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Ask the agony editor: on promoting your book vs. getting your face punched

In this month’s readers’ advice column, Brian Francis on walking the fine line between promoting your book and getting your face punched


(illustration: Evan Munday)

I am an arts and culture journalist who covers books. It’s great, except for the authors who blatantly self-promote their work. How do I tell them that this kind of self-promotion makes me want to punch their faces, not read their books?

I want to consider, up-and-coming writers for reviews and stories. I believe that authors should be on social media, but there’s a fine line between savvy and shut the eff up. How do I tell them they’ve crossed it without burning a bridge for the rest of my professional life?

Blogger Over Shameless Self-promotion

Dear B.O.S.S.,
Imagine how hard it was for Canadian authors to contact journalists before social media. First, they had to write a letter on bark and strap it to the back of a beaver. Then they had to put the beaver into a canoe and send it downstream, praying it would reach its destination. And we all know beavers make terrible paddlers.

Social media may be a relatively new phenomenon, but people who are annoying, sadly, are not. And there’s no way to make them less annoying. Which makes them even more annoying. My advice? Serve up some tough love and ignore the authors. They’ll get the message. Eventually. How that prevents the next annoying person from coming along – well, there’s only so much within my control. But they need you more than you need them. So don’t be too concerned about burning bridges.

While we’re on the topic: writers, stop annoying people. I know your heart and soul went into your book. I know that the publishing world is competitive. I know it’s frustrating waiting for a stranger’s blessing. But social media isn’t the means to success. Be thoughtful. If you’re going to approach a journalist, do some homework ahead of time and find out the kinds of books she typically covers. If your book doesn’t fit that genre, move on to the next journalist. And don’t pitch your book. Pitch the issues your book raises. Journalists are busy. Help them out by giving them ideas. Remember: when it comes to promotion, your work should do all the talking. Not you.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.