My friend Charity Singleton Craig is guest posting today about the lessons she and co-author Ann Kroeker learned as they released their latest book On Being a Writer. In particular, she shares how they tried to make the marketing process less miserable—even fun at times. If Ann and Charity can’t make book marketing fun, I don’t know who can!
I’ve never been part of a publishing industry that comes knocking on writers’ doors with large advance checks and the opportunity to just be our introverted selves and write. Never once has someone told me, “You just focus on the words; someone else will worry about the sales.” In fact, conventional wisdom tells us just the opposite. Make sure the writing is decent, but your marketing strategy and platform need to be excellent.
And you’d think that would be fine by me since in addition to being a writer, I also provide marketing services to clients. I have no problem giving them the tools they need to explain their services and connect with potential customers.
When it comes to selling myself, though—which is really what an author needs to do if she plans to write more than one book—the whole business seems a little slimy. I don’t know any writers who think or feel any differently, but if participating in a sales strategy is a necessary part of the writing life, then I needed to get okay with it. And fast.
As my co-author, Ann Kroeker, and I wrote and released our recent book, On Being a Writer, five key elements emerged that have allowed me to sell books without losing my soul.
1. Permission to be myself.
From very early on as we brainstormed ways to spread the word about our book, our publisher, L.L. Barkat, encouraged both Ann and me to choose marketing activities that would allow us to be ourselves. Organizing a big launch team? That didn’t feel like “us.” So instead, we contacted a few individuals privately to help with specific tasks. We also hosted small in-person, launch parties so our friends could come and buy books and celebrate with us. We don’t all have the same gifts and skills—the Apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians of that extensively in his letters to them. In the same way, we can’t all approach book selling the same. That’s not to say that I should never operate outside of my comfort zone. But finding marketing methods that fit best with my personality and desires will ultimately serve the book, the readers, and myself best.
2. Focus on relationships.
When readers become a platform and friends become a strategy, it’s easy to forget that these are people I am building relationships with. Focusing only on what others can do for me is not only a self-centered sales technique, it misses completely the way the Bible says we should love people. Though Scripture is certainly more than a relationship manual, it provides many guidelines for how we as writers should be interacting with readers, publishers, fellow writers, and more. Here are just a few: James warns against favoritism or giving preference to those who are influential or wealthy. Paul exhorts us away from selfish ambition, thinking only of our interests, toward looking out for the interest of others. Peter reminds us that love should be sincere. And Jesus tells us to give straight answers, to let our yes be yes and our no be no.
3. Let each project motivate me.
In On Being a Writer, Ann makes a strong point about what should motivate us to promote our books or other writing projects. It’s advice she actually got from the publisher of one of her earlier books. “Something compelled you to write this message and share it with a broader audience. Right?” her publisher asked. “Could you see speaking [or other promotional efforts] as another avenue to share that same message?” Later in the chapter Ann talks about going on the road to promote that earlier project: “Each time, I kept that idea in mind: the message matters, and I want to get it to the people who need to hear it.” If you just want to write for your own self-discovery or private reflection, keep a journal. But if you have a message or a story or a strategy you want to share with others, publish a book, and then let that message guide you toward telling people about it.
4. Remembering that I am creative.
Not only do we each have unique, God-given gifts, we also are made in His image as creators. Just as we bring all of that creativity to the work of writing books, we can employ it in selling books, too. Don’t use just the strategies everyone else is using because “that’s the way we do things around here.” Try new things. Take creative risks. Let your personality, your relationships, your book itself guide you in new and interesting ways to spread the word. For Ann and me, that came in the form of an early release of our book, a surprise even to us as authors! Without telling us, our publisher released our book several weeks early. Sales were happening, friends were gathering, and Ann and I were nearly the last ones to know! That creative launch gave our early sales a boost, and we had nothing to do with it!
5. Finally, have fun.
After the hilarity of that early release, suddenly Ann and I had a lot of work to do to get the word out beyond our immediate circles. We ratcheted up the intensity, and rather than enjoying the conversations and being thankful for our bit of success, our strategy turned serious. For several weeks, I didn’t have much fun. People would ask how the launch was going, and I’d smile and say, “Great!” But secretly I was wondering whether I really was cut out for the writing life. After a break from the book over the holidays, I came back to our efforts realizing that it was just the intense, serious version of the writing life that isn’t for me. But by injecting a little fun into our marketing campaigns, I can still be focused without nearly as much stress.
Author Neil Gaiman tells the story of some advice he received from best-selling horror writer Stephen King fairly early in his career. When King observed Gaiman’s early success, he told him simply: “This is really great. You should enjoy it.” The thing is, Gaiman wasn’t enjoying it. And he didn’t for a while.
“Best advice I got that I ignored,” Gaiman said. “Instead I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn’t writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I’d enjoyed it more.”
Being part of a sales strategy is now a reality for writers. But it doesn’t have to suck the life out of you in the process. How do you keep your soul while selling books?
Learn more about On Being a Writer: Ten Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, bringing words to life through essays, stories, blog posts, and books. She is the coauthor of On Being a Writer (T.S. Poetry Press, October 2014), and she has contributed essays to three books, including Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self. She is regularly published at various venues, including The Curator, where she is a staff writer; The High Calling, where she is a content and copy editor; and TweetSpeak Poetry, where she is a contributing writer. She lives with her husband and three step-sons in central Indiana. You can find her online at charitysingletoncraig.com, on Twitter @charityscraig, and on Facebook.
One last note from Ed:
By the way, my latest eBook, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together (due out March 11th), is available for pre-order at the steep discount of $.99 on Kindle.
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