`how to market your book if you hate marketing

How to Market Your Book–When You Hate Marketing

How to Market Your Book When You Hate Marketing PinterestWriters these days don’t get to think about just writing. If you want to learn how to sell your books, you must also think about marketing. And yet, most writers hate marketing.

Popular marketing wisdom, particularly within the last decade, says newbie authors should start building marketing platforms before they’re ever published. Start a blog, start a podcast, start a YouTube channel. Get active on Twitter. Build an email list.

This is something I’m frequently asked about. I get emails from authors saying,

I’m just starting to write my first book. What can I do to market it?

The sense from most of these authors is a little confused, sometimes even a little desperate. “Do I really have to do this?”

Writers know marketing is inevitable if they want to sell any copies and make any money. And yet, I daresay for almost all of us, there is this intuition that marketing isn’t just hard, it’s sometimes downright… icky.

Instead of trying to fully overcome that disconnect, I think it’s important to really look at it, to understand the nuances of the competing demands upon you, and to use them to refine a vision for how to sell your books without selling out.

3 Disconnects Between Writing and Marketing

These days, a writer is expected to be a marketer. This is absolutely true if you’re publishing independently, and only slightly less true if you’re publishing traditionally. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, baby. Millions of books are published every year. If your book is ever going to bob close enough to the surface to be fished out by readers, you must be prepared to equip it with some orange floaties.

Writers, like all artists, have long bemoaned the necessity of selling their work, in the active sense. We love to have our work validated by sales. But only the happy unicorns among us enjoy getting out there in the world with our sandwich boards to convince people our words merit a couple of their hard-earned dollars and a couple more of their precious leisure hours. Indeed, a profitable sub-industry exists within the writing world, designed to help frustrated and hapless writers find the techniques (and sometimes hacks) that will guide their books into Amazon’s Top 100.

It’s just one of the uncomfortable paradoxes of being a modern writer: writing and marketing go together about as well as oil and water—and yet go together they must. There are a couple reasons why this balance is so difficult.

1. Writing Is an Introverted Task; Marketing Is an Extroverted Task

Why’d you become a writer in the first place? Likely, it was because you had something to express and found the comforting solitude of expressing it within the metaphor of story to be the most natural mode. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are an introvert (although, odds are), but it does mean you’ve chosen to apply yourself to an introverted task. You’re good at it, and you’re doing everything you can to get better at it.

Marketing, however, is not introverted. Marketing demands you get out there, shake hands, kiss babies, and generally flaunt whatever you’ve got and sometimes even what you don’t got. This is where the major disconnect comes in for most artists. And with good reason. We’re basically being told that to be successful in our chosen field, we must go through a major personality transplant with every new book launch.

2. Art Is Genuine and Vulnerable; Marketing Is Not

Another disconnect is that, at least on a surface level, art and marketing seem to be polar opposites. Art is an expression of one’s genuine and vulnerable self. It says, “Here I am. Take me as I am or leave me as I am.”

Marketing, even at its most low-key, is about putting on a glitzy outfit and jumping up and down in the crowd to make sure you are the one noticed. Marketing is about making campaign promises that swear readers are going to love this book even before they’ve opened the front cover.

This “promise” is obviously problematic even when what the marketing is intended to sell is a BMW. But when you’re pitching something as undeniably subjective as art? That’s a false promise—and no one knows it better than the honest artist.

3. Art Is a Gift; Marketing Is a Sales Pitch

Those artists who make enough money off their art to allow them to create full-time are blessed. But I daresay few of us really write for the money. (If it was all about money, we’d ditch the writing and become full-time marketers, right?) We write because the writing is a gift to ourselves and, we hope, eventually a gift to others.

Marketing, however, is not about giving gifts. Under the guise of giving someone something they really want (and which, indeed, we hope they do), what we’re really trying to do is get something in return, whether it’s royalties or just the gratification of gaining a reader.

How to Reframe Ideas of How to Sell Your Books

Maybe you’re nodding your head, saying, “Yes! That’s exactly how I feel! Down with marketing!” And yet… the disconnect is still unresolved. It’s still there, for all of us, itching away with its dichotomous but undeniable necessity.

I believe that’s a good thing.

The disconnect’s not going away for any of us, and while that may not be particularly comfortable, I believe it’s an excellent sign. This deep-seated disconnect the artist feels with marketing keeps us honest. It keeps us focused on our true motives, reminds of our priorities, and, I believe, makes us both better writers and better marketers.

That brings me back to our initial question: When and how should you think about how to sell your books?

But I don’t want to answer that question. I could say the usual bit about not getting your wires crossed too soon, about focusing on finishing the book first, on first having something to share with readers so they’ll have a reason to listen when you start talking on social media and your blog.

That’s old news. Honestly, that’s all pretty intuitive and obvious.

I also don’t want to talk about specific marketing techniques. I could say you need a blog you update regularly, you need a social media presence, you need Amazon and Facebook and Google ads, you need great cover art and flashy launch parties.

But that’s old news too. Maybe you need all that and maybe you don’t. Some authors have succeeded with these techniques, some have succeeded without them, some have succeeded in spite of them.

Here’s what I am going to say: If you don’t enjoy marketing, then stop thinking of it as marketing.

Fierce on the Page Sage CohenListen to Sage Cohen’s advice in Fierce on the Page:

Instead of thinking of your writing as a product you are selling, think of it as an offering you are making…. What do you hope to contribute?

Because that’s really what you’re doing, right? I mean, really? Maybe you have to think about it for a bit, because, yeah, of course you also want to be famous and make a million dollars. But if I told you straight up that was never gonna happen, you’d keep writing, right? You’d probably even keep trying to get your books out there where others could read them, wouldn’t you?

That is the artist’s soul in you. It’s also, I sincerely believe, your greatest key to finding your audience and marketing your books.

The Slippery Slope of Sell-Sell-Selling

Ironically, the mindset of embracing the art above all else also presents its own disconnect. As much as we may not want to market our work, we absolutely do want to be paid—preferably, as much as possible. We get huffy when we realize readers are willing to pay twice as much for their daily latte as one of our amazing e-books. And buying used books instead of the new ones that give authors their royalties? Anathema!

I’ve chased this rabbit down its hole. I evolved from inveterate-introverted-writer-who-despised-marketing into someone who reluctantly embraced the necessity of the sales pitch, to someone who became pretty good at it, to someone who was beginning to slide down the slippery slope of valuing commercialism over art.

For me, this eventually led to a period of burnout and soul-searching, which in turn led me to axe a couple techniques that were profitable but that didn’t completely align with who I wanted to be as an artist or a person. Actually, I still feel a little twitchy even writing this post. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve definitely had moments where I (unintentionally) treated my readers with disrespect, where I saw them as buyers instead of fellow travelers. I have occasionally (and certainly not for the last time, I’m sure) failed to recognize and act on my own disconnects between commercial opportunities and artistic values.

But along the way, I have learned (and continue to learn) how to maintain the delicate balance of earning a living as an artist.

Selling is just part of our world. It’s a part of being a writer—whether you’re pitching your book to agents, brainstorming scintillating back-cover copy, researching keywords on Amazon, meeting-and-greeting at conferences, chatting it up on social media, or sharing pix of your cat or kids on your blog. It’s all marketing, and it’s all unavoidable.

What is avoidable is the disconnect between marketing your work and feeling like you either have to sell off a piece of your soul to do it or, at the least, assume a falsely extroverted and pushy persona.

Stop Selling, Start Contributing

Instead, view marketing as Cohen suggests. You’re not trying to cram your book down an unwilling reader’s throat. (Who wants that reader anyway?) You’re not jumping up and down in the crowd and shouting, “Lookatme, lookatme!”

What you’re trying to do is contribute something of value to the world. You’re a writer. You’re an artist. You’re one of those lucky people who gets to mainline themselves as their contribution to the world. Your authentic self is the most important thing you bring. So bring it.

If your stories aren’t connecting with readers, if they’re not selling yet, take a step back and figure out why your fiction isn’t filling a need readers have. This doesn’t mean your stories or your marketing platform should be “message” based. Stripped down to simplicity, we know what people need are good stories. This why the art form, and thus the market, exists at all.

So if your marketing efforts aren’t bearing fruit, look first to the product itself. Is it filling the need for good stories? Or does it maybe need a little more work?

Then look at the packaging. Is your book cover, your back cover copy, even your website giving readers reliable clues that this is that good story they need?

Consider your interaction with readers. This is most obvious on the level of personal interaction: your blog, your social media presence. Perhaps your platform is message-based, and people are coming to you for specific advice or information (e.g., technically, my platform and this blog are “message”-based). Or perhaps they’re just coming to you because they connected with either your fiction or you yourself. Connect back. Don’t sell to them. Serve them.

Then look beyond direct personal interactions. The way you present yourself even in ads represents an interaction with your readers. The ads are there to offer what you have to give.

And don’t forget humility. I believe wholeheartedly that each person has something of value to bring to the world. But just because you’ve built it doesn’t mean people will automatically find it worthy. Hold out your gifts, but realize no one is obligated to take them. Sometimes what we have to give isn’t necessarily ready to be given. Or we’re trying to give it to the wrong people. Or we’re giving it in the wrong way.

Actually, isn’t that the whole point of this discussion? For the artist who wishes to minimize the disconnect being creating and selling, what should marketing ultimately be if not a pursuit of, first, learning how to create something worth giving and, then, learning how to give it in the best way?

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How do you balance figuring out how to sell your books with figuring out how to live your best artistic life? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Jeff Wunder says:

    Great post. If you don’t feel that you have something to contribute, why in the world are you doing this? The effort required to create something of value is huge. There are much better ways to make money. If all you’re doing is trying to fit into a market niche, there are other markets with other products. Money and notoriety should be secondary. It shouldn’t be what writing is about, but unfortunately it is for too many people. I see many writers trying to copy other’s styles, content, advice, forming cliques, in-group out-group politics, etc. All in an effort to be marketable, and betraying their original motivation for writing. Forget it. Research markets, by all means. But be yourself, or it’s not worth it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s a fine line sometimes, since all these motivations have to live in the same space. But juggling them constantly keeps us honest, makes us face ourselves, learn our true motivations and desires, and, in the end, be better writers of human nature because of it.

      • Jeff Wunder says:

        Yes, there’s give and take with the world, and you learn by doing, as in other crafts. But what I mean is that as a writer, you should have something to say, and you’re the ultimate judge of what that is. If you’re pandering too much to markets, you’re just another voice in the crowd. And even worse, you’ve lost your own integrity.

  2. Good post. This year, I had some poetry published in an anthology and I have a short story soon to be published in an online journal, so I have some work out there– but I really need to get myself a blog for some promotion so I can venture into deeper publishing waters.

    I should have taken a marketing class in college– my creative writing teachers skimmed over publishing as much as they could, unfortunately– but there’s no point beating myself up over it. I taught myself narrative structure and storytelling through years of observation, analysis, and plain practice. I’ll find a way to get my head around marketing, especially since I would rather self-publish (I write a lot of niche genres).

    Anyway, thank you for this post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The great thing about most writers is that we’re good at self-starting and self-education. It comes in handy as we’re pushing our comfort zones!

  3. Thank you for this post. Marketing has always been a big scary thing for me for so many of the reasons you discussed. But just changing my perspective on it -from competition to cooperation- makes it seem more natural, and less fearsome. I worked in retail for over twenty years and I could never align with selling product for the sake of sales. I can now see marketing as a way of simply showing up in the world. Thanks again!

  4. I think the number of comments you have received on this post is an excellent indication of your marketing procedure. You have an audience, and that’s what writers want–an audience with whom we can share our creativity. As a teacher I was reminded at the beginning of every school year about entering the classroom each day with a positive attitude. Those 2 words became very cliche to me and I got to a point of thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” But it is so true. Teachers “market” all the time while they are in the classroom (at least they should be). They have to “sell” the educational concepts so necessary for their students to grow in knowledge. Authors aren’t that much different. Finding what works for me that I can feel comfortable in approaching people with that “positive attitude” that they will like my story is an ongoing journey. And I think it has reached the point of thinking outside the proverbial box. So I continue with the social media, my website, my book signings, and keep looking for the next new thing I might try to find the audience that wants to read my book. (Right now I only have one, but am working on another with ideas for a third floating around in my brain.) Thanks for your weekly posts. I enjoy reading them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thanks, Patricia! I’m still working on figuring out the best platform for my marketing my fiction. It’s all an ongoing adventure!

  5. Great article. There is so much to learn and how well you have explained things. Writing is an art which requires our time and effort to learn it from masters like you.

    We appreciate your effort in putting up this wonderful post. Thanks for sharing, have a great weekend. 🙂

  6. I’m a medium-level extrovert so I’m able to engage with people reasonably easily (I’m disabled and it takes a huge amount of energy which I don’t really have, but that’s a different story). However, I try to market humbly as, for me, there are a lot of things that put me off buying a book.
    So the things I hate are as follows:

    I loathe being told the marketing author has a best-selling book. Lol, if they’re doing that well, they don’t need me to buy a copy! And when I look at those books, the words ‘best selling’ often don’t mean quite as much as is implied.

    I hate it when authors contact me and assure me I’ll love their book when they have no idea what type of books I like. I won’t buy their book. If they use a little humility and tell me I might like it, I’ll be prepared to take a look. I might, if they’re lucky, buy a copy.

    I want them to woo me, not beat me over the head with their book. And if they’ve never read one of my books, I hate it when they contact me on social media and tell me all about theirs without even acknowledging the fact that I, too, have books published.

    I acknowledge that newbie authors do get a bit overenthusiastic – I admit I did it myself when I started – but we have to learn and move on from that.

    But, like you, I find the hours spent on marketing somewhat soul-destroying. I tend to limit myself so I have time to write my next book. I want to make sales but not to the extent that I’ll run up more debts than I make back, damage my very limited health, or skimp on my writing because I’m too busy marketing. I’d rather have moderate success and be happy with that. And, as you said, marketing courses are all very well but I’m a sceptic. It seems to me the best way to make money is to sell books about marketing to desperate authors and that’s not what I want to do. I’d rather spend my time writing fiction. 🙃

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “I’d rather have moderate success and be happy with that.”

      Hurrah for this. I know from experience that it’s sometimes very hard to stick to that in the face of all the “advice” telling us we can’t settle. 🙂 It’s incredibly important for writers to define their individual versions of success to themselves and adhere to that, never mind the noise.

  7. awesome post. The concept of We As Artists Are Contributing makes sense once you said it. We’re offering something that readers value as meaningful in their lives. Thank you!

  8. “Instead of thinking of your writing as a product you are selling, think of it as an offering you are making…. What do you hope to contribute?” This…totally this! I believe it with my whole heart. This is going on my vision board so that I can remember it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic that has plagued the introverted me for so long.

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