By Debbie Burke
In May, Steve Hooley and I surveyed TKZ contributors about marketing and how they promote their work. Links below:
For most of us, marketing holds the same appeal as a kale and rutabaga smoothie.
A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with Mark Leichliter, author, writing instructor, and editor. I mentioned what writers really need is advice about how to overcome our aversion to marketing.
Mark took up the challenge. He probed into why we hate it so much and offered some solutions.
I thought his ideas would make a good companion post to our recent marketing discussion.
Today please welcome Mark to the Zone.
If a tree falls in the forest…okay, we all know how this old philosophical question goes. How about this one? If an author publishes a book and no one knows about it… Easy to answer, right? A book without readers is still a book in the metaphysical definition, but its existence is pretty pointless. With one exception, the person who wrote it—you. But what if you are the sort of person who would rather hang around in the forest awaiting the sudden tree toppling than face marketing your book?
Count me as a forest dweller. The thought of promotion sends me scurrying into the deep timber. But unless you’re one of the eleven and a half writers around the world that a Big 5 publisher runs full page Times ads for, the work is going to fall to you. Big press, small press, no press, if we want to expand our audience beyond our own front door, we’ve got to face down marketing, even if we hate it.
I’ve got a few counts against me when it comes to book promotion. Perhaps you do as well. First, I’m shy. Students in classes or participants in workshops I’ve taught might not guess this to be true, but it is. Give me a business dinner where it’s all small talk, and I’m a disaster. It takes me ten minutes of chanting mantras to make a phone call. Second, my parents raised me—and I thank them—to be humble. And I grew up in the Inter-mountain West, a culture where people respect my right to be an individual but they’d rather not hear about my individuality. Third, I openly despise consumer culture. It’s apparently the marriage partner to an open capitalist market, but why must we constantly be sold everything? Ads stalking us on our phone, our clothing, in our music and movies and emails. Why would I want to participate in something so intrusive?
Here’s the thing. We’ve got to think about that silent forest again. Unless you are content with your audience of one, you’ve already entered the marketplace. So how do we take our reluctance to promote our books and change our approach to marketing? And how do we rise out of the din? Here are some tips I’ve learned for those of us who become physically ill at the thought of book promotion.
- Distinguish between the book you’ve created and your role as its creator. Yes, in the vernacular of the marketplace, you’ve got a product to distribute now. But it’s also a book, something that can defy demographic typecasting and time. Books are unique products, so treat them that way. It starts by letting the thing exist separately from you. Sure, you poured yourself into it but now it exists (more metaphysics!). So do it a favor. Here’s a simple analogy; you might be reluctant to share some tiny triumph at work or some personal accomplishment, but if one of your children scored a goal or won a ribbon at the science fair, you’re going to shout it from the rooftops, right? Doesn’t your book-child deserve the same?
- This is key; change the game. Don’t see your actions as marketing. More to the point, don’t reduce the book to only being a product you’re trying to sell. You’re used to flipping psychological switches in your brain on slow writing days in order to remain productive, so flip a different switch in how you see interacting with readers. It’s really a matter of respect for them. People seldom want to buy “products” anyway. They want to participate in a lifestyle they value. They want to follow passions. They want to be associated with things in which they place importance. You didn’t spend the years and the drafts writing your book while lukewarm about its themes, characters, and ideas. See promotion as an opportunity to engage others with those fronts. Don’t sell a product to consumers, enter a conversation with readers. Even if you are shy like me, when speaking about the topics I’m passionate about, I come out of my shell without thought. I can’t stomach that trivial cocktail party chitchat, but find the person at the party who shares interest in something we both find meaningful, and we’ll be there all night. Instead of “marketing” your book, look for venues where you can have conversations about mutual passions. There are thousands of bloggers and podcast hosts who run author interviews. Readers like to know the person behind the page. They like to engage with a writer because they love books. Find venues that take reader questions. Reach out to book clubs. Provide readers something of value and neither they, or you, will see your outreach as a sales job.
- Control what you can control and work from your strengths. If the idea of appearing on a podcast makes you cringe, then focus on print interviews instead. You’re a writer aren’t you, then the prospect of providing written answers to questions for a blog actually offers you the chance to be creative, probe topics you care about, and do so from the comfort of your writing desk. Get more creative still. Propose a “day in the life” first person post from the viewpoint of one of your characters. Interview one of your characters. Or present the city your write about from the lens of your book. Or get yourself off the hook entirely and use an actual human source you turned to as a consultant for your book and interview them. There are plenty of fun, creative ways that feed your imagination and give readers something original in the process.
- “See your friends.” My favorite soccer coaching colleague was a wonderful Thai guy who was a genius at simplifying the game. His go-to expression to players during scrimmage was, “See your friends.” Shy? Uncomfortable? Humble? Rather than go it alone, reach out to other writer friends or other authors from your publishing house. There’s tremendous comradery among writers, probably because we’re the only ones who truly understand how difficult writing and marketing a book really is. Propose dual blogger posts or offer a book site a conversation between you and another author. Suggest a multi-author panel for a podcast, a remote event, or a live appearance. There’s strength in numbers, for you, and for your audience. I guarantee that you will enjoy the conversation that emerges, and it won’t feel like marketing because it really isn’t. Sales and exposure are the offshoot. Moreover, you can share the workload.
- Champion others rather than yourself. Remember that comradery comment. It’s real. And I know you’ve found other writers you want to see succeed. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to help find an agent for a writer friend simply because I believe in him and his book. Put some energy into broadcasting reviews, recommendations, and announcements about books by writers you admire or have learned from. Stand up for books you love. You’ll be doing a valuable service for readers. Do it because you care. Maybe the author will reciprocate. Don’t worry if they don’t. That shouldn’t be your motivation. You’re a participant in a bigger writing community, so be a good neighbor. We live in times where we need more kindness, so do someone else a solid. Put awful things like social media to some good use instead. Or take that five minutes to write a review on a seller’s site or a book community site. If people value what you have to say about books you love, many are going to want to know about your work as well.
You don’t have to become a PR cliché to produce effective promotion for your book. Look, you really do believe your book has value, right? Whether that’s simply entertainment value for a reader or a book that will challenge how they perceive the world, surely you are producing work that you are proud to have written—a book that deserves an audience. The thing is, you’re going to have to go out and find that audience. There’s a first step that has to happen before we can have the contemplative conversation about whether an unopened book on a bookshelf has value; first we’ve got to get it on the shelf, or better yet, in a reader’s hands.
Thanks for your insights, Mark!
TKZers: Do you have mind tricks that help overcome your aversion to marketing? Please share.
Mark Leichliter’s new novel The Other Side debuts today, June 8. Sales links here.
How do you start an investigation when you have no evidence a crime has been committed?
Welcome, Mark! Thanks for your insights and advice
Your post brought to mind a story I heard about an author who is not quite a household name but who, thanks to movie adaptations based on two of his books, created a character whose name has entered the lexicon far beyond the thriller genre. His other books were not quite as successful. He was on a book tour in support of a new, lesser-known work and while doing a signing at a mall bookstore was getting no love at all. He went out on all mall concourse and started hawking the books in the manner of a clergyman exhorting his congregation to contribute to a building fund. It worked. He sold books. You do what you gotta do.
Thanks for the welcome, Joe. “Do what you gotta do” is a darn good tagline for this side of the business.
Welcome to the Zone, Mark. Thanks for offering solutions to make marketing more palatable and even fun.
Book clubs and joint appearances with other authors work great for me b/c chatting with readers is enormously rewarding as well as educational. I always learn something new from reader comments and that helps improve my craft.
I’ll be traveling today and not able to respond to comments until late.
Thanks so much for inviting me, Debbie. And I agree; there’s nothing better than direct connection with readers. I love book clubs and hearing reader insights. I think it’s important for all of us to gain those perspectives too.
Well said, Mark. Welcome to TKZ!
Thanks for inviting him, Debbie. *waves*
Sue, thanks for the welcome!
Welcome, Mark, and thanks for doing this great post! I can identify with many of the mental road blocks you listed. And the strategies for overcoming them are realistic and doable. I am printing out this post for reference,
Good luck with your book launch. I look forward to reading The Other Side.
Thanks, Debbie, for asking Mark to tackle this subject.
Thanks for the comment, Steve. I’m glad you found it helpful. And thanks for the well wishes.
Great post. Thanks for the ideas.
Thanks, Debbie and Mark, for a timely post.
Hate marketing and sales. Love talking about my themes and characters. And absolutely love meeting readers who’ve dived in and been helped. I still have, on my desk, the first thank-you card I ever received from a grateful reader. When I’m feeling small and useless and alone, I read that card and get back to work.
Thanks, Deb. Wow! What a special thing to hold onto.
Welcome, Mark! I love the advice in this post. Mindset matters in marketing, as it does in writing, and you’ve given us some great ideas. Thank you!
Thanks, Dale. I’m glad you found the post helpful.
Well written and relevant piece, Mark. Thanks for hosting him, Debbie. For the longest time, I didn’t understand what m…m…marketing books was all about. Sure, I’d heard about platforms and presence and paid-ads and so forth. I guess the light bulb moment happened when a highly successful indie put marketing in perspective by saying it’s a compound effect of every single thing you do in the book writing, publishing, selling, and learning business.
I was taught to divide my efforts into 4-Ps. Production. Publishing. Promotion. Perfecting. Production is writing more books. You have to have a current product to sell and a growing inventory to back it up. Publishing is getting the work out there. You’re only as good as your last book. Promotion is promotion. Like you said, Mark, you gotta get found. Perfecting? For me, it’s never gonna happen, but what I mean by that is working daily to improve your writing craft and knowledge of how this business works.
I spend time every day on each P. There’s no set percentage, but it’s all part of the big picture, and that vision is where I’ll be in five, ten, fifteen years from now. So my view of marketing is the combination of all 4 Ps.
In the Promotion part of marketing, what’s working for me (right now) is writing a series, setting the first book as permafree, and use the pay-to-play discount email sites like EReader News Today, Free/Bargain Booksy, Robin Reads, and Fussy Librarian to promote the freebee. Those sites have a massive reach and create thousands of downloads when I do a tri-monthly “stacked promotion”. The action drives the freebie up the charts which creates more downloads. Then, the read-through or sell-through to the other series books takes off.
Sorry if I’m long-winded this morning, but I’m passionate about this system because it works, and I want to share this with other writers.
Fantastic advice, Garry. Thanks for sharing.
Welcome, Mark, and thanks for your insightful article.
I can identify with the distaste for what seems like self promotion. My parents taught me the proverb “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.”
I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable marketing my novels, but I feel it’s part of the business of writing. Also, I was interviewed a couple of times recently on podcasts, and I discovered I really enjoyed talking about my books and the themes that mean a lot to me. That didn’t feel like marketing — it was more like a conversation with a friend about shared interests.
Well said, my friend! 🙂
I’m glad the piece resonated with you, Kay.
Exactly. I just did my first podcast interview– with Fla. Writers. It was FUN. BTW, they invite other authors to approach them for podcast interviews. It’d be nice, in the spirit of helping each other, to mention some of these marketing outlets here… Thanks for the great post.
Nancy, Thanks for this tip. I just subscribed to the Florida Writers podcast and I’m looking forward to listening to some of their episodes and maybe requesting an interview.
“Don’t sell a product to consumers, enter a conversation with readers.”
“Champion others rather than yourself.”
Thanks, Mark, for the reminder that marketing can be less painful if we have the right mindset. All our book children deserve the love.
Debbie, thanks for inviting Mark to share his insights.
Thanks, Suzanne. I love the phrase “book children”.
Welcome, Mark, and thank you for your excellent advice. When I first started speaking, people told me, “imagine the audience in their underwear,” as a way to make me feel better. It didn’t. In fact, it was a horrible thought. But I learned to imagine the audience were my friends, and I wanted to tell them about my new book. And it worked much better.
“I learned to imagine the audience were my friends, …” What a great line!
Such practical advice. Another blog I visit regularly had a guest talking about marketing and it was about using 10 social media sites, which made my skin crawl. I much prefer another’s advice from a workshop I attended that said “Pick one you’re comfortable with and focus efforts there.” As a VERY reluctant marketer, your post is most helpful.
Thanks for the kind words, Terry.