“Build it, and they will come,” goes the famous and often-misused line from the movie Field of Dreams.
When it comes to making a living in the writing industry, though, nothing could be further from the truth. You might have written a novel that could change a nation through the beauty of your prose and have it available to the whole world on platforms like Amazon and Kobo… but if no one knows to look for it, very few people will ever read it.
That’s where marketing comes in.
What is Marketing?
So far in this series, I’ve talked about what you need to do after you finish your first draft until your book is ready for market, and how to make it available to the market through publishing and distribution.
While these steps all require a huge learning curve and an enormous amount of work, few things put more authors into a cold sweat than the word “marketing.”
Yes, most of us would prefer to hide in our caves all day and just talk to our imaginary friends, but if you want your words to have the kind of cultural impact of Harry Potter or Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Pay It Forward, people need to read your book. And if you’re an indie, the job of finding those readers is yours.
First, let’s redefine marketing in our minds.
Marketing is NOT broadcasting “buy my book” on all channels 24/7. Does that thought make you shudder? Same with the people on the receiving end, my friend.
No, marketing is much simpler than that.
Marketing is connecting your book with the people who want to read it.
Or, said a different way:
“Marketing” means telling a story that other people want to be included in.
That’s not so scary, right? I mean, we’re authors. That’s what we do.
I have owned all kinds of businesses: direct sales in several industries, online retail in the equine tack industry, online knitting pattern sales, and now, freelance writing and editing.
While each of these industries has a different ideal customer, the common thread of how the best marketing works for all these industries (and every other industry) is the same:
You want your marketing to tell a story—a story that attracts your ideal customer so they enter into a business relationship with you.
When it comes to authors, this is a much more personal relationship than it is for, say, selling saddle pads or bicycles or clothes. Why?
As an author, you are not really marketing your books. You’re marketing yourself.
Yes, as an author, you are your brand. Your books are the products your brand sells, but if you want to be effective in this modern age of social media and instant access, remember that what you are selling is much more than just your books.
So, what you really need to do to sell your books is to:
Be a decent human being.
Connect with your ideal readers on a personal level.
Don’t Freak Out
I just heard someone faint and fall off their chair, and there are at least three of you breathing into a paper bag right now.
First, relax. In fact, that is probably the most important part of marketing: Relax. People can tell if you are uptight, tense, or hate talking to them, but if you are relaxed, they will tend to relax and enjoy engaging with you more.
Okay, honestly, I don’t have the time to spell out every step of book marketing to you in a single blog post. That’s why this is an overview. I’ve been studying author branding and marketing for nearly ten years, and I still feel like I have a lot to learn. So I’m going to give you some over-arching principles to follow, but you’re going to have to seek out more dedicated marketing gurus (like Tim Grahl, Kristen Lamb, Joanna Penn, and Jane Friedman, to start) to start diving into the nitty-gritty of how to do this thang.
And I also promise not to say “thang” again.
For now, here are the things to keep in mind:
Have a Website
Pretty much all marketing gurus agree that you need to have your own website, even if it’s just a single page built on a free platform like Wix. (Mine is built on Squarespace, which I love, but it’s not free.)
Your website is your own real estate, unlike social media. It is the place where you can gather all the pertinent information your prospective readers need in one place, then send them there with an easy-to-remember URL. It has more uses than I can list. Really, this one is non-negotiable. You need your own website. (Check out this fantastic article from Tim Grahl about creating an author website for more.)
Find What Works for You
I’m not going to pretend that you won’t have to get out of your comfort zone to market. You will.
Unless you are one of those minority authors who just loves spending time with people and your real struggle is making the time to write, you are probably going to need to learn some things in order to connect with your readers. It might be as simple as figuring out which social media platform you enjoy using that your readers also hang out on. Or you might have to develop confidence speaking to live human beings at book signings. (Joining Toastmasters or a regularly occurring live-person social event and practicing social skills are helpful for this.)
Wherever you’re at right now, start with something. Push your comfort zone in one area, and when that starts to feel comfortable, push it in another one.
Keep growing and pushing and, eventually, you’ll realize that you’ve found some things that you enjoy and that people respond to. Then focus on those.
When it comes to marketing, you don’t have to be good at all the things as an indie author. You just have to be good at a few things that work well for you, and do those. You’re marketing time and efforts will be much more effective if you enjoy what you’re doing.
Give Yourself Grace and Time to Learn
You are probably an author because you love to write. I’m guessing that most of us didn’t wake up one morning and say, “You know what? I’m going to learn to write and publish books, because gosh, I just think that learning to market and sell books for a living would be so darn fun.”
If that had been your dream, you’d probably work for a publisher in the marketing department.
That’s okay. Just because it wasn’t your dream doesn’t mean you can’t learn to do it. You just need to learn one thing at a time.
There is a lot to learn when it comes to book marketing.
How do I find my brand message?
How do I write an effective email?
How do I put a website together?
How do I write a good book blurb?
How do I use social media effectively?
What genre is my book even in? (Yep, been there.)
That list is a mere scratch on the surface of the topics you have to learn when you are marketing your writing business. But you only have a finite amount of time in a day, week, or month, and each new skill will take time to learn.
So give yourself the time to do it. Don’t stress that this author over here has a perfect website and blogs three times a week and is on social media throughout the day connecting with readers and is still producing a book a month when you’re still just trying to figure out how to set up a newsletter list.
It’s okay. You’ll get there. That author didn’t start off rocking everything, either. (And very few authors can even do what I just described. Those that can write extremely fast and have usually been doing this for a long time—or they have help.)
When it all boils down to it, the marketing advice you’re going to hear over and over again as the only sure-fire way to become successful as a writer is summed up in two points:
Write more books.
Write better books.
And since that’s probably the part of being a writer that you love, remember to focus on those two things. Don’t get caught up in the marketing details. Spend some time on it each week, but don’t let it distract you from the thing you need to do most: write.
Do you have any marketing resources or mentors you recommend? I’ve included the people who have helped me, but there are so many wonderful mentors out there sharing their knowledge. Please leave a comment and share who has helped you for the benefit of others reading this post.
(None of my links were affiliate links, by the way. I have benefited so much from the wisdom of these mentors already that I want to share them with you and support their work.)
Now get out there and connect!
Talena Winters is a freelance editor, independent author, magazine writer, and tea and silver lining addict. As an editor, she specializes in making story magic with self-published authors, helping them develop their diamonds-in-the-rough manuscripts into stories that glitter and shine. See her editing services here.
Also in this series: