Self-promotion and its Discontents

I read a blog post by David Wooley the other day about his publisher’s insistance that he help promote his new book. I must admit that I identify with his reluctance to promote himself. My own tendency is a bit introverted, so promotion of any sort requires me to overcome a little embarassment.

But in thinking about David’s post, I can’t help but remember that promotion can also be used in the wrong way. In the Mormon context, publishers and authors face significant cultural and ethical dilemmas in promoting their work.

Frequently Church members assume that if cultural works have been produced to further the gospel, they should be given away for free, or at low cost. While there is certainly a role for giving works away for free, there are also significant disadvantages to giving works away for free. Probably the major disadvantage is the lack of promotion — unless someone is promoting a work, the number of copies distributed is very limited; and when a work is given away for free, there are rarely any funds available for or effort put into promotion.

Given the need for some kind of promotion, it is no surprising the efforts that publishers and some authors go to in promoting their work. Any promotion at all sometimes feels like its ethically wrong. And since the Church prohibits using its facilities and member lists for commercial purposes, most promotion aimed at LDS Church members seems somehow wrong. While not quite priestcraft, is it wrong to use the fact of Church membership to earn money?

While that dilemma is in the back of the minds of publishers and authors, they also struggle with the dilemmas associated with the text itself, especially, should the text be crafted for a particular target audience? If an author does so, has he remained true to his muse? What if instead the elements targeted to an audience aren’t crucial to the message or ideas in the work? If I want to target college-age LDS women at BYU, should I work in a BYU angle, even if the book is set in Europe?

Many dilemmas that we face in life come down to simple conventions in our community — that is, what our friends and neighbors, helpers and customers, expect. But successful promotion often relies on the unexpected. One graphic design book I read years ago said that the key to great design is knowing all the rules of good design, and breaking at least one. Promotion is also like that — these days if you don’t break one of the rules, no one pays attention. But there is an art to knowing which rule to break, since many of these rules will either yield ethical dilemmas or turn off the audience.

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of promotional efforts used by LDS publishers and authors, some of them seemed questionable. Here are some examples:

* Prospecting at church — talking to anyone who will listen about your work, so that you can judge their interest and call those interested later to make a sale.

* Simply letting others know about your latest work — in the hope that they will look for it later.

* Handing out business cards or flyers, or posting them on bulletin boards.

* Reading passages from your work in classes, at firesides or homemaking meetings.

* Giving presentations on the same subject (but not necessarily mentioning the book) in classes, at firesides or homemaking meetings.

* Collecting email or physical addresses from Church directories because “I know them personally, I’m just looking up the address of a friend.”

* Years ago, I saw one Internet-based promotion in which  Church members were asked to give the advertiser the name and address of their Bishop.

I’m sure you that read this post will know of other promoting techniques, both ethical and not. I’d be very interested to hear them. What techniques have you used or heard of?

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9 thoughts on “Self-promotion and its Discontents”

  1. I recently presented at an LDS book club. I’ve also done school presentations for my picture book, “Grasshopper Pie,”which included a grasshopper puppet and a headband with antenna.

    Blog book tours can be effective.

    I designed a perfume to go along with my LDS novel, “Heaven Scent,” because perfume plays a pivotal role. I’ve given away samples with my bookmarks.

    I’ve also given away personalized pencils with “Heaven Scent by Rebecca Talley” imprinted on them.

    I’ve also sent out email and snail mail announcements.

    I think it’s inappropriate to use church lists or try to promote at church meetings. I know I don’t want anyone to try to sell me something at church.

    I’d like to do book signings, but that’s difficult to do unless you have a big name and/or publish with a larger publisher.

    I’d sure rather write than promote, but promotion is part of the process.

  2. The Segullah staff has been discussing the promotion of our new book, The Mother in Me: Real-world Reflections on Growing into Motherhood. (coming from Deseret Book September 17th! Can I self-promote in these comments? 😉 ) Many of us are newbies, so we’re figuring this out as we go (although our editor Kathy Soper has experience promoting her Gifts anthology). We’d love to do book club visits; I don’t see those as being inappropriate. I think they are a perfect way of giving the personal touch that is so valuable in promoting books.

    I’ve told my friends in my ward about our book because I’m really excited about it. And our book club (which is not officially affiliated with our ward) is going to discuss it this year as well. But they’re my friends, and I think they are happy for me, and hopefully not irritated at my self-promotion.

    I’m interested in reading about what other LDS authors do to promote their work without crossing an ethical line.

  3. I think _The Mother in Me_ is exactly the kind of title that you could get some good hometown media relations out of as well as some appearances as experts (not necessarily mothering experts, but rather experts on how motherhood is discussed/represented in the book) on local morning shows, radio talk shows, public access shows, etc. I’d use the “growing into” concept as the hook. The fact that the title is tied into Segullah is also a nice aspect so you can invite people not just to buy the book but also to join your community.

  4. Excellent post.

    I believe we must overcome both sides of this major problem.

    It is ridiculous to not promote something that has been created for others. As LDS people, we often create something under the direction of the Spirit, or at least under the direction or drive of talents and gifts bestowed by the Creator.

    Somehow using the concept of humility to stop promotion is wrong. Don’t hide it under a bushel. It is not priestcraft if that is not the intent. You can be in the spotlight and still be humble.

    The second issue is when natural boundaries exist, such as lack of money or channels of promotion. Of course we shouldn’t promote at Church. I am uncomfortable signing autographs in the chapel, so I always try to move quickly to the foyer after a fireside. But there are other ways, and we have to be smart and creative and work with others to find those ways. A lot of this has to do with educating ourselves and our audience.

    People need what the artists of the Church can give them. Apostles and prophets have called for such over and over. Years ago, I was told by a BYU entity that authors are not to help promote their work. Ridiculous. I am glad to see that things are changing albeit slowly. We need to be bold, but righteous.

  5. Emily,

    I would definitely contact your newspaper, or several in the area, and see if they’ll do an article. I contacted my community newspaper (I don’t live in Utah) but was told our community was not interested in a religious book, so I contacted an area newspaper and the editor was more than happy to do an article. She read my book in a few days and though she is not LDS, she really liked it and it showed in the article she wrote (with a big image of my book cover).

    You never know until you ask.

  6. Interesting, this discussion. One of the things I have noticed from several years working in the higher education world – a place where everyone gets published – is that those who tend to be the most “successful” (ie. popular, well-known) are those who are the best at self-promotion.

    I met a very famous architect and author a couple of years ago who has been receiving much notice of late for his ideas. He has been invited to speak all over the world and at some of the most prestigious conferences like TED, for example. He is considered a huge success because he is a master self-promoter.

    I am not going to act the apologist for the actual merits of his work, but I believe that his success is largely due to his ability to “sell” his ideas. He has a keen talent for telling stories and drawing people into his world, creating a relevance and a kind of urgency for his particular brand of work. It was fascinating to watch him work a room and build his own “brand.”

    I think any LDS artist should follow in the same suit, build your brand wherever it is appropriate by drawing people into your world and creating a human connection with your potential audience. I see no reason why this cannot be accomplished through personal contacts with other members of the church, as long as one does not use the artifacts of the faith as the means for the selling.

  7. “I see no reason why this cannot be accomplished through personal contacts with other members of the church, as long as one does not use the artifacts of the faith as the means for the selling.”

    Very well put, Bradly. I completely agree.

    Wm

  8. I’ve announced my plays in Elders Quorum– I was never quite sure whether that was ethical or not, but it was done as a beginning announcement and never part of the content or message of Church. Just saying, “Hey, my play is going up. Here’s the days and times, if you’re interested.”

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