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Friday, October 30, 2015

Christian Self-Promotion? Hmm.

New York Times Bestseller*
Winner of three Newberry Awards & two Pulitzers*
"Best book written in the English language to date." -- John Hammond, Publishers Weekly*
"Maria Keffler is the new standard in Christian fiction." -- Christian Publishing Today*

*The above are all factual.
(If "factual" means "I typed them with actual letters and hope they actually come true.")

An article in the Washington Post this week detailed the emerging business of catfishing in the digital publishing world. According to the journalist, a catfish “[hires] a remote worker to (research and) write an e-book for the Kindle marketplace (then puts) it up for sale under the name and bio of a fictional expert… Entrepreneurs will then buy or trade for good book reviews.”
I hadn’t heard of catfishing before (and I’m not even going to comment on the dishonesty inherent in fabricating a “fictional expert”), but a number of these entrepreneurs’ promotional strategies are widely taught and practiced even in the authentic publishing arena.
I’ve had rousing (and generally disappointing) conversations with other authors about self-marketing tactics. Go to a writers conference—Christian or secular—and you can attend workshops on subjects like “How to Promote Yourself and Your Book”, “Blogging Success”, and “How to Drive Traffic to Your Website”. Here are just a few of the tips and tricks I’ve been encouraged to undertake to sell more books:
·      Tweet frequently. Think 15-20 times a day.
·      Publish at least three blog posts a week.
·      Organize 100 or more people you know to buy your book on the same day.
·      Organize 100 or more people you know to review your book on the same day. Send them sample reviews they can cut and paste.
·      Pay professional reviewers to leave star-ratings and comments online.
The first two strategies above relate to content. Generate more and more and more content, the experts tell you. Because the more frequently your name comes up in a search engine, the better the chances you’ll snag readers and make sales.
But you know what? Churning out meaningful content is neither quick nor simple.
In January I challenged myself to publish one blog post a week for an entire year. I’m 44 posts in, and let me tell you, it’s hard work. And some of my blog posts, as anyone will confirm who’s followed them at all, are kind of… crap. (Speaking of which, does anyone remember the one about almost stepping in dog doo? Point made.)
It takes a lot of time, effort, and serendipity to come up with interesting, useful, and thought-provoking material. So if I write stuff just to write stuff because I hope more people will see my name, I’m simply pandering to my own vanity, as well as heaving by the handful more junk into an already junk-heavy junkyard of literary junk, thereby making it that much harder for anyone to find any actual treasure, even within my own body of work.
The remaining three marketing strategies—ginning up a fake appearance of widespread interest in one’s work—are nothing but good old-fashioned dishonesty. By manipulating a book’s sales and reviews, the author tries to game the algorithms that bring the book upward in visibility and search hits. That’s simple deception.
A lot of people are totally cool with misrepresenting reality. No Christian should be. If it isn’t the truth, it isn’t godly or right, and it isn’t ultimately good for you or anyone else. The end.
Rather than quoting the Bible, I would simply challenge any serious Christian to find scriptural support for self-promotion and deceptive marketing. If you really want some chapter-verse references that controvert these practices, email me or comment below and I’ll shoot you a few.
And to those who argue that Paul promoted himself, I must respectfully disagree. Paul promoted Christ and the gospel, not his own ministry. Big difference there. When people asked questions or sought wisdom Paul pointed them to the scriptures and to Christ’s words, not to his own teaching or writing. (A good standard by which to judge today’s Christian pop-culture gurus, too.)
I’ve been told a number of times by people in various positions within and around the publishing industry that I’ll never succeed as an indie author without undertaking a massive, best-practices-heavy marketing campaign to get my books moving. If success is defined as financial gain or name-recognition, then so far they’re spot-on. I’m ahead a few dollars via book sales, but nowhere near making a living out of it. Or even buying myself a new car. Or a new printer. Or dinner out with another person. Or name-brand makeup.
And there are probably only a thousand or so people in the world who’ve ever even heard of me. I’ve got a pretty big extended family, so many of those thousand people know me because we’re related. (And they, by the way, find themselves unable to rate any of my books on Amazon, once Amazon finds out we’re kin. My mom tried, but Big Brother Bezos was watching. Ka-boom! Delete that review!)
Still, I’m not going to do something just because it’s been shown to yield material results. Until I can find a marketing strategy that doesn’t require me to close one eye and pretend I didn’t read what God has to say about pride and greed and dishonesty, I’ll keep on foregoing the greater wisdom of the commercial masses.
     I’d like to think my integrity is worth more than that.


  1. Yes. Yes! YES! Your integrity is worth far more. Thank you for continuing to take the time to communicate thoughts that have been rumbling around in my heart and mind as well. This less-disciplined writer may never have/take/make the time to put such commentary out there. So at least you are a more successful writer than me. ;) Love you, friend!

  2. I'm so proud of you for refusing to become part of the world's self-aggrandizing culture. When I worked for a short time at a city newspaper office and wrote community-based articles, my editor would usually say (as she tore apart my writings and rearranged my sentences), "We think our words are golden." Ouch.
    Please keep writing. I love to read your books and your blogs. And only God knows what the future holds. (Your faithful reader, Mom) ( =

  3. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long)
    so I guess I'll just sum it up what I had written and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog.
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    1. Sorry your comment disappeared. Not sure why! Thanks for trying again.

      As for advice, I'm not sure mine is very valuable, as this is a tiny blog with a tiny readership. But my goal is to write the best stuff I can and hope that it entertains, inspires, and/or gives a little different perspective that might prompt someone to think a little differently than they did before. Good luck to you!