The Real Reason You’re Not Marketing

The Real Reason You're Not Marketing -- Rock Your Writing

How much marketing are you doing, really?

How much “platform building“?

Being honest: probably not that much. Am I right?

If you’re published, you may only send out a newsletter just before a release date.  If you’re unpublished, you may blog and then mention it on the three social media accounts you opened… although that’s hit or miss, as well.

Of course, your argument may be: too much is pushy.  You don’t want to be sleazy.  You certainly don’t want to be one of those asshats that posts something about their book every single day in scheduled bursts.

But that’s not the real reason.

I could make all sorts of arguments why marketing isn’t sleazy. Why it’s useful, even necessary, if you’re going to make any sort of income as a novelist. That marketing is, in fact, more than simply saying “buy my book” — it’s a part of every choice you make in your writing career, and is integral in every element of your stories, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

But I’m not.

If you’re here, I’m going to assume that, at some point, you’d like to make a living with your fiction.  So you know marketing is necessary, and we can just go from there.

The real reason you’re not marketing is simple:  fear.

Like most fears, it doesn’t matter if it’s rational or irrational: it has power. Enough to stop you in your tracks, if it grows large enough.

What are you afraid of?

Well, the three main ones, in a nutshell, are:

1.  That you’ll do it wrong, leading to poor (or no) sales, a ruined brand, and your writing career ending in a big, fiery DOOM.

2. That you’ll be seen as a spammy, pushy, tone-deaf loser and the few readers you do have will leave you, taking your few measly current earnings with them… leading to your writing reputation being ruined, your career utterly failing, and DOOM.

3. That you’ll sell out, turning into a parody of your true self just to make a few bucks, leading to your friends hating you, you hating yourself, career burnout, and ultimately complete failure. And, of course, DOOM.

You may notice a pattern here.

How to address these fears.

We’re going to dip into metaphysics here for a minute.  Bear with me.

To change something — a habit, a fear, whatever — takes effort. Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self says there are five levels where change occurs.

  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Energetic
  • Spiritual

I’m not going to address those last two here, because they’re tricky and not my strong suit to discuss.  But change can start and be nudged along at any level, so we’re going to address the first three.

Change on the Intellectual Level.

This is where you use logic.  When your subconscious starts to give you reasons why you’re doomed to failure if you try marketing, here are some counter-arguments you can point out:

  • If the fear is “you’re going to do it wrong”, remember that you are going to research, use resources and learn, so you’re not marketing completely blind. Beyond that, you’re going to do it wrong — everyone does, at first. It’s an iterative process.  Besides, at this level, the danger isn’t ostracism for “being pushy.”  It’s obscurity — not being recognized at all.
  • If the fear is you’ll be seen as “spammy”, marketing done properly is absolutely not pushy, relentless, or distasteful.  Think of marketing you actually appreciate getting.  Maybe there’s an author whose social media you follow because she’s entertaining, and you look forward to hearing from her.  Maybe you just get a free coffee on your birthday from Starbucks because you have a frequent buyer card.  Those are both examples of marketing, and you like them.  Ergo, there can be positive marketing… and you can do it, too.
  • If you’re afraid you’re turning yourself into a big phony with this “branding” stuff, remind your fear that the most sales you’re going to make will be a result of your authenticity.  You have something no other author can offer: your voice, your creativity.  (That’s a whole different fear — self-doubt — but you get where I’m going here.)

Change on the Physical Level.

Fear leaves clues.

When you’re afraid, how do you feel?  Do your shoulders tense?  Do you take short, shallow breaths?  Does your heart pound?  Maybe your stomach knots?  Do you have muscle aches?  Or maybe just a wave of fatigue?

Addressing physical aspects can address the psychological ones, as well.  Think of it as reverse engineering — you’re addressing symptoms as a way to work towards the underlying problem.

The first and easiest solution for this:  mindful breathing.  Yup, just regulated deep breathing will take the edge off the worst of your fear, allowing you to work on another level because you get an edge on it.

Likewise, taking a hot bath or shower (for muscle aches and tension), drinking a big glass of water or possibly mint tea (stomach issues), or getting more sleep will also give you an advantage over your fear symptoms. If you can afford it, getting a massage will help your physical, mental, and emotional states.

Change on the Emotional Level.

Again, rational or not, fear is fear.  Sometimes, the logical arguments don’t work.  Simply saying to yourself  “but I shouldn’t be afraid” is just creating more anxiety, and adding a heaping side of guilt, as well.

The key to emotional change, then, is acceptance.

Recognize exactly what you’re afraid of, and then own it.  You can do that by saying to yourself (out loud, if need be):  “I’m afraid of (whatever it is), and that’s okay.  I may not like that I’m afraid of it, but right now, that’s all right.  This is just the situation I’m in. I’m allowed to be afraid. Just because I’m afraid now doesn’t mean I will be forever.  Even though I hate feeling guilty about being stuck in this, this is where I am.”

Strangely, just acknowledging what’s going on without judgment is enough to, again, give you that edge — something to work on, a way to start climbing out of the pit of inertia and fear.

Action is the game changer.

Naomi Dunsford has this great analogy about fear. She says it’s a monster that feeds on your inaction and paralysis.  The less you do, the more it bullies you — and the more it feeds, making it grow larger, with an even bigger voice.

You don’t want to kill it, because it’s a part of you.  But you do want to shrink  it.

How?  By taking tiny actions, every day, and moving forward.  The more actions you do, the smaller the monster becomes.

Small actions beget bigger ones.  It doesn’t even matter if you have a plan to start. You’ve got a vague idea of what you should be doing.  Take one small step, and then another.  Build the fire of your momentum, one twig at a time.

Fear is the foundation of courage.

You’re always going to have fears.  That’s okay.  Courage isn’t the absence of fear.  (As they say, the absence of fear is insanity!)  

But you don’t have to let it stop you, either.  Marketing, writing — any goal you might have — will have fears attached.

Learn how to manage your fear, and you’ll find yourself marketing more effectively, and more regularly. More than that, you’ll find yourself moving closer to your dreams in all areas.  It’s a skill worth learning.

To increase your odds of marketing more effectively, you might also try my new ebook —  Painless Promotion:  Strategy.  I wrote it to help authors simplify their choices and come up with a big picture plan, instead of panicking that they’re not doing enough.

(See?  See what I did there?  Marketing. <g>)


Platform: what the heck are we doing?

file0002108341536Platform.  It’s agreed that every author needs a platform.  There are a lot of debates raging, though, regarding when to start, what to do, and why.

First and foremost:  I believe in promotion.  You can have the most wonderful story in existence, but if no one knows about it, or can’t find it, then you’re never going to get read.

That said, I have mixed feelings about the term “platform” simply because I think most of us just don’t get it.

Why are you doing what you’re doing?

I have spent the past few years studying courses from, and the dynamic duo of Naomi Dunford and Dave Navarro.  In their course “Your Next Six Months,” they wrote a fantastic observation :

Let’s look at someone who wants to get serious about music. What might they do to show they were serious?

They’re going to find Middle C on a piano. They’re going to figure out the correct way to hold a French horn.  They’re going to learn how to moisten the reed on a clarinet without getting a tongue splinter.  They’re going to pick up a biography of Beethoven on the Kindle.

Looking at these people from the outside, what’s the first word you think of when you look at their behavior?  Is it serious?  Or is it scattered?

Applied to music, or sports, or home decorating, this approach is insane.
Applied to business, it somehow seems not only reasonable, but the only responsible thing to do.

How authors apply this insanity.

I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve spoken with who say “well, I’ve got to get my platform going, because I’m going to be querying soon.  So I have got to get a website.  And I’m starting my Facebook page, and get a Twitter profile.  Oh!  And I’ve been hearing good things about Pinterest.  And maybe Tumblr.  And I need to start a street team.  And I really have to figure out how to spend more time on blogging.  I hear that’s really good for SEO.”

Right there, that’s essentially presenting a similar approach to the scattered music analogy.  They’re going to do a little bit of everything.  But it’s not going to necessarily tie up coherently.

If you ask them what the purpose of this “platform” is, they will look at you like you’re crazy, and say, “to sell books, obviously!”

But it’s as if they’re following a recipe: have these elements, mix vigorously, and sales will result.  That’s essentially like someone throwing eggs, butter, flour, and sugar in a bowl, and then hoping like hell a cake comes out when they take it out of the oven.

What might work better.

There’s a method behind the madness.  Here are some example elements, and how they work:

1.  Website. 

Who goes there:  people who want to find out more about you and/or your books.

How they got there:  either because they saw a guest post and found you interesting; they saw your title in a search, and they want to know more before they invest in your books; or they read your title, liked it, and want to know what else you have and when your next title will be available, especially if there’s a series.  They either Google search your name or click on a link, again from a guest post bio, or Goodreads, or social media.

What it should do: 

  • offer information about you in a way that’s compelling to your Right Readers, reassuring them that they’re in the right place.
  • Offer ways to purchase your books and information that might sway an on-the-fence reader.
  • Offer a clear overview of the series order if you write series
  • Provide a way for readers to be notified about future titles, perhaps even with a signing incentive, in your newsletter.

2.  Social Media:  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

Who visits your social media:  Different types of people use different types of social media for different purposes.  They go to see interesting things, find things to share with other people, and to feel connected. Almost none of these people go to these places to be actively sold to.

How they get to your social media:  Generally, you get “followed” by fans on social media after they find a book and enjoy it, or because they’ve seen you interacting with other mutual friends, and they feel they connect with you on a personal level.  They like what you share, what you “say,” and generally your social media personality.  Or, they are signing up to support you, because they like your work and want to feel closer to you.

What social media should do:

  • Should be primarily social.  It’s hard to connect with a continually ongoing ad.
  • Even if it’s promoting work, there is an element of “we” to it… “You guys got this book to #3 on the bestseller list!” reads a lot differently than “I hit #3 on the bestseller list!”
  • Should be focused on your Right Reader almost exclusively.  That way, you’re cementing your relationship with those people who will be the most connected to you, and the most vehement about helping you promote.

3.  Guest posting/blog tours

Who goes there:  people who are “fans” and followers of the book blog.  Making sure you’re a right fit for the book blog is a good first step.

How they get there:  They follow social media links or simply visit the blog regularly.

What guest posting should do: 

  • In some cases, it will result in either a sale, or at least an “add” of interest on Goodreads, both good things.
  • In some cases, it will simply promote interest — they aren’t ready to buy or add, yet, but they might research a bit more.  Links to your website would probably be a good thing, especially if it comes with a bribe to subscribe or extended excerpt.
  • In other cases, they may not be interested in the book, but they will respond to your tone and decide to follow your social media, giving you opportunity to connect and possibly sell a book they find more to their liking down the road.
  • Finally, if nothing else, it increases visibility of your title.  Every blog tends to promote their guest posts and reviews on all their social media — which then gets cross promoted and retweeted, etc. by many of their followers and friends. So people start seeing your title and name in their social media feeds, and when they finally click on a link, they’ll think “man, I’ve been hearing about this book everywhere.”

Like a puzzle, a platform has interlocking pieces.

It’s not brain surgery, but a certain amount of strategy does come into play.  If you don’t know what you want a platform “plank” to accomplish, think twice before leaping in.

If you’re interested in developing that strategy…

I’ve put out a book to help with just that.  It’s called Painless Promotion: Strategy. It will give you the interlocking pieces, going into more detail than I’ve done here. Better still, it will help you decide what you need, and why… and how to start putting that plan into place.


Sell books (without being an asshat.)

Sell books (without being an asshat.)I read two interesting blogs recently.  First, “Are Writers Badgering Readers?” over at Huff Post Books.  That post was a response to Book Riot’s “Readers Don’t Owe Authors Sh*t.”

The two seemed to encapsulate the writer’s dilemma.  Nobody wants to badger readers — but “if we want to sell books, what else can we do?”  Right?

Not necessarily.

Let’s talk about coffee for a minute.

Let’s say you’re at a coffee shop. You enjoy it there: you like the atmosphere, the coffee’s pleasant, the pastries are really good.  You go in to buy a cup and knock out a chapter.

But the owner clears his throat. “We’ve got a new flavor of latte coming out next week.  I need you to post about it on Facebook and Twitter, and tell all your friends.  It’s important.”

You nod absently.

“Did I mention I’m trying to put my kid through school?” he adds, holding your pastry hostage.  “And that business has been really bad?”

You squirm, look away.

“And I hear you buy Starbucks at the grocery store,” he continues.  “When independent coffee roasters are struggling?  When I sell  pounds of coffee beans right here at the counter?  Do you want to put me out of business?”

You mutter something unintelligible, get your latte and scone, and shuffle towards “your” table.  Only to have him add:  “By the way… you spend hours here, buying only one cup of coffee and a single pastry.  I lose money when you do that.  You know that, right?”

When you hastily drink your coffee, eager to get the hell out of there, you wonder if it was always this bitter…  or if it’s just you.

Meanwhile, in another part of town…

Let’s go to a different coffee shop.

The woman who owns this place has a decent number of table tops in a good location, and she’s been open for a while.

She doesn’t necessarily know your name, but she knows your drink, because you’re a regular.  In fact, you show up enough that she suggests you sign up for the frequent buyer program: just provide your email, and you get a punch card, plus a free latte after every seven.

After you sign up, she sends monthly emails announcing new coffees and tea blends (“Almond Hazelnut Toffee Mocha!”) and discounts on pastries.

When you show up to write for hours at a time, she notices.  Only instead of railing at you about it, she talks to you about what you’re working on, and even suggests you hold a writer’s group there.

Badgering, begging, and marketing.

Removing the validity of any of the guy’s statements, how likely is it that you’re going to go back to that first coffee shop?

Personally, I don’t care if it’s the smoothest coffee in the world, served in 24 carat gold cups, and Johnny frickin’ Depp is pouring. I’m not drinking there.

Guilt trips aren’t a marketing technique.  They’re emotional blackmail.  And they have no place in a business.

Marketing is more than a coupon.

Now, look at the second cafe.

That owner has enough tabletops that even if several are occupied for hours, she’ll have enough room for turnover.  She needs to sell x number of cups of coffee to make overhead… and she didn’t open a cafe until she knew she’d have enough money to get a location that would actually make that possible.

She pays attention to her customers, so she knows that you loiter for an hour or two while you’re working out scenes.  She also knows you’re good for a tall latte with a shot of espresso, and that you can be coaxed into getting a cookie if it’s raining.  She gets a healthy balance of people like you, plus stressed out executives from the office park across the street, mommies taking a breather after the Gymboree class next door, and teens too young to hit bars every evening.

She knows her business.

Further, she’s not thinking “I need to get my daughter through private school, so you’d better add a morning bun to that order, pal.”

She’s thinking of the customer.  That is, what’s important to the customer — what the customer wants and needs.

She also knows that if you only wander in to grab a (free) sample of muffin before making excuses and reading the (free) paper, you’re not a customer, you’re a distraction.

If a distraction complains about the fact that she’s “always trying to sell something”  she’s going to ignore him.  Why?  Because he’s not really “business” that she’s going to lose.

She knows that people like special deals, and they’re willing to trade access to their inbox for the occasional free vanilla latte and a price break on a cinnamon roll.  If they aren’t, they don’t need to sign up, or they’re free to unsubscribe.  But she’s betting on the fraction that are, and that bet tends to pay off.

Instead of carping about you loitering like a wannabe Hemingway, she’s looking at ways to broaden her market.  Consequently, her reward is twelve new potential regulars, on top of selling about twenty-four cups of coffee and eight pastries plus a pound of French Roast when your writer’s group meets there.

That, my friends, is marketing.

How can we apply this as writers?

Most authors put off promotion until a new release, then they get into this frenzy of activity… until the launch month has passed, at which point they can gratefully return to their writing caves until forced back to repeat the cycle with the next title.

Others are the “badgers” that the article mentioned.

They’re All! Sales! All! The! Time!!!! 

You can’t throw a dart without hitting some blurb about their books, recent reviews, or special sales.

Technically, that’s just saying “buy my book!”  and it’s only one element of a marketing strategy.

Working an actual marketing plan takes people from:

  • cold (“I don’t know who the hell you are”)
  • to warm( “okay, I know you, but I don’t know if I’ll like your work”)
  • to hot (“I will pick up your next novel and sign up for your newsletter list”)
  • to molten (“I will buy you in hardcover and name my first child after your main character”  )

That involves lead generation.  List warming.  Up-selling.   And especially writing more books.

If you’re a writer, you’re in business, right?

It might sound hard, and some of these terms might sound alien at best and skin-crawling corporate at worst.

But for the most part, they’re simple, if not easy.

The bad news is, there’s a learning curve.  The good news: if you can plot a novel, you can make a marketing plan.

And if you’ve worried about how to promote without turning into a douchebag narcissist, then trust me: this is the way to go.

Click below for related posts on promotion:

Promote Your Book:  Lessons from Cinderella

Right Reader, Revisited

The Slow Writing Movement

2013: The Year of Confluence

Whew.  Just like being back from any vacation, I’ve been getting my bearings back from an entire Year of Cruise.

I learned a ton of things. I did a ton of things — most of them unexpectedly.  I essentially “pantsed” an entire year, and now live to tell the tale.

The biggest takeaways:

1.  Assume distractions have valuable information.

In 2012, I discovered Permaculture because I took a little detour into researching organic farming.  I discovered a whole new way to look at promotion and tribe building by researching presidential campaigns (and I’m not even political.)  I also learned the connections between exercise (specifically flexibility, strength training and stamina training) and their corresponding elements in writing, discovered the creative benefits of a hot cup of tea. Oh, and I discovered how holograms can be both a metaphor and just plain cool.

Any other year, I’d probably have berated myself for “wasting time” in pursuing these weird little pointless eddies of information.  Now I know: keep an eye out for the clue. Because sure enough, every single time, there was one… and it usually wound up being an unexpected harbinger for greater things, a way to see smaller patterns contributing to larger ones.

2.  Qualities are the seeds of motivation.

I started the Year of Cruise with the premise that I’d focus on qualities, rather than goals.  I knew I wanted to be less stressed; that I wanted ease and comfort and curiosity. (That mostly worked, incidentally.)  The real gift to that, though, was asking myself:  well, if I want to feel this, what exactly does that mean?  What elements in my life contribute to that?  And what’s standing in the way?

(Note:  External GMC, anyone? Yes, I felt like an idiot.)

Ease and comfort took a number of forms.  It meant pushing back some deadlines.  Looking at exactly what my finances could bear, and pruning away things that I didn’t need, both in terms of expenses and assignments/work.

It’s funny — when I was younger, I used to think that ease and lack of stress meant shying away from the brutal realities of finances, or perhaps avoiding the unpleasant confrontations of saying “no” to demanding clients/employers.  Now, I discovered: that initial pain is the key to the gateway to ease.

I’m sure to many of you this seems obvious, but to me, it was a crucial shift.

3.  Everything is everything.

In using the year for exploration and self-examination, I was able to reconfirm and clarify my life’s mission:  I want to show other people that it’s possible to live a sustainable, creative life, despite the obstacles and the fear and the nay-saying of the outside world.

This is usually the theme of my fiction; it’s the foundation of Rock Your Writing.

I teach people that despite the crazy-ass nature of our business, it is possible to actually complete a novel, publish same, and figure out how to make a living, albeit not necessarily an opulent one.  No matter how long the odds or how much you may have felt you’ve “screwed up” in the past, you can do this.  I’m living proof.

Once I reconnected with that, I saw where everything else I was pursuing fed into that.  Looking at everything through the lens of the mission suddenly focused everything — just like reconnecting each scene in a novel with the primary story question and primary character GMC.

Even things like taking care of my son and cleaning my house suddenly clicked into the pattern:  following dreams and being able to sustain a living without working every second of the day was something I want my Boy to learn, so I am showing him that.  I want to write more efficiently — it’s easier to do with a clear desk and, strangely, a tidy kitchen.

Making the choice to connect everything to the central question suddenly added fuel and value stacking to everything I did.

I declare 2013 “The Year of Confluence.”

According to Miriam Webster, “Confluence” is defined as:

“a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point.”

It seems like I’ve spent the past few decades chasing seemingly tangentially related elements and trying to juggle a million things.  Taking the past year “off” — as it were — gave me the space and the ease to get a big picture snap.

A “confluence” of what?


Managing time to write.

Value stacking everything else you do to make writing easier.

Promoting in a way that is efficient, effective, and sane.

Publishing in a way that supports what you’re trying to achieve.

Writing in a way that supports your life, how you want to publish, and what you’re trying to promote.

What would help you most?

To help me help you, to quote Jerry Maguire — what is it you feel you need the most when it comes to your writing?  What is the next level?  What do you feel is getting in the way of you achieving it?

Leave a comment, and please feel free to share this.  I’ve got big plans for this year, peeps — and some really great, simple tools I’m dying to share.

Onward! To confluence! :D

Promotion & Permaculture

A while ago, I mentioned in a post about target audiences and using myself and my December novel as a guinea pig.  It’s August… which in publishing terms means December is more than right around the corner, it’s breathing down my neck.  So that means promo gets in gear.

Do all the things!”

The problem I have seen with many promotional theories — even my own, back in the day — is that they assume you can’t miss anything, so you should somehow try everything.  That usually means getting on every type of social media there is (twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google Plus, Pinterest, Linked In, whatever) and then constantly streaming stuff about your book and yourself.

What’s more, there tends to be too many tactics.  You’re expected to set up a blog tour, send out review copies, write guest posts, comment on book blogs, keep up with Goodreads, work your social media, set up local signings, order and send out promo items, and maintain an author blog on your own website.

While writing.

And, presumably, maintaining the rest of your life — namely, your family, your day job, your social obligations, and your own self-care, which tends to come in last on the list.

Promotion burnout.

The main complaint I have heard from other authors:  they are overwhelmed, unsure of where to go, and exhausted from trying to do everything.

What’s more, most aren’t even sure the tactics work, and if they are working, they have no proof and no sense of connection between activities and results.  This is where the “I write the best book possible and hope for the best” tribe tends to spring from.

That said, if you haven’t been doing all the things, and you’ve got a book launch around the corner… what’s an author to do?

Slow approach to promotion.

It’s often said that the best time to “build your platform” is long before your book is published, and with a continual, steady effort.  I can agree with this, although part of it, for me, is a mind-set thing.  There’s a difference between getting in contact with your community and making genuine connections, and acting like a Mafia don, doling out favors that you fully intend on recouping later.

In a “bestseller” world, the key is traction.  You want to sell not only a lot of copies, but you want them to sell in a short time frame.  Booksellers look for traction to see if a book is worth re-ordering or pushing. From a digital standpoint, traction tends to nudge the algorithms that “suggest” books to buyers.

When it comes to print books, traction is more important because after a certain time frame, you either justify taking up space on the shelf, or you don’t.  In digital, while you may languish in obscurity, you won’t get kicked out.  There’s time to grow.

How I think this would work:

  • Lower the goal.  Set a lower sales goal… but at the same time, actually set one.  Or maybe a different metric.  Reviews.  Subscribers.  Something measurable.
  • Widen the time frame.  Most launches seem to live or die in the first four weeks.  If you don’t make it in that first month, your publisher’s on to the next (unless you’re self-published.)  Set a lower goal, with a wider time frame.
  • Tighten the focus.  Most promotion efforts and tips I’ve seen want to target the greatest number of potential readers.  I am wondering if a smaller but more focused group is a better idea.  (This is going to be the bulk of the experiment, I think.)
  • Track the results.  It’s impossible to see if your promo efforts directly result in sales unless you’re generating sales directly from your site, or something.  Which is why those other metrics, especially subscribers, might be a better way to go.  Need to noodle on this, to determine “yield.”


The experiment.

In my next post, I’m going to go into more detail of the actual experiment. (Plus, I’m going to talk to my science-y friends and discuss how an experiment is best set-up.  It’s been years.)  But in a nutshell, I’m going to test:

1.  Creating goals that are measurable and achievable (with time frames and everything!)

2.  Creating a strategy that takes into account how much time I can spend/want to spend, with a set of criteria that all tactics need to go up against.  Sort of a “What Would My Right Reader Do?” decision matrix thing.

3.  Creating tracking metrics and definite check-ins (which I will then report back.)

I think that it’s possible to hit a Slow Writing target, with a minimal but consistent amount of energy/time expended on a weekly basis.  In my next post, I’ll lay out the parameters of the experiment for my December novel.

And, now that I think about it… I might need to get some control subjects, to see what the difference is.  (Anybody else have an Urban Fantasy coming out in December they might want to also use as a guinea pig?)

What do you guys think?

What would you most want to test?