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.
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.
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 LoriCulwell.com , 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.”
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.
(Yes, I added in that last one just to be funny.)
photos courtesy of Lori Culwell and pixabay