Overselling Yourself

When I was a kid, if you really wanted to let people know you in the area, you took a couple garden-variety clothespins (the spring-loaded kind) and two of your lowest-value baseball cards, and attached them to the frame of your bike in contact with the spokes of your wheels. When you set out to ride, they created an unearthly sound.

Until the cards completely fell apart from the abuse, your bicycle was the Harley-Davidson of unpowered two-wheelers. The noise was annoying to everyone, except the rider, for some reason. The bicycle didn’t go any faster, it just seemed like it did. And it certainly drew the attention of everyone around.

Today, social media can become similar to this, making a lot of noise so others pay attention.

But this desire to be noticed can lead to overselling yourself.

Authors can find themselves doing something similar out of great enthusiasm for their work and a desire to be noticed and sell books.

The emphasis on marketing platforms tempts authors to oversell themselves in an attempt to gain more attention. (I define overselling as a series of activities made to make you appear smarter, better, or more qualified and famous than you are in reality.)

And this is partly my fault, along with everyone else in publishing. We demand you spend a lot of time proclaiming, “Look at me” in social media then we are appalled when someone overstates their credentials and status.

Some things to remember:

You are not a bestselling author if the sum total of your publishing is free downloads. (Note the word is bestselling, not bestgiving.)

You are not an internationally known writer if someone in another country reads your book. The description indicates a deeper kind of connection to those in other lands.

You are not an award-winning author if you won an award anyone can get. There are no awards for participation in publishing. There’s an expectation of the term “award-winning” which includes a level of objectivity and importance.

You do not have an impressive author platform if the way you get 50,000 Twitter followers, is to follow 75,000.

You don’t become a “scholar” for self-study. Scholar is a term bestowed by respected institutions of higher learning, not yourself.

You don’t become an expert in something because you wrote a book. You write a book because you are an expert in something. And you can write.

Agents, publishers, and readers easily spot overselling credentials and experience. We would rather someone be transparent and honest than push something they are not, by overstatement.

When authors don’t oversell themselves, an amazing transformation occurs.

Authors become real people, flawed-but-redeemed men and women. Once overselling ceases, the real person comes through and is far more attractive to “follow” or “like” in social media.

Overselling yourself creates a gap (more of a canyon really) between you and your readers, which will be difficult to cross in either direction. If an author wants to maintain an oversold persona they will come across as aloof and isolated. In turn, the readers view them as distant and are not drawn to them.

Overselling yourself is a result of trying too hard to impress. It rarely works to accomplish the intended goal. In fact, most often it is counter-productive to achieving the purpose for overselling in the first place.

Sometimes very famous and successful authors can be quite lovely people to be around. They don’t have to oversell; they can be themselves and readers like it. It’s “the bigger they are the nicer they are” principle.  The reason? They let their work and success speak for itself.

Just be real in everything you do, and write a great book people will buy and want to read.

Everyone loves real.


29 Responses to Overselling Yourself

  1. Tonia August 8, 2017 at 5:29 am #

    I love reading your posts, Dan. As with this one, when I read them I often register a progression of responses that usually go like:

    Interesting topic.
    I never thought of that.
    That was brutal.
    I won’t forget that line.
    You just made me better.

    Thank you!

  2. Callie Daruk August 8, 2017 at 5:41 am #

    Dan, this is certainly a balancing act for Christian authors. I struggle to navigate its rocky terrain. You are right, “Everone loves real.” That is my chief aim in all I do. Thank you for this humbling post.

  3. Henry Styron August 8, 2017 at 5:47 am #

    Thanks much, Dan. Some very wise counsel to keep in mind.

    I might add that your work is not “critically acclaimed” because one personal friend who publishes an obscure website said something nice about it.

    God bless!

  4. Damon J. Gray August 8, 2017 at 6:31 am #

    I cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound.

    Beyond that fact that put-on personas are off-putting for others, there is a real challenge in trying to maintain that persona ad infinitum. I suspect it can be exhausting to always be the greatest thing since the invention of indoor plumbing.

  5. Joey Rudder August 8, 2017 at 6:39 am #

    Great post, Dan. As I stand at the beginning of all of this, I pray wherever God leads me on this road that I’ll boast about Him and remember He’s the One opening doors…and slamming them shut in my face should I ever forget that fact.

    By the way, I remember the days of powering up my bike with the playing card and really feeling as if I were flying through our yard with great speed…how cool we all were then! Thanks for the memory. 😉

  6. Becky August 8, 2017 at 6:57 am #

    Thank you Dan. I appreciate and agree with everything you have said, especially, “when authors don’t oversell themselves, an amazing transformation occurs.”

    I think that’s called humility. And, there’s never enough of that anywhere.

  7. Norma Brumbaugh August 8, 2017 at 7:03 am #

    Words of wisdom. Thanks, Dan. It all gets rather tiresome.

  8. Jay Payleitner August 8, 2017 at 7:21 am #


    I hope your saving, organizing, and pitching your collected essays to some of your publishing friends. Because, dang it, they’re all good.

    I even have the title: 52 Things Authors Need to Get Right.


  9. Tisha Martin August 8, 2017 at 7:46 am #

    You raised a good point about “award winning.” Do large (5,000+ students) college commencement contests count toward owning the award winning label?

    • Dan Balow August 8, 2017 at 7:55 am #

      As long as an award is special, limited and not given for just showing up and entering, it counts!

  10. Bodie Thoene August 8, 2017 at 7:55 am #

    Baseball cards!?! Yikes never! But my mother’s bridge cards, yes! All the Queens from several decks laid out for the bridge game at our house THAT VERY NIGHT. And stores all closed early in those days. She could hear me on my bike and knew where to find me. oh man. That memory is enough to give me PTSD. Thanks buddy.

    • Dan Balow August 8, 2017 at 8:16 am #

      You obviously hadn’t yet learned to blame the neighbor kid.

  11. Carol Ashby August 8, 2017 at 7:58 am #

    Dan, do you think the pressure from traditional publishing to have some massive platform before they will consider a debut author is ever going to decrease? It still mystifies me how a person could develop a blog following of tens of thousands of people if they weren’t already known for something, especially if they write fiction and are not already a celebrity.

    This is a valuable list, but I do find two of your points to be a bit off target. You actually do become a scholar by self-study. The non-scientific Ph.D. is still a research degree, where the person gathers everything they can about a subject, analyzes it by themselves, and writes a single-author academic book (the thesis) on the subject about which they have become the expert …through self-study. Anyone who is willing to spend that kind of time and effort to become the person who knows more about a subject than anyone else and then writes it up is a scholar in my view as a scientific Ph.D., whether they have a formal degree issued by a university or not.

    • Dan Balow August 8, 2017 at 8:23 am #

      Platform has always been a requirement in some form. Maybe there is more openness about it now and more writer’s conference sessions, but publishers have always favored the well-connected author.

      Of course you are right about the solitary nature of study, but the final ceremony of recognition by a respected educational institution allows a person to add the letters at the end of the name.

      The greatest conflict I have is knowing a person does not need an advanced degree to discern the deeper meaning of Scripture, but still turning down an author who doesn’t have the accredited letters after their name.

      • Carol Ashby August 8, 2017 at 8:49 am #

        Sometimes having those letters is a barrier rather than a ladder to understanding the deeper truths. To get the Ph.D., you have to come up with something new for your thesis topic. If it’s something “new” about God, what are the odds it’s going to be right?

  12. Bob August 8, 2017 at 8:08 am #

    Thanks for the post. With the never ending talk about have a platform, the impression is that the platform is far more important than the contents of the book. I think James Scott Bell said that the best platform we can have is to write a great book.

    • Dan Balow August 8, 2017 at 8:29 am #

      I agree with JSB as a rule, but sometimes an average book backed up by a great platform is preferred by a publisher.

      One thing for sure…publishing decisions based on platform are far more objective than determining the greatness of writing. The range of subjectivity in literary evaluation can be as far as the east is from the west.

      A publisher turning a book down for lack of platform will generally get no argument.

  13. Lynda Boucher August 8, 2017 at 8:34 am #

    Great post! For years I’ve heard the hype about creating a platform and online presence. As a pre-published author I dismissed the message. After all besides family and good friends who would even care? As time goes by, the hype seems to get louder and stronger. Humph! Lately I’ve heard it said that even if you do not have publishing credits, ie books or stories or articles, that you should still have some sort of online presence as editors and agents will google your name to see if you have a presence, or whatever reason they may have to find something out about you.
    That being said, I would be very interested in your thoughts, Dan… and anyone else.

    • Dan Balow August 8, 2017 at 8:48 am #

      I would suggest it is not hype. There are so many people competing to get published, if you don’t address your platform, you will be beaten to the finish line by someone who has spent the time to develop it.

      If you want to be a professional writer, there are certain things you do. Like setting up a small business for anything.

      I don’t think there is a step one, step two, step three, etc. to becoming a published author. There is just one step and it has everything landing on you at once…write, grow professionally, connect with people, establish your voice, website, invest in tools to help you write, buy a computer, etc. etc.

      Like starting a business, you learn about real estate, accounting, payroll, inventory management, fixing computers, air conditioning and twenty other things which can’t wait. Everything happens at once. And once you start getting paid, don’t forget to files quarterly estimated taxes, etc.

  14. B ricker August 8, 2017 at 8:44 am #

    THANK YOU! It is so refreshing to finally read such meaningful words regarding the effect (and affect) of “social media”. With or without the convenience and ease of the internet, people who write stories of any kind will be surrounded by paper in one form or another. Torn and wrinkled papers of all shapes and sizes, words jotted down on anything handy, and thoughts running through the mind day and night that must be written down before they are run over by new words and thoughts! That used to be the beauty of writing, our mind and heart working together to gather words into stories, and all done without the use of today’s instant technology communications. Having fun with tech buddies is great, but we must always remember that God has given some the ability to be story tellers, with or without the approval of the internet.

  15. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 8, 2017 at 9:04 am #

    Great post Dan.

    But for sake of fun..walk withme a moment..

    A bit tired of real. Hurts tooo much.

    Humility not something i can afford when fighting disease with morethan 95% lethality.

    i am too hard to die, and death hates when you laugh in his face

  16. Anne Braly August 8, 2017 at 9:15 am #

    You shared the truth. I also wonder what writers in England, other countries, think of what is going on among writers in the U.S. Do we appear as trivial, self-seeking, not truthful?

    Thanks for your courageous word.

    • Dan Balow August 8, 2017 at 10:19 am #

      You would have to ask writers from other countries, but book-selling around the world varies greatly country-by-country.

      In most countries, the writing of books not as “democratic” as it is here in the US. Only educators, politicians, leaders and literary experts are given the opportunity to write books in most countries.

      In American, where everyone is encouraged to follow their dreams, we have hundreds of thousands of authors seeking to be published one way or another. The issue of platform is more a result of overwhelming competition in the marketplace of books than anything else.

      If you aren’t noticed somehow, you will be lost among the avalanche of new books published in the US every year.

  17. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D August 8, 2017 at 9:16 am #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dan. No one likes a braggart and I guess that applies to the world of publishing, as well.
    P.S. My Ph.D. is legit! 🙂

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser August 8, 2017 at 9:22 am #

      Mine is too, Sheri, sort of.

      UC San Diego gave it me in hopes I would go away, as I was a knckledragger in a parliament of scientific genius (structural engineering). I set record for the lowest GPA with a doctorate.

      Then stayed on as postdoc for three years. Revenge was sweet.


  18. Loretta Eidson August 8, 2017 at 9:44 am #

    Thank you!

  19. Emily Brown August 8, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

    This was such a great reminder to simply be humble in the online and offline worlds. Thanks for this advice! I just started developing my writing platform outside of my journalism experience, and I attended the Taylor University Writing Conference for the first time last week, where I learned methods to building a platform — the “right” way. Thanks for reinforcing much of what I learned there!

  20. Nancy Bailey August 8, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

    Thank you. This is a great relief. I am currently building my platform and do not want to be too much out in the front.

  21. Pat Iacuzzi August 8, 2017 at 5:24 pm #

    Hi Dan–

    New here, as well as to this topic. A question to your statement: “If an author wants to maintain an oversold persona they will come across as aloof and isolated.”

    What happens if I’m just plain introverted? Really a hermit, and find it hard to “mingle”? Many times I’ve also found that some people seem to resent an author’s success, and that’s makes it even harder to want to be around them.

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