Urban Etiquette: How can I self-promote without losing friends?
I’m trying to drum up publicity for a book. Can I just email everyone I know? Should I do it during the work day, or are evenings and weekends okay? Should I dive right in or talk pleasantries? If I don’t hear back right away, should I send a follow-up email? Should I break the ice by liking all their not-entirely-cute baby pictures on Instagram first? — Beginner Self Promoter
There once was a time when self-promotion was seen as crass — the desperate act of an untalented amateur who deserved to be ignored by the tastemakers who controlled the media. The truth is, writers have always been shameless self-promoters. The ones who were successful just hid it better by quietly networking with publishing elites and old college chums. And, oh yes, passing as a member of the hetero white cis-males club didn’t hurt either.
Elitism isn’t dead. But thanks to social media, it’s now totally acceptable for the rest of us to put ourselves out there. So in terms of etiquette, don’t worry about being a pest. As long as people can mute, block, snooze, unfriend or unfollow you, it’s never rude to blitz your contacts with whatever message you want to send, on any and all platforms, day or night, repeatedly.
In terms of effectiveness, however, I do have some advice: keep it honest. Anytime you send an email asking people for something, don’t insult them by candy-coating your opening with pleasantries, or pretending it’s anything but a sales pitch. Dive right in and get to the point.
You can still be warm and personal with friends. But save any personal news and notes till the end. After your openness upfront, your sincerity will land a little more convincingly.
As for “breaking the ice” by liking their pictures, posts, or tweets, such insincerity is always in danger of seeming obvious, which is not very nice for them, and will not help your cause at all.
What I’ve learned over the years is to obey generous impulses in the moment. Too many times I’ve “meant” to send a card, note, compliment, gift or invite, failed to do so, and then kicked myself when I later wanted a favour. At that point, the gesture is too late — instead of a spontaneous kindness, it looks like a play.
Finally, don’t worry too much about the “right” way to promote your book. Treat it like all the new baby pictures we all endure in our feeds, and shamelessly tell the world about your own darling creation, then let it speak for itself.
Ellen Vanstone is a columnist based in Toronto covering issues around urban etiquette. Need advice? Email Ellen: