One of the most uncomfortable aspects of putting on the self-promotion hat is asking- for favors, for addresses, for blurbs, for shared connections. These past couple weeks I’ve entered the “I want to send you my galley of Bittersweet” phase of The Ask, and it’s scary, asking people I admire and respect if they’d like a copy of my book, hoping they’ll read it, hoping it won’t embarrass me, hoping they might be able to help me get the word about my book into the world.
I’ve always found asking uncomfortable, but it’s especially strange to ask for something on behalf of something I’ve written. How do I keep it from feeling like I’m self-aggrandizing? How do I stop myself from sounding like I’m showing off? Here, in no particular order, are a few pointers I’ve come up with to keep myself sane:
1) Keep The Ask short and sweet. Start with a warm greeting and a point of connection (e.g.: “Our mutual friend X suggested I should write you”), but also make it clear that you are writing/calling because you want something: (e.g.: “I’m writing because I have a galley of Bittersweet I’d love to send your way.”) Don’t bury the favor way down deep; be upfront with what you need. That said…
2) You never know where The Ask will lead you. Let’s say you’re sending your book to someone who you believe will enjoy the read. Perhaps you know that they are connected to someone influential, but chances are, even if they are, you can’t predict who else they might mention your book to. The life of a book is winding and unexpected, and it should stay that way, because that’s how people come to love a book- they claim ownership over it.
3) Keep The Ask as general as possible (e.g. “I’d love to send you a copy of Bittersweet“) instead of microscopic (e.g. “I hope you can write a review for X in May when the book comes out”). The first option leaves open the chance for the asked to fall in love with the book, and claim it, and brainstorm their own ideas. The second, in addition to sounding presumptuous (unless you know someone very very well), closes down the conversation. Which leads me to…
4) Build in a follow-up. End your email with “I can’t wait to hear what you think!” If you’re not already connected to this person on social media, do so, and engage with them over the coming weeks in that forum. Send a follow-up email when you send them the book (“Just a heads up- Bittersweet is headed your way”). If/when they tell you they’ve read the book, respond warmly. Essentially, be nice and remind them you exist and are a great resource for them. Signal that you’re going to make it easy for them to help your book.
5) Be confident. The Ask is not a place to apologize. It’s likely that most of the people you’re asking are people who want to read a book. Especially a good book. And your book is good, right? So lead with that.
6) Stay humble. The Ask is not a place to brag. This is a hard balance to find. Because isn’t asking someone to read your book kind of like bragging? Well, no, not if you remember that having a book to send into the world doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else. Acknowledge that the person you’re asking likely has a very full plate, and might not actually want to get your book in the mail. State how appreciative you are. One way to stick to this is to…
7) Quote others. Did someone really kickass blurb your book? Have you had any advance press? Quoting such positives will not only deflect some of the “I’m bragging” feeling away from you, it’ll also signal to the person you’re contacting that the larger world knows about your book and already likes it. Yes, this is a bit like middle school- if someone popular says you’re cool, you must be- but hey, it works, and it works because it’s true. Put those kudos to good use and help them with your Ask!
8) Be okay with no. Someone is going to say no to you. Someone you admire, trust, maybe even love, someone you were absolutely sure would help you when your book came out, is going to say no. It’s okay. People say no. There are a lot of other people who are going to say yes.