This is the Secret to Book Marketing by @LoriCulwell

The “secret” is hard work.


I told you.

This year, I have been shifting my focus away from author marketing, back to being a traditional SEO company . This decision was a long time in coming and was actually kind of sad for me, but I had to pull away from authors, for my own peace of mind and for the good of my business.

Why did I make this decision, you might ask? I will tell you, but I don’t think you’re going to  like the answer. I covered my thought process in this post, but since I wrote that, I have had some additional insights that I will share with you now.

That post was called I Give Up. Mostly.” It didn’t start out to be a treatise against authors in general, because some of the authors I have taught and worked with over the years have been great. They are in the right mindset when they get to me, they are ready to put in the work of book marketing, and they know that they are going to need to set aside some time each and every day to get themselves out there.

Networking is the “business” part of being an author, and this fact makes sense to them. Also included in this “business” part is:

  • having a decent-looking website that is optimized for your name,
  • having that website be set up properly (including a place for people to sign up for your email list, links to your social media, sample chapters of your book/ your writing, your bio, and so on),
  • and generally having the mindset that, as an author today, you cannot sidestep the marketing part of the equation.

It seems simple, but this mindset, when I describe it in books, lectures, and one-on- one with authors, is the most difficult pill to swallow. Authors don’t believe me (or Rachel) when we say that we have lived this, that our books would not be successful without the hard work of marketing. They think we are holding out on them, that there exists some kind of shortcut or secret, and we just won’t tell them what it is.

There Is NO Book Marketing Shortcut 

There is no shortcut, people. There is no secret. You need to set your network up properly  (website, social media, author sites, etc), then you need to get yourself out there, every single day, interacting with people. You need to make real connections, which means you can’t just “phone in” your marketing efforts by tweeting “buy my book!” over and over again.

[clickToTweet tweet=”You need to think about yourself as a business, not just as a person who wrote a book.” quote=”You need to think about yourself as a business, not just as a person who wrote a book.”]

This, sadly, is the main sticking point for authors—they feel like they have finished and can breathe a sigh of relief when their book is finished. When I tell them that, in fact, their work has just begun, they get upset. Sometimes they argue with me on Twitter. Sometimes they reply back to my emails with nasty messages. Sometimes they come up to me in person and tell me that I am “just wrong,” or that I’m crazy, and that their publisher is going to do the marketing for them, once they find a publisher.

“What if you can’t get a publisher because you don’t have a website or any social media?” I sometimes reply (less so now, as I am trying not to engage). I ask this because I have been traditionally published and have worked as a consultant for major publishers, and I know for a fact that a website and social media are the unwritten requirements of the 2016 publishing contract.

I know this for a fact because I am part of the REASON for this being an unwritten requirement, because, and you can quote me on this: AN AUTHOR WITHOUT A WEBSITE AND SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT SERIOUS ABOUT THEIR SUCCESS.

Oh yes, I put that in all caps. I have said these very words more times than I can count. I have said these words in blog posts, at major publishing conferences, to publishing bigwigs, and to bestselling authors. I have said these words to countless self-published authors, and, 100% of the time, I can tell who will have a long-term career as an author based on their reaction to this statement. I have said this until I am blue in the face, I have seen it played out in real results, I have coached authors over the hump of the tedious setup process and the formation of the “1 hour per day” social media habit.

To a person, I have seen the success of the people who have put in the work consistently, and I have watched the “shortcut seekers” fade away, angrily ranting all the while that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that they write fiction and therefore can’t optimize their websites, that they are introverts and just cannot get out there  on social media, that their publisher should be doing more, that I should just set everything up for them (!), that they have been tweeting “Buy my book!” and no one is buying their book, and so on.

My BackStory 

As something of a backstory, let me tell you how I got my first publishing contract. This is the very story I tell authors when they start arguing about how I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have been employed as a writer for my whole career, but before that, I wrote for my high school, college, and grad school newspapers. I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. I wrote (and still write) for The Huffington Post. I was once nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I have won several national awards for my copywriting and work on websites and ad campaigns.This is the Secret to Book Marketing by @LoriCulwell, Rachel Thompson, BadRedhead Media, Lori Culwell

When I was in the third grade, I wrote an advertising slogan for a contest sponsored by my local newspaper, and the business that was sponsoring the contest actually used that slogan in their ad. All this is to say, when I wrote my first novel (Hollywood Car Wash) in 2005, I thought I would have no problem finding an agent and getting it out there, because I am a good writer and I work hard. I didn’t have a website or social media, because that stuff wasn’t as common back then. On the advice of a successful author, I wrote the whole novel, sent out sample chapters and hundreds of cover letters, and networked with everyone I knew. I really expected that my novel would find a home, because the novel was solid and I did all the right things.

I was wrong. After one solid year of shopping that novel (which included one agent sending back my sample chapters with “CHICK LIT IS DEAD” scrawled across the manuscript in black pen), I decided to self-publish because I didn’t want all of that work to go to waste. In case you don’t remember a time prior to Kindle and the rise of self-publishing, that choice used to basically be the “failure” choice for writers who couldn’t cut it in the industry, and it was embarrassing to tell people that you had done it. After I decided to self-publish, the one agent I had manage to get dropped me because SHE was embarrassed and didn’t want a self-published author on her roster.

I tried to send some copies of my book to my local libraries (for free), and was told that they only put “real” books in the library system. I tried unsuccessfully to schedule book signings. I tried to get that book into bookstores. I went to the West Hollywood Book Fair and was told I would not be able to stand at the table with “real” authors. I cried in my car about that one.

After I tried all of this, I decided to start using social media to make people pay attention to my book, which I still thought people would like. I made , got on MySpace, and basically spent three or four hours a day connecting with people who liked the same kinds of books I had written. Let me say that again: THREE OR FOUR HOURS A DAY, after I was done with work. That is the part of the story new authors like the least, because it is really daunting to know that you wrote a whole book and are STILL going to have to work that hard. Believe me, I get it. The only reason I didn’t quit was because I had put all that work into the novel, and I couldn’t even fathom letting the story end with “And then I self-published and failed at that too.”

This is the Secret to Book Marketing by @LoriCulwell, Rachel Thompson, BadRedhead Media, Lori Culwell Back to the story. Eventually, specifically because the work I put into networking on Myspace, my book started to sell. After awhile, it sold so many copies, I entered it into “Project Publish,” which was kind of like “American Idol” for books (in 2006). By then, I had sold about 10,000 copies of that self-published novel (which is still kind of a lot, for any novel). That number, along with my large number of MySpace followers, my business plan, the novel itself, and my website, were enough to convince the judges that the novel WOULD fly in a traditional publishing setting, and I won.

The prize? Simon & Schuster bought that novel and published it, which was particularly amazing for me because they had passed on it two years before. It is still available to this day. I still get royalty checks. My novel was optioned to be turned into a script (it died a slow death by development, but that is a different story for a different day). I still consult with publishing companies (and some authors) about how to be successful online. I wrote five more books, some of which were bought by traditional publishers. That initial hard-won success continues to pay dividends to this day.

There Is No Shortcut To Book Marketing Success! 

The moral of this (admittedly long) story is this: I didn’t get there overnight. I don’t know a single author with any success who has gotten there overnight. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET THERE OVERNIGHT. There is no shortcut to success. There is no “silver bullet” I’m just not  telling you. The secret is: get in there. Do the work. Cry in your car over the inevitable rejections. Then get back in there and do it some more. Write more books. Network more. Figure out how to make a website. Get on social media, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Connect with people. Fail. Get back on the horse. Do it all again. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you have the career you want, and then repeat more to keep that career. Stop complaining, to me or about me, because I am not the problem.

I understand that you’re upset and angry because your book didn’t catch on the minute you finished it, but you have to get past that, get in there, and do the work. Also, here’s the other thing about doing the work: that success you get, after you put in the work, is YOURS. No one can take it away from you, because you did it yourself. There is no victory like the hard-won victory, and I say that from personal, having cried in my car experience.

Here’s the thing, though—you are either going to accept this truth and start doing the work, or  you’re not. Maybe something I have said today will motivate or inspire you, or maybe you will want to argue with me (which, to me, is an indication that you are not ready to put in the work). That, my friends, is the story of why I have taken a step back from trying to tell authors they need to get organized and start marketing.

Although, as a side note, if you are an author who feels like they are ready to get to work, then yes, let’s talk! I can absolutely help.

http://getcreativeinc.comThis is the Secret to Book Marketing by @LoriCulwell, Rachel Thompson, BadRedhead Media, Lori Culwell

(Yes, I added in that last one just to be funny.)

photos courtesy of Lori Culwell and pixabay


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  1. kevin shaub (@kevinshaub) on November 5, 2016 at 7:15 am

    She’s right, everyone. And one more piece of advice – bookmark this website and use it as a model for your own (hope that’s okay,Rachel).

    • Rachel Thompson on November 5, 2016 at 8:43 am

      thank you, Kevin! It’s great. Lori is awesome and I look up to her. She inspires me daily.

  2. Mary L Gorden on November 7, 2016 at 9:44 am

    For sure it is the only way to do it. I just wish I’d started working on marketing earlier.

    • Rachel Thompson on November 7, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      Never too late to start — focus on building relationships rather than ‘buy my book’ spamming and you’ll get there.

  3. Diana DIehl on November 7, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I am so sorry you had such a hard time with authors! Everything you’ve said matches everything I’ve learned talking to other authors, marketers, SEO consultants, indie publishers. The marketing part is hard work!

    I speak from the inexperience of an about-to-self-publish my first children’s book. It’s not going to be out until early 2017, and already I feel like Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down each day.

    My friend and neighbor, Dennis Wood encouraged me to check out this post. It’s validating and daunting to confirm reality as I know it.

    I’ve spent hours already, talking to librarians, teachers, parents, and basically anyone I run across. I’ve set up my Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium, and Facebook pages for my book and/or for me. I’m working on my Web site (what the heck can you put on a site with only one book, no awards, no reviews, and no testimonials??! <–rhetorical question). I'm in the process of changing it from a book site to an author site.

    I'm creating author visit materials. I'm going to book fairs and talking to virtual schools.. I go to meetings that I think might have people attuned to my topic. For instance, because my main character is a little tree from the wild who [SPOILER ALERT] ends up in a city, I attended an urban forestry community meeting looking for networking opportunities there. Believe it or not, I found some people who work with educators about appreciation for trees. Hope that results in opportunities in the future. I'm scoping out chances to do readings at local nurseries, nature centers, and restaurants that have events featuring local creative people, talking to foster care and literacy programs.

    So many possibilities, all of which are time consuming and pushing me beyond my comfort zone and skill set again and again. Maybe it's premature, since I don't even have advance review copies yet, but it seems like good practice. Maybe once I have paper and digital copy in hand I'll have made the worst of my mistakes. One can only hope!

    And STILL I want a magic bullet. Ha! However, for me, the magic bullet is anything that will tempt people to click through from social media and actually sign up for my newsletter. With followings in the low double digits, the experimentation seems endless and unfruitful…so far!

    Well, enough of staring at my Sisyphean mountain. I'm so glad Dennis told me about your post, and I appreciate your taking the time to spread a dose of reality. Best wishes for better reception back in SEO land.

    • Rachel Thompson on November 7, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      HI Diana and thanks for your comment. Much of what you are struggling with is this: branding. We publish the author not the book — so keep in mind that focusing solely on the topic of your book will only get you so far. Look through the many articles I’ve written here and for Lori’s site ( and you’ll find lots of tips from her, myself, and other experts. Her book HOW TO MARKET A BOOK 2.0 on Amazon is also very helpful.

      You might want to start attending my weekly #BookMarketingChat on Twitter also (Wednesday, 6pm pst) and take a look at past chats on our public Facebook page to learn most of the answers you need. The info is out there. Good luck!

      • Diana DIehl on November 7, 2016 at 2:34 pm

        Branding–precisely! Yes, that’s what I’m in the midst of. This is exactly why I’m moving from a book site to an author site. The book site arose from my view of the project as a collaboration between myself and my illustrator. Think Rogers & Hart or Lennon & McCarney (might as well aim for a bright star, eh what?) But I’ve made the decision to make it a solo site. I’m working on how to turn “eclectic” into a brand. Ha!

        Thanks for the links; I’m always happy to learn. Sign me…

        The marketing info sponge,

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  6. Charm Baker on December 31, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    Awesome post and right on time. Reading it lets me know that I’m not crazy in my thinking although I feel like I tend to teeter back and forth. I just released my second novel on the first of December. My lack of consistent and persistent marketing has my first novel practically collecting dust. By now I should know better, and I actually thought I did. I started marketing early, even going the “pre-release” route. Never-the-less, I’ve already started to experience the book marketing blues.

    I realize that none of us are immune to the roller coaster wave of excitement that comes from releasing a book, followed by the plummet your heart takes when the marketing seems in vain. But there are only two possible courses of action to take if we ever want to succeed. Keep marketing and keep writing.

    For me, the trick is finding the right balance. I’m glad I found your blog. What better way to learn how to succeed than to following someone who is successful? Thank you for all your candid words of wisdom. Based on your author “must have” checklist, I know I’m on the right track, only now it’s time to turn things up a notch! I’ll be following you for more smart book marketing solutions. Thanks again.

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  9. J.K. Ullrich on April 3, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    I agree there’s no magical shortcut, especially for indie authors who are essentially a one-person publishing house. But what strategy do you recommend for authors who don’t have several hours a day to devote to networking? I work a full-time job in addition to my moonlight novelist gig, and it’s challenging enough finding time to write the darn books, much less hawk them online. How would you advise someone like me to maximize the impact of their limited marketing energies?

    • Rachel Thompson on April 4, 2018 at 9:48 pm

      Hi JK, good question. Well, think of it differently than ‘hawking your books online.’ IMHO, it comes down to building relationships with readers. If you want to sell books, building connections with your readers is the way to do it. There are any number of ways to do so (you can read my other blog posts or books on how to do so – there’s simply not enough room here to review it all and it would be redundant).

      Creating interest in your books by sharing snippets, run contests, ask questions, blog, be generous, use a social media management tool for time management purposes…and use your mobile apps. We all have time challenges and here’s the main thing–marketing isn’t an option if you want your work to be visible. There are plenty of ways to make tech work for you — just don’t lose the personal component. 🙂

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