Marketing the Self

Originally sent to the Listener Insider Mailing List on July 21, 2016.
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I’ve interviewed over 70 authors for the WROTE podcast. I’ve self-published. AND… I’m a production editor for a small, non-fiction press… plus I’m connected to a larger publisher. This places me in a unique position to answer any questions you may have about the business of being an author. I reached out to a group of professional writers, asking what areas confused them at the start of their careers, and received some GREAT starting questions. Here’s the next:

Answers for Authors

Vance, why won’t my publisher market my book? If it’s up to me to promote it anyway, shouldn’t I self-publish? If I self-publish, where do I start?

Excellent Questions! Marketing is the Gordian Knot of all sales, book or otherwise. It’s perceived as the magic elixir – “drink the right potion and wealth will appear” say the stuffy execs who want an explosive success from a single, cost-controlled action.  But truly successful marketers know it’s not magic, it’s a series of small steps you can apply to promoting your art, whether self-published or traditional.

Starting with the first question:  Why won’t my publisher market my book?

Answer from a Small Press Marketing Director:
“I hate it when authors think that we don’t promote their book. When, in fact, we send copies to reviewers, we do research to find the best publications to advertise in, and we take extra care that our retailers know what the book is about and how they can promote it to their customers. We go to industry book events where we do nothing but promote books. We have all of those back-end relationships in place and we work every one of them that is appropriate to a title.”

“But readers, especially the ones who make recommendations to friends and family, don’t want to follow companies. They want to connect with a person. For that to work, the author needs to have a platform of some sort. Even if they’re not directly speaking to fans live or on social media, we encourage them to develop something of a brand. Radio and television want to interview the author, not the publisher. Newspapers and podcasts are the same. I hope all of our authors know it’s a joint effort.”

Next:  If it’s up to me to self-promote it anyway, shouldn’t I self-publish?

That question is but one small piece of the self-vs-traditional argument. To keep within the confines of marketing and promotion, look at it this way. You’re not responsible for promoting a single book. Odds are good you have either written several, or have plans to write more. While there are tasks you have to do to market and promote each work, you should be thinking of how your actions promote your entire catalog. Are you writing a series? Then talk about the series, and off-handedly mention that the latest is out. Then go back to talking about the series.  Are your works each stand-alone? If so, then talk about the themes between your books. If readers like THIS then they’ll find more like it in THAT.

Regardless of publishing origin, you are ultimately promoting your public self. Marketers break it into two pieces – Platform and Brand.  Loosely:

  • Your Platform is where you are visible and where you communicate with the public. Do you blog tour? Do you do radio/podcast/television/newspaper/magazine interviews? Do you hang out on a social media site?  Those are all part of your Platform.
  • Your Brand is you being you on your platform. It’s how the world sees you and your identity.

So if you’re thinking is along the lines of “talk a lot about this book, done, talk a lot about the next book, done, on to the next book, done…” then your marketing will have that stale BUY MY BOOK repetitiveness. Instead, consider making “Show the world my body of work” your overall plan. Do it on your platform. Do it as your amazing brand.

Final question today:  If I trad/self-publish, where do I start?

Woo hoo!  Action step time!

  1. At the barest minimum, start 6-months early. If you have an early manuscript consider printing galleys through a source like (I receive no affiliate anything from them – they are the most reasonable price the publishing company I work for has used).  You will want to plaster a watermark across both the cover and copyright pages that says it’s a preview copy and changes may be made in the final.  ** Note – if you are traditionally published, run this idea past your publisher. They may already be doing this, and if you offer to include a personal note in the copies they are sending out, it’ll strengthen your business relationship.
  2. While those are printing, send short query letters to sources you think would be great promotion partners – reviewers who read the genre you write in, media streams that might be a good fit (radio/podcast/television/print), and close associates. Think creatively about who might be excited to share your work. When someone says yes, gather their shipping info and send them a preview copy with a personalized thank you.
  3. Research “personality” interviews in your genre. Get to know what need they serve for their fans. Then contact the interviewers (you will find that email is the preferred), give a super-brief intro to yourself and your work, then show how you can help them serve their fans.
  4. Start talking to your existing fans. Yes… still 6 months out.  Start dropping teasers. More importantly, just be visible. If kitty videos are your thing, share an extra one each week. If you’re more of an instagrammer, take an extra photo or two each week. First, you want to be maintaining that relationship with those people who are actively sharing your career with the world. Second, you also want the back-end algorithms of social media engines to share your future posts with them. To improve your odds, you need to make sure fans have “liked” or interacted with your posts recently. Just please for the love of branding, make your quirky posts relevant to who you are.
  5. Follow the garden path. Really good interactions may lead you to unearth blooming flowers you had no idea existed… and you never would have known about them if you hadn’t taken some sort of action.

Remember my analogy of marketing being perceived as the magic elixir? That wasn’t nearly comprehensive enough. A really amazing hotel marketer once told me: “Marketing is a series of nudges and reveals. It’s a little mystery. Its a big splash. It’s the cookie crumbs along a garden path. Everyone says it’s a long-tail game, but unlike the steady monotony of banking there will be energizing highs and emotional lows. You may score an incredible interview on Monday, and then see nary a nibble the rest of the week. Yet that one interview may lead to something even bigger three weeks down the road. Be consistent, be entertaining, be kind, and most of all be yourself.”

If YOU have a question you want answered from inside the biz, send it my way and I’ll pose it to the professionals!