Modesty Doesn’t Rank on Amazon

Without promotion something terrible happens…Nothing!

Phineas Taylor Barnum, Professional Side Hustler.  Photo by Matthew Brady. CC image via Wikimedia Commons.

So said PT Barnum, patron saint of shameless self-promoters everywhere.

In the Midwestern United States, braggarts (see also: blowhards, bigmouths, and blabberers) are extremely frowned upon. There’s a thin line between pride and douchebaggery, and people are quick to call you on it. Growing up, I was always very careful to not crow too loudly or if praise was given, to accept it with sincerity but immediately deflect it. That was just the polite thing to do.

However, as I’ve gotten older and become less pressed about the opinions of others, I realize that it’s okay to celebrate your achievements and/or talent. As with most everything, it’s all in the way you do it.

There’s a lot of emphasis lately on writers building “platform”, which is just a fancy-pants way of saying “self-promotion.” Whether you’re self-pubbing or linked with the proposed RandomPenguin, the challenge is to stand out from the pack without coming off annoying, obnoxious, or desperate. Of course you should talk about your book. But don’t let it be the only thing you talk about. Variety is the key. Like Chris Brogan said, “Marketing isn’t bad – bad marketing is bad.”

My favorite cereal. Via

As a huge fan of writers and a potential consumer of your products, I’m curious about your process, what inspires you, what makes you excellent or what you consider your fatal flaw. Even seemingly mundane details like your favorite breakfast cereal can add insight to your awesomeness.

But you have to start talking. Don’t be afraid to peek out from the writer cave and let us get to know you. It’s okay to draw back the curtain a little bit and invite us in. In fact, it’s crucial to your success. Let’s face it, just being a good writer isn’t enough.

Or take it from @speechwriterguy:

There are scads of untalented hacks — people who couldn’t write their way out of a paper sack if you handed them a sharpened pencil, people who typically don’t even WRITE THEIR OWN BOOKS — who sell more books than great writers.

It doesn’t even matter how bad the ghostwriters do their job. These books sell like hotcakes anyway.

And no, I’m not talking about some weird subgenre of books that live in an alternative universe. These untalented non-writers sell all kinds of books: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, whatever.

What’s the secret?
You know their name.

–from “The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books”

Do you believe it’s important for writers to build platform or is it a bunch of literary hooey?


14 thoughts on “Modesty Doesn’t Rank on Amazon”

  1. I remember it took me awhile to get out there. My first few blogs just had my initials. Then I had an avatar that wasn’t my pic. Then bit by bit I put myself out there. I maintain my privacy, but I’m not afraid to reveal a few personal things in social media.


  2. I agree with Catana. There’s a certain amount of platform building and self-promotion that needs to be done if a self-pubbed or small pubbed author wants to sell. But I don’t think blogging or posting on FB daily, or tweeting every detail are necessary. Writing a great book trumps everything — and you can’t do that if you’re busy posting and tweeting…


  3. Self-promotion is absolutely necessary. How much is arguable. I’m on the modest side, probably too modest. My “platform” is my blog and not much else. I hate the big social networking sites and refuse to play that game. Yes, I pay the price — my books will never be big sellers. But my privacy and my unwillingness to join the “Barnums” are more important.


    1. The good thing about platform is while it’s necessary, you get to decide what it looks like. Barnum was a total opportunist and something of a scam artist, so for him, nothing was sacred.


  4. This is something I am beginning to struggle with myself–I “came out” about my books being accepted for publication on Facebook in the most awkward way ever, in part because for every one person who’s genuinely delighted for you, there’s a person who’s in a bad, grumpy place who begins wishing you would get shingles. So you’re right, it’s a hard balance to find between being a, er, modest mouse and being a total blowhard.


  5. I don’t think it’s a choice anymore–writers have to promote themselves. I adore interacting with readers, but as an introvert, reaching out to strangers is one of the things I find most difficult about maintaining a writing career. I think the key is figuring out what you are most comfortable (or least uncomfortable) with, and doing what you can–not trying to cover everything.


  6. First, I love the title of this post! It’s true that you have to be able to talk about your books and make connections. At first, I found it really intimidating, but now I love talking to readers and other writers about everything, including my books.


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