How to Lose Friends & (Negatively) Influence People

One of the toughest things about working to get your book "out there" is to calibrate the intensity of one's message. Any reader of Blurb is a Verb knows that authors have to do a lot of ambitious work to push their book into the world. But it's easy to feel that you've put your toe too far over the line, especially for those of us to whom self-promotion does not come naturally.

I'm quite positive that my own marketing efforts stay largely on the side of professional and polite. But during those hectic weeks leading up to publication, when every email we write seems to be a plea for something, how can an author be sure she hasn't crossed that line?

One way is to listen to those who constantly find themselves on the receiving end of poorly executed promotion. Lately I've heard the struggling cries of several overwhelmed book bloggers, and in their exasperation lies a tale of how not to do it.

Exhibit A: Book blogger Jen Karsbaek posted a tidbit to twitter about meeting her 2011 reading goals:
But then two hours later, she had this to say:
Oh boy! Several authors responded to her lighthearted conversation by hurling their book titles at her. Via twitter. And twitter, although it has its uses, is not a good arena for pitching. Simply put, it's impossible to be professional in 140 characters.

Take it from book blogger Karen Ballum, also known as @SassyMonkey on Twitter and BlogHer, where she is an editor. Last fall, she found the twitter pitches of authors so outrageous that she wrote an entire blog post about it, entitled Don't Pee In My Pool. She writes:

I am pretty used to bad pitches. I have been receiving them since 2006. I’m fairly immune to them by now, however, I am seeing a troubling trend. For the last year I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of authors and publicists pitching me outside of my inbox. 
I get pitched on Twitter. Yes, people are attempting to pitch me in 140 characters. I’m sure someone told you this was a good idea. Stop listening to them. Oh and FYI — if I look at your stream and I see nothing but pitches? I report you as a spammer. Because you are. 
Then there was the author that friended me on Twitter and Facebook. I hesitated before adding them on Facebook because I had never heard of them. I went against my better judgement and granted the friend request. Less than 2 minutes after I hit the accept button there was a pitch on my wall. I unfriended them and then blocked them on Twitter. I no longer friend authors on Facebook unless they are an author I know. 
I get pitched in the comments of my posts here. Do you see them? Nope. That’s right. I delete them. I get pitched in the comments at on other sites. I ignore them. 
I know that someone out there is telling you that you need to be on social media. I know someone it telling you that you should follow bloggers on Facebook and Twitter. I know someone is telling you that you need to read blogs. They are probably right. 
But that does NOT mean that you should pitch me on Twitter. Or on my Facebook wall. Or in the comments of a post ANYWHERE. 
I understand that you want me to read your book, that you want lots of people to read your book. If I were an author I’d want that. I get it. But here’s the thing — you are peeing in my pool. 
You are interrupting my conversations with something totally off-topic and self-promotional. You are the telemarketer who calls at dinner time.

The comments at the bottom of Ballum's post are definitely worth reading, too. The bottom line is that you should always pitch professionally. Think about it this way: if you're going to pitch, why would you want to do it any other way? Put your best, most professional foot forward. It's just one more way to leapfrog over those writers who try less hard than you do--who don't do their homework. By caring enough to read each blogger's review policy, and then by writing a succinct, carefully worded letter putting forth the best hook for your book, you give yourself a leg up.

Now go get 'em! But do it properly.


  1. I think one thing that is important about this is realizing that social media is a place to be social and build relationships. Some of them will lead to a pitch and some won't, but Twitter and Facebook aren't the medium for those pitches to occur.

    The good news is, Sarah, you seem to be doing it right. If I recall correctly, you replied to my first tweet with something relevant, interactive, and funny, which is basically the Tweet Trifecta.

  2. This is so important and true. There are eleventy million sites out there telling authors to have a blog, be on Facebook, and be on Twitter. But what they aren't told is that they still need to behave in a professional manner. It is not clear to me why an author thinks that pissing off people in his/her field by pitching in inappropriate ways is a good thing. My agent has stories of how people try to get her attention that kind of rock me to my core. Gah.

  3. The other thing is that if you interact with me on twitter in a social way, I may then become more interested in reading your book. I don't really look at pitches on Twitter!

  4. I'm so afraid of peeing in the pool I often don't even get in the water! Some of the stories bloggers have shared lately about being spammed are kind of horrifying. A nice antidote (besides this article) is the post Vaughn Roycroft wrote yesterday on WU about how to become part of the writing community. What's in it for me?
    And Sarah, I think you are a great role model in terms of how to get the word about your work out there while still remaining professional and polite.

  5. Jen put it well. Well--everyone did. What we're doing here is the modern equivalent of the old phrase "it's who you know" (meaning that's how you make sales, gain power, get jobs, etc.). Social media is a way of getting to know people. But nobody wants to know you if all you want from the relationship is to sell them something.

    I firmly believe that social networking works best when you've got something give. I don't mean just freebies, although that's nice. But when you share friendship, information, tips (like you do here, Sarah), etc., you're building relationships one at a time. As powerful as the internet is, lasting business relationships (and friendships) still have to be built that way. There is no easy way around it and that's what those mistaken authors are looking for.

  6. Great post, truly, from author of LIE.
    Does this work?

  7. This seems to be quite a current topic at the moment and well worth thinking about. It's true there is an enormous push to be 'out there', but that's where many writers lose their steel. I guess it's a cross between relief, anxiety and being poorly trained or advised. I'm not even on Twitter yet despite having a book to promote and dread the idea of it - so this post has been very useful thanks!