The One Limiting Belief That Holds Authors Back From Success (And a 3-Step Process to Work Your Way Past It!)

how to market your book

But first, the stories worth reading this week:

  • TED-Ed Lessons for Writers to Kick Off 2016 (Maryann Yinn on GalleyCat): “Would you like to take in some writing wisdom? We’ve compiled a list of five TED-Ed videos on how to create captivating fiction, the definition of ‘orwellian,’ pronouns, misused modifiers, and the origins of the English language.”
  • Ten Things I Learned As A First-Time Published Author (Kristin Meekhof on HuffPo Books): “There were missteps on my part. I was green and it showed. Even a well-established person in the book industry told me so. She went to far as to say, ‘I knew you were on the learning curve, but I didn’t know you were at the bottom of it.'”
  • Details Help Writers Overcome Fear (Benjamin Vogt on “Writers are scaredy-cats. We go in fear of lots of stuff, like sharing our true thoughts or wondering how others will think of us.”
  • 7 Book Marketing Trends Authors Can’t Afford to Ignore (Kimberly Grabas on The Book Designer): “In today’s world of rapidly evolving digital media, an author’s book marketing strategy requires clear career objectives and goals, an understanding of what’s working right now (and what’s on track to pay dividends in the future), and some smart planning to tie it all together.”
  • At the Codex Hackathon, a Two-Day Marathon of Tech for Books (Jon Christian, The Boston Globe): “’There are a lot of really talented developers who love books, and who would love to participate if they knew the problems that needed to be solved.’”


The One Limiting Belief That Holds Authors Back From Success (And a 3-Step Process to Work Your Way Past It!)

When I was in college, I used to make fun of marketing majors. I didn’t think marketing was really a thing—it sounded more like a vague corporate job where you were paid good money to sit in meetings and say jargon-y things about customers and profits.

(This is especially hilarious, because I was an English major, of all things. Which is the epitome of a vague major, and one where you would most certainly not be paid good money. I guess I was just bitter.)

When I graduated and actually got a job in publishing (!!), I was still a little snot about marketing. Secretly (and I probably shouldn’t admit this because it is just so snotty)…but secretly, I thought the marketing assistants were just there because they hadn’t been able to get the editorial assistant jobs. (I know. I was new to publishing and too proud about working in editorial. Also, just dumb.)

Over the years, as I started acquiring books, building my own list, and working at different publishers with different systems, I got curious about why some books weren’t selling and others were. I really, really wanted to crack the code. I still do.

And so, I had to get curious about marketing. I had to admit that knowing how to market a book was every bit as important as knowing how to create a good book. Because if a tree falls in a forest, is pulped into a book, and no one is around to read it, does it matter?

No. I hate to say it, but a book that doesn’t find its readership may as well be a journal tucked away in a nightstand drawer. It’s not touching readers’ lives to its full potential, and it’s not contributing to the world. Because no one knows it exists.

Yet marketing is—by far—the toughest thing for new authors, bloggers, and creatives to wrap their heads and hearts around. This is because marketing feels icky and fake. I get it! I thought that, too. And there are a lot of people out there who do marketing in an icky and fake way. They’re pushy; they’re showy; they’re self-centered; they’re just annoying.

But that’s the wrong kind of marketing. That’s the kind of marketing that turned me off of marketing to begin with, that made me think marketing was just about buying ads and tricking people into buying things they didn’t need or want. (Worst of all, these old-school methods of marketing are not particularly effective either!).

Most of the time, when an author has resistance to the very idea of marketing, that’s the kind of marketing they’re thinking of. This one belief–that the only way to market and promote your work is by being pushy and self-serving–is what holds most authors back from going full-force on their campaigns.

The funny thing is that the opposite is true. Authentic, effective marketing is about helping other people, just like writing a book should be rooted in your desire to help other people. As Tim Grahl says, “In a successful launch, the author believes that buying their book is actually a good thing for people to do.” If you believe deep down in the very core of your being that your book can help people—whether it’s the comfort of fiction or the practicality of nonfiction—then you have a responsibility to share that with the world.

How do we really let go of our entrenched beliefs about self-serving marketing and replace them with a commitment to serving others through our marketing? Grahl recommends a great method for lodging this belief inside yourself: go someplace quiet, sit down with a notebook, and write down exactly why you wrote your book, who it’s for, and how you think readers will benefit from it. Post these notes near your workspace. This is the purpose behind publishing your book, and it will be the guiding force behind every thing you do.

Once an author is straight on that, there’s no limit to how many books they can sell and how many readers’ lives they can touch.

From there comes the next question: how do you, exactly, share your work in a way that feels authentic and honest, rather than self-serving and pushy? We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here–there are many authors out there who are already practicing authentic marketing, whether they call it that or not. Here’s how to find them and soak up their strategies:

  1. Make a List of Your Favorite Authors.

    Why did you buy their book? How did you hear about it? What compelled you to invest your time and money in their work? Why do you love those particular authors, and not others? What keeps you coming back to them? Why do they hold a special place in your world?

  2. Follow Those Authors.

    Choose a handful of authors and follow them everywhere they can be followed (not literally…please don’t stalk authors!). Add them on every social media account, sign up for their email list, subscribe to their podcast, read every interview they do, buy all of their books. Find out everything you can about the author’s career arc and how they got to where they are.

  3. Listen and Watch.

    How are they speaking to their audience? What is their tone, and what topics do they address? Why do their other fans like them? How often are they posting new content or updating social media? What are they saying? How are they talking about new projects (new websites, new books, new products—anything) with their audience? Who else is talking about their new projects, and how? What strategies are they using to launch a book or other product?

From this, we want to learn two things: how to be authentic (in tone and content) and how to be effective (with our methods of communicating). I think reading and getting to know the marketing methods of successful authors is the easiest way for anyone to learn what works. Over time, and with a lot more enjoyment, it will become natural and clear why the work of these authors is worthwhile to you and how exactly it’s reaching you.

Then we can replace those painful memories of late-night, shouting-at-you infomercials with a new concept of how to reach people with your work.

(You can learn more about how to market and promote your book here.)

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