8 lies authors tell themselves about book marketing that I’m sick of hearing

This post has a lot of vulgar swearing in it. It’s a new year, I’m purging my frustrations.

2016 online marketing

Whenever I meet new people, I tend to find out pretty quickly that they want to write a book, start an online business, or sell more art. That’s great, I think, I can totally help them to do that.

So I start explaining how they can take action and actually build something that makes money.

And that’s when I meet the resistance. I also notice this resistance whenever I post something about book marketing or some successful campaign I’ve done. It comes from frustrated authors and artists who are thinking, “I’m doing everything right but it isn’t working – therefore, the universe isn’t fair, and I’m just unlucky or something.”

But behind the resistance (or maybe in front if it, for protection) are a set of excuses.

If you’ve been wanting to write and publish a book successfully for several years but can’t seem to break through, please read these common lies authors tell themselves and see if they apply to you.

Lie #1: “Oh it’s easy for you, you’ve got a big platform!”

Platforms take time to be built. Start now, with what you have, and begin.

5 years ago, I had nothing. What you see is the result of hundreds of hours of consistent, hard work.

And right now I’m starting over from scratch for my fiction writing: a couple months ago I had zero platform. I didn’t market my fiction to my existing list, which is mostly authors and entrepreneurs (who probably aren’t interested in my YA fantasy). I built a new list from zero to 12,000+ with book giveaways; I found ways to network with other authors and book bloggers in my genre. I worked my ass off. I was able to do it because, over the last decade I’ve spent thousands of hours learning how to do this stuff. It didn’t come naturally to me. It didn’t build itself.

Nobody starts with a platform. But you do need to learn how to build your own, and not just ignore the issue with bullshit excuses like “I’d rather be writing than wasting time on social media.”

Lie #2: “But you spent a lot of money, and I don’t have any.”

This is true, I spent a lot of money building my platform – money that I won’t see a return on right away. But when I started, I was a broke English teacher and graduate student. I moved to Taiwan where the cost of living is much cheaper (and I had more time to spare). That helped enormously. Tim Ferriss calls it “geo-arbitrage.”

You can just about always choose whether you want to lose time or money.

But you can’t say you don’t have any money, and then also say you don’t have the “time and patience” to do something.

Those are excuses. If you don’t have enough time, money or patience to do something, you’re really just saying, “I don’t want to do that, it’s not important enough to me.”

And that means you’re a quitter. You’re giving up, and are going to rely on luck and hope – hope that somebody is going to “discover” you and do all the heavy lifting for you.

But here’s the other interesting thing.

If you spend more money now, and spend it wisely, you can build an author platform that saves you a LOT of money down the road.

I’m spending money now on my first fiction book launch, because I don’t want to wait 5 years as my platform slowly grows: I want my books to start earning money this year. And I don’t want to pay for BookBub, promotion, marketing or advertising just to sell books. I want to control my audience. I want them on my email list so I can contact them directly.

I won’t need to spend money on later book launches, as my platform grows.

If you don’t have any money, that’s no problem, you just have to figure out how to do things yourself.

Lie #3: “I’m not good with computers and I don’t know how to do all that stuff.”

And that’s when I lose patience. You don’t want to spend any money, and you don’t want to spend any time learning new skills, so you just go into your writer cave and keep writing books and hoping someone else will discover you and market for you. “I’m not good with computers” is meaningless bullshit. What you’re saying is you feel uncomfortable with computers, so you give up and blame it on inherent disability, as if technical skills were an innate strength some people inherit.

Skills take time and effort to learn. I wasn’t born knowing how to use computers or build WordPress sites or do Facebook advertising. I spend 10 hours a day on the computer and if I need to learn how to do something, I fucking learn it, or take a course, or watch videos on YouTube until I figure it out. Learning to format ebooks was like learning a new language, it was exhausting, but I needed to learn it so I could stop paying other people to do it for me. Same with book design and a hundred other little things. If it doesn’t make sense for you to learn a skill, fine – pay someone. It will probably be better and cheaper in the long run than doing a crappy job of it yourself. But if you plan to publish lots of books, you need to learn some new skills, and it’s not going to be easy.

People who “don’t like computers” tend to be consumers – they consume more media than they produce. Learn to be a producer. Create the content.

Lie #4: “You have a lot of friends who will promote for you.”

No, not really. I’m an outsider. People don’t know who the hell I am. I had to attend events and prove I wasn’t an asshole, and mostly stand around awkwardly feeling like an idiot. I had to create amazing content that proves my value. I focused on finding ways to help other people grow their platforms; I shared their content; helped them solve problems. After 5 years, I’m just starting to get on the radar of the people who were my role models when I started. A lot of them know who I am now. Sometimes they’ll recommend me to each other, for cover design or book marketing. Sometimes they’ll even share my content, which is amazing. Friendships and relationships take time and effort. If you don’t want to make friends, that’s fine – there are easier ways to sell books – but then don’t complain if your books aren’t taking off. If you get 10 author friends writing in your genre, that’s basically 10 people struggling to build a platform that can share their readers with each other.

Be wary, that in “building relationships” you aren’t actually just being a jerk to people – reaching out and trying to get them to review or share your book, asking for their help or feedback, and always being on the receiving end of favors. That’s not friendly. If nobody will help or support you, you probably just aren’t great with people. Read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Make Friends and Influence People.” Read some books about psychology and mirroring and getting people to like you. It’s not rocket science. Be nice, smile, don’t ask for anything. Let them talk about themselves.

When you’re approaching a total stranger, make a good impression. Do your research. Learn something about them that you have in common. Be interested in their work. You can’t skip this step and be totally uninterested in them, but want them to show interest in you.

Lie #5: “I’m a writer, not a book marketer.”

Bullshit. You want to be a writer. But you also hope your books will sell and somebody will actually read them. I don’t think you can define yourself by what you do with your time, even when it has no relation to how you earn your money. If you’re writing and publishing books that nobody reads, and still have a day job, calling yourself a writer is misleading. Some asshole at a party once told my (at the time) girlfriend he was a writer, and she thought that was really cool, even though he was really just a guy who liked to write and was trying to get in her pants. Everybody likes to write.

Do you want to make money with your writing? Do you want to do it as a profession? Then you need to learn how to put your writing in front of readers and make them want it. Yes, the online world of book publishing is competitive and complicated, and most people have no idea what they’re doing – but there’s also a lot of great information out there to help you sell books if you choose to learn it, instead of hiding behind stupid excuses.

If you don’t want to do ANY marketing, publish all your books for free with a strong call to action to get them to sign up on your email list.

Lie #6: “Readers aren’t smart enough to like my book.”

I often hear things like “I want my books to be DIFFERENT or BETTER than all the other stuff in my genre.”

Or, “there’s so much GARBAGE out there, readers are going to love my books!”

If you say things like this, you probably don’t actually read the genre that you’re writing for, or you don’t like it, or you don’t respect your readers. Firstly, you should examine, and read, all the bestselling books in your genre and look at what they’re doing. You want to write something similar to but greater than other bestselling books in your genre. And you want to design them to look similar.

You don’t want to stand out and be something completely new and unrecognizable.

You don’t want to say, all those other books are crap, but mine is good, and then try to educate readers about why they should like your books more than those crappy books.

Books sell for a reason.

The 20 bestsellers in a category are bestsellers for a reason. Sometimes this is marketing; sometimes it’s low price or great design, but mostly it’s because readers appreciate those books. So don’t try to write something different and expect it to be successful. Respect your readers by understanding what they actually like, not what you think they should like.

If you want to be a professional writer who makes money, you need to care about what readers like, and give it to them. If you want to be an “artist” and feel vindicated every time you finish something that nobody wants to read, just keep doing what you’re doing. But don’t complain.

Lie #7: “I’m doing everything right but my books aren’t selling!”

It’s not enough to do everything right.

Readers are inundated with books. If you have good covers, a good book description, a good book, etc… your book is probably fine but boring.

Your covers don’t stand out.

Your book description doesn’t surprise and delight.

Your author bio doesn’t tell an emotionally gripping story.

Your story offers nothing new and revolutionary.

You aren’t doing anything remarkable.

The good news is, all of these things can be fixed with 5 minutes of creative thinking (except the covers – you might need a professional designer for that, though you could just find a very powerful photograph and add nice text with Canva or Wordswag).

You need a particular edge, an umbrella which defines your fiction, like a positioning statement. And then you need to find ways to keep driving traffic (and lots more reviews). Most of the time, authors who think they are doing everything right have less than 10 book reviews, which means everything they do is wasted effort.

And even if they are doing everything right, they often have only a couple books – most writers publish 8 or 10 books before finally “making it.” So don’t spend a lot of time or money promoting your first book (or complaining in forums that nothing you do is working).

Write 5 more more, then give it a shot.

Lie #8 “Giving my books away for free teaches readers not to buy.”

Authors who aren’t selling books refuse to give their books away for free, when giving books away for free is the easiest and best way to reach a lot of readers quickly, without spending any extra time or money. It’s true that a lot of bigger authors in self-publishing have stopped using free books in their marketing: that’s because they don’t need to anymore.

If you can sell books, GREAT.
Sell some books.
If nobody wants to buy your books, it’s probably because:
  1. They don’t know who you are
  2. You don’t have enough credibility (blurbs or reviews)
  3. Your cover or description isn’t good enough
  4. They never, ever see your book at all

And it’s a cycle – because nobody is buying, you’re ranked under millions of other books and are invisible. Having an invisible book is like having no book at all. You can spend a lot of time and money promoting your book, but it’s unlikely that you can make it profitable, because you need to work SO HARD to convince some strangers to take a chance on you.

This is where most authors are failing: they are working and marketing to offset the prohibitive barriers facing readers; barriers like high cost, risk avoidance, lack of trust and reviews, lack of professional design. Not all authors have the money or experience to do everything right, so even if they have a great story, they can’t get anyone to read it because it doesn’t convince readers to buy.

So stop trying to get them to buy!

Think about a new sausage shop opening up in town. Nobody has tasted the sausages yet. They don’t know if they’re any good, or if they’ll like them. So they don’t spend any money. The sausage shop goes out of business.

What should the shop owner have done?

He should have started with a huge opening party, and given out free samples to the whole freaking town to find his audience. Maybe he only gets 100 customers who loved his sausages and must have more… but those are steady patrons that can keep him in business.

It’s not readers’ responsibility to support your writing efforts.

Do not bemoan the “loss of literacy” or how nobody “supports authors.”

Nobody owes you a living. If you want people to buy your writing, prove to them how awesome it is. Give out free samples. Give your book away for a week, or a month, or a year. I dare you to give away 1000 copies. That’s nothing, a drop in the ocean of potential readers. If they like it, they’ll share it and review it.

If you can’t give your book away for free, it’s probably because you still haven’t gotten 10+ reviews, or your cover is ugly. So fix those problems. If you are getting downloads, but can’t seem to get any reviews, the writing or story probably isn’t good enough and nobody wants to tell you the truth.

Don’t just set your book to free, with a lousy cover and no reviews, and expect miracles. Even a free promotion needs to be marketed well to get people to download it, but then at least you have a chance.

What other problems or struggles are you having with your book marketing?

Some of them are probably real concerns; but others might be excuses in camouflage.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • Hell yeah. Great article, Derek. I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m loving it. Thanks for sharing your expertise 🙂

  • JA Allen

    Love this. Well done.

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