Does Your Book Promotion Plan Pass the George Costanza Test?
I think it’s fair to say that no one wants to be George Costanza. For many years, the Seinfeld character set the standard for tackiness and awkward (often ineffective) self-seeking.
And yet, when it comes to some of the shadier corners of the book business, folks seem to take their promo strategy from the Costanza playbook. Here’s one example that a friend mentioned on Facebook yesterday: some authors are posting free links to their own books on Facebook birthday posts (as a “birthday present”).
Now, think about that. Birthday posts are one of the few remaining refuges of commerce-free civility on Facebook. They’re about spontaneous well-wishes and connecting with people we may not have seen in a while.
Would you give a copy of your book to an acquaintance as a birthday present, at a face-to-face birthday party? I’m guessing most people probably wouldn’t. Unless the birthday boy (or girl) has previously requested it, or unless your name is Stephen King and you’ve signed the book in question, it comes across as pushy.
Moreover, it seems to me that the author who posts a free book download in a birthday thread is probably hoping folks besides the birthday boy (or girl) will see the link and download it too, then leave a review. They’re hoping for a leg up in today’s glutted fiction marketplace, but they’re making themselves awkward in the process. It’s more about what the author of the free book wants than about what the birthday person wants.
But…is this the kind of thing George Costanza would do?
If Seinfeld was still on in 2016, George would probably be an author who pulls these kinds of shenanigans. I can even hear the dialogue, George’s excuses: “But it’s a PRESENT, Jerry!”
Anyway, I’ve developed a test to which I subject any book promotion strategy I’m considering. I call it the Costanza Test. Is this the kind of thing George Costanza would do? If the answer is “yes”, then I shouldn’t do it.
I wish more people took this approach. For example, a while back (maybe four years ago?) I was at a small convention and served as a panelist. The moderator of one panel tried to turn it into a sales presentation for his indie/vanity-ish publishing company. And when I say “sales presentation”, I mean it. This dude had slick brochures he handed out and everything. There was an impressionable kid sitting wide-eyed in the front row during this panel, so I confronted the dude about it right there and then.
I wish that guy had known about the Costanza Test. Is that the kind of promo George Costanza would have tried if he was in the book biz, circa 2016? Absolutely! Therefore, the moderator shouldn’t have done it.
Then there are the folks who send me spam in personal messages–sometimes mere seconds after I’ve accepted their friend request on Facebook. Is that the kind of thing George Costanza would do? Absolutely! Therefore, those folks shouldn’t do it. (I can hear the dialogue now: “But Jerry, she agreed to be my FRIEND! Friends help each other, amiright?”)
But there’s one fella on the national stage who seems to indicate that even the seemingly-solid Costanza Test has its limits. Donald Trump is George Costanza crossed with Biff from Back to the Future. For some reason, he doesn’t seem to get social cues, just like Costanza. He’s every bit as shameless, rude, and unappealing as Costanza. But I think a lot of people see him as more Biff than Costanza, and they seem to want a Biff. They see Biff Trump as rude, but in a charismatic way.
Honestly, all politicians have at least a little Costanza in them, but they’re un-Costanza-ish enough to know they need to hide it.
Trump doesn’t care, and it’s working for him. On the one hand, this scares the shit out of me. On the other hand, it at least means he’s too busy to moonlight as a genre author.