Seven Deadly Sins of Book Promotion


[This article was written by guest contributor Dan Smith, Founder of Smith Publicity, Inc.]

Competitive doesn’t begin to describe today’s book market. According to Bowker, thousands of books/ebooks are published each week, with self-published or indie published books gaining popularity each year.

Authors working to build their brand and discoverability platforms need to be as strategic as possible to gain the attention of media and readers. For both novice authors and veteran authors alike, the pitfalls of book publicity are many. In our experience handling thousands of book publicity campaigns, we know what can sabotage success, the errors of both omission and commission that can derail a campaign, and how human tendencies can adversely affect promotion and yes, ultimately book sales.

What follows are the Seven Deadly Sins of Book Promotion; the mistakes and actions that can destroy an author’s chances to get substantial media coverage, and how to avoid these common pitfalls.

1. Sloth

If you think sitting back and watching royalty checks roll in is your destiny, think again. Virtually all authors must “get out there” and be seen and heard. Book signings and tours are not passive events; they require a hunger for success and kinetic energy level. Interviews can be a gold mine or a disaster for one who puts forth a half-hearted effort. Publicity doesn’t happen; you have to make it happen.

When an author is not only aggressive, but willing to put his or her time into a campaign, we, as publicists, are better able to build their exposure, and gain consistent local, regional and nationwide coverage.

One example is a financial client who has been with us two years. His platform only touches on the topic of hedge funds. However, when hedge fund controversy hit the news, we suggested and he quickly responded with information for us to write a current and biting feature release. The result: national coverage, including reporters calling from the Wall Street Journal and other top financial publications. Because of his willingness to keep current, he is regularly called by top financial media for expert commentary. His name and his projects benefit from this consistent, credible exposure.

Lazy authors languish in the million rankings on bookselling sites.

2. Pride

If you are promoting a book, prepare for your pride to be pierced a few times. One of the most common mistakes we’ve seen authors make is letting a negative review or a bad interview derail their determination.

The author believes his book is a bestseller; it is his baby, his labor of love. He has great pride in what he has written, so much so that it has created an excessive belief in his abilities and his book; after all—his relatives and friends love it. When the tough times come, pride begets anger, which begets frustration, which leads to disillusionment.

Authors must go into promotion knowing not everyone will fall in love with the book. We often ask our clients, “Do you like every book you’ve ever read?”

Roll with the punches, and stay the course. Put your ego on bed rest.

3. Envy

Eight out of ten authors who call us inquiring about publicity tell us they want to be on the TODAY Show or some other national, well-known outlet (it used to be Oprah before her show went off the air—and some authors still ask to be on her defunct show!). We tell them, invariably, that it’s probably not going to happen for them (especially for  debut authors), that we can and should try, but the odds are akin to the lottery. But authors see others on the show and are envious. They ask “If that author is on, why can’t I?” or “My book is better than hers!”

Envy serves no purpose in book promotion. The only way other authors get great publicity gigs is because they try. If anything, you should learn from them. Watch successful authors carefully, examine their topic, and then examine your own project. We all can learn something from others; we still do every day.

4. Lust

How does lust come into play with book promotion?  We have both an extreme example and more common ones from my firm’s own ‘case files.’

Good publicity can be intoxicating. Appearing on talk shows, reading articles written about you … it all makes you feel good, and it should. We always tell authors to enjoy the ride, because it won’t last forever. However, letting your good time change you, (or bring about actions which have nothing to do with the hard work of promoting your book) can be disastrous. Losing focus–taking your eye off the ball–is a surefire way to run into trouble.

Example #1:  During the first conversations with a prospective client, a middle age author with multiple books, he asked me (and I must paraphrase here) if the publicity generated would “attract” women. He was serious. Needless to say, his campaign lasted only one month; we tried to keep him focused on the steps needed to get exposure for his books, but we couldn’t, and we parted company.

Example #2:  The more benign type of book promotion “lust” comes in the form of letting success change who you are, and make you long for things which you never envisioned before. In our firm we call these clients “addicts.” They become so enthralled with success that the book becomes secondary. They seek more and more exposure, but not so much to sell books, but to feed their own newly found lust for fame, popularity and the overwhelming desire to have others simply notice them.

In the end, lust almost always makes for an unhappy ending to what can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

5. Gluttony

Gluttony in book promotion touches upon several of the other sins. In its purest form, it is the insatiable desire to “consume” as much publicity as possible, and not being satisfied with each opportunity. Local radio interviews, for example, become unsatisfying, and an author starts to shun them because she wants more and bigger opportunities. A book review in a small newspaper is dismissed as insignificant, because she wants bigger newspapers. A local TV opportunity is declined because there aren’t enough viewers to fulfill the need for exposure.

Book promotion is like a seven course meal. You start slowly, testing the waters, then move onto the next course. Small opportunities open the door to larger ones. You proceed in a steady, measured manner, enjoying every course while building confidence, momentum, and sales.

Don’t demand all seven courses be delivered to your publicity table at once.  Enjoy the entire experience of the meal and be patient.

6. Greed

Like gluttony, greed is the offspring of several other sins, and perhaps the most common sin of book promotion. Here is a classic example:

  • An unknown, first-time author comes to our firm. He is nervous, unsure and wary of what will happen in his campaign–all perfectly understandable and expected concerns. The campaign begins slowly; and a few interviews are secured. All is well.
  • The campaign starts to achieve momentum. The interviews and book requests start streaming in. Instead of two or three a week, we are receiving dozens of requests for copies of books to review, radio interviews booked, etc.
  • Our client has confidence now, and is thoroughly enjoying the process, as he should.
  • Things start to change. The level of interest takes a dip, and we encounter “the lull,” which happens in most campaigns. Instead of eight or ten new “hits” a week, it drops to two or four.
  • The author, having become accustomed to many interviews each week, demands more. He is not satisfied with the interviews/exposure we secure, and will not be satisfied until we reach and exceed the number of interviews we had achieved.
  • He becomes disillusioned and decides another firm can fulfill his hunger for more and more interviews.

When clients truly understand the nature of publicity, they are able to roll with the busy times and slow times, knowing it is the cumulative efforts of the entire campaign that count. As publicists, we gauge when the “party is over” for a particular angle, then work with the author to develop new and topical press materials with the goal of maintaining and improving media opportunities. Greed may be good on Wall Street, but it will bankrupt a book promotion campaign.

7. Anger

Anger comes in many forms in book publicity. We once worked with an author who received a brutal review of his book, and was so angry he proceeded to drive over 200 miles to the reviewer’s location, storm into the office, and scream at the reviewer.  This was, putting it mildly, a bad move.

The reviewer reacted by contacting reviewers at other newspapers in his company’s chain, and urged his colleagues to review the book. Five additional negative reviews appeared in the ensuing weeks.

It is important to keep in mind when promoting your book, you are opening yourself up for scrutiny. In fact, you are inviting it. You want the scrutiny and attention.  Assuming everyone will react positively to you or your book is foolish and naive.

The same scenario happens in radio interviews. Many authors don’t realize that “hostile” interviews can make for great talk radio, and actually get more listeners curious and interested in your book. If a host starts throwing punches at you on the air, throw yourself into the fight. Trust me, you will have a good time. When your juices get flowing, you will be more animated and colorful, listeners will love it and books will sell.

We are all Sinners

Book promotion is a distinctly human process. It is an emotional, scary, exciting and stimulating experience. Authors promoting a book will, at various times, experience both disappointment and excitement. All authors will also be tempted to “sin” at various times in a campaign. As a publicist, we expect this and understand it. We are usually successful at coaxing our authors away from the “dark side.”

As in life, recognizing the sins of publicity, and stopping them before they cause problems is key. Book promotion is more a marathon than a sprint, and because of this, the opportunities to veer into negative promotional behaviors are many.

You can always atone for your sins by getting back on track, enjoying the ride, and realizing you are involved in a wonderful experience.


About the author: Dan Smith is the founder and CEO of Smith Publicity, Inc., a full service book promotion agency. Smith Publicity’s team  of experienced book publicists have promoted thousands of book and ebook projects from New York Times bestsellers to first time, self-published titles. Clients of Smith Publicity have appeared on thousands of local, national and international newspaper, magazine, television, radio and online outlets. For questions, comments or a consultation about your book, contact Smith Publicity at or 856-489-8654 x309.

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  1. Ha!

    It would be good to see a post about introvert authors who prefer to avoid public appearances (book signings, interviews, shows, etc). I wonder what marketing methods work for introverts? I mean, not everybody wants to go out there to talk about their books although they’ll be more willing to talk about their experiences. Just a thought.

    • That’s a great idea for a blog post. Will think on it, though I’m imagining many of the solutions will involve… the Internet! Great way of being “public” without being in public — and you can do blog tours, interviews, and more, all without ever meeting or conversing face-to-face.



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