How to promote your book when you don’t like self-promotion


How does book promotion happen when the people involved are averse to self-promotion?

It’s a common enough question and one that has become more urgent as researchers feel the pressure to hawk their publications across their social media accounts. It’s something researchers often feel ill equipped to do, and they may also be reluctant to do ‘marketing’ work that they feel should be the domain of others (e.g. the publishers). Publishers may provide static marketing resources, sales codes, and a formal internet presence for your book but they often don’t invest that much in knowing who the best audience might be or how to sell effectively to them – they delegate this to you. It’s easy to feel just a mite exploited by all this but, in truth, you are more invested in your own work. You’re best placed to know who might find it useful / valuable, and how to reach them (usually).

If you can’t get past the fact that you are being asked to do work that’s beyond your standard job description as a researcher, for work that you provided to a publisher for free and they are now charging others to access…then I hear you. We should have a conversation sometime about burning down the inequitable prestige economy that powers academia. And you can stop reading the post right now.

Otherwise, read on.

There’s a session that I present at my university that’s focused on planning a research communication strategy. It builds on the enlightening, practical workshop that our buddy Jen Martin gives about telling your research story. As with many things I run, it’s not about telling people what to do. It’s about giving folks the context of the work, and providing them with stimulating and (hopefully) engaging points of reflection to which they bring their own experiences, expertise, and priorities. A question popped up in the session about promoting a new book and I said I’d write a blogpost – ta-dah!

As I flagged above, publishers will often provide marketing kits or guides that include practical ways to put your publication on the radar of your potential readers. Do a search for ‘promoting your book’ and include your publisher’s name. Chances are, you’ll find a bunch of resources that can be helpful in working out what some steps might be. Think about what might work for you and who will do what (if you are part of a team of co-authors, or have buddies who can help you out). Align the activities or events with a feasible timeline and go to it! Sounds simple, right? It can be. Most of our books and other publications are not going to be hitting bestseller lists – they’re often in niche areas and becoming ‘big’ in our disciplines can still often mean being pretty small in the scheme of things. If you’ve written something that has much broader appeal and is not a scholarly publication, then that’s a whole other blogpost!

Instead of just repeating other resources that are already out there (a few of which I will link to below), I thought that sharing what my co-authors and I did for our recently published book, Getting Research Funded: Five Essential Rules for ECRs, might be helpful. It’s a window into what a bunch of folks with an average set of marketing skills, busy lives, and a distinct aversion to self-promotion might do for their publication. It is by no means a ‘golden formula’ for success or the way that everyone should do things. You will have your own particular set of communication skills, support people, and resources around you – make the most of them!


Teaching / workshops: Because the book we published is a guide and not a standard scholarly text, it makes sense to roll it off the blocks practically and to have researchers view it through the lens of their own practices when it comes to grantseeking. Tseen has been running an iteration of the book’s structure as a workshop – Five Rules of Grant Club – for almost ten years at her university, and now she can flag the book as an expansion of the ideas in the session. Phil has run a workshop for ECRs that uses the structure of the book and draws on its content.

Series of blogposts: We posted a series of five excerpts from our book, following the ‘five essential rules’ format of the publication. The agreement with the publisher allowed us  to reproduce a certain amount of text (verbatim) and this initiative was within the guidelines for this. Jonathan did the lion’s share of deciding which sections to include from the relevant chapters, I found images for them, formatted, and queued them for Research Whisperer (you can see them all under the tag Getting Research Funded). Phil, our colleague in the UK, runs his own blog, Research Fundermentals, and he cross-posted the series of five posts there. Blogposts can be a really effective way to share accessible versions of your research with different audiences. In our case, cross-posting with Phil’s blog meant that the potential readers for the book excerpts broadened significantly. Our community, while quite international in nature, has its highest representation in Australia while Phil’s blog is well known in the UK and Europe.

Podcasts: We’re planning (many fingers crossed) a series of podcasts later this year, again with the ‘five essential rules’ format. We’re aiming to invite guests who are particularly relevant for each ‘rule’ to be in conversation with us. We thought this would enable us to share what the book is about and demonstrate the kind of tone and expertise that sits behind the publication (i.e. what we’re like to listen to is close to how we write), while bringing other voices and perspectives into the discussion. We’re also wanting to do this because we think it’ll be a lot fun.

Socials: Our socials are a bit haphazard at the moment, it must be said. A well-oiled PR machine we are not. Still, we pushed out pre-order information and publication milestone posts along the way – mostly on LinkedIn. More organised and motivated people might sketch out a timeline of posts in the lead-up to publication and potential book launches.

Book launch(es): We didn’t do a formal book launch. I think we had conversations about whether we should and none of us felt particularly motivated to organise one. For me,  a good book launch should be more than the launching of the book (!). As my RW buddy Jonathan O’Donnell says, “I think that, at their best, book launches represent a gathering of the clans. It is a chance for peeps to come together and geek out about their topic of choice, and hang out (virtually or physically) with one another. In some ways, the book is just an excuse.”