The Ten Commandments of Showing Off (Part 1)

The other day I saw someone post a pitch on Twitter. I remember little about what was being pitched, but I remember that other than the hashtag at the end, they devoted all 280 characters to a single sentence.

The result?

The worst possible way of trying to show off one’s work. Absolutely abysmal. So mediocre it deserves a .gif of Immortan Joe.

I’m not exactly a marketing expert. I’m mostly a curmudgeon.

But I was a game reviewer for years and one thing I learned while doing that was how to judge a book by its cover (and how people described it).

One trick to this is to see if people are making egregious mistakes. If there’s a grave error in the presentation, the odds that the work itself will be good are low. That’s a cheap heuristic, not gospel truth, but it works.

So, let’s begin with two presumptions in mind:

  1. Your work’s good. You’ve crafted it with love, and you know what you’re doing.
  2. You suck at showing it off.

Now, let’s fix the problems so the strengths can shine. I’m focusing on books, but that’s just my area of expertise.

Rule 1: Thou Shalt Not Forget Your Appeal

If you are working in any place where your word count and text length are limited, you need to be concise.

Think of your audience’s head as a place with a limited word count.

First impressions matter, so start off strong. Put your biggest selling point first. You don’t market a piece of software by listing the lines of code in it or the secondary features. Find your number one value proposition and start there.

Then, be concise and respect your reader’s time. I will get one thing after reading your marketing: bored, or your book. You get to choose which it is, and over-selling can come across as desperate.

More often, though, over-selling tends to lead people to wordiness and verbosity that is at odds with actually moving copies of their book. A lengthy description not only risks spoiling things about your book, but if it’s not as strong as your prose it makes a potential buyer think that you write weaker fiction than you actually do.

I am the king of writing in verbose styles. I use a real-time app on my computer to highlight my issues with this. You need to avoid that. A short blurb in verbose style says nothing, but a short blurb in a flowing and energetic style gets attention.

Also, cut any schlock that everyone else says. I’m in a lot of groups with romance writers, and when they share their work I can tell the pros from the amateurs in an instant because the amateurs have a heavy reliance on cliches and comparisons. Pros focus on what makes them stand out.

Rule 2: Thou Shalt Not Bury Your Strengths

If you’re shouting into the void, don’t come across as unconfident. You’re brave enough to shout into the void, for crying out loud! You’re one of the brave people who writes and tells the world about it, and if you’re showing off your work that means you’re not just an armchair quarterback talking about how you would have written a novel.

If you’re shouting into the void, don’t come across as unconfident. You’re brave enough to shout into the void, for crying out loud! Share on X

When you promote yourself, there is no reason to self-deprecate. By writing a book, you’ve entered a prestigious group that the vast majority of people throughout human history lacked the ability and skill to apply to. Even if your novel isn’t the next great American novel, you’ve earned a spot on an exclusive list.

Exude confidence. I know your mother likes your work, and unless you’re extremely funny, it’s not relevant to me. Figure out what your selling points are and put them first.

This links into Rule #1 because you need to know what you’re about. Figure it out and lead with it. Don’t pretend you’re not ready for the prime-time.

You might not be. But nobody gets to greatness by focusing on what they’re not. They focus on what they are. Highlight what you do well.

Rule 3: Thou Shalt Not Sell Out to the Man

The worst way to sell your work is by wearing a suit. Suits sell you, not your product. Neckties are just leashes.

There might be certain target audiences who respect the suit and tie game, but you’ll know them when you see them.

I hate when I see people who might otherwise be competent make is trying to out-corporate corporate marketing.

This is stupid for two reasons.

  1. Their marketing department is more expensive than your marketing department.
  2. Most corporate marketing is deliberately inoffensive and bland.

One thing that corporate marketing has is a lot of money, and that means a lot of polish. While it’s likely that pitches and such aren’t all subject to the multi-million dollar focus testing process, they’re going to have professional visual design, expert copywriters, and market-focused advertising you won’t have if you’re tweeting out something your friend’s kid made for $20.

You don’t fight Goliath by letting him determine the rules of the game. Figure out what the best possible thing you can do on your budget is, and don’t cut corners. A competent ad or competent copy shows who you are. Let your personality sink into your tweets and social media posts.

They’re the evil empire, and you’re the revolutionary. It requires different tactics.

And that means shaking things up.

Break free of the mold of being purely descriptive.

No: Hearts At Sunset is a romance novel featuring Sally and James. They were friends in high-school, but when they meet again at a school reunion the old spark turns into a flame.

(This is a fake example. If there’s actually a novel called Hearts At Sunset, I’m sure it’s perfectly cromulent.)

Yes: “Remember me?”
She does, almost. But there’s something new in his eyes, and she feels her heart drop away.
“James, right?”

(This tiny excerpt/constructed bit sells the novel much better, and I’m not even a romance writer!)

I’ve seen thriller novels advertised on television with wall-of-text ads and the writer speaking directly to the audience.

That works for you if you’re a household name and you just want people to know that you’ve written a new book that they should go out to buy, but that’s just a public service announcement and not an advertisement in the traditional sense.

Wrapping Up

Selling your work isn’t selling out. It’s showing off to the world.

And if you aren’t comfortable showing off, fake it until you make it! Put your strengths forward and let them carry the weight.

Next week I’ll talk more about specific skills to gain as you go from avoiding rookie mistakes to deliberate marketing pro.

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