Promoting Your Book – The Right Way and The Wrong Way

I do public speaking from time to time, mostly cloud computing and leadership. Imagine that you’ve come to the conference because you are interested in this topic. You are in a crowded room with dozens of other people, I walk up to the lectern and say:

“Good morning. I was invited here to speak to you because I am one of the leader in the industry. I have two master’s degrees in the subject and over fifteen years in the industry. In addition, I’m one of the best speakers I know. Please applaud now.”

I’m kind of a jerk, right. A self-promoting egotistical ass.

Okay rewind time.  Same conference, same room, same lectern.  I’m standing beside the head of the conference; he is behind the lectern. He checks the mike and says:

“Good morning. I invited Dave here to speak to you because he is one of the leaders in this industry. Dave has two master’s degrees and over fifteen years experience. In addition, Dave is one of the best speakers I know. Make him feel welcome.”

Now you are looking forward to hearing me speak. You are expecting a dynamic, interesting speaker with lots of knowledge on this subject.

What’s the difference? Both passages said essentially the same thing. Read them again, if you like.

When someone else says nice things about you, you are perceived one way. When you say nice things about yourself, you say another.

That’s the problem with self-promotion on Twitter.

When I see a Tweet that says:

@Some_Author:  I loved this book. Fun exciting #newauthor #couldntputitdown. #amreading. http://some_ebook_link.somethingelse


You come across as an arrogant jerk, just like I did in the first hypothetical situation.

So how do you self-promote without sounding like an ass?

First, real reviews. Ask your beta readers to post reviews of your finished work. Real reviews about what they really thought. Include the good and the bad. We all have a built in bullshit detector. If you have twelve people post “Best book ever!”, “New Classic, better than The Bible”, and “Some Author is the next George R.R. Martin”, we all know those are bullshit reviews.


Real reviews read like this: “I liked reading the Dandelion Project. I connected with the main characters and thought the subject matter was interesting. There were times when I felt a little lost because the book doesn’t give the backstory of the Dandelion Project, you just sort of jump in but it was good.” – Joe Reviewer

The review mentions some good stuff and some bad stuff. It doesn’t make the book sound like divine inspiration.

Then quote the review:

@Some_Author: Thanks @JoeReader, for the nice review. I always love hearing from my readers. http://linktomybook.

You seem like a decent chap. I’d like read what Joe Reader said.  Heck, I might buy that book.


Second, don’t make your price your selling point. People will pay for a good book.  They really, really will. Really. The key word is good. As an author, you are putting yourself on a page. Don’t put out crap. You are worth more than 99 cents. Really. Write a book so good that people would willingly pay $100 a copy.

Write something that matters.

Write Something That Matters.


I Want To Be A Writer.

There are two types of people in the writing community. It’s pretty easy to sort the wheat from the chaff. See if you can figure out the difference. I’ll explain at the end.

Here’s a typical conversation for me.

Fred introduces me to Cindy. “Cindy, this is David. He’s writing a new science fiction novel.”

Me: “Nice to meet you, Cindy.”

Cindy: “Cool. I love science fiction. I want to write a novel.”

“That’s interesting. What are you writing?”

Cindy: “I have this idea for a book about time travel and aliens made out of banana flavored pudding.” (note to self: Banana Pudding Aliens)

“Could have potential. There are some interesting ideas there. What have you written so far?”

Cindy: “Oh…nothing really.  But I think a lot about how the aliens would look and how they think and what if the humans ate them!?!”

“Mmm. You should write some of this down.”

Cindy: “Yeah. I’m busy. Work you know. I don’t have time like you.”

“I have three kids and a wife. And a cat. And a job. And am pursuing another master’s degree. All while I write. Just write something. Anything. If you write one sentence a day, that’s one more sentence than you have now.”

Cindy: “Maybe. I don’t know. I’m really busy. But I really want to be a writer.”

“Nice meeting you, Cindy.”

It should be pretty clear but if it’s not…

There is a profound difference between “I want to be a writer” and “I write”.

Write. Write a novel. Write a sentence. Write a word. Just write.

Write Something That Matters.

Addendum: the tongue in cheek note reading “note to self” was not implying that I would steal Cindy’s idea. There is no Cindy; therefore, Cindy did not suggest Banana Pudding Aliens. I did, merely for purposes of illustration in this article. If I ever write a story about aliens made of Banana Pudding, please promptly have me shot.

What is your story about? The difference between situation and story & the problem with fan fiction

“…good SF is usually about something (and often something very profound, such as whether or not God exists).” – Robert J. Sawyer

When I meet other authors, one of the first three questions I ask is “what is your story about?” (We can discuss the other two another time.) This generally turns into a description of the environment and the characters. Then I follow up with “That sounds like an interesting character/world/time/situation, but what is your story about?

Let me expound on the difference. Lois Lowry could have described “The Giver” as “It takes place in the future. Every one is assigned a job for their entire life. One person can absorb all the memories from the people and there’s an old man and he’s going to die and pass all his memories on to a teenage boy.” When you read “The Giver”, you know that it’s about life being full of pain and joy, and Jonas’s loss of innocence as he discovers the human cost of freedom from pain.

How about a book about a military training ground in space preparing for a battle between humans and bug like aliens?  This is an accurate description of “Ender’s Game” but Ender’s Game is about more.  Ender’s Game examines humanity desire to destroy that which it doesn’t understand and the sacrifices we will make in the name of war.

World War Z (the book, not that terrible movie) is not about zombies.

Hamlet is not about a prince in Denmark.

You get the idea.

My own novel, Project Dandelion, is about the value of life. I try to examine the value of life from two wildly different cultures, mostly through the eyes of a young woman trying to define herself. One culture is from a world where life is cheap and expendable; one culture lives in a world where life is rare and precious. It just happens to be in future and on two different alien worlds. I could have written the same theme as fantasy or historical fiction or a horror book because Project Dandelion is not about space; it’s about life and death and love.

Now let’s briefly look at the problem with fan-fiction.  An author writes a book. The book is about something say “self-sacrifice”. A wizard or robot or knight in shining armor gives up their life to save an enemy (hmmm… note to self…wizard robot knight…).  Someone thinks Bobbo The Robot-Wizard-Knight is a cool character and so they write a fan-fiction about Bobbo.  But the original story was not about Bobbo. The original story was about self-sacrifice. You end up with a story with all of the characters and environment but none of the meaning.  Empty calories. Brain candy.

As an author (and as a thinking human), you have a unique perspective, opinion, and value system. Express those perspectives, opinions, and values through whatever genre you want but remember…Write Something That Matters

Write Something That Matters.

Developing Depth In Your Characters

Two dimensional characters are prevalent in stories.  They make your stories flat, uninteresting, and predictable.


One cause of two-dimensional characters is lack of well-thought out character motivation. Authors can become so focused on driving the action forward that they inadequately develop character motivation to make the character believable.

In my novel, Project Dandelion, the protagonist, Krysia, wants to join an elite group of militia who protect her home from a dangerous predator.  I could simply say “Krysia wants this because I want a tough female character.” And throughout the novel, she acts out the part of “tough female character”. Krysia is no longer real; she is simply a caricature. She is generic and completely uninteresting.

To delve into character motivation, I stole an idea from Six Sigma (or TPS) called root cause analysis.  The idea is that if you ask “why?” five times, you actually get to the root (or fundamental) cause of a problem.  Wikipedia has a great example:

The vehicle will not start. (the problem)

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

Let’s apply this to Krysia:

Krysia wants to join an elite group of militia.

  1. Why? – Krysia respects the militia members.
  2. Why? – Because the militia members are strong and Krysia wants to be seen as strong.
  3. Why? – Because she believes she is not strong.
  4. Why? – Because she is smaller than average and being small makes her feel weak.
  5. Why? – Because she has always been told that being small means being weak.

Sudden Krysia is not just “a tough female character”; she is a young woman, who lives in a world where she is struggling to against her self-image of weakness to be strong. She wants people to believe she is tough because she believes she is weak. She’s always been told she was weak and she refuses to accept that definition of herself.

Which character are you more interested in?

By performing 5 Why’s analysis on all of your characters you will have stronger more interesting characters with more emotional depth. Your readers will believe them and want to know more about them.

Write Something That Matters.