This was the checklist my Indie Publisher gave me in our initial marketing meeting for my debut novel, Awakened. They made it clear that I would be responsible for most of the marketing efforts surrounding my book. Unlike the large traditional publishing houses, most independent publishers don’t have the resources to massively market any one individual book or author.
This was fine. While self-promoting makes me deeply uncomfortable, I know it is a necessary evil in the publishing industry, or in any industry where you are trying to get people to buy something you created. I knew I’d have to bite the bullet, put on my big girl pants, and transform my social media into an actual brand rather than simply sharing puppy photos and the beautiful cocktail I ordered on date night.
What I didn’t realize was how time consuming this would be. At the time, I had a full-time job, a freelance side-hustle, was planning a wedding, trying to work on a new book, and was in the throes of editing Awakened. For someone who is well-versed in social media and the multitudes of popular platforms, this may not have been such an issue. Some even enjoy the jungle that is social media. I, however, am definitely not that person. I find the vastness of social media overwhelming and intimidating. I’m only in my early thirties, and I still feel like grandma at a flashy, dirty, nightclub. I don’t know the secret passwords or handshakes that get you into the VIP section.
But despite my lack of social media knowhow and confidence, I listened to my publisher and got to work.
I launched my website. I purchased a Canva account to make my social media posts more professional. I created a logo. I found filters that made my Instagram feed more uniform. I invested in a ring light. I even ventured into uncharted territory and made a TikTok account. One of my TikTok videos even went viral! It received over 150K views and 15K likes. Granted, this was simply a video of me reacting to another very popular user’s video, so I can’t really take credit for that.
While I had been an active member of the #WritingCommunity on Twitter and Instagram for some time, I had to “up my presence” and gain more exposure for the sake of book sales. I discovered #Bookstagram and #Booktok and felt like the new kid at school, trying to fit in with the cool crowd. And thankfully, within this online community, the “cool kids” were kind, welcoming, and engaging. Not the cool kids who stole your lunch money or gave you wedgies at recess.
I collaborated with other users, hosted giveaways of my book, participated in “follow trains,” and posted content about my book and my writing process. All these efforts resulted in more followers, but I had no idea if this would result in increased sales.
While I finally felt as though I was gaining my footing in this self-promotional, social-media atmosphere, it often felt like I was playing catch up.
There is a big element of “keeping up with the Joneses” on social media. There is a pressure to produce consistent content, put your best foot forward, and show that there is always something new in the works. I’d read articles or hear stories about authors who would receive huge publishing deals simply because their book went viral on TikTok, and immediately I’d think, I need to do that.
Every follower lost or low-engagement post felt like failure.
But the closer I came to the release date for Awakened, and the farther I fell down the social media marketing hole, the more I realized that I had lost sight of what was really important ...
For the first time in years, there wasn’t anything new in the works.
The book I had been working on took a backseat to my Awakened edits, my marketing efforts, my full-time job, and my freelance side-hustle. I was stuck, creatively dry, and failing miserably at this tenuous balancing act. I put so much effort into increasing my social media presence, gaining followers, and creating my brand so that my debut novel would be a success, but quickly came to the realization that if I wasn’t writing, then what the hell was all this for?
Around the time Awakened was released, I had an awakening of my own. I was burnt out, run down, stressed, and felt as though I had very little to give—creatively, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I had to pause and think critically about how I’d gotten here, and where I wanted to go moving forward.
The publishing industry puts a lot of pressure on authors to build their following and gain maximum exposure. This is, obviously, very important, but in surrendering to this pressure, I neglected the product I was trying to sell in the first place.
My voice. My stories. My passion.
Within this realization, I came to care less about the pressure of posting every day, creating clever captions, making sure my lighting was perfect, my engagement was high, and my hashtags were on trend. I promised myself that self-promotion on social media would no longer be a source of stress in my life.
When I have something exciting, fun, or important to share, I do. I love engaging and interacting with the online writing and book communities, but I don’t fret over losing followers or having low engagement for a few weeks, especially if I’m using that time to write, fill my creative well, and work with other writers. That anxiety still creeps in every now and then, but I’ve gotten good at pausing, taking a deep breath, and acknowledging the work I have done.
By altering my mentality, I have allowed myself to create a much more balanced life that I enjoy. After Awakened was released, I left my day job and turned my side-hustle into a full-time editorial business. I am now the proud owner of Ciara Duggan Editorial where I’m fortunate enough to work with writers through the varying stages of bringing their stories to life. I’m also writing again and have many more stories in the pipeline.
I don’t have a massive social media following, and yet, I still receive messages that say things like, “Where have you gone?” and, “Do you still write?” If there is no photo evidence, then people assume it didn’t happen.
Don’t get me wrong—I still appreciate social media for all its positives. I belong to an amazing, supportive, and fun writing/reading community. But just because someone has not posted in a few days, it does not mean they have stopped writing, reading, working, thinking, living.
In fact, it’s probably the opposite.
We live in a world where we are expected to balance so many things. Not just as writers, but as people. Eat healthy, workout, drink water, eight hours of sleep per night, clean the house, invest your money, keep in touch with friends and family, keep up with worldwide news and politics, raise your children, chase your professional goals, read, write, maintain your social media presence … the list goes on and on.
It is impossible to succeed at everything all the time. It is impossible to be perfect. That’s where prioritizing comes into play.
The pressure to self-promote will always be there. Social media is an incredible tool that I’ll continue to utilize, but I won’t allow it to consume me or take away from my creativity. I have learned that the most important thing I need to do as a writer ... is write.
*Feature photo by Anna Tarazevich (Pexels)