On Shameless Self-Promotion

I’m lucky enough to live in a city with many other young adult writers. I get to see them on a fairly regular clip and talk shop, as they say. I always feel immensely grateful for this. That I can sit down and make dinner and talk with people who understand what it is to live and work and write not just in the publishing industry, but within our little niche and corner of that industry.

The other day we were talking about promotions. There’s a general discomfort among writers about promoting our work.

How do you talk about your work?

How do I keep asking people to buy my book?

And even the writers who are more comfortable with the idea of asking people to buy your book— which, by the way, kudos to you my friend— there’s a kind of anxiety about how to even go about this in a way that works. In a way that doesn’t feel like you’re spam emailing people at 4am.

Here’s the thing I’ve realized, despite all of the discomfort. We wanted to publish our books to share them.

I’m going to say that again. We worked our tails off in order to share our stories with others.

That’s what self-promotion is.

I’m going to ask you to think about who you wrote your book for. Think about that person (or people!) as specifically as you can. Think about the other things they might like or dislike. Think about how they like to get to work or school. How they style their hair. Make sure they’re as real to you as any character in your mind. And then tell them why you wrote your book for them.

I write books about messy and ambitious girls who are coming to grips with the fact that they shape their own future and their own lives. I write everyday kind of love stories that are only radical because I do my best to normalize the vibrant and diverse world that is around me, that I grew up within. My latest book is about two ambitious girls who try very hard not to fall in love as they make a movie together, inspired by my love of the Paris and Rory ship from Gilmore Girls.

Guess what? I just promoted my latest work. And the thing is— some of you might now be interested in it. But some of you have just learned that my books are not for you. You’d prefer an epic adventure. A girl on a quest. An impossible mission. No worries, I love those stories too.

I mean, I just watched Captain Marvel this past weekend. I love epic stories and quests and impossible missions. I just happen to not write those stories. At least, not so far.

Here’s the thing about learning to speak to the people you wrote your book for— they’re the people that matter. They’re the people you want reading your book. They’re the people you always pictured picking it up— in a bookstore, maybe, but also in a library, or maybe borrowing from a friend— and reaching out to.

I think writers are all storytellers first. So tell the story of your book.

I get that there is a discomfort in asking people to hand over their money for your work. But if you didn’t believe in your work— you wouldn’t have written it. You wouldn’t have queried agents. You would have done that process over again and gone on submission with editors. You wouldn’t have worked and worked and worked until there was a finished product in your hands that was packaged and, dare I say it, sharable.

You want to share your work. You want to tell people about it. You want that reader that you envisioned— and please remember, it isn’t everyone— to know that your book is out there in the world.

I wrote my first book for teenage me. And whenever a reader tells me they love that book, I know that they are or were like the teenage and young twenty something girl that I was. And I know I’ve done my job. One more girl who was like me heard about my book. One more girl who feels less alone that she hasn’t always been good to her friends but she wants to find a way forward and clean up the mess that she’s made.

But my first book is not Captain Marvel and I know that it is not the kind of story for everybody on planet Earth (seriously go see Captain Marvel already). But it is a story for somebody. A whole group of somebodies that I envisioned were just like I was at seventeen. So I try to tell them that my first book is for them.

We don’t get to decide which books take off into the stratosphere. That’s a combination of timing the marketplace and a healthy dose of good luck. But we do know who we write our books for. And we wrote these books so that others could read our stories.

So don’t be afraid to tell someone about your work and where they can find it. They might just be the reader you were looking for.


2 Responses to On Shameless Self-Promotion

  1. Marilyn Jones Apr 12 2019 at 4:01 pm #

    Aminah Mae, this was a very timely post. I have recently began writing again and returned to Twitter to find a community of other writers to learn from, share the journey with, and network with. I am disheartened already with the amount of grumbling that goes on about authors promoting their work. It’s actually frowned upon. I find that outrageous! When my book is published, I want to tell my “group of somebodies” that it’s out there for them. I hope that this backwards attitude will change. We, as writers write to share what we write! Self promotion is necessary. Thank you for this post.

    • Aminah Mae Apr 15 2019 at 6:54 pm #

      thank you so much for reading, Marilyn! I’m so glad it resonated 💜

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