Why Nathan Bransford’s self promotion fell flat – and why you should take note! (Part 1)

Okay, Nathan. You know we love you and all that but… (Of course, not real love, just that bloggery appreciation for other people in the industry.) #i’mnotastalker

I know Nathan as the ex-agent extraordinaire/tech guy. I look to his blog for breakdowns on ebooks and publishing industry info. That seems to be his thing.

Then he wrote and got a book published. Jacob Wonderbar and the Great Space Kapow.  Yeah, it surprised me too but I thought, cool. I bought the book because I was curious. My son read it two times the first week. He really liked it. The book is well written and perfect for advanced first grade readers through fifth graders. Middle schoolers might read it, depending on their maturity level. #greatgiftbook

Honestly, I don’t think Nathan’s blog is really set up to promote a middle grade book. Of course, he’s more than welcome to do it. No one minded the announcements and the initial push when the book released. At least I didn’t.

But then he wrote this. Some comments were very supportive but he received a few negative remarks. #theyweren’treallythatbad And then, he got a tad bit defensive. #whichweknowisanono  #evenex-agentsextraordinairemakemistakes

Then he wrote this blog post the next day in response.

His rational was, ‘hey, I spend a lot of time writing this blog for all of you, so here’s my book you should buy it’.  #notexactwords

Yeah, not the best approach. Even if he meant it to be light hearted. We all put a lot of time into our blogs so that rationalization doesn’t add up for me. I think his readers got it right in the comments. His post and approach to self promotion just didn’t seem to fit with his blog.

His post didn’t seem to fit with his blog.   #notatypoimeanttorepeat

And yes, we’re going to cover this topic (self promotion and the whole you should not be blogging about writing) on my blog because I’ve been giving it a lot, I mean A LOT of thought. So start thinking fellow bloggers because even Nathan Bransford felt the backlash of creating a brand on his blog that doesn’t support his book. And even Nathan blogs about writing.

And Nathan, don’t worry. I thought your misinterpreted self promotion was kinda cute. It’s nice to see you struggle with the rest of us. Almost endearing. Was that your evil plan?

So, fellow bloggers, what does self promotion mean to you? And what advice do you have for Nathan, for all of us?

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75 Responses to Why Nathan Bransford’s self promotion fell flat – and why you should take note! (Part 1)

  1. Jenna C July 21, 2011 at 5:28 am #

    I think the controversy was interesting. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking people to buy your book, but I do agree the approach wasn’t well thought out. I think if you’ve been reading Nathan for a while the impression is that he started the blog, when he was an agent, to raise his profile so he would get more and better submissions. So to then turn around and say that he did it all for the readers is a bit off. Blogging is essentially narcissistic.

    Your point about his platform not matching his book is so true. If he had written an adult or even YA fiction I think he’d have sold more through the blog. As it is, I think he’s probably sold wayyyyy more than he would have without it.

  2. linda July 21, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    Great discussion! I too feel Nathan’s method fell flat. Self-promotion is important and necessary, but there are a lot of different ways to go about it. I think effective methods offer value to the reader, whether through a giveaway, entertainment, useful information, or a personal connection to the writer. These things make it easier for people to share your marketing efforts with others, too.

    Nathan’s post boils down to “buy my book because my blog is free and I don’t make any money from it.” It’s not wrong or inappropriate or offensive for him to say that, and I’m sure some people bought books because of that post, but I’m also not surprised that some people found it less than compelling or interpreted it as an effort to make readers think they owe him something (which I’m sure was not Nathan’s intention, but still).

    I think if he had approached it from the angle of “what’s in it for my audience?” he would have found more enthusiastic support and less negative feedback. So yeah, he can do whatever he wants (as many people argued in the comments on his posts), but some methods will garner more desirable results than others. I don’t think pointing out that he could have done better is an attack on him; if anything, I’d hope he appreciates the feedback.

    It’s definitely a great learning experience for everyone, though. Hope I can remember this should the time ever come for me to do my own self-promotion! 🙂

  3. Talli Roland July 21, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    I didn’t see his initial post but I read his follow-up one I admit, I cringed when he explained what he’d done. Self-promotion is SO difficult, but when you play on people’s sense of obligation that’s never going to work. You DO need to think about what it’s in for the people helping you. What do they get out of it? How can they help, without telling them to BUY something?

    When I did my blogsplash last year, I deliberately avoided asking people to shell out — I just asked them to help me get out the word about my novel. I’d never ask someone to spend money; that just makes me uncomfortable. It’s finding your own personal threshold and what works for both you and your audience.

  4. Talli Roland July 21, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    Er, sorry for the typos and weirdo sentences above! I’ve not had my morning coffee yet…

  5. Rosalind Adam July 21, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    I hadn’t read any of what Nathan Bransford said until I read your blog post. It did make me cringe as I read it. We’re all blogging to promote ourselves in whatever way feels comfortable to us. If that does it for him then fine. We don’t have to read it.

    • Laura July 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Thanks everyone! I just hope we learn from all this that promotion is hard work, we all need to do it, and we need some sort of plan! 🙂

  6. Angela Ackerman July 21, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Nathan, not sure if you’re still reading, but I think this (from Jenna’s comment) is the crux of why people reacted as they did:

    I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking people to buy your book, but I do agree the approach wasn’t well thought out.

    Personally it didn’t offend me what you did, it just was different from what I would do. I think you’re right, it’s okay to ask, but it’s all in how we go about asking. My feeling is that in your case some people hold you to a higher standard because you used to be an agent when they need to just understand you’re new at the self promo game just like any other debut author & some things you do will work, and others might not.

    The good that has come out of this tho is the great conversation regarding self promotion and the challenges it presents with ‘secondary audiences’ rather than our book’s main audience. I’ve learned a lot reading through all these responses and I hope everyone else has too.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  7. Theresa Milstein July 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    You know, it is an adjustment to know he’s got a blog about being an agent, then he stops being an agent and becomes a writer. I’m all for it, and he’s not the first one. But maybe he should’ve set up a 2nd blog. I know I started following him because he seemed like a cool agent to have and I learned a lot about the business from him. But when he stopped being an agent, it was a little bit of a letdown. He should create another identity on another blog. Not acting like a different person identity, but he has a new career now.

  8. Jennifer Shirk July 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Well, I have to be honest, as soon as he took off his agent hat a while ago, I stopped reading his blog. I felt the shift in his posts to be all about “him” and it didn’t interest me anymore.

    Your blog should make you visible to people but shouldn’t force anyone to do anything. That’s up to the reader.

    The thing is I know a lot of successful authors who do not blog and are not on Twitter, etc… and they are doing awesome in sales. So, it’s great to have a presense so that people are aware of your books. But I feel social networking is just the cherry on top–not the end all be all to drive sales, anyway.

  9. Catherine Johnson July 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    This all begs the question where do you find readers to concentrate your efforts in Social Media? I am on a blogging break right now and wonder where I ever found the time to blog. Interesting, interesting!

  10. Nathan Bransford July 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm #


    Yeah, it rubbed a few people the wrong way and I need to be mindful of that, but it also worked. It sold books. There are completely non-controversial ways of doing promos, such as giving stuff away, but are those particularly effective? Are people coming to win a Kindle really going go turn around and go buy a book or are they just coming for the Kindle?

    I’m not sure what would be achieved by starting a second blog. It’s hard enough to manage one blog, and I blog what I blog about because it’s me, it’s who I am, what I’m doing, what I feel will be useful, etc. etc. My second blog would end up looking a lot like my first blog, only at a different address.

    I didn’t force anyone to do anything, I just asked the people who read my blog to consider buying my book. I’m still not sure I understand why that’s resulted in so much angst. If someone else did the exact same thing on their blog I would think absolutely nothing of it, and in fact I see the exact same thing all the time.

    • Laura July 22, 2011 at 1:43 am #

      HI Everyone, I was gone again all day. Family is in town. Thanks for sticking around Nathan. I think we all need to remember something. We are all learning here. Everyone of us. Yes, his blog post sold books and that’s great. It’s easy to remember the few negative responses. Many, many bloggers/authors didn’t think anything was wrong with Nathan’s approach. But I guess in the long run, posting and reminding people about a book, is not the most effective form of self promotion. We want others to carry that torch for us. I’ve always loved Lisa and Laura Roecker’s approach. During their release they made it about others. In fact, by promoting others during their release, they promoted themselves in the best way possible. And for me, Nathan’s approach didn’t create any angst, but it did make me think.

  11. Robert Guthrie July 22, 2011 at 6:15 am #

    Wisdom, wisdom, wisdom… thank you, Laura!

  12. mooderino July 22, 2011 at 6:43 am #

    @Nathan – since you end every one of your comments with a ‘I still don’t understand why people are so upset’ type commment i thought I’d try to explain it.

    It wasn’t that you asked people to buy your book, it was that you made it sound like they owed it to you to do so becasue of what you have given them (via your blog).

    Those may not have been your actual words, or your intention, but that was the impression (I’m sure wrongly) that people came away with.

    That’s the thing about marketing, about reading between the line, it’s easy for the message to get muddled.

    • Laura July 22, 2011 at 10:46 am #

      Very simply and well put, Mooderino. And yet, only a handful of people, from what I could tell, actually even got upset at his approach. For me, it was a jump off point to talk about something bigger. I

  13. Cyndi Tefft July 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    Fascinating stuff. I love Nathan’s blog and think he’s a kind, caring, stand-up guy.

    I use my blog to promote my book by talking about what’s new with it and listing quotes from other bloggers who enjoyed it. I don’t ask anyone to buy it because I expect that’s implied (as in ‘if this sounds interesting, you’ll click the links and maybe even buy it’).

    I sprinkle these types of posts in with my other posts on writing, book reviews, and other random thoughts so that readers don’t get burnt out on always hearing about my book.

    We’re all newbies at this social media platform stuff (me especially).


    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

      Cyndi, Yes we’re all newbies. I’m definitely not an expert. I”m coming at this from a reader’s pov. I think to promote your own stuff straight out like that without causing a stir, you really should be out there promoting other authors. I don’t think just having a cool popular blog is enough. I think you have the right idea. It’s asking someone to buy it that comes across spammy. If you have the picture on your side bar or links at the bottom of each post, readers will get the point.

  14. Cole Carroll July 27, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    I’m not even sure having a blog on writing advice will cause your fiction to sell. Writers go to writing help sites to get the emotional bump of reading an article and it makes them picture in their mind having a successful book, they don’t say (in general), ‘what a great article, let me buy your book,’–unless: they happen to already fall in your target readership. I love E Craigs blog/Twitter, doesn’t mean I want to read the type of books she writes. By in large, people read what they like not because an author blogs. It can build relationships with readers who already like your work.

    I’m skeptical that the amount of time/effort it takes to have a successful blog is worth the return you get, assuming your main motivation for blogging is monetary.

    • Laura July 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

      Cole – I agree. We’ll never know exactly. I will purchase books of my closer blogger friends. Outside of that, I will if it is something I’m interested in. Is blogging a 100% return? No. But it does develop awareness and hopefully you have friends promoting your books for you. But most bloggers would agree that they get a lot more out of it than just monetary value.

  15. Anne R. Allen August 2, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    Mooderino put it so well. Nobody likes to be guilt-tripped, even by somebody we like a lot.

    I recently had a guest post on my blog from thriller writer Jeff Carlson, who knows how to promote himself the right way. He wrote a hilarious post about bad Amazon reviews, where he included enough about his book in his illustrations that everybody was intrigued–which resulted in a lot of sales. But never once did he seem to be “selling.”

    But would this work for MG? I don’t know. His blog audience isn’t his customer base (except maybe their moms, aunties and school librarians) so even though he’s a blog god, it wasn’t translating into sales.

    Can we forgive him for getting a little desperate? Of course. But the lesson to take away here may be that blogging doesn’t influence book sales as much as marketers think it does.

  16. Anne R. Allen August 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Nathan, I apologize! I hadn’t finished that comment and somehow it went through as my stupid McAfee update crashed the page. I didn’t mean to come across that harsh.

    Please note: I adore Nathan and didn’t mean to say he IS desperate–just that some people perceived his actions as desperate. Actually they were mostly funny and charming.

    What we can really learn here is more of what Nathan said on his blog yesterday–this is a murky business and it’s very, very hard to figure out what’s going to sell and how our own efforts effect those sales–no matter how hard we work.

    • Laura August 2, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Anne! I’ve always enjoyed Nathan’s blog too. We’re all trying to figure this out – how our blog might translate to sales, marketing, promotion. It’s a brave new world out there.

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