How Marketing a Book is Like Writing One

My first novel has been in progress for years now. Eight years, if you count my first attempt to write it during NANOWRIMO in 2010. For the longest time, only my friends knew what I was up to. Even though I’d been a book editor for a dozen years, I had no idea about how fiction was written, and I had the impression that if I just sat down and let the words pile up, a book would emerge. What I learned along the way is that writing fiction requires hard work, dedication, learning a ton about craft, and availing myself of professional help. I finished a new draft this week, and there’s an excellent chance I will finally finish this book in 2018.

Marketing a book requires that same kind of consistent effort, investment of time, and a willingness to ask for help.

You wouldn’t write a novel by tossing out a handful of 280-word updates, a half-dozen selfies, and an invitation to a single celebratory event. Yet that’s what I see a fair number of authors doing when it comes to trying to sell their books. But I understand why authors don’t necessarily see the benefit of trying. If you keep writing, you will end up (eventually) with a manuscript. When you spend time on social media, sometimes the only result is lost time. (Or if you are like me, a new pair of shoes).

Most authors, despite good intentions, never do enough with their marketing to make more than a ripple in sales, yet they are clearly capable of sustained creative effort. It seems like your publisher should have the resources to reach millions of readers and get you excellent placement and reviews, but the truth is that publishers struggle because they often represent an overwhelming number of diverse titles. And they publish thousands of books, all of which they’d like to see succeed. Realistically, they know that more than half of them won’t. And therefore, odds are they won’t necessarily spend much time on the one book that matters most to you—yours.

The best, most effective tools for finding book readers today are social media (pick your favorite platform!) and your own writing. Promoting yourself means showing up at your internet-connected device every day and sharing a little bit of your story with the intention of helping readers find you. I design specific marketing programs that help authors leverage the creativity and determination that they have cultivated in the hours spent alone at the keyboard into flourishing online platforms. Well-written books that surprise and delight find readers, but only if those readers find them.

If marketing your book were more like writing it, would it change the way you approach social media?