This Is The Single Biggest Mistake Indie Authors Make While Promoting Their Work—And It Needs To Stop

That's right. This is so important I used an Upworthy-style headline to ensure people would click. 

Have you ever watched The Office? I'm talking about the American version here, not the UK version. 

If you have, this analogy will come easily. If not, a quick explanation: One of the show's main characters is Michael Scott, the boss, who is a complete and utter dolt. He's well-meaning, in a childish way, but he's a dolt. Clueless about how the world perceives the doltish things that he's doing. He believes his plans are clever and surefire, when in truth, they are not. 

The reason I'm leading off with this is because this morning, after breakfast, I sat down with my laptop to start my work day, which began with a review of Twitter; I help oversee the accounts for LitReactor,, and The Mysterious Bookshop. 

The television was on, and a re-run of The Office was playing. And as Michael Scott was undertaking some new, insane plan that was sure to backfire, all three Twitter accounts had tweets waiting for me—tweets from complete strangers imploring me to check out their self-published book (one even begging for a retweet).

Retweets are not currency. Followers are not currency. And 20,000 followers doesn't mean 20,000 sales.

This happens fairly often, but given that in one morning I found tweets on all three accounts, I was spurred to write this. 

Because these authors are the Michael Scotts of the publishing world. 

Well-meaning, but dolts. 

There might be some people out there, in the universe of the internet, who are saying to themselves, "But those people are just using social media to be social LOL maybe I should go write a poorly-formulated essay about this for Thought Catalog."

But it's not social. It's spam. Would you call someone up on the phone, completely unprompted, and ask them to buy your book? Someone you didn't know, whose number you stumbled across in the phonebook, who you thought would love your work? 

No, you wouldn't. Telemarketers do that. So why is it okay on Twitter? 

I know this sounds like much ado about nothing, but this is endemic of the biggest problem facing the indie publishing industry, and why it gets such a bad rep: People acting like clueless, obnoxious dummies. 

To be clear, I've self-published. I would never just spam people with a link to buy my book. That's ridiculous. And anyone who advocates for doing that has no idea what they're talking about.

Here's another problem facing the publishing industry: Anyone with a Twitter account who wants to earn some extra cash will position themselves as a Twitter "expert," and begin formulating dumb, ill-informed blog posts full of nonsense advice on how to "maximize" your sales. 

There is no secret to this. If there was, it wouldn't be a secret. Everyone would be a best-selling millionaire. 

The social of social media means engaging with people. Building relationships. Interacting. It's the water cooler of the internet. You stand around and talk to your friends and maybe new people get drawn into the conversation and, if they're cool, then you've got a new friend. And the asshole who runs through and asks that you buy his book and then runs away? That's the person you ignore and make jokes about. 

Those three tweets I got this morning? I blocked all three people. When people post the links to their books on our Facebook walls, those posts get deleted and the accounts get blocked. I'm being kind when I don't report it as spam. But I've seen people have their accounts suspended because they spent all day tweeting out buy links to strangers. 

Retweets are not currency. Followers are not currency. And 20,000 followers doesn't mean 20,000 sales. 

If you want to make it as an author, first, write the absolute best fucking thing you can. Then talk to people about it, in a respectful and engaging manner. Do your research—don't listen to the first dumb blog post you read. There's a lot of crap to wade through before you get to the substantive advice.

And don't take advice from anyone who has less than 1,500 followers on Twitter (or if the number of people they follow outnumbers the number of people who follow them back). 

Consider this a public service announcement from someone who is cranky and probably needs another cup of coffee: You best come correct, or you're just hurting yourself. 

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Angel Colón's picture
Angel Colón from The Bronx now living in New Jersey is reading A Big Ol' Pile of Books June 13, 2014 - 1:27pm

*slow clap*

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 13, 2014 - 1:39pm

yeah, i agree. it's one thing to promote your work on your own Twitter page, but to Tweet directly AT somebody, a person you don't know, and try to shove your work down their throat, that's just a waste of everyone's time.

Utah's picture
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry June 13, 2014 - 1:56pm

Richard, is this why you have not purchased any of my hand-crocheted doilies?  I thought my Facebook PMs were tasteful, and when you didn't respond regularly I cut my communiques back to seven or so per day.  Perhaps too pushy?

Sanbai's picture
Sanbai from the Midwest is reading The War of Art June 13, 2014 - 2:40pm

Ahem. "And the asshole who runs through and asks that you by his book and then runs away?"

Pretty sure you mean buy.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig June 13, 2014 - 4:44pm


L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami June 13, 2014 - 4:50pm

Just don't hawk your books at me, I don't have a good baseball catch.

I've hate to actually make a private twitter account, just avoid a lot of the over-marketing people as I'm personally extremely introverted.

Olivia Marcus's picture
Olivia Marcus from Chicago, IL is reading "Twenties Girl" by Sophie Kinsella June 13, 2014 - 6:24pm

That actually happened to me once. This person asked me to read her work so I did--I thought she'd read some of what I wrote and liked it, so she wanted my opinion on hers. I read it because I thought it was only fair and even my duty as an author to help others, but it was really, really, bad and I had to think really hard to find something good to say about it, and tell her in the nicest way that her grammar sucked. Then I found out she'd been asking a ton of people to read it, and she knew none of them, and I felt kind of bad for her because she just humiliated herself. The best way to self-promote is to think of a really catchy "hook" line--you summarize the story in a really interesting way so people will find it on their own.

Tom S. May's picture
Tom S. May from Geelong is reading Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme June 13, 2014 - 6:51pm

This is an empty column. 

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list June 13, 2014 - 7:29pm

Haha, the picture with this post is great. As for Twitter spam, I follow an author (who shall remain nameless) who seems to have her tweets automated. Every five minutes, without fail, my feed is flooded with the same mass of tweets. They are promoting her blog, her self pubbed books, her Facebook, and her website. Wait five minutes, the same exact tweets pop up again. I've gotten to the point where I get annoyed if I see her name. That is not good marketing or self promotion.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami June 13, 2014 - 10:36pm

Oh its not just you, I have get a few of those followers too.:/

Of course I'm thinking of mimimizing twitter eventually anyway, going to old school it.

Margaret Taylor's picture
Margaret Taylor June 14, 2014 - 8:22am

So, erm Rob??? You mean to say you've blocked my 200 tweets per day begging you to click on my link which then redirects you to a blog full of advertisments for my affliate network which for every ad you click on I get $0.05!

You did?!?! *gasp, shock, horror!* For shame on you Sir! What kind of twitterite are you!?!

I'm totally kidding, but that did happen to me. And it's one of the reasons I rarely use it to be honest. Unless someone directs a tweet my way. I'll respond then, but I usually leave it to the other peeps. I *should* use it more, I know, but I get tired of the constant scroll of Buy, Buy, Buy very quickly! I much prefer chatting on FB, time sink that it is! *laughs*

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami June 14, 2014 - 12:37pm

I think my problem with marketing is, if I were to flood with a bunch of ads for my work I'd end up feeling like a really rotten missionary for some reason.

Blarrrgh, stop selling my on the Lord Jesus! Thank you.

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 June 14, 2014 - 9:00pm

The @ing of the official LR twitter with a book link is particularly weird to me. I suppose it makes some logical sense, given that we do book reviews. But there are proper channels for having your book considered for review. You're guaranteed a tweet that way! Not utilizing those channels displays a distinct laziness and disrespect.

Natso's picture
Natso from Mongolia is reading Moby Dick June 15, 2014 - 12:01am

Perhaps these people are performing worse than SPAMs?

Believe me when I say this, because at times I was guilty of this sin and empathize with these hit-and-runs.

But I'd argue that SPAM bots perform better than these authors, because they leave an impression that they're leaving an altruistic comment that connects to new information.

For example, I'm reading an article in, someone has left a comment that sounds like it's relevant to the article, something like, Interesting article. My friends always say so. Here's another relevant link. So I click on it, aaaaand I'm in a phishing URL.

But at least they had me click on it. :(


Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this June 15, 2014 - 6:53am

@cshultz81--LitReactor makes a little bit of sense, because this is a site that works with authors and publishers and books. 

What really burns me is when they plug their stuff's a publisher, publishing its own books--why would we promote someone we're NOT publishing? 

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies June 16, 2014 - 7:59am

I think people should aim higher so that when they're published, they won't need to self-promote so much. It's the longer and more treacherous route but it's worth it.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 16, 2014 - 3:30pm

@Rob - Interesting enough about the 20,000 doesn't equal sales thing.  I one such Michael Scott type person who is excited about 600 followers.  I didn't have the heart to tell him I have 350 on an account I have never used that was part of applying for a social media job.

@Conley - I'm not expert, but I'm pretty that published authors have to do as much/almost as much self promotion.  

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 16, 2014 - 4:34pm

there's a big difference bewteen tweeting out

Hey, stoked my new story is in @blahblahmag out now, alongside @thisguy and @thatgirl. Available everywhere now! Thrilled to be in here with these talented authors.


Hey, my book THISTHING is out now, what do you think, @steveking @peterstraub @deankoontz @clivebarker it's horror, you want a copy? #therealdeal #buymybook

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 17, 2014 - 1:07pm

As someone who's just about to break into this, this is good advice all round. I already knew that sending out a tonne of messages saying 'buy my book' was the wrong way, but it's good to see that someone's advocating the approach to social media where you actually have to BE SOCIAL. There's a difference between being a player in the self publishing scene and doing constant, aggressive marketing aimed at the wrong people in a way that's just plain fucking irritating. 

I don't like Twitter and I've never touched the account I set up when I gave it a try about a year ago, but that said I'm always tempted to try it again, it just beats me how you use it without doing the very kind of marketing that's just like (see everything above). Seems to me that worpress and facebook are the winners, perhaps just because I know how they work.

Strikes me so many writers don't think outside the internet anymore either. I did a couple of public readings recently, and yeah they ended with my talking about where to find me online, and that my publication will be an eBook, but it did get me away from a computer, and it's nice to buy a book by a writer you actually met, even if they are just starting out (and yeah, I've bought indie books after someone's reading myself, so the way I see it I'm allowed to market this way!)

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 June 17, 2014 - 9:49pm

Rob: Yeah, that makes zero sense.

Richard: You nailed it.

Chacron: Exactly right. So many people think it's all about internet connections, which is where this SPAMmy behavior comes from in the first place. "Must constantly tweet and Facebook and whatever else, because otherwise people will forget about me." Not so if there's a personal and (shock!) in-person connection made.

John Matsui's picture
John Matsui September 22, 2014 - 4:15pm

AGREED Most tweets are definitely #TweetSpam with little or no real content. What people fail to understand is that first movers do well but everyone who copycats the same action gets zero.
When social media was still months young, some company somewhere offered a Mac Book Pro laptop to the lucky winner of a draw from among those who became followers.
One laptop garnered 10,000 real followers (not sure how many stuck). The following week everybody was offering a MacBook Pro to followers and probably had to give out a laptop to one of the 12 followers they got in their contest.
If I had been really smart at the time I would have entered all of the contests.
Bottom line – what makes your promotion hot??? The same thing that makes your book hot. 1. It's got to do something different, the WHAAAT? factor. 2. It's got to be entertaining, laugh out loud or crap your pants, 3. It's got to be at the very least professionally written, edited and presented, 4. It should be a gift to the reader - something that makes them think a little deeper afterward.
Does my first novel do that? Does my upcoming novel do that?
I think so, maybe not in the way that Gillian Flynn's and China Mieville's novels do – their work is genius – but certainly worlds better than some of the million-selling #1 best selling authors out there.
If you'll pardon this one bit of spam – You can check out my book Late Bite at In late October my second novel, Gravity Games will also be available.

Richard Sutton's picture
Richard Sutton March 4, 2015 - 11:27am

Thank. You. Rob. MY Twitter Inbox is now so full of daily spam, it's getting very hard to make real use of the medium. I had wanted to make real interest-based connections with other writers and potential readers, but there are just so many "expert voices" out there now clamoring for running up your followers into the thousands I'm beginning to feel torn between what I know is the slower,  smarter way to proceed and the humbers race, which is certainly heating up. To what end, I can't really see. I don't mind being pitched to -- it's the life we have now -- but I do find that more and more "writer communities" are just communities in name only and actually serve as the slush pile for marketing services. It's daunting as getting the word out in a legitimate fashion is becoming so difficult because of the chase for followers that's being touted everywhere...