Why Marketing Is Like Motherhood


This past Mother’s Day I was reflecting upon this most honorable role and, suffused as I am with the writing life, my brain related the whole thing to marketing.
My lovely daughter-in-law is on the verge of bringing another Bell into the world. I find myself thinking back to my own first born. When Mrs. B and I were awaiting the appearance of our son, we set about to become the best parents ever. This is the pull of nature. It is as old as civilization, as robust as ocean tides.
Law student that I was at the time, I got into studying books. Today, there is a virtual mountain—nay, a mountain range of Himalayan proportions—of printed and digital advice on the art of parenting. It can seem as daunting as a view of Everest as you stare up into the clouds with only a rucksack and a walking stick.
So I remember well the day my wife and I took up the classic Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock. Though some of it was controversial at the time (and perhaps remains so), there was a famous axiom that begins the book, one that has comforted many an anxious parent facing the world’s toughest job:
“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”
It was a call to not stress about what every “expert” has to say, so much of it conflicting. In such cases you have a gut instinct that is, if motivated by love and tempered by wisdom, highly reliable.
And that’s the marketing lesson I want to mention today. There is a flood of material out there on what you must do to bring a book to the public, with so many sources asking how can you improve public relations? There are countless options, so many more than the “old days” of bookstore signings, talks at your local library, and sitting despondently next to Mary Higgins Clark at a conference.
The explosion of digital options—everything from paid ads to social media madness—can make choosing what to do seem as daunting as trying to solve the Hodge Conjecture with a hangover.
Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.
First of all, use common sense. Don’t go into hock to market your book. The single biggest determinant of writing success is….wait for it….the writing itself. You know this. You know that you have to concentrate most on writing good stuff, getting better at it and keeping it coming, if you want a long-term career.
Second, we are starting to see that a few marketing methods are better than others. Paid placement with BookBub, for example, is always good. Other email services, like BookGorilla and eBookSoda, will make you new readers. And that’s what you need to build an email list of fans. No matter how small it might be, it’s always good to be able to communicate with people who’ve bought from you before and have shown a willingness to do so again.
As for social media, it’s easy to get the ROI (return on investment) completely bollixed. If you spend the majority of your Twitter or Facebook time begging people to buy your books, you’ve done more harm than good. If your spend more time socializing than you do producing, your calculus is all mixed up.
Here’s a suggestion: Your time on social media ought to be one-tenth the time you spend writing on an average day. If you write for two hours, you get twelve minutes on social media.
There, I said it.
I think this is all stuff you really do know, even though you might have lost that native wisdom in the clamor of Do this! and Do that!
My suggestion is to pick up the book marketing analogue of Dr. Spock: Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book. Use it as a reference, not to try to do every single thing in it at once, but to consider the options and choose wisely.
Mothers bring babies into the world. Writers bring books. Love what you write, nurture your books, care enough about them to discipline them when they need it (that’s called editing) and then let them leave the nest.
And as they fly to market, don’t stress. Your love goes a long way. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you miss doing one thing, you’ve ruined your book’s chances forever. (You know, like if you don’t get your child into that expensive pre-school he will never get into Harvard. His life is ruined, and he’s only three!)
Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.
Keep writing the best stuff you can, choose a few marketing things to do, and it will all pretty much work out as it should. Adding stress doesn’t help a bit. To cut down on the stress of your website costs, take a look at the best free web hosting providers.

So do you get anxious about marketing? Do you realize that’s not doing you any good?

18 thoughts on “Why Marketing Is Like Motherhood

  1. Jim,
    I love the analogy. Great advice. An important subject. I’ll definitely remember your 10% rule. As a beginner, and someone very busy with my daytime job, I’ve really stressed on that one.

    Interesting that you presented this subject – marketing – and the analogy to birthing for this week’s blog. Over the past week I’ve been thinking of brand loyalty, or readers continuing to buy your books, and the analogy to why people choose personal services (like attorneys, doctors, trainers, financial consultants, etc.) Qualities like competence, price, availability, convenience, character, satisfaction with experience, dependability, value, continuity, etc. I’d love to see a discussion on that – birthing the second and third and fourth book – sometime.

    Well, back to birthing my firstborn WIP. I’ve used up my 10% allotment.

    Thanks for all your great teaching.

  2. This is really good advice. Thank you. I am on Joanna Penn’s e-mail list, so I guess I have one step in the right direction.

  3. This is excellent advice. I’ve personally found that direct advertising on social media did more to harm my sales than help. Instead, I began driving people from social media to my blog. Many find my blog content to be helpful and entertaining, so a significant number take the next step from my blog to Amazon.

  4. I don’t have kids so I can only imagine the terror involved. 🙂 But your analogy works on many levels. A parent frets about every danger around every corner yet…things tend to work out and kids are, as history has taught us, pretty resilient little suckers.

    We all need to be. We writers can learn a lot from children…how they don’t obsess about things they can’t control (well, maybe 3 year olds do a little) and they approach each day with wonder and joy. They don’t dwell on how to best portion out their energy; they just go for it, have fun, and sleep soundly. In the sandbox, they don’t think, “Oh man, look at THAT kid’s castle…it’s better than mine and he’s probably got a movie option to boot.”

    And now I am going back to my WIP because I have used up my 12 minutes. (I spent 5 watching a dog video on FB…)

  5. I just finished Joanna’s book last week and I feel really excited about the possibilities. She does a wonderful job of covering every area in detail, without making you feel like a failure if you’re not doing ALL THE THINGS.

    I really like your metaphor. As a mom of a toddler, first kid ever, I so relate. I read all the books and drove myself crazy in the beginning trying to figure out the best way to do anything.

    Of course, the real answer is between figuring out what works for you and what’s worked in general. Every one is different.

    And now I’ve spent my 10 percent and it’s time to get back to making the word doughnuts.

  6. JSB: Thank you for this level-headed post. There are the worthies in the wisdom-for-authors business (that would be you and a handful of others), and then there are all the rest. I am certainly hoping the quote from Dr. Spock holds true: if I’ve been correct to trust myself, rejecting 90% of the blather about self-promotion and marketing will turn out to be right on the money. Thanks again: as far as I can tell, sanity on this subject is in short supply.

  7. Love this, James. I’m thankful I learned that the “buy this! buy this!” doesn’t work. It never worked on me, so I wouldn’t expect it to work on other readers.

    A good friend of mine who raised two wonderful sons gave me great parenting advice as well: let them fail. I think that applies to authors as well. If we don’t fail, we don’t learn how to do things right, and we definitely wouldn’t appreciate success if it smacked us in the head. Failure can be good.

  8. That is a great analogy James. You speak the absolute truth. Writers shouldn’t push their work into social media too hard. If you trust your skills enough, the outcome will definitely be positive. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to get the word out there but be very discreet about it. No need to post it on every site you stumble on! That was a great read James! Hope to hear more. 🙂

    Clwyd Probert @ WhiteHat

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