The Art of Awkwardly Authentic Self-Promotion

I am told that an author these days needs to be a master promoter — a frequent blogger; a frenetic Tweeter; a “friend” to everyone and their dog, and to their dog’s friends too; a member of multiple writing groups; a contributor to writers’ forums; a reviewer of other authors’  works; a public speaker. In short, a constant networker.

It’s not that I don’t understand all of this — I just don’t like it. Just as I never liked that the software products I created — no matter how good they were — did not sell themselves. Just as I never liked that my band had to spend as much time promoting ourselves as we did creating music. Just as every other would-be professional artist/entrepreneur doesn’t like how badly the odds are stacked against us. In a world of more than seven billion people, where an abundance of information and stuff flows like never before, where over half a trillion dollars are spent annually on advertising, where products are placed and songs are played based on how many dollars are behind them — in a world like ours, where money too often sets the rules, promotion equals success.

This is about as close as I come to self-promotion: writing stuff and hoping it resonates with people. I do want to sell some books — after all, I’ve put a heck of a lot of hours into this baby, and more than a few dollars too. But mostly I want to write. I want to write novels, and to write about writing novels. I want to write about politics and capitalism and travel and relationships; about the  environment and philosophy and parenthood; about my kids, and perhaps, one day, about my kids’ kids. I might even want to write about my kids’ kids’ dogs … but now I’m really getting ahead of myself.

So, regarding that book … A lot of people have asked me what Goodnight Sunshine is about. I tell them, quite awkwardly (my “elevator pitch” nowhere near fully developed), that it is the story of one man’s mid-life awakening. That the story starts on Vashon Island, a small island near Seattle, and it winds up in Ecuador. And that my protagonist, Oliver Bruce, finds himself caught up in a mysterious adventure, searching for a potentially world-changing invention.

“Oh, so it’s a mystery then?” they often ask.

Well, there is a touch of mystery, I say … and adventure … but I’m not sure I’d call it a “mystery novel” or an “adventure story”. There’s also some romance, and travel. There’s a family story, and a hint of science fiction. And there’s some stuff about politics and the environment. But I hesitate to label it under any of these categories. When it comes time to pick a primary genre for distribution channels like Amazon, I am leaning toward calling Goodnight Sunshine a work of literary fiction. But that sounds snooty — like I am placing my work on a pedestal, comparing it to the greats — and anyway, by most accounts literary fiction is not the best category to “conquer” on Amazon. Apparently, I would be much better off calling Goodnight Sunshine a Romantic Environmental Science Fiction Mystery Travel Adventure with hints of Political Commentary.  By my calculation, I only need to sell 3 books to be the top ranked book in that genre.

So … with my marketing hat on and a sensitivity to snootiness, I go back to the information that I pored over months ago … and once again conclude that the following Wikipedia definition seems to be the best fit for the novel I have written:

Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that hold literary merit. In other words, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.

Let’s see: deliberate social commentary? Check. Political criticism? Check. Focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition? Well, my initial working title for the book was, “A Human Condition” … so, yes … check. The part that I can’t judge is whether my book holds “literary merit” — I’m in no position to determine that.

I’m not a big fan of labelling. I don’t want to label my kids, or myself, or my books. Next time someone asks me what genre I’ve written about, or who my book is “targeting”, I think I’m going to say, “Goodnight Sunshine contains a little bit of something for everyone.” I authentically believe that to be true … and it feels only a little bit awkward to say.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Awkwardly Authentic Self-Promotion

  1. I hear you loud and clear about the marketing, Mark…. Oh, that has a nice ring “Marketing Mark”!! That might be the title for another blog….
    As you know, I love writing my little travel stories, and over the years many friends have suggested I put them together in a book. Seriously, the idea of doing that makes me cringe… Who would buy it? The very idea of doing the promotion leaves me with the tremors. So I shall continue as I am, content in knowing that my friends and family enjoy reading my travelling emails. But you, my friend, can and will do what you need to do to promote your book. Go get ’em, Mark.


    1. Thanks Marg. As for your writing, lots of people would buy a book with your stories — which are highly entertaining, I must say. But I understand where you’re coming from … and sometimes commercializing something takes the joy out of it anyway.


  2. Mark:

    Man, I hear you. Promotion sucks. Seems to me the world is divided into people who are great at creating something (writers) and people who are excellent at selling something (Don Draper). Only in a society with a truly capitalist soul is the marketer considered to be as important (or, really, more so) than the artist.

    The irony, of course, is that the more time you, the writer, spends marketing, pitching, Tweeting, blogging, etc. the less time you actually spend writing something you consider worthwhile. And when people complain that there are no Great American Writers anymore, don’t we all nod and say, yeah, well, Hemingway never had to deal with this shit, now did he?

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your post, and I think your book sounds great. I’ll look it up, honest. I’ve been looking for something in the “Romantic Environmental Science Fiction Mystery Travel Adventure with hints of Political Commentary” genre for some time now.

    Keep writing, man.


    1. Hi Tyler,

      Thanks for this. You hit the nail on the head about the conflict between creative energy and all that other stuff we have to do to be “successful” in this world.

      Your site looks like a wealth of information too. I’ll make note to poke around there a bit more once I’m 100% done promoting my novel. Or maybe 3% … that’s about when I expect to lose my focus again and allow myself to enjoy a bit of reading time.



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