Excerpted with permission from The Author’s Guide to Marketing: Make a Plan That Attracts More Readers and Sells More Books (You May Even Enjoy It). (c) 2014 Beth Jusino. Sharper Words Press. All rights reserved. For permission to share or copy, please contact the author.
Chapter 1: Who, Me?
“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.” — Charles Caleb Colton
So here you are. You have taken—or are about to take, or you’re thinking about taking—the step from solitary writer working in obscurity to published author with a book that strangers will read. Perhaps you’ve got an agent (or you’re looking for one), a publisher (see previous note), or you’ve made the decision to self publish. Your book may already be out, or you may still be a year or more from holding it in your hands.
You have discovered that publishing is a long and sometimes winding path. And there’s a lot more to it than you probably expected.
You have joined the ranks of writers and artists and inventors who have gone before you, with an exciting new product in hand and a similarly bewildered expression on their faces.
“I’ve made this thing. Now what?”
And now you’re here, reading a book about marketing, wondering how this fits into your dream to write a great novel (or memoir, or self-help book, or whatever has captured your passion).
To be a writer, all you needed to do was write. But being a published author means becoming the CEO of a startup business—the Business of Author You. Your product is your book. There are contracts to sign, partners and contractors to manage, decisions to make about artwork and copyright and the pesky serial comma. And then there’s marketing.
You’re still getting used to calling yourself an author. Now you’re supposed to be a marketer too?
If you approach it the right way, this marketing thing can be an opportunity, not a chore. In fact, if you give me a chance, I’ll show you how you might even enjoy your role as Chief Marketer of You.
What This Book Is—And What It Isn’t
The Author’s Guide to Marketing will help you make a plan that fits your style, your audience, and your available time, talents, and resources.
What’s important to understand up front is that every successful author strategy looks different. Sorry, but there is no “secret formula to success” or “30-Day Roadmap That Will Guarantee Your Spot on the Bestseller List.” Those headlines belong on the tabloid rack with “The Miracle Diet That Will Make You into a Supermodel in 10 Days.” Building an audience that will support your new career as an author isn’t going to be as easy as scheduling a book giveaway on the right date or sending a press release to the right channel. What worked for that last best-selling young adult/business expert/ebook/Amish vampire author isn’t going to work the same way for you.
Every book, and every author, is different. Therefore, every marketing plan should be different. What works for me in promoting and selling this book about marketing won’t necessarily work for a historical fiction writer, and with the speed of today’s technology, new opportunities will emerge between the time I’m writing this in 2014 and the time you read it. Timing is important. Trends and technology are fickle. Personalities affect our effectiveness as marketers. And not every audience is eagerly waiting in every marketing channel.
My job is to help you understand what will work for you and your audience, so that you attract more readers, sell more books, and are not miserable while you do it.
Some of knowing what will work is also understanding what won’t. So let me start by giving you permission to say no.
If Twitter makes you miserable, don’t do it.
If walking into a bookstore and introducing yourself to the manager makes your head spin, look for other ways to seek retail support.
If being interviewed leaves you speechless, then don’t hire a publicist to get you interviews.
If you want to launch your author career, you need to do something (actually, a series of somethings), but you don’t need to try everything.
Marketing works when it’s authentic, and in this day of fragmented audiences and multiple communication channels, every author can find a strategy that fits his or her unique talents and audience. I’ve intentionally included ideas and resources to help you build an effective marketing strategy both online and offline. While I believe that every published author today needs to be comfortable browsing, communicating, and shopping online (see the epilogue for a longer exploration of this), I don’t think that means all good book marketing happens online. Pay attention to what ideas and strategies resonate with you. Your success will come from the areas where you and your audience are most comfortable.
How do I know all of this? Because I’ve been working with authors to launch their careers and promote their books for almost twenty years, since back in the dark ages before Amazon. I’ve been a literary agent, an editor, and a ghostwriter. At each step, I saw how important it was for authors to know how to reach their readers, and to be willing to actively share their books. Then a few years ago I partnered with The Editorial Department, a company with a thirty-year reputation of quality and integrity working with writers, to develop an author and book marketing program that would help any writer who wanted to see his or her book in print (or pixels).
I’ve helped hundreds of authors—fiction and nonfiction, self published, traditionally published, small-press published, co-published, and e-published—work out how to build platforms, reach readers, and sell books. Some of them have been spectacularly successful. Others have generated nothing but disappointment.
I want you to have the tools to be part of the former group.
This book is divided into two parts: the first helps you establish a long-term view of your audience, your platform, and the reputation you want to establish. The second part looks at how to use that knowledge to help launch and support a book.
There are questions at the end of each chapter, and in Chapter 10 I’ve included a template for you to create your own marketing plan.
I don’t want to just tell you what to do—I want to tell you why you’re making the choices you’re making, and then let you decide for yourself how to implement the plan. The challenge may seem overwhelming at times. When it seems like there’s too much to think about, remember that book marketing, like book writing, is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to develop momentum, and you don’t need to do everything at one time.
Hide-and-Seek on the Bookstore Shelves
So why does all of this matter?
It used to be that the most difficult part of being published was writing something that would catch the attention of an agent and/or publisher. You’d send dozens, sometimes hundreds, of queries and then weather seasons of rejection while you polished the work and improved your craft. If you were chosen, you were set. Your agent would arrange a contract with a publisher, which in turn would produce the book, and then share it with the retailer (typically a bookstore), which in turn would present the book, with their implicit recommendation, to the reader. Your competition, defined as the other books on the store shelf, was limited. Sales were influenced by talent or luck. If the book sold, the author was invited to write again. If not, the book was quickly shuffled to “out of print,” and we never heard from those authors again.
Sure, the author may be called on to emerge from his writing garret to go on a book tour (paid for by the publisher) or chat with a newspaper reporter covering the book beat (remember those?). Active authors would schedule speaking engagements (for which they were well paid) to increase their visibility. But the publisher handled the day-to-day business of getting blurbs and book reviews and attracted journalists who were hungry for stories. Readers didn’t expect to hear from writers in between books; there was a mystique to preserve. The writers were left to write, living on advances that would never earn out, and treating publishers like they were patrons of the arts, not investors.
At least that’s how we all remember the good old days. We conveniently forget the writers who were abandoned in the old model, their books pushed out of print when a publishing staff turned over or an inexperienced publicist dropped the ball and cost them those critical first weeks of sales. Or those writers who never even found the right agent or publisher for their good, but offbeat, book. When authors were dependent on a whole chain of outsiders to ensure their success or failure, there was a lot that they couldn’t control.
Today, it’s still hard—and maybe harder—for a writer to get that first publishing contract. But even when they do, publishers can’t guarantee the same kind of brick-and-mortar placement that they once did. Retailers are either too big (Walmart) or too scarce (the number of independent bookstores has shrunk by 12% in the past 10 years), and media is too scattered for there to be a clear way for a new book to gain traditional sales traction.
The real challenge of modern publishing is what we call “discoverability.” It’s too easy to get lost in those endless shelves of obscurity. When readers are faced with an almost limitless collection of titles, they can’t—and won’t—sift through all the options to spontaneously discover an unknown voice. Someone needs to help them find the book.
And that someone is the person who cares most about the book’s success: the author.
Whether you’re a novelist self publishing three fantasy titles a year from your home in Tennessee or a business consultant pitching your proposal to top educational publishers in New York, today you have more influence over how and when your readers find you, and whether they commit to you, than ever before.
Yes, you have to market, even if you’re a novelist. Even if you have a publisher. Even if you don’t want to.
There’s still a lot of luck and good timing tied to breakout success, but your writing career is more firmly in your control than ever before. And so is your marketing.
Let’s make that a glass-half-full opportunity.
Why does this matter?
“The only thing that is constant is change,” said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, in a phrase that’s been pulled out approximately nine million times in the past 2,500 years, because things keep changing. Right now, the foundations of publishing are in a constant state of change.
You may have heard that this is the best time in history to be a writer. And it’s true. Authors have more opportunities to reach readers than ever before, and if they want more control of the process, they can have it. Distribution changes have made almost every book in print available to every reader, wherever they are and whenever they want it. Online bookstore shelves are limitless and global. Print-on-demand technology makes it possible to keep a book in print forever. Finite bookstore shelf space or the demands of scale no longer limit publishing.
On the other hand, this is possibly also the hardest time in history to be a successful author, at least if you define success by profit. Reading rates remain flat in the United States, with only three-quarters of all adults reporting that they’ve read a book in the previous twelve months. But developing technologies and expanding catalogs mean that readers are spread out over more titles than ever. It’s easy for a book to get lost in a seemingly limitless catalog of titles, which is growing mind-blowingly fast. In 2012 alone, the United States added more than half a million new books—double what released in 2002. And those are just the new books. Amazon.com, the largest single book retailer in the United States, lists more than 12 million titles.
And that doesn’t even begin to explore the distractions that readers face from TV, movies, games, and the Internet. We live in a fragmenting society where there’s an entertainment niche option for every person, but little that’s shared experience.
Publishing got easy, but finding readers got hard.
You Can Close Your Car Trunk
If that sounds frightening—or horrible—to you, you’re not alone. Once a week I have a conversation with an author who says, “But I hate self-promotion! I don’t want to go ask people to buy my book!” The good news is that marketing (mostly) isn’t about direct sales. No one will ask you to stand on a street corner trying to unload a car trunk full of books like they’re Girl Scout cookies, or auto-post awkward “buy my book” messages every hour on Twitter. (Please, don’t auto-post awkward “here’s a #link to buy my #book!!!” messages every hour on Twitter. That NEVER works.)
Marketing guru Peter Drucker said, “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.”
Marketing is nothing more or less than building positive public awareness about your name and your books.
That sounds innocent enough.
But when we look at how books are sold, the process rarely feels innocent. Why?
Because too many authors are doing it wrong.
They’re ignoring their audience.
They’re chasing the fads.
They’re trying to be people they’re not.
You’ve seen them. They’re the writers who pop up on every social media channel, following and being followed by other writers, and posting an almost incomprehensible series of links and exclamation points. They shove postcard-size ads for their books into your hand the first time they meet you, before they’ve even asked your name. They blog sporadically only about their own books. They release new books one after the other, but the reviews complain about poor writing, and their covers seem to have been thrown together by an eight-year-old with a penchant for dated photos and flowery fonts.
If you’ve dipped a toe into the writing and publishing world, you know who I’m talking about.
On the other side, there are authors who are doing it wrong in different ways.
They’re ignoring their readers.
They’re chasing the illusion of being spontaneously discovered.
They’re not becoming the successful authors they can be.
You probably haven’t seen these writers, or their books. They’re waiting quietly at home for the phone to ring, watching their Amazon sales rank plummet into the millions, while their royalty statements stubbornly refuse to rise above single digits. They like to complain about their lack of sales, but they haven’t looked at their own website in months, let alone updated it. Their attempt at marketing was to send one mass email to everyone they’ve ever met, telling them to “go to Amazon and type my book title into the search engine.”
Different approaches, different mistakes. But in the end, the same outcome: disappointment.
It doesn’t have to be like that.
Here’s what author marketing can be like:
You can know your audience and give them something they want.
You can use your strengths and stretch yourself in the places you want to grow.
You can be an author who’s connected to an active, supportive community of readers.
That doesn’t sound so bad.
Your marketing work as an author should be natural to who you are and what your audience wants. It should feel genuine and trustworthy.
It should be … easy?
Okay, not easy as in “Hey, I don’t need to put any effort into this, and stuff just happens!”
Easy as in “Hey, this doesn’t suck. Sure, I have to put time into it, but it’s not unpleasant time. And sometimes I’m actually having fun!”
Establishing the right marketing plan should be like putting on the right hiking shoes before you climb a mountain: you’ll still have to do the work to drag yourself to the top, and depending on how out of shape you are (face it, we writers are not known for our aerobic endurance), you’re going to sweat. But the right shoes protect you. They prevent blisters and turned ankles. With good support, you can walk farther, faster. They make the long climb … easier.
And that’s what The Author’s Guide to Marketing is about.
It’s natural to be afraid of this. But if you are smart and talented enough to write a book, you are absolutely capable of working through the questions and checklists on the following pages and of developing and capitalizing on your own author marketing campaign. Take it one step at a time.
And perhaps even have some fun with it.
Let’s get started.