[GUEST POST] Lavie Tidhar on The Lonely Business of Self-Promotion

Lavie Tidhar’s The Apex Book of World SF 2, collecting 26 stories from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe, is now out. He runs the World SF Blog, which contains four years of short stories, essays, articles, interviews and links to genre literature from around the world. When he’s not doing that he’s the World Fantasy, BSFA and Campbell Award nominated author of Osama (out later this month from Solaris Books) and of The Bookman Histories (out in December in omnibus from Angry Robot).

The Lonely Business of Self-Promotion

Writing is a lonely business. Promotion is the opposite. Everyone wants to get the word out. Buy my book! Please Share! Please Like! Please RT!

It occurs to me that your chances of being heard are better if you think not only of yourself (as hard as that may be!). Helping others gains you, in pure Capitalist terms, social capital. What Ed McBain called the “favour bank” in his 87th Precinct novels. Therefore, paradoxically, the best way to help yourself is to help others.

As editor of the World SF Blog, I get a fair amount of PR “spam”. Why do I call it spam? Because, in the four years of running the blog, I have never – not once – received a PR e-mail remotely relevant to the blog.

The e-mails I get are not interested in international SF, or in promoting the works of other writers, or in engaging in a meaningful way in dialogue. What they want (and they are uniformly British or American writers or their publishers – the very people we do not cover in the World SF Blog, for the very simple reason they have enough other avenues to promote in) – is to sell their books. These writers and their PR people never look up my name (hint: it’s up there on the left of the page when you open up the blog). They do not read the submission guidelines. They simply fire off an e-mail, as they no doubt do for hundreds of blogs, in the hopes someone pays them attention.

The truth is, books succeed not by tweeting or guest-blogging or having Facebook fan pages. And most books don’t have money for marketing behind them. Most books still succeed by that old-fashioned way – word of mouth. Some very good books never sell. Some very bad books become best-sellers – but those best-sellers, in turn, pay for all the other books.

Writers should not think of PR as a shouting match. Your time is better spent writing new books, instead. What you should think of is how you can contribute to the wider world (I won’t say community) around you. How can you help other people whose work you admire? How can you contribute to a meaningful conversation about art, about writing, about the excitement of what it is you and thousands of others are doing around the world?

One reason I am writing this guest-post now is for promotion. But what am I promoting? I have little desire to promote myself. I mean, I like to talk about myself. Who doesn’t? As my friend N. inevitably says at some point when we meet up for a drink – ‘Are we talking about you again, then?’ and that puts me in my place. No. What I want to promote is my writers – the twenty-six awesome writers in The Apex Book of World SF 2, and the sixteen no less awesome writers in The Apex Book of World SF, and all the ones I want to include in a future volume and all the ones I may never get a chance to publish. Because I want to rave about them all! Because I want people to sit up and pay attention to what is being done in China, or South Africa, or Cuba or the Philippines, because I think it’s exciting, and I think it’s vital, to hear new voices, and different perspectives. Because that makes for good literature, and literature is always in dialogue.

Dialogue.

Think about that, and think how you can best achieve your goals. Will me-me-me-ing really help you, in the long run? Would potential readers really appreciate you shouting your wares across the Internet, like a vendor on a market stall? I personally am growing tired with each new RT or Like request. What I do instead is look at that writer. What have they done to promote someone else’s work, in their turn? Who have they been retweeting? Are they in dialogue with me, or do they see me merely as a wallet at the end of a phone line?

Do something nice today. Promote someone else’s work. Do it, if you must, for the social capital. Or do it simply because it’s the right thing to do. But do it, mostly, because you’re excited about someone’s work – the way I’m excited about my writers – and you want to share it with the world.

And if you do that – then someone else may well do the same for you.

6 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Lavie Tidhar on The Lonely Business of Self-Promotion”

  1. Great post, Lavie. I’ve been thinking about this during this week because I’m trying to promote a new book and it feels so awkward and smarmy sometimes. It’s so much easier to promote other people’s stuff. (And I just downloaded the World Book of SF onto my Kindle last week, looking forward to it!)

  2. I find refusing to market myself or seek any form of social advancement whilst spitting bile at those who do to be pretty damn satisfying. Ambition is the mind killer.

  3. Self promotion and talking at followers/ face book friends /likes is a turn off for me as a customer. I will be tuned on to a book in a couple of ways none of which come from being hammered with “checkout my latest epic fantasy etc”.

    I will buy a book if other people whose taste I trust tell me it’s a good book or if I like you as a person or like what you do in the “community” and that comes through, as you say in how an author engages in the wider dialogue.

    I use as my exemplars, two Australian writers – Rowena Cory Daniells and Marianne de Pierres. They both approach writing and community engagement with the attitude that a rising tide floats all boats and actively support fellow experienced writers and those starting out.

  4. I was glad to come upon this blog today. I’m at the very beginning of my journey as a writer, and I have very much appreciated the encouragement I have received so far. I will remember your words as I continue to write and to read others’ works which open my mind to the possibilities out there. Much success to you!

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