– by Rick Harsch

Yesterday I responded to a blog on promoting books by saying that Instagram was full of great and generous readers, or something like that, and a certain Mr. Deckard asked me to write a blog post about this observation. However, since I can’t separate my experience on Instagram from that on Goodreads and Youtube, I’m just going to say what I have to say about all three.

For purposes of diminishing the onrushing obscurity, let me define the period I am referring to generally about the conditions for writers in the US to post World War II. This allows me to refer to the generally abysmal state of affairs for US writers and include the sufferings of such talents as William Gaddis and Chandler Brossard, among about 73 million others. This is important because even as the pyramid of publishing from, say, Hillary Clinton (7 million dollar advance in 2001) down to where most of us toil among greater numbers each year, becomes more bottom bloated and pointy topped, writers in the US today are not worse off in every way than writers were in the 1940s and 1950s.

Read about Gaddis. Read about Brossard. Writers then were under the same pressure to produce money as they are today. It was easier to get a first book published, but at the same time a poorly selling first book could bury a writer. These days many great US writers are being ‘rediscovered’ and there is even a press specializing in crowdfunding such authors.

On to Instagram. Like many writers, I am on social media reluctantly. I hate facebook; I was persuaded to join over ten years ago, tried it for two weeks, decided it was a waste of time, and I quit. Then I published a book in Slovenia in English and decided I had to be on Facebook to push the book. Facebook wasn’t very good for that then, and it isn’t now. But I am still on it because it doesn’t hurt.

Strangely, goodreads (must I capitalize everything?) exists, a place where people can keep track of their books. That seems a strange notion to me. My books are on my shelves, here around me. I have no need to keep track of them. If they were dogs, I would probably need some kind of system to care for them, but they are books, and they need only rest on the shelves. Yet millions around the world engage in book organizing on goodreads. Why? It must be the social aspect. On goodreads you have people gathered in order to discuss books, be involved in bookish matters, engage with others about books. So I joined goodreads. It is not terribly dynamic, but if you are writing you should set up a page there and communicate generously with strangers. Goodreads is easy because you can check the track record of other writers and readers and judge who you want to ‘befriend’.

So, having several books published, I joined goodreads and participate to some small degree.

The major change in my social media behavior came when through a series of circumstances, I had to pull my book The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas from its publisher because he kept missing deadlines. The fifth deadline was going to coincide with a Youtube ‘booktube’ artist named Chris Via, whose channel is called Leaf by Leaf. He’s as good as a reviewer gets, yet he is not beholden to anyone. I can’t really say how he got onto my books, but he did two great videos of two of my novels, and it was clear that he was gaining enough in followers that his review could make or break my book. His review of Eddie Vegas came out in late May of 2020, and, coincidentally, I sold my last copy to a watcher of his ​channel today. The book has been bought by Zerogram Press, an excellent mid-size press that has published Steven Moore and the extraordinary Novel Explosives , by Jim Gauer, their chief editor. The next version of Eddie Vegas will be out in June 2022.

When I pulled the books (I had two coming out) back in April 2020, I decided to borrow money and print the books in Slovenia, where I live and where I’ve had several books translated and published, with the help of a former publisher. The short version: I had to make up a press title, chose corona\samizdat because corona was necessitating lower prices and samizdat meant I could made Eddie Vegas a samizdat book, not for sale in the US officially so I could still publish it with…well, as it turns out Zerogram. During this period I was led to believe it would be a good idea to join Instagram. There I found that Chris Via had a presence, as did many of his followers, and I also found that there is a network of every kind imaginable to engage with. Most of these people are on goodreads, too, but fewer, and most of them are on to the relatively new practice of booktubing. What I’m gettting at is that there is a nexus of readers and writers that has a vibrant interlacing presence on goodreads, Instagram, and Youtube.

My press decided to grow as a non-profit after my colleague and friend died and when I decided to publish people I knew deserved it, as well as to retrieve from the past books of my own that had been ignored or faded to near oblivion. David Vardeman is a great writer I have known for 30 years, who has never stopped writing even though before corona\samizdat published him he had never had a book out. Now he has three, and the reviews may not be legion but they are all very positive. Many consider him one of the outstanding modern writers. I can’t logically refrain from discussing my press ( http://www.coronasamizdat.com ) because this process I am struggling to describe, which consists of sharing generously and paying attention to currents of literature, has yielded extraordinary results for the press, and without this nexus, such would not be the case. We have two of the best current Canadian writers published, one of the best Portuguese, a couple deceased writers, and some excellent writers who may never have had a chance if we had not come to know each other. The thing is, there is a great deal of talent out there, but for every great potential writer, there are 398 ways of destroying his or her career and spirit. C\S has published 30 excellent books in 19 months, non-profit, and the list of 2022 books is already between 15 and 20. And that’s with a policy of refusing submissions. The reason I have this policy, besides the lack of interest in reading as much as I would have to to do a proper job, is that I don’t want to be an arbiter who influences anyone’s writing life. This is not disingenuous, though of course if I select a book that comes to my attention I am influencing a writer’s life: the thing is, writers have to find their way, and no matter how much energy I put into publishing, my own efforts change nothing for the majority of writers in the English language.

I have found in about a year and a half on Instagram a lot of talented people including the person who does the typesetting for my press, and several who have done covers. Meantime, I have been able to follow trends in literature and writing, and engage with people I feel are worth the time to befriend in this odd new way this machine has devised. A great deal of this occurs through finding booktubers. And as Chris Via is extremely busy, let me suggest Noah Clemons, whose sight is called Everyong_who_who_reads_it_must_converse. Noah is a good reviewers, not quite Via’s caliber, but very good, but more importantly he is extremely conscious of creating and promoting a community. C\ S’s best novel, and bestselling, is called America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic . The books was written beginning Sept. 28 2020, and published on May 17, 2021. Noah was interviewing me, the author, and the illustrator, as early as January. He loved the whole idea and loved being a part of promoting it.

So, my suggestions are to get involved with these three sites. Find people like @piobald_puffpuff (believe it or not) on instagram, W.D. Clarke at goodreads, Noah on Youtube, and you will soon be invovled in a literary community. There is no map to ‘success’, but I think the author of Cactus Boots , Phillip Freedenberg (eraserheaddad on Instagram), would agree that the point IS community, not success, or that community is success. I could write a long blog on every aspect of publishing tactics, and most would be discouraging. I have nothing discouraging to say about this vague way forward. The US is despite many countersigns alive with book readers, writers, reviewers.

Titles By Rick Harsch


14 responses to “Promoting books on Instagram, Goodreads, and Youtube”

  1. GD Deckard Avatar

    “community is success”
    Thanks, Rick. I couldn’t agree more, now that you’ve pointed out the obvious. Everything I’ve had published has been thanks to community. Groups of writers opened the doors. This group, which began on Penguin’s old website, Book Country, helped me hone my first novel for publication and has allowed me to publish stories in our Rabbit Hole anthologies. A group of sci-fi writers on Facebook published my first two short stories in two of their anthologies. I met a publisher online who has published one story and expressed a strong interest in the novel I’m working on. A while back, I suggested to some writers that we start a magazine of sci-fi humor and now the sixth quarterly issue of Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine is coming out. Along the way, I’ve even been given opportunities to edit. All, every last success, has come from community, what you called the “vague way forward.”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. victoracquista Avatar

    Thank you, Rick! You have shared some valuable experiences and insights. I think it is worthwhile to point out the difference between using these platforms for self- promotion and having your work promoted on these platforms by others. Those “others” may be influential (“influencers”) and have a following, or they may be individuals who promote books via posts, reviews, videos, and so on that have few followers and/or little influence.

    My social media experience includes a FB author page (between 500 and 600 followers last time I checked), Twitter (3200 followers), Instagram (67 followers), and a YouTube channel (44 subscribers). I am not active on Goodreads. I only established an Instagram profile because my publisher felt it was important.

    My YouTube channel primarily features my narration and discussing highlights of my own and fellow authors’ works. These were featured as episodes on podcasts I aired in addition to being on my YouTube channel. I produced quite a few shows and despite my own promotion, along with fellow authors using their social media connections, the episodes did not get many views. I did manage to use YouTube ads to boost the views on some selected episodes of mostly my own work. My best production, based on visuals and sound effects, received over 13K views, but I doubt it resulted in any sales. I have not found my own diligent efforts across any of these platforms to be helpful for sales. This includes paid advertising on FB and paid Twitter promotions in addition to my own sites.

    I did a virtual book tour for one of my novels. In spite of review posts, blogs, and other assorted promotions by the tour sites across Instagram, FB, blog sites, Twitter, there were minimal engagements in the comments, and few book sales. Many will claim that the goal is not sales but exposure. repeated exposure can help to drive sales. Despite these and other efforts, traction for book sales continues to be elusive.

    I have written to a variety of reviewers who seem to have followers on their platforms but have had little success in obtaining reviews in spite of offers for free books. In several cases I have provided books and never got a review.

    I am not suggesting these platforms cannot be successful. They have not been for me. Given the right connection with a true influencer and the community they influence, there is reason to think they can be very instrumental in driving sales. It is difficult to judge by looking at followers (large following can often be bought and may have many bots among them) who a true influencer is. I have no doubt that powerful influencers can help tremendously with exposure, but that exposure may or may not lead to sales. I also think some genres and target audiences are more popular for these efforts. YA and romance seem to get a lot of exposure on Instagram/Bookstagram from my limited experience. This makes sense to me given the demographics of Instagram users.

    I will also say something about TikTok. I have read that authors self-promoting on TikTok don’t accomplish much. If someone is posting about your work, that’s when the author gets traction. Of course, getting the right person (someone who gets a lot of views, their TikToks get shared, and people act on their recommendations) seems to be where the rubber hits the road.

    While it can be frustrating, this is the reality of our times. I suppose one can take solace in contemplating Gaddis and Brossard, and recognize that there is historical precedent. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are in good company within the community of fellow writers who deal with this reality. There is a certain success in having this community of fellow writers, and there is a different success in having a community that enjoys and promotes what we write.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. mimispeike Avatar

    Thank you Rick. I have visited your YouTube channel and also the one by Chris Via. Both are very enjoyable, I have subscribed to both of you. Up to now I have concentrated on writing and illustrating. I’ve posted here and on medium.com.

    It’s time to explore other avenues to discovery.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. mimispeike Avatar

    I have listened to more of Chris Via. A lot of what he says goes over my head, but I love the way he talks about language. Some of his comments will fit very nicely into the mouth of my book-loving sixteenth-century cat. (Who happened to be one of the letrados) His big advantage: when you converse with scholars by letter, no one realizes you’re a cat.

    I have stumbled across a channel called SherdsTube. I love his comments: “The voluptuousness of language” … Of the novel/memoir Dukla: “Plot will play no role in this book.”

    This man (Sherd?) now owns my heart. I got damn sick on the old Book Country of being asked: “When is something going to happen?”

    I only developed a sort-of plot for my series of novellas in response to the criticism I received. I love a story that, as Sherd says … “allows you to live in the world of the book.”


    My Complete Enochian Dictionary has arrived. It’s time to jump back on John Dee. I wanted to write on him for the next Showcase challenge, but there’s not time to do the needful research. So I’ve cheated. Galaxy is a stretch for me. You’re getting more Sly.

    At least I didn’t give you Miss Spider fronting a band called Suki Spider and the Spiders from Mars. I thought about it. But to write another of my elaborate pieces of verse from scratch, not enough time to do it justice.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Carl E. Reed Avatar

    Same thing happened to me, Mimi: I had a story idea for the starter word “galaxy” (a week after its announcement). I started it, then realized I needed another couple of weeks to finish it. (I have other writing projects I am working on at present.) So I stopped writing that particular piece.

    Sue: Maybe every two weeks is too fast-paced a tempo for the showcase? For us to generate meaningful work and not slap-dash, whew!-got-it-done-in-time pseudo-dreck? (I say “pseudo” because some of the entries have been quite good.)

    Maybe we can back it off a notch? Do a showcase (it is called a “showcase” after all, not a free-writing exercise) once every 30 days? Wouldn’t that be less work for you, as well? Might more people participate? Might the work submitted be of even higher quality? (More time for revision and polish.) Can we re-set this showcase deadline to Jan 15th?

    Questions, questions! Only you (and the rest of the Co-Op) have the answers.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. mimispeike Avatar

      The only way I can keep up this pace is to repurpose stuff I’ve already written. Even updating that work takes a large amount of time. I don’t mind, and it’s pushing me in (slightly) new directions.

      I think I can do good things with John Dee, but that will take huge time and effort. His Enochian language dictionary is full of ideas for me. Sly and I are going to have a ball with that.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Perry Palin Avatar
      Perry Palin

      I don’t think two week intervals for the showcase is too short, but don’t listen to me; I only submit something about half the time. My other writing, such as it is, does not hinder my showcase submissions, but my other occupations do. Ten below zero this morning at our house and gloriously sunny, wonderful for shoveling snow and snowshoeing and reading novels.

      In January I’ll be starting a writing class and joining a new to me writers group in a nearby town. We’ll see if I can tweak some of my stuff there into showcase submissions, a la Mimi. It will depend a bit on how unique I want to be in responding to Sue’s prompts.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Carl E. Reed Avatar

        Thanks for checking in with your opinion, Perry! And good luck with the writing class.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. GD Deckard Avatar

        I’m with Perry for the same reasons.
        Sue’s Showcase has proved interesting and useful. I don’t feel obligated to respond to every prompt, but if I have something, I’ll tweak it for submission. The result has been that I’ve begun a 2nd WiP, of stories that will flesh out a full book of short stories at some point.

        Perry 😀 I loved snow days when I was young enough to enjoy them. And sitting inside by a fireplace looking out at it was often my idea of enjoying a snow day.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. mimispeike Avatar

    You’re right, GD. Showcase is very useful. It’s inspired me, with the next challenge, to tackle John Dee. I have the end of his story (the Hameln episode) but nothing prior.

    I find the thought of wading into his story intimidating. ‘Here’s the thing’ gives me the push I need.

    That would be in book four. I have two and three written, needing polishing and a few small matters worked out. I can delay jumping on Dee, but it’s good I try to get a handle on him now. And give myself plenty of time to consider the many opportunities he presents for mirth.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. mimispeike Avatar

    Exploring the writer/reader clips on Youtube, I came across Norman Mailer discussing ‘The Spooky Art’. I took notes like mad. I’m a third of the way through the book, but this interview is packed with ideas … yup … that I can work into Sly’s view of his place in the world.

    I probably shouldn’t mention this to my husband. He’ll flip: No! No more ideas for Sly! That damn cat has enough ideas already!

    GD may second him on that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. GD Deckard Avatar

      LOL! If Sly’s up for more ideas, I’m sure your readers will be.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. mimispeike Avatar

    Rick, what do you think of the work of Jim Meirose? He has several novels published. I have read some of his short stories and liked them very much.

    He is married to a cousin of mine. I only discovered he is a writer eight-nine years ago. He has had a good deal of success publishing his short stories.

    I invited him to visit us here. He replied: “I am past the point that I feel the need to talk about writing.” (The implication: at our level.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. GD Deckard Avatar

      ROFL! It’s a good thing Norman Mailer never got past the point of talking about writing!

      Liked by 3 people

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