Awards Season, for those of you who may not know, begins in early December and runs through the Nebula and Hugo Awards ceremonies in May and August. The biggest flurry of activity, however, falls between January and March. That's because the preliminary ballots haven't been finalized and everybody and his dog is still hoping they might get a nomination. It's the time of year when authors -- usually despite themselves -- spend a lot of thought on self-promotion.
Every year, when Awards Season rolls around, I'm reminded of my International Latin Ballroom instructor at Brigham Young University. His name is Brent Keck, and he is one of the sweetest people imaginable. But on the competition floor? The man is a demon. He competes to win, and he's good at it, and he's good at teaching his students how to do it.
The week before a competition, Brent always gives a pep talk in which he hardly even mentions technique. He doesn't talk about maintaining posture or stepping on a straight leg or spotting one's head or any of the other things his students have been practicing for months on end. The week before a competition, Brent says: Get a dress in a blazingly eye-catching color. Wear fake nails and fake eyelashes. Slick your hair back until it shines, and pin an oversized flower to the back of your head.
Now that may sound like tawdry fashion advice, and I've seen it taken to unaesthetic extremes, but Brent's basic principle is sound. A typical university ballroom competition has up to twenty-five couples on the dance floor in preliminary rounds; sometimes as few as three or four judges; and the couples dance to only two or three minutes of music. It's easy to get overlooked.
Do dancers need fake tans and long fingernails to win? Heck no. I've seen a girl in a plain black dress and an unadorned bun outclass an entire floor of sparkly, glittery, eye-catchingly classy competitors. She was fast; she was sharp; she was spectacular, and it was obvious from Round One.
If you're that good, you don't need spangles.
But if you don't exceed the competition in all respects -- if you're strong in some areas, for example, and weak in others -- then you become a part of the masses vying for attention, and that silly-sounding flower that makes your hair stand out from the nineteen other girls on the dance floor might actually cause a judge to look at you rather than at the next couple.
That's what we authors do during the first few months of Award Season. We try to look classy in an attention-getting-yet-non-annoying way, and if that doesn't sound like a tightrope walk across crocodile-infested rapids, you haven't thought about it long enough.
So how do you avoid ticking people off during Awards Season? First and foremost, by thinking about how other people might feel and abstaining from any promotional activities that make you feel icky. Seriously. That icky feeling Mary mentioned at the beginning of her post? It is your subconscious warning you that you are doing self-promotion badly.
(Note: Let us not confuse icky with queasy. Pretty much everyone feels nervous about self-promotion at first. That's normal.)
Other guiding principles:
Give, don't take. Instead of begging people to look at your book, put something special and book-related in the world. An informational post. A free sample. Something of genuine value.
Don't invade other people's space. There is a word for unsolicited emails, DMs, @mentions, and Facebook messages from someone you barely know who is trying to promote a product. You know what it is. Don't do it.
Bundle up. It's my opinion -- and I don't always remember to follow this rule, although I try -- that one should require one's self-promotional posts to do double-duty. A post should be promotional and funny, or promotional and informative, or whatever. If you're going to take up people's valuable time with a reference to your own work, then at least make it worth their while.