Learning on the Job: Book Promotion

With our book Hungering and Thirsting for Justice due for release next month, my co-editor and I recently received some distressing news. The booksellers that usually carry presenters’ books at the national November Call to Action conference will not be setting up a table in the exhibition hall this year. That means that our book won’t be available for sale throughout the duration of the conference, but only during times that we’re able to personally staff a table that will also be used by other presenters (which means that, even if we have the capacity to staff it throughout the conference, it would be unfair for us to dominate space others also need for selling their books.)

We’ll be having a conversation with the publisher soon to determine the best way to get the word out about the books and to sell the books without an official bookseller present. We’re talking about making buttons and business cards so that we can promote it throughout the conference even if the book itself can’t be on display the whole time. While I was initially a little devastated by the news, now I’m seeing that it will be a good opportunity for me.

You can hardly read anything about the writing industry these days that doesn’t stress the importance of self-promotion. The idea always makes me curl up a little bit inside. But I’m a writer, I want to protest, not a marketer!

Except that, nowadays, to be one, you need to learn to be both. And this is a good place to start for several reasons:

  1. Since the book is an anthology, in addition to my wonderful co-editor, I also have ten talented writers who care about seeing this book succeed, and who will all have their own ideas and contacts;
  2. We’ll be at the largest national gathering of progressive Catholics in the U.S. Most of our writers would identify themselves as progressive Catholics, and most of the stories in the book speak to that experience. In other words, we’ll be blessed with a particularly receptive audience;
  3. The CTA community has fostered the co-editor, most of the writers, and me as we seek spiritual homes. Bringing this book back to that community feels like a tangible opportunity to say, “Thank you.” So not only will the community have an interest in it, but something of a personal investment as well.

Part of my squeamishness with self-promotion has to do with the fact that I don’t like to be sold to. I’m the type who won’t enter a store if it’s fairly empty, even if the contents greatly entice me, because I don’t want to be the focus of the sellers’ attention. Although I like independently owned, community-supported shops, I also appreciate the anonymity of big-box sellers. I often receive the highest possible I score on introvert-extrovert continuum tests.

But I’m continuously reminded that not everyone is like me. In fact, very few people are (only 4% of the population has the same Myers-Briggs profile as I do, for example). A lot of people like to be approached and helped while they’re shopping; many people appreciate learning more about something that is in line with their interests, and interacting directly with the creators of a product. I have to bear this in mind, and not carry around guilt that I’m “bothering” people when I set out to share news about something that is important to me.

This book is important to me — and no matter what happens, it has that in its favor. I’d love to hear comments from more veteran writers and self-promoters on the most graceful way to do this, as well as feedback from others about how they feel about being approached regarding something that may be of interest to them.