Marketing For Writers Who Hate Marketing

by James Scott Bell

A psychology professor was lecturing his class one day, and asked the following question: “How would you diagnose a man who is standing and screaming at the top of his lungs one moment, then drops into a chair and weeps the next?”

A young man raised his hand and said, “A basketball coach.”

Welcome to March Madness everyone. One of my favorite times of the sporting year. Always a great underdog story or two. And some player stepping up his game to become a national star.

But that’s not the point of my introduction. It’s more about stress and a little something we could call Marketing Madness.

I have a number of friends who came up the “traditional” way. After working to hone their craft and going through the typical rejection cycle, they landed contracts with a publisher. They stayed productive, built up a career.

And then, as they say, stuff happened.

Like the Kindle.

Amazon introduced its industry-changing device in November of 2007. Publishers, at first, rubbed their hands in glee, for they could sell books that didn’t require printing or warehousing, but could be priced the same as a hardcover! (O, what a wake-up was awaiting them!)

No one could have foreseen what this was going to mean for writers. It’s a quaint stroll down memory lane to look at blog posts from those early years of the digital revolution. One of the first indie cheerleaders, Joe Konrath, had this to say:

At this date, May 31 2009, agents and publishers are necessary. Any author who wants to make writing their fulltime job can only support themselves by selling print books, and the agents and publishers are a crucial part of this industry.

But how about in 2012? 2015? 2025?

At this same time, however, the economy was in the tank, the long-term results of which would be fewer contracts offered to writers seeking a place inside the Forbidden City. For so-called “midlist” writers, many felt the big squeeze. Some were not offered another contract. Others saw their advances slashed.

Which meant more writers taking a serious look at self-publishing.

By 2013, your humble scrivener was mostly indie, and began to hear from traditional colleagues wondering if they ought to stick their toe in the self-pub waters. I responded, “Come on in! The water’s fine. And there’s room for everybody!”

So some took a tentative step, some dove, a few did cannonballs. And at first it was a giddy delight. But about a year-and-a-half ago I started to hear rumblings from a few of the newly selfed. Things like:

Marketing is taking up too much of my time!

I wish I could just write!

I don’t know what works to get the word out!

I keep trying things, and I’m frustrated!

I can’t possibly do what [the latest indie superstar marketer] does!

Writing isn’t fun anymore …

That’s when I decided write about book marketing––what works, what doesn’t, what needs to be done, what can be largely ignored. The result is Marketing For Writers Who Hate Marketing: The No-Stress Way to Sell Books Without Losing Your Mind.

I wasn’t interested in writing yet another tome listing every marketing idea available to mankind. Rather, this book has two primary concerns:

  1. To relieve writers of the worry that they’re not doing enough.
  1. To show writers how to prioritize the few tasks that do the most good, so they can spend the bulk of their time doing what they love most––writing!

Yes, we all have to do some marketing––be ye indie, traditional, or a mix. Publishers want you out there on social media, but how much is enough? Even more to the point, how much is too much? When does a flurry of marketing activity begin to negatively affect the most important thing of all––your writing?

This book is my answer. The chapters are:

  • What, You Worry?
  • The Single Most Important Marketing Tool
  • The First Impression
  • Cover Copy That Sizzles and Sells
  • The Crucial Opening Pages
  • What Price Is Right?
  • Productivity and Links
  • The Care and Feeding of an Email List
  • Your Website and Amazon Author Page
  • Your Book Launch
  • Short Writing as a Marketing Tool
  • Live Networking
  • Things That Suck Time
  • Things That Cost Money
  • Platform Paranoia
  • Social Media Madness
  • If You Want to Go Further

Here is where you can find the ebook:






If you prefer print::


 With the time crunch we all feel, it’s more important than ever to assess our available activities via ROI (Return on Investment). Another was to put it is the venerable Pareto Principle (often called the 80/20 Rule), which counsels focusing on the 20% of actions that make a real difference, and avoid expending too much energy (“the law of diminishing returns”) on the 80% that don’t add enough value.

That observation alone should help you sleep better if marketing your books is causing you too much stress. March Madness, good. Marketing Madness, not.

What are your feelings toward marketing? Does it worry you? Frustrate you? Is it something you bear with quiet patience … or with a primal scream?


35 thoughts on “Marketing For Writers Who Hate Marketing

  1. I have your book downloaded but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Looking forward to doing that next week.

    I notice one of your chapters references author website (And Amazon author page). I don’t know if you discuss it, but I wonder at the importance of an author website. While it wasn’t an author, I’ve recently had occasion to do a search for a certain independent photographer, and he had no website, just his FB account and a Twitter account (or was it Instagram, all the media start to sound the same).

    With as time crunched as people are, I’m no longer certain of how essential a website is. I personally very rarely visit an author’s individual website. If I want to know what other books they have, I check Amazon.

    I’m curious as to what extent the rest of the TKZ community makes use of an author website?

    • I have an author website that needs updating, but whether or not readers pay any attention to it–I think most go to Amazon–they say that your author website is like a press kit.

      Who knows?

      • Good question, BK. An author website is a piece of internet real estate that you own, and is there for the occasional drop-in visitor. It’s your brochure (or, as Sheryl puts it, a press kit). People don’t make many buying decisions from brochures (unless they’ve specifically picked them up with the intent to buy). It’s a one-stop info center for your wares and a bit about you, for those people who do want the brochure. The ones who want the brochure have usually read something by you, or heard about you, and they want to kick the tires. We ought to give the tire kickers something to kick (now I’m running out of metaphors).

        An author website does not need to be a “time cruncher.” What it needs to be is clean and easy to navigate. Sue C. has a blog associated with her website. Now a blog IS a time crunch, and I cover the plusses and minuses of that in the book.

        • That’s good to know. That “takes the heat off” a little bit. I at one point had started trying to teach myself web design–I need to do as much as I can myself and save cost outlays for things like professional edits–but found I wasn’t interested enough to keep at it. But I also thought I had to because author websites had to be complicated and intricate and flashy.

          But thinking of them this way, having them look professional and clean but not full of bells & whistles, does get rid of a lot of anxiety about their use. And I think that makes it more possible as a “do it yourselfer”.

          • Yes, these days “bells and whistles” are more negative than positive. Ten or fifteen years ago, maybe … cool animations, etc. But now people have “data filters” to decide how much time to spend somewhere, and a complicated website does not invite closer inspection. It repels it.

          • There are lots of articles out there now on how to set up an author website with little or no cost. I don’t know if Jim cover this in the book (I’m still working through _Plot & Structure_). I’m a big fan of WordPress. If you don’t want to bother with having your own web host you can use Today’s WP themes are rich and easy to customize without coding. I would recommend staying away from hosts that let you build a site using their proprietary materials. Makes it very hard to extract your work and creativity.

  2. I am downloading your book now, but I’m wondering if what worked yesterday will work tomorrow. Or, has the publishing environment stabilized somewhat??

    • What I describe as the most important marketing tools will be what works every time … until, perhaps, we all have chips embedded that send our thoughts to Skynet for processing.

  3. Good timing, James!

    Even a traditionally published author must know the basics of smart marketing these days. I have a book coming out early this summer, and I’ll have to take an active role in publicizing it. We can no longer expect mid-size publishers to do everything. That’s just the reality of writing now.

    I’ve ordered a copy of your book, and am looking forward to putting your ideas to work.

    • You’re right, Mike. But I will add that some publishers think in these terms: More is more. If they expect an author to be on every social media platform, for example, that’s actually part of the diminishing returns.

      Good luck with the book, Mike.

  4. Hi Jim,

    This book is exactly the help I need at the right time from a trusted advisor. I ordered the print version b/c I know I’ll be referring to it often. I’m getting ready to yank the ripcord on self-pubbing and you’re the guy who packed my parachute.

    Just finished How To Write Short Stories. You distilled the essence of countless MFA workshops into an easy-to-understand manual. I learn so much from your short craft guides b/c they’re small, easily digestible packages of practical, hands-on knowledge that don’t overwhelm the reader by trying to cover too much ground. Maybe it’s my age, but I find I can only grasp so much new information at one time.

    You never waste my study time b/c you say a lot with a few, well-chosen words.

    Thanks, Jim!

    • Wow, Debbie, that is high praise indeed. Thank you so much!

      Re: short stories. I was in an MFA type environment in the two creative writing classes I took in college. They did not teach craft. They sniffed at “rules” or even “fundamentals.” Which frustrated the heck out of me. I never had any confidence I could write short stories. Until a few years ago, when I finally decided to see if I COULD find the fundamentals. I think I did.

      • I took workshops from Rick DeMarinis, Mona Simpson, and other literary luminaries. They were great, but I don’t recall anything being said about a moment that “shatters,” your perfect summation of the short story form.

  5. I’m one of those authors who wishes I could just write. But that’s not the case. Downloaded your book and look forward to reading it.

  6. *perks*

    Oh, shiny.

    I will say that for over 2 years, despite anything even vaguely approaching a coherent marketing strategy, there has not been a single month when I haven’t had sales of my first book – even it the royalty payment was McDonalds fodder.

    I look forward to reading Professor Bell’s advice on how to turn that into grocery cash.


  7. Marketing is a skill in itself, and I’m seeing that the authors who are indie pubbed or self-pubbed and are selling big time usually are semi-wizards at marketing. I am no such wizard. I’ve been struggling along for 4 years promoting by trial and error and with limited advertising funds. I will say that a blog/website for an author is a good bet. I do get book sales from my short story blog (free short fiction by famous authors) where my 3 novels and my own short stories are available to browse as well. Sue, above, has it right: attract people to your website with a blog. I love writing my blog and it keeps my creativity and writing skills in practice.

    I’m sure, James, you have a great marketing book. I’m in!

    • I’d just add this, Paula. The authors who sell “big time” have the product to back things up. That’s where the real momentum comes from: quality + production + time.

      As for a blog, as long as you LIKE it and it’s not draining you for your most important writing (your books) that’s fine. It’s usually not a major cog for a fiction writer. Nonfiction is another story. I cover the differences in the book.

      • Quality + production + time. Yes, I see that for sure. I see plenty of badly written novels that are selling well because the marketing is so extensive and so targeted. For authors to learn all the best options to market a book, what works most effectively for a novel, and what the author can afford to spend in time and money is the hardest part. Looking forward to reading your book!

  8. Thanks for writing the book, Jim.

    I’ve downloaded it and look forward to reading it. As a beginner (and still busy with a daytime job) marketing is something I’m dreading. So your book came at the right time for me.

    Your comment and formula (“That’s where the real momentum comes from: quality + production + time.”) reminded me of a formula I read in a book by Bill Hybels on convincing people to take action. (Not a book on writing) HP + CP + CC = MI (High potency + Close proximity + Clear communication = Maximum impact.

    I’ve found that formula to work in many areas of dealing with people. And it could be adapted to book sales, too. High potency = good books (quality plus quantity). Close proximity = establishing ways to connect with the reader. Clear communication = an effective marketing plan. Maximum impact = book sales.

    You’ve certainly connected with many readers and writers on this blog. The books you keep cranking out are definitely highly potent. And I look forward to reading your approach to marketing.

    Thanks for all your teaching!

  9. You have just become the super-model of marketing. This is an appeal to fear and response. Today’s blog has probably set a record in the most responses –reactions and sales– by this early in the morning. (I know you’re on PT like I am.) Way to go!

    Not only do you have a great product, but it was the photo of my one-time-hero, Bobby, (dropped him when he got political) that kept me reading and then pulling the Amazon trigger.

  10. I’m looking forward to reading this book as well. I have all of your craft books except this one, and I will be downloading it soon. I worked for over 30 years in customer service and marketing. Even when that is part of an individual’s work, it is never easy to ask someone to buy. You are selling yourself as well as the product. I am new to the publishing industry, but I’m assuming it is similar. I worked for advertising for realtors for a few years. Now, realtors are extremely busy and very hard to pin down enough to show them an online presentation. One call I made, the realtor was busy and told me to get to the bottom line. I asked him for his credit card number! He said, “Hey, wait a minute! What am I buying?” At that point, I knew I had the sale. Not, “what are you selling?” I showed him and he bought it. Why? I made him laugh. Much of marketing is how you read a person and how they read you. Believe in your product most of all. If you aren’t convinced, they won’t be either.

    • Rebecca, I think you’re on to something. If you believe in your product it will show in your books. If you believe in the craft and work hard at it, the reader picks that up. You build trust that way. Trust is the best long-term marketing strategy for the productive writer.

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