Writer in Residence

Self-Promotion Doesn’t Have to Suck: a Crash Course in Online Marketing

By Liz Worth

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is, as a writer, you live in a time when easy, free marketing opportunities are available en masse these days.

The bad news is that regardless of the number of options you have to promote yourself, none of them are magic bullet to critical acclaim, fame, or sales.

BUT…that doesn’t mean that marketing shouldn’t be a priority for you.

I know there are lot of writers out there who just want to write. And I hear you: self-promotion can feel weird, and I understand hesitating to put any extra time into anything other than your writing itself.

But you have to ask yourself: Do you just want to write, or you do want to be read? Because if you want to be read, then you’ll need an audience – preferably one that goes beyond your friends and family.

After four books and eight years of working in PR, I’ve learned a lot about promotion, for better or for worse.

1. Get a website and include your contact information.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been organizing a literary event and a writer I am dying to invite has absolutely no website and no contact information online whatsoever. Because you know what that means?

It means I have to invite someone else.

But then it also means that I’m wondering later about how many other opportunities that person has lost because NO ONE CAN GET IN TOUCH WITH THEM.

So get a website and if you can, get your name as the domain, or something close to it, i.e.:


Don’t feel weird about calling yourself an author if you still don’t have a book out yet. If you write, you’re a writer, so declare instead out of doubting it.

It’s so easy to start a website these days but there are a lot of writers who still don’t have one. Don’t trust that people will tweet at you if they want to get in touch, or that they’ll find you on Facebook. Even Facebook has spam filters and a lot of messages from non-friends will be filtered away from your Facebook inbox.

So get a website and make sure it has your email address on it. It makes it so much easier for people to find you.

2. Don’t wait until you have a book published to get your name out there.

Start a blog and post regularly. Share your writing tips, excerpts from what you’re working on, observations, pieces of your life – whatever feels right. But share it, and make sure you’re getting those links up on any social networks you’re using.

And make sure your blog is part of your website. Don’t create two separate online entities for yourself. Just draw everyone to one main hub.

Guest posting on other blogs and writing freelance pieces is another really good way to get yourself out there. You don’t have to overwhelm with commitments. Your guest posts don’t have to be about writing. Maybe you go to a lot of concerts and want to review some shows for a local blog. Or you have a great idea for a personal essay that your favourite magazine would be all over.

When you start to get your name out there as a writer, it helps to build your profile long before your book is published. Be consistent and persistent.

Does it take some time away from the writing of that book? It sure does, but building your name up will help a lot in getting the word out about your book once it comes into the world.

3. Start a mailing list.

Add a mailing list opt-in form to your website. Put it on every page in a prominent place.

This is probably one of my biggest promotional boo-boos since I created my website in 2006. Even though it’s gone through numerous face lifts since then, it wasn’t until this year that I finally created a mailing list opt-in. But I’ve lost of a lot of potential contacts over the years because I waited so long, and building a solid mailing list can take a long time.

So get started now if you haven’t already. If you’re just starting out as a writer, you’ll be way ahead of the game by having this set up in advance.

And remember to throw to it at the end of every blog post. If you’re guest posting for someone, include it in your bio: “Stay in touch with author Ryan Lamb by signing up for his mailing list at authorsite.com”

Oh, and once you have a mailing list up and running – even if you just have a few people to start with – use it. Send out your blogs through there, or create a monthly newsletter, or do something entirely different with it. Whatever you do, just make sure you’re being consistent in how you’re communicating with your audience. Because these are the people who are hopefully going to come to your book launch, buy your work, and support you down the road.

4. Know your metrics.

This is more of a behind-the-scenes tip, but because promotion is totally experimental – what works for one person might not work for you – it’s really important to have analytics on your website and to know how to track clicks from your social media posts.

A lot of Google products, like Blogger, offer built-in analytics, and of course Google Analytics can be added into your own website pages.

Using link shorteners like bit.ly to shorten links to your blog content and anything else you have going on online will help you track how many clicks each of your posts is actually getting when you share it on Facebook or Twitter.

Don’t be discouraged if the numbers aren’t where you want them to be. It’s way too easy to obsess about metrics but the reality is, it is really hard to get people to actually click through and read content online. Even though it seems like we swim in information all day long on the internet, a lot of people just aren’t clicking through to posts even if they hit “like” or give it a retweet.

Even if you share a blog on Facebook and that Facebook post gets 100 likes, you might look at the metrics from your shortlink and find that only 17 people actually clicked through to read your blog. It sounds like a big gap, but I have seen it happen over and over again - even with Facebook pages that have tens of thousands of fans.

But those metrics will give you a good idea of what kind of content is getting more clicks. It will also give you a sense of which social networks have more active followers for you.

And if you are doing a newsletter, open rates will tell you if you are using the right subject lines.

5. Use Facebook ads are you own risk.

On the surface, Facebook ads seem like a pretty sweet deal: they’re really affordable and super customizable, and they only take a few minutes to create.

But just because people see your ad does not mean they are going to take action on it. Facebook can promise to try to deliver your ads to people who most likely to click on them, but they can’t guarantee that anyone actually will.

The other problem with social media is that liking, sharing, or commenting on something is an action on its own.

I’ve experimented with Facebook ads myself and found that while some ads will get a lot of clicks within Facebook – meaning that people are clicking on the ad copy itself to read more of it – they are not clicking through to my website. My last experiment was with a 24-hour ad buy that generated 122 ad clicks, but only 1 actual visit to my website.

Which tells me that Facebook just might not be my best marketing strategy.

But who knows? It could be for you.

You won’t know until you try.

What works for you when it comes to online promotion? What doesn’t? What are you afraid to try? Hit me up with your comments, questions, and experiences below!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Liz Worth is a Toronto-based author. Her first book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. She has also released a poetry collection called Amphetamine Heart and a novel called PostApoc. You can reach her at http://www.lizworth.com, on Facebook or Twitter.