How book promotion language can attract or repel readers

I recently landed on the website of a 30-something selling a “how to be a successful freelance writer even though you’re not a writer and have no writing experience or journalism education” training program.

This individual had no writing training or experience herself, but decided to become a freelance writer while unemployed. She turned what she learned from that experience into an online course.

Because I have a journalism degree and work as a freelance writer, I was more than curious about what she had to say. So I added myself to her email list . . . and got an education. But it wasn’t the one I was expecting.

Oh, the things you can learn!

I realized pretty quickly – as in the second email – that we weren’t a good match.

She used “the f-bomb” in the subject line and throughout the message itself. Subsequent messages used the same, um, “salty” language. In addition, they were often snarky and lacked substance.

I unsubscribed.

Words have power

While I didn’t learn much about her perspective on how to become a freelance writer, I’m glad I subscribed. The messages presented me with an “aha” moment: Our book promotion language — the words we use in our messages — can either attract or repel readers.

[novashare_tweet tweet=”Our book promotion language — the words we use in our messages — can either attract or repel readers.” hide_hashtags=”true”]

It’s possible – even likely – that this entrepreneur knew this and chose her words carefully so she could weed out people like me who won’t appreciate her on-camera approach. By tossing a few four-letter words into her email messages, she’s saying, “If you don’t like this, you’ll really dislike my training style! Go away!”

Message received. Buh-bye.


Have you noticed these trends?

I’m more sensitive to marketers’ word choices now because of this single experience. Has it happened to you? Have you seen advertising, email, social media, or other messages that make you think, “This isn’t for me”?

Here are a few language trends I’ve noticed that help me see where I fit in:

  • Acronyms. Sometimes they refer to industry associations (for example, ASJA for American Society of Journalists and Authors). But they’re often simply a shorthand for people who don’t want to write entire words – YMMV for “your mileage may vary,” for example. Or, the speaker has military experience. You’ll see them in email messages, blog posts, and social media messaging.
  • Buzzwords and phrases. These are often either industry terms that the target audience recognizes (blurb, metadata), corporate-speak (incentivize, unpack, or pain point, anyone?), and current popular phrases (“I was today years old when I learned this”).
  • Hashtagging. You’ll see this in all types of marketing content. It’s hard to miss in this Klondike bar commercial (or should I say #Klondike?).

What does this mean for your book promotion language?

A friend uses a lot of hashtagged acronyms in her Facebook posts. After I had to Google #IYKYK (“if you know, you know”) when she used it recently, I realized that I didn’t know. And that told me that I wasn’t supposed to be interested in her commentary that day. You know – because I didn’t know, right?

So the question is: Do the words, phrases, or expressions you use in your social media messages, blog posts, newsletters, or presentations exclude people? Or, do they help you attract more of the right people? 

Is your book promotion language working for you, or against you?

[novashare_tweet tweet=”Do the words, phrases, or expressions you use in your social media messages, blog posts, newsletters, or presentations exclude people? Or, do they help you attract more of the right people?” hide_hashtags=”true”]

Both are okay if you’re being strategic.

But if you’re inadvertently closing the door on people you believe will love your books, it could be a problem.

Know your audience

Work to match your book promotion language with your audience. If you’re a baby boomer targeting a reader half your age, you’re not going to use Lawrence Welk references, right? But you might use phrases like, “Keep it 100,” “JOMO” (not to be confused with “FOMO”), or “FR.”

Similarly, if you’re a millennial writing for a baby boomer audience, you’ll want to avoid slang you use with peers. And you won’t want to be hashtagging left and right. (Pro tip: “left and right” is a boomer phrase.)

It comes down to knowing your audience (here’s help with that).

If your audience is people like you, you’ll intuitively use language that attracts them.

If it isn’t, work to make sure your book promotion language speaks to them in ways that say you understand them. In order for us to connect with a marketer (and that’s what you are), we need to feel like you understand us.

Words can do that.

What are you doing already to make sure your messages attract the right readers? Please tell us in a comment. 

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

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  1. Great post. I always wonder why people are so offended by the f word and other colorful language. When you’re writing fiction, you’re bound to have some of the characters use more colorful language. It’s art imitating life. I know, in this case, it’s not fiction. It’s her conversational style. Still, for me, they are just words. Unless a person is calling another person the offensive word, I don’t really get why it’s an issue. I’m curious more than anything because I hate to feel restricted as a writer. I feel like you have to be authentic and not worry so much because no matter what you do, somebody will be offended or not like it.

    1. Kyrian, none of this applies to fiction. Keep on doing whatever you’re doing with your fiction.

      The word expresses anger. I don’t expect (or want) anger in emails that are trying to sell me something. A subject line that reads “WHAT THE F*CK ARE YOU WATIING FOR?” doesn’t motivate me to make the purchase. However, it might work well for someone else.


  2. Hi Sandy,

    I recently joined an online community of freelance writers, and when they are writing informal message to their presumed peers, half the time I have no clue at all what they are talking about. Sometimes it’s acronymns, sometimes slang, sometimes it’s references to celebrities or movies I don’t know, and other times there seems to be missing some factual background that they assume everyone knows. My guess is that these mystifying shorthands show up in their writing for publication as well.

    As you said, that might be a plus, but more likely in my opinion a detriment. I suspect some of these people are youngish and writing for other young or youngish readers, but others are aiming at mainstream publications that reach all ages.

    Marcia Yudkin

    1. I see a lot of that in unsolicited publicist pitches coming from entry-level agency staff. They don’t realize that they aren’t always pitching their peer group. I’d like to think that the writers in your group know enough to adjust their language to the situation, but who knows?

      And for anyone reading this, I highly recommend subscribing to Marcia’s weekly Marketing Minute newsletter. You’ll get a short marketing tip in your inbox every Wed. I read every single one! Here’s the link:


    1. Sonia, like you, I keep the foul language (and I use plenty of it) to my personal life.

      I have to admit, though, that sometimes foul language in book titles makes me laugh. I think every parent can relate to the children’s book parody, “Go the F*ck to Sleep.”


  3. When marketers use off colour language, I find it careless, disrespectful, and/or lazy. As you point out, though, Sandy, perhaps these are tactics used to weed one’s audience of those who won’t care for such an approach. It certainly does so for me. As for the acronyms, slang, and cultural reference assumptions, I too find this often in press releases. It make me tired, but then it helps me weed out releases (and at times whole agencies) to ignore — not their desired outcome, of course…

    1. I’m smiling, Kerry, because I react the same way you do: It makes me tired. But then again, so do all the word mispronunciations in audiobooks!

      Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.


  4. Sandy,

    My pen is down for now but I like to check in when the topic hits home. Reminds me of the show, “Vacation House Rules” where Scott declares design, work, and know your users. The basics.

    Yes, an occasional cussing tirade is expected in prose. Our British friends however, maintain we Americans are ruining the English language. Must we obliterate it all together?

    Old-fashioned and hopefully not completely outdated,

    1. I hear ya’ Gabi. Acronyms have become our shorthand — I sometimes wonder if using them is a timesaver or just lazy. The one that makes me roll my eyes is LOLOL — as in, “laugh out loud out loud.” I mean, really, nobody says that, right? Just keep it at LOL — and add a couple of exclamation marks if you must!


  5. In my writing I tend to avoid most of that simply because I’m sure even a teen can understand buy-one-get-one. I don’t have to BOGO. One of the things that really annoys me is poor grammar and misspellings when I’m considering joining or buying something that’s supposed to help improve my writing. I am immediately wary and often turn away. Perhaps I’m being too picky.

    1. Al, I wouldn’t pay for writing advice from anyone who can’t spell or use correct grammar, either. I think others are better able to focus on the content rather than on how it’s delivered, though.


  6. Thank you for this. It was very insightful! I try to avoid using cursive words as much as possible when writing or making comments to the general public for that specific reason. I believe it to be a professionalism that when you advertise yourself that you want to use your best foot forward.

    This just gives me a positive notion that I am on the right track. I look forward to reading more insightful posts!

    1. I agree–put your best foot forward! I think that looks different for different people, but it’s a good goal.


  7. Good post. Using salty language tells me a few things about the blogger. (1) She has a small vocabulary. (2) She doesn’t respect herself. (3) She doesn’t respect her audience. (4) Salty language can only take you so far.

    1. I like your style, Shirl. Your comments make me wonder if that course creator’s style was designed to distract from her lack of substance (whether intentional or not).



  8. In my opinion, a writer’s work gives a perfect X-ray of the writer. Cute, tacky, silly, dumb words show how one’s brain needs repair work.

  9. That wannabe freelance writer proved something we already know: writing is harder than it looks! As a technical writer, I’ve found myself working with engineers and programmers who basically know what they want to communicate, but just can’t. Their style of writing is too technical (nerdy?) for average people to comprehend. That’s where I feel my ability to work with people and help them transfer what’s in their minds into a coherent, logical format. Yet, some people still feel that splattering words onto a Word document or a cell phone qualifies them as scribes worthy of a web site or a podcast.

    The message I convey with my creative writing is aimed at people who have similar interests. I’m a strange little man and tell people that up front on my blog. But, most importantly, I don’t insult my readers; assuming instead they have at least half a brain and enjoy weaving cerebral tapestries with me. Everyone’s true personalities ultimately emerge with their own words and actions. Getting others to understand it will always be key to personal success.

    1. I agree that writing is harder than it looks, Alejandro — much harder. I like what you said about how personalities emerge in writing. I think that whether we write fiction or nonfiction, we develop a “voice” with experience, and that writing voice is similar to our real one. What do you think?


  10. Here I was, after 2 years in the Army married, jobless and broke. The best I could do was in the mail room in an advertising agency. After a month I was placed in their Store Audit Department which was subsequently discontinued. It’s closure left 16 young, eager ad men on the street. After a dismal search and many turndowns I was given some sound advice (long story). I was hired as an advertising rep by Forbes magazine. The downside, I was given no training. It was like throwing a kid in the water over his head and telling him to swim. Cruel though it was I then developed what I call my GRIT COURSE. The only requirement was do the thing you hate to do often enough and you’ll end up liking it. That’s how I became a successful publisher. Your list of dos and do nots is excellent. I have a list of sayings a mile long (well not quite) I write almost every day. Here’s one you inspired: “Like any ship, your words will either float or sink” Wonderful. Keep up the good work.

    1. I like your expression, John! That’s a good one. And if they sink, you learn from the experience to make sure they float the next time, right?

      Thanks for stopping by!


  11. I say save the expletives for comedy or true shock value. Otherwise, it’s usually just a lazy way of emphasis. I can’t tell you how many f-bombs I’ve removed from my own 1st, 2nd, 3rd, even final drafts. As much as I feel the passion behind them, in the end, I don’t want them marring my work.

    But there are times and places when they really make me laugh.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. My commentary only applies to using that language in marketing materials, not in a book’s content.

      And yeah, like you, there are times when it makes me laugh — just not in the subject line of an email message that’s trying to sell me on how to make a living using words!


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