Saturday, April 12, 2014

Promo No-No’s for Authors

By Karen McCullough

These days every author knows that you have to play the promotion game to have any success. At least that’s what every publisher--big, small, or medium--tells us. So we struggle to find ways to get our names and books out there in front of the public. Some people can get pretty aggressive about it, too, which isn’t always bad, but there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

To get a feeling for what really bugged readers and authors about author promo, I asked about it on a couple of listserves.  Did I ever get an earful!

I’ve divided the comments into two categories, covering face-to-face meetings and online presence. So herewith are more than ten commandments for author promo, based on things the readers and authors told me about that annoyed or angered them.

My thanks to everyone who responded to my request for these suggestions.

Face-to-Face Meetings Such as Conventions or Book Signings
  • At a convention, everyone hates it when a panel author doesn’t stick to the topic and turns every answer into self-promotion. Thou shalt not be rude, boring, and only self-promoting; it actually causes people to decide they’ll never read that person’s book again.
  • I’ve seen this one myself, but others also mentioned that they hate it when a panel moderator or author hogs the panel. I’ve seen an author hog a panel to the extent that no one else on the panel was able to insert a word into the discussion. Thou shalt be courteous to your fellow authors and give them equal opportunity to speak.
  • An author should always behave professionally at a conference. Thou shalt not distribute your own promo material during other authors’ panels or events. Thou shalt not behave in inappropriate ways in the bar, the elevators or anywhere else. You’re part of the show at a conference and others will notice when you behave badly.
  • Thou shalt not piggy-back on another author’s book signing or event by interrupting them with your own promo or bringing your own books to sell without permission.
  • This one is such a jaw-dropper that I’m using the author’s own words here: “How about the author that, when I wasn't looking at a book signing, slipped his postcards into the middle of my books?” Thou shalt not do such insanely stupid and discourteous things.


  • Thou shalt never, never respond to reviewers either on sites like Amazon or blogs with anything more than a simple “Thank you.”  Thou shalt not attack reviewers who don’t like your book or leave negative feedback, no matter how stupid, off-topic, idiotic or depraved the review is.
  • Thou shalt not run down other authors or make negative comments about them on line.  You can review another’s book and not like it, but reviews should always be about the book and not about the author personally.
  • Readers are particularly bugged by authors who show up on a social media site or listserve and join an ongoing conversation just long enough to drop some promo for their own book, then leave. Thou shalt not do this.
  • And related to the above are authors who insist on talking about nothing but their own book in every post on a listserve or social media, or authors who comment on every single post, sometimes with just a word or two, and include their entire eight line signature file. Thou shalt not do this either
  • And another related one: Thou shalt not have signature files that are three pages long. In fact, three to four lines should be the absolute maximum for an author signature.
  • Thou shalt not add names to an email list (newsletter or whatever) without actual or implied permission and then provide no way to unsubscribe.
  • If someone follows you on Twitter, thou shalt not immediately DM them with a load of promo.
  • Thou shalt not jump on someone else’s good news announcement with words like, “Oh yeah, and my book just won a so-and-so prize, too.  Let the original poster have a few minutes in the limelight, then make your announcement. 
So: What bugs you about author promo?  What are your 'Thou shalt Nots'?


  1. I've seen almost all of the above. And I can tell you that I've been around authors who were so "important" they couldn't bother to even acknowledge a "hi" and another who elbowed me out of the way in a buffet line at a conference. I will never ever buy one of their books.

  2. Very good points to follow and NOT do.

  3. What is amazing is that such advice needs to be given. Surely these are things that any normal, polite person (and even authors) would avoid. Didn't their mothers teach them the rules of polite society. But, I guess from Marilyn's comment, these things need to be said. Thanks for reminding.

  4. Really great post! I am the ED of Crime Writers of Canada, and I can't count the number of times people have added me to an email list without my permission. With no way to unsubscribe. I am stunned by the lack of courtesy. Thanks for this post.

  5. I think you've covered it. It all really boils to old-fashioned manners.

  6. Excellent post! I have to say, don't be a Diva. If there's anything you can do to help, jump in and do your share at a conference. At least make an offer. Also, if a fan speaks to you, don't treat them like they're a stalker.
    Marja McGraw

  7. Great collection. But I have to note that as a reviewer, it's ok if female authors want to hug me in appreciation for a positive thoughtful review of their latest work.

  8. I've heard of authors being followed into the restrooms at conferences and cons too!

  9. I really enjoyed this. Great list!

  10. I'll forgive any of these things done once, when an author is brand new. After that, common sense and common courtesy should prevail!

  11. Great precise list, Karen. So many marketing gurus and social media mavens were touting the need to make your presence known, that common sense seemed to have disappeared for awhile. These 15 commandments of common sense marketing should be required reading!

  12. I agree with everything everyone here said. The post was great and a great reminder of the social courtesies due everyone. There is a place to promote, but a place NOT to promote.

  13. It's all about manners--something that seems to be in sure supply these days.

  14. Then there is the horrifying story that we all talk about happening at a conference. An author followed an agent into the bathroom and proceeded to continue pitching her book to the agent while the agent who was ill threw up! I still can't believe that one.

  15. Great post, Karen. One bugaboo for me is the constant barrage of Facebook blasts to Like an author's page or a book page. I Like authors whose work I know, but not every request I get. I've never sent out any blast on Facebook. If it irritates me, I'm sure I'd irritate others.

  16. I like your list very much. And if common sense and courtesy mean anything today, we might want to think about it as "Do unto others as you would have done to yourself."

  17. Good list for any author to follow. Don't pester the editors or agents at a conference. It won't make them like the book any better.

  18. Good advice, Karen. I agree with Cindy Sample--it should be required reading!

  19. My question is this, why does anyone bother with publishers any more? If you have to do all the promotion, and pay for it to boot, why give the so called publishers a cut? What can any publisher do for you, outside of the few remaining big ones that still control the lion's share of the market? Even the big ones expect you to do your own promotion at your own expense, but they can get you into big box stores, that's about the only thing going for them now. Actually, if an author is willing to do the work and put in the time, they can actually get themselves in the big box stores too. Not easy, but can be done, and is being done more and more as the formerly huge publishers struggle to keep hold of their big share of the market. An author can get Ebooks listed on a number of sites for free, and get print copies (does anyone still read print copies?) made for very little that are up to the standards of the industry. I mean, if you want real editing, the author has to either struggle to do it themselves, or pay an editor like me. Publishing houses might run it through spell check, but that's about it these days. They don't use real editors any more, though the title still exists. One client got a deal with a small publisher, and wound up actually being tied down to doing less than she could if she didn't have a publisher. She's sold more books without a publisher than with one. So, again why does anyone go to any publisher these days when self publishing is now so inexpensive.

  20. I agree with Cindy Sample. These should be required reading!

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