Do You Have Obsessive Promotion Disorder?

James Scott Bell

This past week I began the launch of  BLIND JUSTICE, a legal thriller.  It first came out over a decade ago, and now by the magic of rights reversion and self-publishing, it’s available again in digital form and print.

So here we have a promotional post about a book launch. If you have a blog, it should obviously figure into your marketing plan. But don’t just make it about the sale. Have your post do “double duty” by offering something else of value.
Like talking about a malady that seems to be striking more and more writers each week: Obsession Promotion Disorder. There is a fine line that runs between healthy marketing and OPD. To be a well-balanced and productive writer, you’ve got to stay on the right side of that line. 
How can you tell if you have OPD?
1. You wake up in the morning and your first thought is about your rankings.
2. You’re constantly disappointed by your rankings.
3. You refresh your Amazon book page every hour.
4. You spend days playing Algorithm Ping Pong (that is, trying to game Amazon’s system with compulsive tinkering, checking, tinkering, checking).
5. You spend more time on social media than you do on your next book.
6. The time you do spend on social media is overweighted with “buy my book” messaging.
7. You believe there is one “golden key” that will make your book go viral, and you look for it constantly (the King Solomon’s Mines Syndrome, or KSMS).
8. You tune out of conversations with your loved ones, who ask you what you’re thinking, and to whom you reply, “Oh, nothing,” when all the time you know what you’re thinking about β€” promotion.
9. You believe that promotion can override weaknesses in your book (this is a sign of HOPD: Hyper-Obsessive Promotion Disorder).
10. You believe that promotion is the true secret of both instant and long-term success, so you pursue it with a passion that leaves no time for studying the actual craft of writing.
OPD needs to be treated, and it starts by understanding that the best, most thought out, most “gamed” promotional effort in the world only gets you an introduction.
We used to have this gal in L.A. named Angelyne. All of a sudden, all over town, there were huge billboards of this blonde minx in a come-hither pose. There was one word on the boards, Angelyne, and that was it.

Everybody was asking, Who is she? She has to be somebody, because, well, she has billboards!We were all waiting for the big reveal (ahem) of Angelyne and her talent.
Never happened, because Angelyne really didn’t do anything. She apparently had some backer (or a stash of her own money) to pay for the billboards. So what was the point of all the publicity? It got her attention, all right. But nothing ever came of an Angelyne career.
So, writer friends, you can push all the promotional buttons you want, but if the book doesn’t deliver the goods for a large swath of readers, it’s all for naught.
Your time would be better spent early in your career in an intensive, all-out effort to learn and practice your craft. Go to classes, read good books (see this starter page), head to a conference, write a quota of words every week and get feedback on those words via a critique partner or group or a good editorial service, like Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft.
When you finally get something published, spend no more than 20% of your time marketing. Maybe even less after the book is launched. Spend 80% or more of your thinking, training, planning and producing time on writing. (This 80/20 rule applies, BTW, whether you are self-published, traditionally published, or both).
Write this down and post it somewhere: The only sure way to “game” the system is to be a good, solid, dependable and consistent producer of new work.
Yes, of course you need to put a promotional plan in place. You should have a crisp, easy to navigate website which includes a place for email signups for your non-intrusive updates (they are non-intrusive, right?)

You should specialize in one or two social media platforms (and learn how to use them without being a boor). You should know your way around your Amazon author page. You should make an informed decision about using KDP Select or not (and, once the decision is made, quit obsessing about it). And so on.
But make it as much a “turn-key” operation as you can. Adjust it from time to time, but keep it largely on auto-pilot.
Then spend the vast majority of your time becoming and remaining a great writer. That is not a matter of slapping words down, getting a killer cover and then promoting like a madman. It’s a matter of writing with craft and purpose, over and over. It’s about learning how to please readers with the thing they actually spend money on: your books.
What about you? Have you ever showed any signs of OPD? 

26 thoughts on “Do You Have Obsessive Promotion Disorder?

  1. It does tend to get irritating when authors, or for that matter anyone with a thing to sell, sprinkles ads for their work in every conversation.

    Check out these amazing thrillers for your kindle

    It’s almost as bad as those annoying pop-ups that constantly interrupt web browsing or as pushy door to door salesmen who I wish were from days gone by but still keep showing up at my door selling everything from steaks to security systems and even recently vacuum cleaners.

    Best-selling thrillers set in Alaska only $3.99!!

    But it is easy to get caught up in the trap of overdoing it and becoming persona non grata on the social networks.

    Short Stories from only 99₵!!

    I know from experience that it is easy to get sucked into the shameless self-promotion vortex, leaving one feeling shamed upon realizing that one is grovelling like a miserable Smeagol searching for the elusive precious.

    Buy my books and make all your friends by them, validate my life

    The secret to effective book marketing is a truly elusive beast. I mean, there is an entire industry with its own college degrees and professionals who spends their days doing nothing but trying to figure out how to get people to buy their stuff.

    Buy my books and be entered to win a bazillion dollars (restrictions apply)

    Like you said Jim, the best author marketing strategy is simply to write lots of increasingly good books.

    If I don’t sell 10 copies of each title everyday I will drown one kitten every 24 hours

    Build the inventory with stories people want to read, and the books will market themselves.

    Please buy my books…have mercy on my starving children.

    Don’t make me send tiny after you

  2. I do have it, but struggle against it because I am in a witness protection program.


    Great post, Jim, particularly about Angelyne. And Basil, you made me choke the morning’s first coffee across my keyboard. Congratulations!

  3. I know I have this disorder. I feel guilty when not promoting. Frequent tweets and engaging FB posts do make a difference. Otherwise people will forget about you, right? How quickly we disappear when we are not constantly “out there.” But as one librarian once said when I asked her what we can do as authors for her, she said “Write More and Write Faster.” And that brings us to the next disorder, Increased Productivity Syndrome.

  4. Jim,

    Thanks for another great post. I found it very helpful. As a beginner with a daytime job, struggling to find enough time to write, the constant emphasis on promotion and platform has stirred my Over Active Conscience (OAC) Syndrome and my Follow The Crowd (FTC) Syndrome. Thus, it was very reassuring to read your paragraph “Your time would be better spent early in your career…”

    Your words have reassured my gut feeling that it is wise to become accomplished at the endeavor before one begins bragging about it. So I will continue reading and rereading your books on craft. And on the subject of conferences, I discovered the Mount Hermon conference too late to enroll last year. Will you be speaking/mentoring at the 2014 conference?

    And Basil,

    There is another syndrome you may want to look into as you struggle to recover. The syndrome includes the sudden interjection of socially inappropriate remarks (coprolalia). The syndrome – Tourette’s. Just kidding.

    Wow, I love reading this blog.

    Thanks, Jim.

  5. You guys are very entertaining. Basil, are you sure you’re writing in the appropriate genre? I should note some characteristics of you gentlemen for the next edition of my short inspirational ebook, 25 Ways to Create Classic Characters Readers Will Love.

    I’m going to go now, because I believe technically this blog counts as social media, and darn it, I have books to write.

  6. The author mill “Publish America” will take any pile of words, slap on a cookie-cutter cover, overprice it and then tell you to “promotepromotepromote.” They have forums dedicated to handmade book marks (make your own tassels with embroidery floss) and the dreaded lollipop tree for the table you set up outside your local supermarket. It goes beyond funny into sad until you challenge one of the PA stable and they get really aggressive about it (one guy includes business cards about his book with all of his utility bill payments because you never know!)

    I also ended up as last moderator standing in a Facebook writers group and we are constantly kicking those with OPD to the curb. I finally created SSPT (Shameless Self-Promotion Thursday) where you can indulge yourself all you want for a day but then it is back to writing discussions, scam-busting, and my re-posts of TKZ articles.

    By the way, when you are looking for swag, here’s a tip. I picked up a little of everything at last year’s Killer Nashville. The one I use every day is the round rubber jar lid opener printed with the book title and the caption “Gripping!” I do smile at that one.

    Now, back to the word mines . . .


    • OK, now that gripper took some thought. I like it. But oh yes, the money spent on bookmarks, etc. I remember going to my first Bouchercon and seeing a table that was a big pile of bookmarks and wondering how that was supposed to help.

  7. Oh, God, I can’t stop laughing about this.

    I’m so sick of authors promoting themselves to other authors in a way that smacks of bullying. I was actually told by another author that I MUST let her guest blog on my site because we’re supposed to support each other. I didn’t know her and she wouldn’t write about anything related to my blog. So no, I’m not going to be bullied.

    It’s the desperation that’s so unattractive (think of being single in a bar on Saturday night – same thing). I wonder what kind of unrealistic expectations they’ve set up for themselves.

    I’m a tortoise, not a hare, when it comes to marketing and self-promotion. I’m not desperate. I’m in this for the long haul and I think that makes a difference. I don’t know – maybe I’m just too old.

    But thanks to you, my back cover copy kicks some serious butt. Glad I finally paid attention the second time I heard your suggestions. πŸ˜‰


  8. I don’t mind seeing people Tweet ads about their books, but it gets annoying when they Tweet the same messages every day, several times per day. It gets to the point where I ignore them completely, then unfollow them. IMO, if you’re going to market to me, at least switch the message up a little each time, or do it every other day or something. I agree with Victoria above – too many ‘buy my stuff’ messages comes across as begging or bullying, and its not going to work. If the writing is good, it will tend to speak for itself. I’ve never been a fan of pushy people.

    • M L, you’re spot on with that reminder. Social media is only successful when you truly engage, and then spend 80-90% of your messaging NOT selling something. The Robotweets get annoying fast, and I’ve never seen them bear fruit.

  9. Ah, Angelyne… Brings back memories. I lived in the same West Hollywood apt building as Angelyne for several years. I knew her back when she drove a battered orange Corvette, before the purchase of the shiny new one that was painted pink (I have forgotten the original color of that one). While I wouldn’t say we were buds, we were on speaking terms. I have seen Angelyne revealed, even if never without full makeup. Buried in my garage someplace is one of her record albums, personally inscribed to yours truly. Trust me when I tell you there is a reason she never obtained a major label deal. Or a minor label deal. Or a deal at all. I can’t sing. I know I can’t sing. I lip synch Happy Birthday. Yet I believe I could make a better record. There was no talent to back up her promotion. Good times, that Angelyne.

  10. Those with OPD are not unlike the poor hoping to get their big financial break by purchasing lottery tickets, are they?

    Sadly, it seems the blogosphere is sometimes as bad as TV ads for the lottery in feeding the addiction. (You’re just one combination of numbers — or one social media formula — away from fame and fortune.)

    Those of us new to the publishing game, especially in its current state, are particularly susceptible. Scads of well-meaning experts are telling us how to build elaborate platforms that will raise us above the masses and allow our voices to be heard.

    I’m grateful for the voices of reason and wisdom, like those here on The Kill Zone, to remind us to filter out the noise, keep our heads down and keep working — the old-fashioned formula for success.

  11. I had my first ever publication back in April, and surprisingly, my husband had OPD so much worse than I did. After the fervor of that first week I would post a nice review here, link to interviews with fellow authors there. It was hubby who would tell me every single day what our Amazon rankings were doing and at what times of day they were doing it. He even joked about giving extra credit to his students if they bought the book (he never did though).

  12. Before even reading this I knew I had Obsessive Promotion Disorder. Luckily, I don’t do EVERYTHING you mention here, but I certainly do enough. A good reminder to get off social media and keep writing. Thank you!

  13. I feel the same way about promotion as I do politics. If you get too caught up in monitoring either you get depressed and paralyzed.

    The only answer is to turn it off as best you can and go about your life. Yeah, pay attention but don’t get obsessed.

    Promotion, in a sense, is easy. Writing, however, is hard. I have to work very hard sometimes to remember that and pay attention to what is important.

    Congrats on the new release, James!

  14. Haha, I read this:

    “8. You tune out of conversations with your loved ones, who ask you what you’re thinking, and to whom you reply, “Oh, nothing,” when all the time you know what you’re thinking about — promotion.”

    When you’re published, this may be the case. But, when you’re still working on your first manuscript, you’re actually thinking about your next scene and your failures in word count. πŸ˜€

Comments are closed.