I don’t know how you roll.)
Level 4: Engines Idling
Meet, greet, retreat.
You’re at your friend’s wedding. Rumor has it there’s a big time book reviewer in the house. Friend of a cousin or something, and oh, how you would love a review from her. There is absolutely nothing wrong with finding out who she is and introducing yourself. However, you must remember: she is not a book reviewer tonight, she’s a happy doting cousin who may well be slightly tipsy. She doesn’t want to talk about work. It is not the time to ask for a review, nor to regale her with stories of your madcap authorial adventures. Your goal is simply to make the connection, and ideally to walk away with her contact information. Basically, you’re aiming for a sufficiently memorable encounter (not the champagne-spilling kind of memorable) to refer to when you send your follow-up email the next week.
Level 5: Filling Station
Information gathering only.
I’m not certain I’ve ever used this level, but it’s there. I work really hard to put myself out there, even when it’s a little uncomfortable. But the next best thing to giving someone information about your book is gathering information about them. In fact, you always want to get other people’s cards if you can, because you’ll use them to begin filling your personal database of contacts. When in doubt, gather intelligence. Sometimes situations come up when you just don’t feel comfortable presenting yourself, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Write down notes about who you met, when and where. Make note, too, of mutual friends or acquaintances who might put you in touch with the person later. Even in a networking setting, you might get a vibe off someone that says they’re not in the mood to deal with you. Fine. Make note, and you’ll catch them next time.
Statistics would no doubt prove that most people you give your card to will never follow up, and the card will end up in the trash somewhere, but that’s beside the point. You never know which random contact will be the one to actually Google you later or send you a follow-up note. It’s rarely who you expect.
*I have no idea why I chose car metaphors for this exercise. I do like to drive, though.