RX: Self-Promotion for Writers

April 25, 2019 § 10 Comments

Case_Jennifer_PortraitBy Jennifer Case


When I was in high school, ready for my first part-time job, I remember walking into grocery stores, or through the hallway of the indoor mall, willing store managers to notice me. I fantasized that I wouldn’t have to go up to the guest services counter and do the humiliating task of asking for a job application. Instead, something in my eyes and my open, receptive face would hone them in. I could just stand there, fluorescent light shining on my head, and they’d say, “Hey! We need a new garden clerk/barista/baker, and you look perfect. Would you like a job?!”


No manager, of course, ever approached me. In the end, I had to ask the customer service representatives for applications and make sweaty, follow-up calls, but this, in many ways, is how I also felt about book promotion. I wanted the end result—decent sales and the right kind of readers—but the means of obtaining that attention…? I was a high school student all over again, staring at a list of emails I needed to write, cold calls I should make, and people I should have been networking with six months ago rather than now. I sat there, frozen, not so much with fear, but something heavier and more stone-like.


The irony of the publishing industry doesn’t escape me. Writers tend to be introverted. They spend years observing the world, sitting alone, writing and rewriting their manuscripts, and yet that first year after a book is published, they are supposed to metamorphose—suddenly and completely—into sparkly, bedecked extroverts, fully capable of contacting all the important media outlets and confidently, but unassumingly, convincing others that this excerpt/interview/craft piece/reading is worth attention. As Sarah Fawn Montgomery wrote in her post on this blog, there’s a madness to book marketing, and it can be brutal.


As well-documented by many:

  • A tendency to stop responding to emails. Or to respond with over-enthusiasm and too many exclamation points.
  • Sheer exhaustion, often leading to hermitism or the reclusion of oneself in backwoods cabins, teaching jobs, or volunteer work.
  • A shrill rise in the voice that others interpret as—and may in fact be—desperation.
  • Overuse of social media.
  • Accusations of shamelessness and subsequent loss of friends (especially on social media).
  • Humility, whether reactionary or innate, potentially leading to a book that falls into the great void.
  • Paralyzing self-doubt.


Usually nothing more than bed rest, long walks outdoors, and plenty of (nonalcoholic) fluids. In severe cases, and when privilege and means allow: a publicist. Most cases, however, will resolve with the following home remedy:

  • After each painfully arranged reading you give at an independent bookstore, purchase a book. Let them form an ever-increasing stack on your nightstand. Then, in moments of self-doubt, set aside your own work, your own hopes for your work, and simply relish the work of others’.
  • Read more in the next year than you did in the two years before. Read books that have nothing to do with your own projects and do not help you understand your market or competition. Read the award-winners but also books by smaller presses. Read books written by writers with very different lives from your own.
  • Allow yourself to get caught up in these books. Stay up late, turning their pages. At times, shorten your own workday to instead simply read. Memoirs, essay collections, novels, poetry: try them all.
  • Let these books remind you of what made you want to write in the first place. That there is a purpose for their existence beyond sales figures and self-promotion. A purpose that has nothing to do with the egos of writers, but with something larger: The joy of reading words on a page. Of digging into complex truths. Of appreciating the lives of those around us. Of simply being a reader.
  • Repeat as many times as necessary. Bank account/work obligations/dependent children non-withstanding, there is no risk of overdose.

    Jennifer Case is the author of Sawbill: A Search for Place (University of New Mexico Press, 2018). Her essays have appeared in journals such as OrionMichigan Quarterly Review, Literary Mama, Fourth River, Sycamore Review, and Zone 3. She teaches at the University of Central Arkansas and serves as the Assistant Nonfiction Editor of Terrain.org. You can find her at www.jenniferlcase.com.





§ 10 Responses to RX: Self-Promotion for Writers

  • Excellent advice. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Kim Hinson says:

    I very much love your treatments 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  • I am right where you are describing. Gone is the publicist I hired initially and here I am being the extroverted book promoter–or rather self-promoter. As difficult as it is to do, I just suck it up and plunge in. I am in the middle of reading a novel by an author I know nothing about who writes about a country and culture I have little knowledge of and am so enjoying it. After reading this thoughtful piece I intend to read more books like this one. Thanks for this advice.

  • pmacott says:

    Wise and timely words, indeed – thank you!

  • AppMarBiz says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I really got it, Thanks. I am not an expert writer but a good reader myself. And I just beginning to write my thoughts. May I ask you help to check my blog posts and give me some constructive comments please. Hope to here from you.
    thanks and regards.

  • Terrific suggestions. Another piece of advice I follow when self-promotion gets me down is to blog about other writers whose work I admire. It’s good literary citizenship, and it allows me the pleasure of creating new material without the focus on myself.

  • calihir says:

    Cute advice and great insight!

  • Can they be a good writer without taking the time to read others writers? After reading this article, I can say without any doubt: No. In fact, what I rode here makes me realize something that makes sense but which is easy to forget sometimes. In other words: writing means sharing. I will remember this truth.

    Thank you!

  • Andrea Jones says:

    Jennifer, a most excellent prescription–mild and beneficial enough, I think, to be taken as a daily supplement for general health.

    The timing of your piece is serendipitous for me: I just finished SAWBILL, which I appreciated so much. It’s an original and thought-provoking reflection on the tensions between anchorage and mobility, family and independence in the world we live in today. Congrats and best wishes.

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