You’re writing a book. Or maybe you’ve already written it. Here’s a question: Are you ready, willing, and able to market your book?
In my work here at Chenille Books, I run into situations that repeat themselves over the years, from one client to the next. Just as my experience with writers who felt stuck led me to write my book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, I’m now discovering some ideas that seem to apply for a number of writers when it comes to their role in marketing and promotion.
What does indie author book marketing even look like?
Goodness knows, it’s not part of the easy stereotypes. In film and story, we see authors who might drink too much, or chain-smoke, or forget to shower or eat, but rarely do we encounter portrayals of the author as a natural at self-promotion. (And if they are, they’re probably not the good guy.) Maybe it’s time to clean up the image. Maybe we can get comfortable with the notion of an indie author who takes reasonably good care of herself, is kind to others, responsible with money, and super supportive of her creative life. An indie author who understands his strengths, and knows how to find and maintain a team of people who complement his strengths with their own.
Many writers prefer the inner life, and their writing can benefit from that focus. So some of the struggle with indie book marketing has to do with personality types. Being shy, or introverted, or both, does not make self-promotion easy. Being busy can be a complicating factor, as well. If we’re already working on a career, and running a home, and perhaps raising children or caring for relatives, as well as writing, finding time for another part-time obligation can seem impossible.
Even if we can agree, hypothetically, that it’ll be important eventually to shift gears and gain comfort with the idea of crawling out from the cave, it’s tempting to put off dealing with the requirements of facing the world. This is a mistake.
As unpleasant as it may be to hear, the fact is that your book project will benefit from periodic attention to the outward-facing aspects even while the book is under construction. I propose a way to make this perhaps slightly more palatable. It involves recognizing where your strengths lie, and where you may need additional help.
Here are some questions
From a to d, how interested are you in telling the world about your work in progress right now?
A. Don’t make me. I’d stop writing completely if I had to face the outside world.
B. I don’t have anything to say yet. As the Talking Heads song, Artists Only, once put it, “You can’t see it till it’s finished.” I’m not done yet.
C. I don’t feel right about promoting something until I know if it’s any good. Feels dishonest.
D. Sure. Just point me in the right direction and I’ll be glad to.
2. From a to d, how comfortable are you looking at your work in progress through the eyes of your ideal reader?
A. Thinking about a mythical reader freezes up my brain. Nope. Not going there.
B. In theory, I guess I could do that, but I don’t even know where to begin figuring out who my ideal reader might be.
C. I’ve had some success earlier in the process, imagining an avatar for my ideal reader. But at the moment, I need to maintain focus. If I think about how other people might react, I can’t concentrate on the work I still need to do.
D. I’ve got my ideal reader in mind a lot of the time. In fact, I knew who I was writing to when I began the first draft.
3. From a to d, how prepared do you feel to present yourself as an author, once your project is done, or nearly done? For example, do you have the basic pieces of a media kit (good author photo, various lengths of bios, web and social media presences lined up and consistently named) ready?
A. I hate having my picture taken. And I have a c.v. that I can adapt if and when I need it. Social media is for babies.
B. Well, I need a new headshot. And I have one bio that I used a while ago, that could probably use some updating. I have a domain name and some ideas for a website, but haven’t gotten any further than that.
C. A friend took some pretty good photos of me recently, and promised me the digital files. I have a short bio and a long narrative one, although I haven’t changed them for a couple of years. My website was supposed to have a blog, which I’ve neglected.
D. Just say the word. My headshot looks great, my bios need a little freshening up, but then again they always do, and my website is in good shape. I need to get some more blogs written and scheduled for publication on a regular timetable.
4. From a to d, what’s the state of your mailing list?
A. There’s a sign-up list around here somewhere that I got when people wrote out their email addresses at a couple of workshops I gave last year. And I have some business cards from interested colleagues – I think they’re in the drawer with a rubber band around them. Maybe the rubber band deteriorated, come to think of it. I haven’t looked in that drawer in quite a while.
B. I put in a good few hours setting up a spreadsheet with names and emails and even some mailing addresses. I didn’t get around to sending anything out to those people, though.
C. I have a mailing list, and I sent some emails out a while ago. I have some more names and email addresses to add to it. I even began to set up a free account in MailChimp or ConstantContact or one of those. Hmmm. Not sure where my username and password went.
D. I’m all set. I routinely send out emails to my lists, at least once a month, and could use some guidance on how to do better SEO and keywords and image tags.
You can probably see where we’re heading, by now. Here we go:
If you answered mostly a.
Self promotion is probably not your strong suit. In fact, it may not even be available to you. Your strengths lie elsewhere. So buck up, and get real. Hire someone, or find and cultivate a crew of willing friends, relatives, and/or interns. You need some skilled assistance getting the basics set up. It may not make sense to take on these tasks yourself. Do an honest self-assessment. Are these skills you will be able to master? If not, that’s a great realization to have about yourself, and sooner than later. Every author needs a team. Your team may need to include some dedicated help in the marketing and promotion departments.
If you answered mostly b.
Consider the next steps you’ll want to take, to bring your tools and skills up to speed. If you need a confidence boost, consider checking in with a writing or creative coach. If you also want some more up-to-date details on some simple methods to improve your promotional abilities, consider attending a webinar, reading informative blog posts, and maybe engaging the services of a book-marketing pro.
If you answered mostly c.
You’ve got a lot of what you’ll need. Now it’s time to focus and put the rest of the pieces in place. Poke around online for how-to’s and webinars on author marketing and promotion.
If you answered mostly d.
Good for you. With your existing skills and tools, you won’t require much more to get the promotion wheels turning. Consider taking a course – at a writing center, or online – or scheduling a one-time consultation with a book-marketing specialist. That way, you’ll be able to keep the wheels in motion and build some powerful momentum.
Are you ready, willing, and able to market your book?
If yes, that’s terrific. You can focus your team-building on some of the other aspects of writing and publishing, like editing, copyediting, proofreading, book and cover design, illustrations, indexing, media outreach, event planning, community building, and so forth.
If you’re pretty clear that you’ll need some assistance with marketing your book, congratulations. You’ve identified a valuable piece of information. List the specific areas where you’ll need a boost – or consistent support – and begin to take steps.
Once you have the people in place to help you with those steps, you’ll notice something wonderful. As your team gains momentum and purpose, all the book marketing tasks that had felt so overwhelming and impossible will become doable steps. You’ll be able to get on with the work that no one does quite the way you do. You can get on with what you do best. With your team, you’ll be ready, willing, and able to market your book.
–Anne M Carley
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