Monday, April 20, 2009

Dear Ms. Viola: On Self-Promotion

Robin and I are delighted to have a return visit from the celebrated Ms. Viola Van Der Solvit, a renowned life coach who specializes in helping introverts navigate their social matrix. She has years of experience working with celebrities, sports figures, authors and artists. When we received the letter from Bonnie (below), we tracked Ms. Viola down at the Golden Floor Spa where she is teaching  sign language to the newly Botoxified.  She was delighted to come and catch up with all of you and give Bonnie a hand.

Dear Ms. Viola,

My first independently-published book,
Angelfire  was released in May of 2008, and I'm very excited about it!  My book was one of the ten titles selected for the 2009 high school California Collection.  I work in a High School library in the LA area, which affords me a number of great contacts through my work.  When my book came out, I sent an email out to the librarian listserve that I'm on.  I've also made calls to many of these librarians and teachers offering to come do readings in their libraries or classrooms.  I've had some good responses,  and I've had some that were less than welcoming. As one who identifies with introversion, it is difficult for me to know when or IF I've gone too far in self-promotion.  Is it my introversion that is telling me to back off, or is it something else?

Can you help?  I want to find just the right balance, particularly since this is my workplace.

Bonnie Ferron

Bonjour to all my dear Violets and Vinnies--  and dear cheri Bonnie!

It has been sinfully long since I've been by, and I'm going to take a deep breath right now, and revel it in all! Mmmm!  Ahhhhhh! I have so missed my romparounds with you here at Innie-Villa.  I hope you're all working feverishly on your creative projects, and remembering to be gentle with your luffly selves. The Golden Floor is yummy, and the percs are fabuLISH, but I'm longing to get down with you all and get our groove on.  Let's do, shall we?

Bonnie, my dearest, I'm so glad that you shot off the Ms. Viola flare gun.  First, let me congratulate you on the release of your novel, and its addition to the California Collection!  I once had a beau that used to call me Angelfire. It brought back such scintillating memories when I read your letter.  But, naughty me!  This is about you, of course.  

I could tell from your SOS that you are trying so very hard to calculate just the right balance here.  What is enough, and what is too much?  I could hear the silent "shameful" that preceded your use of the term self-promotion.  I know that it feels that way to you, but I think we can tweak this and change that for you.  Ms. Viola to the rescue!

First off, self and promotion are getting a divorce.  Right this minute.  Technically, darling, you are neither selling or promoting Bonnie. I believe that is still illegal in California, isn't it?  You are  promoting your novel.  And, you are promoting it to librarians, educators, teachers and students-- clearly the absolutely most perfect audience.  You want them to read Angelfire, and they are in the business of reading.  Could this equation be any more perfect?  

Let's look at this "shooting fish in a barrel" discomfort that I'm sniffing out. Your job puts you in direct contact with your customers, which is fabulous, but you're concerned and cautious. Good!  Does your district have any policies in place about conducting  personal business on school time?  Would they even consider sharing about your book as "personal business?" Could you check with your superiors about this and get their input?  It might help to clear up that issue first.  

Once you've done that, love, you can begin unpack your own feelings about promoting your book. And while it may be as cliche as sunny weather in LA, can you dust off the Golden Rule and see how that might apply here?  How would you feel having a colleague offer you a copy of their book, promotional materials or a free reading? Would you welcome it, or feel it was an intrusion?  What happens when you imagine being on the receiving end of this?

Let's talk to the twibe, shall we, Bonnie?  I mean 'tribe!'  (Entirely too much twittering lately!)  Violets? Vinnies?  We'd love to hear what you think.  How would you handle this in Bonnie's shoes? How can she take advantage of her contacts-- without taking advantage of her contacts?

Good gawd, I've missed you all! 
Forever yours,
Viola Van Der Solvit


Paul said...

Separating Self from Promotion will be very helpful to me. I can promote my books much more easily than talking about myself.
Thanks V!

tanita davis said...

That self-from-promotion thing has really helped me think (note I haven't yet done anything but think - but thinking is half the battle, no?) about doing better to promote my book -- because it's historical fiction, I can say, "People NEED TO KNOW THIS," and it has NOTHING to do with me.

(Also: I noticed a interesting piece at ShelfTalker today about author etiquette when visiting bookstores. The phrase, "authors, don't be shy," was used, which made me smile. I need to find a happy medium between just swanning in and announcing my presence and skulking around asking clerks if they have my book.)

writerjenn said...

"How can she take advantage of her contacts-- without taking advantage of her contacts?"

First is being aware of the rules (both written and unwritten) for the listserv she described. Is there an explicit policy about book promotion? If not, what are the norms on that listserv? Is there a moderator who could give a green or red light to posting a particular message?

I couldn't tell if "less than welcoming" meant just getting a No thanks, or getting something more confrontational. Can she tell if they didn't want to be approached, or if they were fine with being approached but just couldn't use this particular book for whatever reason?

I'm also a big believer that if we're polite, respectful, and professional in our interactions, we've done our part. Not everyone will embrace us or our message, but that doesn't mean we can't put the message out there in the first place.

Finally, think of promotion as giving rather than getting. What curriculum needs does this book serve? How could teachers and librarians use it in schools? Are there any giveaways or fun activities for the students?

sharigreen said...

Nice to see you again, Ms Viola. ;)

Mary Hershey said...

Hey, Paul!

Nice Revere Ware you're wearing. Hadn't considered that alternate use for mine.

LOVED the article by Josie in ShelfTalker-- thanks, Tanita. So interesting to get this other perspective!

Jennifer, fabulous stuff here for Bonnie! Thank you much! I knew I could count on the "twibe". :-)

Hi, Shari! She's glad to be seen... ha!

Mary Hershey

Solvang Sherrie said...

Taking the self out of promotion is brilliant!