Columns > Published on June 13th, 2014

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, MysteriousPress.com, 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. 

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at www.robwhart.com

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