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Promotion for Introverts
“I’m not a
hustler and don’t want to be. So I approach book promotion from
a different angle.”
— Charles D. Hayes
By Charles D. Hayes
Not all of us are born promoters.
I can give a pretty good talk, but whenever I put on that
hat for any extended period of time it seems to sap the very energy that
enables me to write in the first place.
A chapter in Tom and Marylyn Ross’s book, Jump Start
Your Book Sales, is titled: “Publicity Horsepower: Shameless Print
Promotion for Brazen Hustlers.” Good advice, no doubt, but I'm not
a hustler and don't want to be. So I approach book promotion from a different
In my view, the most important thing to remember is that
you don’t have to be naturally good at self-promotion in this business
to succeed, but you do have to learn to value the process with enough
enthusiasm to see that it gets done.
In 1988, I attended Stanford University’s professional
publishing course. The first piece of advice they offered me was, “It
takes a brilliant person to write a book, but a genius to sell one.”
I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of
time arguing the point either. One of the most useful things I learned
at Stanford is that when it comes to promotion, everyone is in the same
boat. The folks at Random House are feeling their way every bit as much
as the single book publisher, although they do have a decided advantage.
I went to Stanford thinking that out there somewhere, someone had the
answers, and I ended up more than a little disappointed to find out that
most folks there were just as confused as me. Not that there aren’t
many good books out there about successful promotion, and if you're serious
about this business, you should read them all.
When it comes to publishing, these are truly paradoxical
times. It has never been harder to promote a book than it is today. But
the opposite is equally true: It’s never been easier to
promote a book than right now. The reason it’s so hard is that so
many people are doing it. The reason it’s so easy is that there’s
never been so many ways to go about it. Technology is simply moving too
fast. The Internet has everyone excited and scared at the same time.
Of course, there are lots of books that sell thousands of
copies via word of mouth alone. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
is a good example: It sells enough copies each year to be considered a
best seller by most small presses. But 22 publishers rejected Robert M.
Pirsig’s book before it was accepted, and moreover, Pirsig never
promoted the book. His publisher decided to make him seem like a mysterious
person by making information about him scant — and it worked.
The reality of our business is this: Successful promotion
means reaching critical mass, and books that are not continually promoted
will die on the vine. But the very nature of critical mass is an interesting
phenomenon. Not only does it require imagination, resourcefulness and
(above all) persistence, it means making a big enough splash so that publicity
and word of mouth becomes a self-sustaining process for long periods of
A year ago, Malcolm Gladwell published a book called The
Tipping Point, which offers some insightful information about this dynamic.
Gladwell identified three major players instrumental in achieving a critical
mass of attention: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Connectors know lots
of people and frequently communicate with them. Mavens are obsessed with
getting the best deal possible and are just as anxious to let you in on
it. Salesmen, as we all know, are persuaders. Study these “types,”
and then engage as many of them as you can to help call attention to your
work. If you have a specific genre then you need to reach the connectors,
mavens, and salesmen who would be most enthusiastic about purchasing the
particular kind of books that you publish. I'm using the Internet to do
just that: I post a free quarterly online newsletter and have several
major “connectors” as subscribers. If they like a particular
issue they spread the word, which travels fast, like the ripples created
when a rock is tossed into a pond. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,
and scores of books like it are self-sustaining. They make their own waves.
Connect with enough connectors and you can create a tsunami without anyone
seeing the rock that set it in motion. You can make waves without being
in the media limelight.
And believe it or not, too much polish can actually work
against you. When a producer called me to appear on “Talk of the
Nation,” she said I would be sharing the hour with another author
in my genre that at the time was very well known. I came prepared to share
the spotlight, but wound up being the only guest. The producer told me
that the other author was too self-promoting and they decided not to include
him. Score one for the introvert. Turns out her only criteria for a guest
was sincerity and enthusiasm for the subject at hand. Which proves that
you don't have to be a Stephen Covey, Harvey MacKay or a Greg Godek to
succeed in this business. Nor do you need a “dynamic personality.”
All you do need to have is something to say, the willingness to say it,
and tenacity to spare.
Finally, keep in mind that victory is often nothing more
than a rule which someone has successfully broken, and that many of the
people who succeed are the very ones who don’t know they “can’t
Charles D. Hayes is a lifelong
learning advocate, a self-taught philosopher, and an author and publisher.
In 1987 Hayes founded Autodidactic Press, committed to lifelong learning
as the lifeblood of democracy and the key to living life to its fullest.
He is author of Beyond the American Dream: Lifelong Learning and the Search
for Meaning in a Postmodern World; Proving You’re Qualified: Strategies
for People without College Degrees; and Self-University — as well
as the novel Portals in a Northern Sky. Hayes’ work has been featured
in USA Today, Library Journal, Training Magazine, Training and Development
Magazine, Utne Reader, and on National Public Radio’s Talk of the
Nation. For more on Charles, visit his Web site, http://www.autodidactic.com.