What memories do the phrase, “It’s time to toot your own horn,” replay in your mind? For me, it is that little six-year old with pigtails and saucer-sized eyes sitting petrified on the front row of her class. I’m remembering how afraid she was the teacher would call her name, knowing she wouldn’t be able to answer…not because she didn’t know the answer, but because her voice would draw attention from the the other children in her class. That little girl was me, and I was the shy one, in a houseful of siblings who were so much braver, more courageous, and more confident than I could ever be. They were who I always dreamed I could be, but never in a million years expected to be.
As a child, I was a serious introvert, and like most people who shun the spotlight, I rarely did anything to bring attention to myself. I made myself as small as I could, made my voice soft and hardly audible. What I didn’t know, was that there were so many other little girls out there just like me…most of them having lots to say, but hardly the courage to say it.
Becoming an author changed that little girl’s life. What I learned very quickly, after writing and publishing my first book, was that I had to overcome my natural introversion if I was serious about being not only a published author, but one who sells books. After taking on the role as a publisher, I realized I was not only responsible for every aspect of producing a quality book, but for promoting myself and my book if I wanted success! No longer could I sit in the background and let others speak for me because I was afraid to speak for myself.
If you ask most writers, they will tell you they absolutely love the `alone time’ that comes with being an author. But, career authors also understand that once their books are complete, they must transform themselves, move outside their introverted shells to ensure their books end up on the minds, and in the hands of readers. We have no choice, unless we write for the sheer enjoyment – with no desire or expectations of selling our work.
Learning this basic truth was not easy for me. Though I am far from being a master at self-promotion these days, the truth is, with practice I have greatly improved. No, tooting my own horn still doesn’t come natural to me; I understand its importance, and I don’t feel half the guilt I once felt shining a light on myself. Besides, its for the sake of my books...not me. I’m proud to say that, these days, I can easily talk about myself, and confidently tell readers why they will enjoy my books. In fact, I find real joy in sharing my books with the world.
I meet writers quite often who struggle with the burdens of introversion, shyness and a deficit of self-confidence. I feel their pain because I experienced it for most of my young life. But, it doesn’t have to be a burden forever. There is a way to the other side. If I can get there, any writer can. While tooting my own horn wasn’t something I was taught as a child, I began practicing it, as an adult, out of necessity. And, as a shy girl who was scared of her own shadow for years, tooting my own horn these days, feels pretty good…and, has served me very well.
For new authors grappling with the problem of transforming yourself into a promoter, always remember the bigger picture – success. Below are a few hard-earned promotion tips I’ve gathered and shared over the years:
- The key is a quality product Ensuring that your book is indeed a quality product is a must. All the good marketing in the world can’t take the place of a good product – in our case, a good story, well written, well-edited and well-packaged. When you feel confident about the look, feel and content of your book, you are much more willing to tout it to the world.
- Establish your unique platform. What is a platform? it is a position from which you introduce who you are to the world. Why is your story important, and how is it unique? Yes, it would be great if we could say, “My story matters because I was President of the United States.” Sadly, there are only a handful of people in the world who can claim such a lofty platform. Yet, most of us have a platform, and whatever it is…it will increase the likelihood that people will be interested in you, and the number of readers who relate to your story. While most new authors don’t have national or global affiliations, we all have experiences. Most of us have accomplishments, achievements or notoriety in one area or another. Many of us have been recognized for our good work, and maybe even spoken to groups about our work. These are all platforms that we can use as we begin to market who we are, and why our stories matters.
- Know your book like the back of your hand: Knowledge breeds confidence. Truly knowing your book allows you to share the most important themes within a five-minute time span to any audience; to answer any question readers may have about the plot, the story or the characters. If you don’t know your book, you can’t convince readers of its worth.
- Know your readership: This is a bit tricky, for…to know your readers requires both knowing your book, and doing the research on what other books in your genre, readers are choosing. Is your book likely to attract southern readers, Christians, college educated, women, men, youth? Why? Getting a good sense of who your likely readers are helps in planning and targeting your marketing plan, and scheduling your appearances.
- Be brave – expand your circle: This might be construed as contrary to `knowing your readership,’ but in actuality, it is an opportunity for writers to learn and cultivate readers who don’t so easily fall into their perceived circle of readers. One example of a serendipitous expansion of my readership happened after publishing my first memoir, Cotton Field of Dreams. I was pretty sure by the time I completed my book that I knew my likely readership, it turned out I was wrong on several accounts. While Cotton Field of Dreams chronicles the lives of a black, southern sharecropping family, that hardly fit my readership. It turned out that my readership spanned not only across the U.S., but well outside this country. Book talk requests reached well beyond African American or southern communities. Many of my requests came from religion, education and healthcare organizations around the country wanting to discuss the subjects of childhood education, suicide and mental health – all subjects featured in my book. I failed to take in account the various themes my story dealt with. A diverse readership is what every writer wants, but we need to `know’ our book, to be better prepared to target and take advantage of this interest in our books.
In the end, authors must often do the things that are least comfortable for them, but best exposes them and their books to the world. Often times, we will want to close our books, and crawl back into our comforting shells. Before you do, ask yourself one question: Who will tell your story? Tooting your own horn is a small price to pay to ensure your story remains alive, educating and elucidating readers through your experiences, your memories, your words.