Book Promotion is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Strategy

I read this excellent article “Why Comparing Yourself to Other Writers Doesn’t Make Sense” and wanted to pass it on.

The article fits in with the topic of this post which is why we’re not all called to promote books the same way.

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Is there really only one way of doing things?

I get weary of hearing marketing gurus insist that their way of doing book promotion is the “correct” way of doing things.  This sets up the idea that every author who doesn’t follow their advice to a “T” is somehow a failure.

Imagine if I were to write a blog post over here telling you that every writer must write romance.  Then, I not only told you the genre you must write, but I also told you the plot you must use and the type of characters you must include into that plot.  And if you don’t do it my way, then you’re not writing correctly.  Such a thing would be silly, and yet, this is what I see a lot of marketing people tell writers.  They must do X, Y, and Z, and it must be done in a certain way.  If you don’t do it exactly as they think it must be done and you don’t sell enough books, then you have contributed to your own failure.

Nature testifies to the value of being different.

Think of this world we live on.  Is the landscape the exact same across the globe?  Are we in a world that is only mountains?  And more than that, do all the mountains look the exact same?  Of course not.  We live in a world that is full of variety.  Some places have mountains that are covered in snow.  Some have mountains covered in trees.  Some have mountains that have rocks in them.  And there aren’t mountains all over the place.  The mountains are in certain places.  In other places, you have oceans, the plains, hills, deserts, etc.  So the world itself suggests there is no one way of doing things.

Writers’ personalities are just as different as nature is.

Now let’s consider something else.  People have different personalities.  And as writers, we have different interests.  Not everyone writes romance.  Thank goodness for that because I like reading a variety of genres!

If you break down the genres, you’ll find a whole list of sub-genres that narrow things down further.  In romance alone, you have historical western romance, Regency romance, Victorian romance, Highlander romance, contemporary romance.  If you want to break it down further, you can add other niches like paranormal elements like vampires and werewolves.  There are so many divisions within fiction that a person can get very specific. More than that, not everyone writes fiction.  Nonfiction also has it’s assortment of variety.

Expanding on this, not everyone writes the same length of book, either.  Some write short stories.  Others write novellas or novels.  And some even write more than 100K words.  If someone were to tell writers they must write in a very small niche with X, Y, and Z requirements, they’d be laughed at.

So why are we pigeon holing writers?

This is what I feel we do with book promotion.  We box writers into believing they must engage in certain activities online in a certain way if they are to be successful.  (Success often means money, of course.  The intrinsic value you bring to a reader’s life or the passion you had as you wrote the story rarely get factored into “success”.)

What marketing gurus often fail to take into consideration is that each writer has a unique personality, and what works for one personality type is not going to work for another. Yes, there might be some valid things to consider, but not everyone has the same talent.  For example, speaking engagements is one way to promote a book.  The idea is that you talk and generate interest for you book that people might then buy.  I tried speaking.  I was awful at it.  Believe me, you don’t want to hear me give a speech.  So that type of technique would be all wrong for me.  I’ve also tried doing those newsletters where you update your readers on something every week or so to remind them you exist, but honestly, I have no interest in trying to email people that often.  I’d rather do blog posts and send out an email when I have a new book out.

The point: 

Instead of trying to put writers into a little pigeon hole, I think it’s time we embraced the fact that book promotion is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

Below I’m going to throw in some examples of why I say this:

1. Not all writers need to do the same type of social networking promotion.

I keep hearing every author needs a blog.  I blog because I love it.  I may not be blogging as much as I used to, but I do still blog.  However, I would not tell writers they must have a blog if they want to be successful.  Blogging isn’t for everyone.  Not everyone wants to write posts.  I know authors who are much happier engaging with readers on Facebook and Google +.  They have no idea what to talk about on a blog, nor do they have the interest in maintaining one.  They’d rather writer a couple of sentences and engage directly with readers.  Some even prefer Instagram or Pinterest.  Some like the forums.

My point is, the choice of where a writer spends time needs to be a good fit for their personality.  To tell someone they must be doing a specific social activity or aren’t promoting right is not helping that person.  Instead, it would be far better to tell writers that they ought to pick the things that are the best match for their personalities and focus their time and effort on those things.  Yes, they might lose potential readers by not doing a certain activity, but they might gain readers when they do another one.

2. Not all writers have the same amount of time to devote to book promotion.

Some of the tips I hear from marketing gurus would take far too much time than I personally have, and I know other writers who are even more strapped for time than I am.  Maybe the marketing guru has a lot of spare time to devote to a certain activity.  Maybe they aren’t working a full-time job.  Maybe they aren’t trying to write new books.  Maybe they don’t have children and a spouse at home who need meals prepared and a house cleaned.  Maybe they don’t have an adult child with special needs still living with them.  But some of us do.   And we’re trying to get more books written so our current readers and prospective readers have something to buy.  Some writers make book covers or edit to make money, which adds another reason why their time is so limited.  My point is that life is busy, and sometimes it’s just not possible to do everything we’re told we “must” do.

Again, I want to emphasize that sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to do it all.  For certain writers, they might have the time.  But not every writer does.  So it’s not fair to tell a writer who is strapped for time that if they aren’t spending X amount of time doing Y, then they are hurting their chances of success.

3. Not all writers have the same amount of money to throw into book promotion.

I know writers who are living on social security.  I know writers who are in debt.  I know writers who are struggling to make ends meet.  Not everyone can buy a Bookbub ad.  Not everyone can pay $600 for a marketing guru’s course.  I even heard of a writer who spent $1500 in one month on book promotion.  My eyes nearly popped out of my head on that one.  I don’t have that kind of money to throw into ads.  I’m too busy digging up money for the IRS so I don’t accrue a penalty for not paying my quarterly taxes on time.

For some of us, even $100 can mean the difference between eating for the month or not eating.  I know the topic of ads is a popular thing, but not everyone can afford them.  So to suggest that a struggling writer is a failure at book promotion just because they aren’t buying ads is putting them through needless guilt.

Now, this isn’t limited to placing ads.  Other examples could be writer’s conferences, online marketing courses, or giveaway items.  There are others, but this post is long enough as it is.

In Conclusion

The bottom line is that writers need the freedom and relief of knowing they aren’t failures just because they don’t promote books a certain way.  I know authors who have written excellent books who have done ads, mailing lists, newsletters, blogs, Facebook, and other things very well.  And yet, their sales aren’t showing it.  You’d swear by the lack of sales that they aren’t effectively promoting their books or that their books suck.  Things couldn’t be further from the truth.  They are doing everything right, and for some reason, they aren’t selling as well as they should be.

Whether marketing gurus will ever admit this or not, there are forces outside of our control that impacts our sales.  We have no control over which reader reads our books, likes it enough to pass it on to others, or even if a particular reader has a high level of influence within his/her circle.  All writers can do is control the product (book) and the type of promotion they choose to do.  From there, it is out of our control.

So take heart if you’re a struggling writer.  You’re not alone, even if you might feel like it.  No one can guarantee your success if you follow their formula.  They can only give you strategies that might help.  But they can’t promise you anything.  Take their advice with a grain of salt and apply that which fits your personality best.

11 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! I’ve been in exactly this cycle of thinking and worrying, and this was a great reminder that not all advice is good advice for everyone.

    1. Thank you, C.L.! I appreciate your comment a lot. 🙂

  2. Ron Fritsch says:

    Good post, Ruth Ann. Thanks for including it.

  3. Will Once says:

    Maybe, maybe.

    When people write about how to be successful as a writer, they generally do it in one of two ways. Most writers are fairly honest and say “this is how I did it.” They can’t tell you if their way was the best way because they didn’t try all the other ways. Their approach is “this worked for me. It might work for you.” Most of the books I’ve read about how to be successful fall into this category. And I’ve probably bought and read far too many of that kind of book.

    Some people who write about writing, whether it’s in a book or on the internet, take a different approach. They try to say “this is the only way”. We see people getting evangelical about a certain kind of promotion or a writing technique like said bookisms. You must have a website. You must be on Facebook. You must never say anything other than “said”. You must never have a prologue. You must always show not tell.

    Moses managed with ten commandments. If we believe some of the people on the internet, writing must have around 10,000.

    But then people reading writing books or internet advice tend to read it in one of two ways too. Some people will read a piece of general advice or an “I did it this way” and interpret it as a golden rule which must never be broken. Others will accept someone else’s point of view as simply that – someone else’s point of view.

    My motto on life is this: everything that anyone tells you is their point of view. Some people have more expertise than others. Some points of view are more valid than others. But it’s all subjective. Read it with an open mind and make your own mind up. Ignore anyone who says “this is the only way” and kick yourself very hard if you find yourself interpreting something as “this is the only way”.

    1. “Moses managed with ten commandments. If we believe some of the people on the internet, writing must have around 10,000.” I got a good chuckle from this. 🙂

      I agree. This whole thing is really subjective. The definition of success also seems to vary, depending on who you talk to, which only makes things even more confusing (adding to that 10,000 you mentioned).

  4. Even if I had the money to spend on a lot of ads, I’m still not sure I would put that much into it. I’ve yet to figure out which ads work where. I’m considering boosting a FB post from my FB page because you can do that for $5 – $10. The thing about that is, I’ve had some authors say it worked great and others say it didn’t do anything. So you don’t know until you try. And I hate to “try” really expensive ads.

    As far as conferences go, I think I’m going to back off that, too. The two I did in Vegas didn’t seem to help me at all. The one in Arizona did nothing. The one in Nashville was the best (and the closest to me). I sold more books (still not a lot) at that one, PLUS I gained a couple more readers. And one of these readers is really great at spreading the word about authors. So that was worth it. Plus, I really love her, so I made a new friend. The best thing about the Arizona conference was getting to meet you in person! 🙂

    I feel the same way about some of the writing books. You know, the ones that tell you your story has to have this and that. I keep wondering what made these people experts. So, for that, I only listen to Stephen King (his book on the craft is called “On Writing”). Because you know why he’s an expert! 🙂

    1. I want to clarify something. I didn’t mean that these people who write craft books don’t know what they’re doing. I just mean, like you said, everyone is different. They could still have good advice. They just can’t say their way is the only way.

    2. I’ve had mixed results with ads. Even when I ran an ad at the same place, I’ve had mixed results. I don’t know if it has to do with timing (like who happens to be there that day to see the ad) or what, but nothing has been a surefire thing for me. There’s no way I can do an expensive ad. I might be doing okay right now with sales, but that money needs to go into editing and book covers. I also need to take a lesson from the drop in income. I might lose more next year, so my goal now that I made my tax payments is to have an emergency fund. That’s another reason why I’m not doing conferences. Money is such a finite resource.

      I never sold enough books to make conferences worthwhile. My sales never went up as a result of going to any of them. I was, however, able to meet some great people (and it was great to finally meet you in person!). I would only go to them again if I was making more money than I knew what to do with.

      I knew what you meant about the craft books. One person’s approach to writing a story doesn’t work for every writer. I would give up on writing if I had to plot everything out. Also, the elements of plot, setting, characterization, etc will vary from one person to another. I prefer to focus on characters. I know writers who focus on world building and do an excellent job of it. Others rely on plot points. I’m not even aware of what plot points exist in my own books. I just know when the book feels complete. For me, it’s all guided by instinct. I would get bored trying to develop a character blueprint, plot points, world building, and other novel writing strategies. I want to just get started and see what the characters decide to do. 🙂 Only then, do I have fun with writing. I know this isn’t how all writers want to do it, nor should they. Each person has to find their own approach.

      (Sorry to ramble.)

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