I spent some time this morning crafting spiffy new social media buttons for this very website. Have a look at them, or have a mouseover, if you doubt my linking abilities:
The Nighttime Novelist, and for the website and blog here...a fan page which didn't exist until I made a button with the Facebook F on it and realized it should probably lead somewhere.
The third is for Twitter; you can be my Twitter follower, which sounds a lot more cultish than it actually is, and any time I make a new post to the blog and remember to tell Twitter about it, you'll see a tweet come through which contains the title of the new post, as well as a link that looks like the name of a Martian overlord. And finally, the fourth button allows a reader to subscribe to blog posts via email, which led me to Feedburner to set up a free account to burn a feed to a link or something-or-other, so I could use my fancy button.
If setting up all this seems like it'd be tedious work, let me assure you that it is. But it actually evoked a much stranger sensation than tedium, one I've never experienced before...which I'll call, for want of a better term, meta-weirdness.
For example: I had a strange, saw-myself-driving-down-the-road moment as I put together the Facebook page...a fan page for a blog for a website for a book. I'm very glad there's a book at the end of that list, mind you; it is, in fact, the book that has me creating web pages and making social media buttons and coding html like I'm trying to launch a missile strike. But the process of promoting a book in the early part of the 21st century--"getting connected" and trying to make the most of new media, all so someone might walk into a bookstore and pick up a copy of my hardback old media--feels very Hall of Mirrors: looking at myself looking at myself looking at myself looking at myself.
I plan on saying as much, by the way, in my meta tags for this post, so Google will refer people to this page who are searching for writing on writing on writing, or writers staring into the abyss, or I liked that you liked that he liked that post.
Or, more to the point: using new media to promote yourself and your work.
It used to be that the burden of promoting a book fell to publishers (with agents prodding, as needed, along the way). And the kind of big-picture promotion every author wants, not just advertisements and some reviews but, say, placement on bookshelves, is still promotion only a good publisher can give you. Nevertheless, even when you're associated with a bigger house that's going to be spending time and money to put your work out there, it's now expected that an author help his or her own cause by using new media in simple, and hopefully smart, ways.
That can mean something as simple, and hopefully smart, as having a good online presence and personality through blogging or social media. (Literary agent Anna Stein says this, though she says it in a funnier and more cynical tone, in a wonderful agents' roundtable you can read here from the May/June 2009 issue of Poets & Writers.)
Other writers--and, increasingly, publishers--have taken new-media promotion to more creative extremes, from the use of book trailers to offering electronic content (in some cases, whole books) for free to, in one instance, the creation of an online video game tied to a first novel. But, again, the key is to be smart in how you're presenting yourself. Making a video trailer of your actual trailer with your shaky cell phone camera might get you noticed, but not in the way you'd want.
Maybe the most important thing to keep in mind when beginning to self-promote is that it's okay to do so; it doesn't automatically make you self-centered or obnoxious or unbearable to be around. In fact, it's not really about you at all but about the work. And if becoming Meta You helps you connect to others through that great old-fashioned, low-tech way--through the pages of a book--then all the Twittering and frittering and putting yourself out there is worth it.
PS--Please feel free to click or fan or tweet or whatever you'd like. The preceding has been an informercial for my shiny new buttons.