If you’re a writer, you probably have a love-hate relationship with marketing.
Yes, you want everyone who loves your genre to read your book. (And those who don’t, to give it a chance.) You know what you have to say could literally change lives. But you are also a shy person who also really does not like talking to people—unless it’s about a “safe” topic that doesn't get too close to the subject of YOU.
If the book could just sell itself, that would be ideal. “Hey, at least I don’t have to market it until it gets written,” you tell yourself. “Thank goodness it is nowhere near being done.”
But then, one day it IS done. You toil over edits, the cover, your social media memes and your Amazon profile.
All your hard work releases into the world in the form of a beautiful story that world desperately needs. NOW you start telling family, friends and coworkers about it.
Aside from your grandma and your aunt, however, no one buys a copy.
As the months tick by with struggling sales, you start to doubt your calling as a writer, then you become angry that no one out there reads books anymore. Then you tabulate up how much you spent to publish the book, and contemplate getting a second job to recoup your losses.
If you haven’t experience this nightmare yet, you’ve likely had it in your dreams.
As a writer myself, I know it all too well.
For many years, I struggled with marketing my creative work.
As an introvert, I had a lot of trouble being visible and letting people (including my potential customers and fans) see the real me. Oh yes—as long as we were talking about our favorite movie or book, or talking finer elements of genre, or some other topic of mutual interest, the conversation could go on for hours. But as soon as we got to my work, my book or anything else related to ME . . . I shut the conversation down like a clam in its shell.
The irony of this is obvious. I was a hot mess who wanted raving fans and chart-topping sales but was scared to death to talk to people.
Any time someone showed half an ounce of interest in my work, I froze up, worried I would disappoint them, or I doubted their sincerity. Secretly I wondered if I were good enough to deserve an audience yet. Every time I went to a writer’s conference I felt embarrassed and unaccomplished next to the amazing people around me, even if I painted a smile on my face.
Whenever I DID get my books in front of people, I had no idea what to say and hoped to keep the conversation focused on my book or product only. I took the same strategy on social media: tweeting snippets from the book, showing cover art, talking about my characters . . . anything that felt “safe." But not too much, of course, lest people think I was bragging.
My sales always lagged as a result.
It took me a lot of years, a number of failed books and a ton of frustration to figure out something no one had ever told me about marketing anything:
People don’t want to buy your product. They want to buy you.
And the least effective time to begin marketing anything is after you create it.
The most successful writers who sell their books are extremely savvy with networking. And they start selling before they ever begin writing.
Unless you already have a string of bestsellers and can ride the wave of fandom, your best and most fruitful path to creating sales is to spend at least as much time connecting with other human beings as you do with writing your book.
Yes, my fellow introvert. I mean actually talk to people.
Talk to them about your mutual interests. Your genre. Your writing process. What’s been fun about writing your book and what’s been tough. Create polls and ask for input on aspects of your story you feel comfortable sharing.
If they are other writers, buy, read and promote their books. If they are not other writers, figure out which topics or ideas in your book you can use to connect with their interests and desires as a path toward leading them to your work.
In other words, make friends and let them see the Real You, while you get to know the Real Them with equal passion.
By inviting people into your life and your writing process—every stage of it—you naturally build anticipation for a product people will feel invested in when it comes out.
This starts while you’re still brainstorming for your book and continues while you are writing. It doesn’t stop while you’re editing. By the time you actually release the book, people are really, really, really READY.
Even if it’s your first book and you find most of your friends and family have the very natural doubt of it because you haven’t proved yourself on such a big project (yet), by keeping them up to date every day about your project, you will have won them over by the time you finish—and won some sales, too.
Remember, people need to see a piece of information online at least 7 times before it starts to sink in.
With the way Facebook withholds posts from most of our friends due to the algorithm, that means you have to post between 70 to 300 times about something before most people even see it those 7 times. Of course, there are at least 300 different unique and fun ways to talk about your writing process, the topics in your book, the genre, your characters and tons of other things before the book comes out. (Ask me about how to do this.)
But the point is . . . if you have not done this work beforehand, you cannot expect sales. Period. Or you will have a very hard uphill road to hoe.
Most authors (and entrepreneurs in general) wait until after they write a book to connect with their audience, or try to sell without having to talk to people. Both approaches are a dead-end for sales.
In my case, once I realized this principle I took specific steps to overcome my shyness and connect more strongly with others. I also took a different approach to my next book in that I created a collaborative web show with the audience, instead of just writing a traditional book by chapters. By the time I took the concept to editors and agents to review, I got very positive feedback on it, because (I was told), “This book already has an audience, which is a huge recommendation in its favor.”
The respect, and response, I got from pros in publishing upshifted instantly when I showed them a video trailer for the story concept, complete with raving reviews personally submitted by fans.
Though I ultimately decided not to pursue traditional publishing for that work, it became clear to me that the momentum created by an audience in your pocket was worth how scary it first felt to put myself out there.
Writing a book is no longer noteworthy. Creating a real audience for that book always will be, because the authors who create audiences are the ones who last.
Even best-selling authors know that their book promotion begins long before they finish writing.
Case in point: Tosca Lee, a New York Times bestselling author, told a group at Realm Makers three years ago that she was going to start writing a new supernatural thriller. Her audience followed her through that journey … and the book came out two years later. Tosca already has a raving audience, but she inherently understands the importance of getting them hyped up early.
Even as a successful author already with multiple best-selling books, she recognized how smart it would be to start marketing her book before it ever came out. She did not wait until the day before the manuscript was due to suddenly announce, ‘Oh by the way, I have a new book that's being edited right now and will come out soon."
She started letting people know about it two years in advance—and according to her, even before she had started writing.
So why doesn’t this come naturally to the rest of us?
Personality has a lot to do with why so many books don’t get the audience they deserve.
Most writers I know (me included) are introverts, and the introvert mind uses writing as a shield against the anxiety and discomfort that social interaction naturally create within us. By waiting until the book is done, we can “hide” awhile longer in the shadows and not feel the anxiety of having people look at us too closely. Or feel the inevitable fear of someone rejecting us or our work.
But releasing a book with this approach is like stepping out in full costume onto a stage, to give a performance for which there have been no advance ticket sales and no promotions.
The audience is empty. Your brilliant opening monologue echoes in the theater. No one comes and no one cares.
The experience is so discouraging, you might never act again.
Thinking about your audience first, before you even start writing, ensures that you cultivate a group of people who DO care about YOU long before they are interested in your STUFF (which, by the way, practically guarantees they will be interested in your stuff at the right time.) Almost every book sale I have ever had, not to mention business-related sales, are from people who made an emotional, human connection with me first.
You want a lot of sales? You have to make a lot of connections. Which means you have to start overcoming your fear of people, social interaction and (ultimately) rejection . . . now.
Not tomorrow. Not next week. And not when your book comes out.
People buy you. That is the only secret to marketing.
Shift the focus off your product and onto YOU.
Learn how to engage successfully with people as a friend and then also lead them to the sale (this is something introverts CAN learn, because I did, even though I was full of fear!). Do this over and over again, consistently day after day, will be surprised how you start selling.
It can’t help but happen when people really make a connection with you because of you as a person not just because of mutually held interests.
Only AFTER You have a tidal way of momentum from 1:1 connections can you start to create the kind of buzz that gets you consistent, scalable sales from people you’ve never even met.
If you’re saying, “Lisa, therein lies the problem. I write because I don’t want to be seen. I can’t get past the anxiety of having people look at me. I don’t know what to say to people, and any time I talk about my books, it’s easier to go straight to other writers or just to friends because that’s the audience I know.”
Yes. I totally feel you.
As I said earlier, I’ve been there. My shyness kept me trapped in silence and fear for years . . . and the worst part was, I knew it was holding me back.
For too long, I dealt with it by pushing myself deeper and deeper into the writing, creating more obsessive perfectionism hoping a truly great book would finally get me the audience and sales I wanted but was afraid to have.
Paradoxically, it was an imperfect product with a lot of heart and a co-creative process with my audience that got me traction.
People felt connected to me, for once, so they actually cared what I wrote.
My question for you today is, which do you want more badly: to sell your book, or to feel safe?
I can say now from personal experience selling may different products: If you want sales, signings, loyal fans and a career badly enough, you must be will to do whatever it takes to confront your fear of being seen. And confronting fear will never feel safe.
The real issue here is not marketing at all. It is a fear of real, deep and authentic connection with other human beings . . . because that connection opens us up to be both hurt and rejected.
Many of us, deep down, started writing to deal with that kind of rejection . . . but creating an audience opens us up to exactly what we're trying to escape.
It is perfectly fine and valid to write as a source of self-healing. Most of us are doing this even if we think we're writing for love of a genre. But the problem comes in only when we decide we want to share that writing with others--and find we can't bring ourselves to be really, truly vulnerable.
When I recognized this paradox, I could take specific steps to open myself up to my audience, and become highly comfortable doing so.
On the other side of hiding, I found joy, liberation, connection and EVERYTHING I have ever dreamed of as a writer: that sense of true fulfillment from having touched another human being’s life with your words.
It didn’t take 1,000 raving fans or a million dollars in book sales to “make” my career.
It took cultivating some real, deep connections with readers who loved me first, and then my work, because I had the courage to open myself up and share myself with them.
This kind of connections are only available to those brave shy souls who are willing to walk past the fear, and not let the writing process or the editing or publishing process become an excuse to put off doing what writing is so very good at in the first place: connecting us with each other.
Your words are a gift you were given, to help you share yourself and your message.
Are you ready to let your readers in?
Lisa England is a storyteller, creative director and communication coach helping shy women with big vision attract fans and grow their business through authentic storytelling, branding and marketing that speaks boldly while honoring their quiet nature. She is the creative director for Sister Talk, a full-service creative and communication agency. She is also the author of The Shy Girl's Guide to Speaking Freely, a free resource to help women of few words market and sell their work.