Need the No Nonsense Book Marketing Truth? Get These Titles by guest @cdetler

Am I the only one who hates a con artist?

Okay, rhetorical. Do over.

Am I the only one who recognizes a con artist when she sees one? That answer’s not so obvious, my friend. Prepare to learn there’s no Santa.

We’ve been laughing at the dupe who gets flimflammed since forever. Bugs Bunny had his trench coat full of snake oil in the 1940s; Mick Jagger told us, “Every man is the same, c’mon. I’ll make you a star” back in ’81. We’re soooo sophisticated nowadays, with our digital Encyclopedia Britannicas in our pockets and our Snopes on speed dial. We’re way too wise to get hoodwinked.

Yeah, ya think? You fool, you.

Pull out your glass encyclopedia. Thumb up the Google. Type in “book promotion” or “book marketing” or “book publicity,” and waddaya get? You get the virtual equivalent of a hand job. You get salacious phrases like, “Your book deserves success!” “Reach millions!” “Huge audience!” “Six-figure strategies!”

Your heart beats faster and your face lights up, and you know what you do? You buy it. Like I buy it. Like we all buy it. Because we’ve worked so hard on this book, and it’s so good, and we’re so not interested in doing the “selling” part, and we do deserve to reach millions! With simple six-figure strategies! For the low price of $199.99 $139.99! Don’t we.

But those $139.99s add up. Or, if you’re going for big league, those $5,000 or $12,000 or $40,000 publicist packages add up. Before you know it, oops: you’re bankrolling the macaroon-colored décor of an internet Bugs Bunny, all because you have a dream, and she has an Insta-worthy website.

But where’s your miracle results? Where’s your “10K engaged followers”? Where’s your “168 five-star reviews”? Where’s “Your book: page one on Google”? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. Or rather, it’s blowing in that smoke you got puffed up your arse. Next time, read the fine print, and seek a guarantee to go with that dream.

Now, this isn’t to say that all book marketing sites are grifty. Hells bells, we’re both on BadRedheadMedia right now, aren’t we? Rachel is irrefutably legit. But take a look at her tagline: “Helping you help your damn self.” Bam. No smoke blown; no promises made. Just the Quaker-plain truth: if you want book success, you’re gonna have to work for it. To earn it.

So. If you’re here, you’re a bit of a bootstrapper, right? You like a macaroon-pink, knickknack-lined bookshelf as much as the next guy, but you’re not afraid of some dirt, some hard work. Maybe you came to this point the hard way, having traveled down the road of empty promises. Maybe you were born to do grit. Point is, you’re here now, and you’re ready to work. Fantastic! I have just the tools you need to get the book marketing job done.

Introducing the three titles that scrubbed away my delusions, gave me realistic expectations, and taught me what to do to sell books (and save my dignity).

Book One: The Business of Being a Writer

The Business of Being a Writer, by Jane Friedman. Dude, if you’re not stalking Jane’s site on the regular, are you even a writer? No-joke Jane is the penultimate B.S.-free authority on writing and publishing. She’s like that aunt who explained the brief ‘90s dental dam trend, while the rest of your grownups were stuck on Just Say No.

Jane’s been doing the damn thing for eons, and she is not here for some nonsense. For example, here’s her, telling us exactly how much money she earned in 2014. Like, to the ones place. Who else is publishing their bank statement on the net?

The Business of Being a Writer is just as straightforward and detailed. It pulls back Oz’s curtain on the mysteries of the publishing industry, introducing us to nuts and bolts like the P&L, or “profit and loss”: “a publisher’s basic tool for deciding whether a book makes financial sense to publish” (p. 47). So, OMG. It’s not a popularity contest that decides if they sign you; it’s a frigging spreadsheet. Who knew.

Like any good aunt, Jane gives broad advice, too, as soothing as it is honest: “Platform…[is] about putting in consistent effort over the course of a career, and making incremental improvements…It’s about making waves that attract other people to you—not begging them to pay attention” (p.175-176). In other words, you guys, we can quit the panic-inducing, neon-flashing GIVEAWAY! posts, and quietly do our best for the long haul instead.

If you’re done getting burned by romantic publishing fantasies; if you’ve got your big-writer panties on and you want to get to work, this book is your new bible. It answers your honest questions—“Chapter 1: Can You Make a Living as a Writer?” It explains the different arms of the publishing industry. It describes the steps one takes to get published. It gives the God’s-honest truth about how to build a platform. And it goes full on granular in part five, “How Writers Make Money.”

The Business of Being a Writer is the writer’s career instruction manual condensed into to 296 pages. With the fluff boiled out and industry insider scoop stirred in in, it’s the beef demi-glace of authorhood.

Book Two: Perennial Seller

Perennial Seller, by Ryan Holiday. My agent told me to get this book when I hit marketing fatigue. My agent knows what the funk she’s talking about.

Ryan Holiday is this weird Millennial dude whose brain is totally Greatest Generation. Or rather, it’s totally Ancient Grecian. He’s obsessed with the Stoics, an Athenian philosophy from 300 BC which can be bastardized into a few key points, including:

  • We should accept whatever fate hands us.
  • We shouldn’t kvetch about it.
  • Being an excellent human is way more vital than being a rich/famous/hot/etc human.

Perennial Seller fleshes these beliefs out, as they relate to book sales. Have your giant lined sticky notes ready, ‘cause when Holiday poses his awesome questions designed to uncover your true mission—“What sacred cows am I slaying? What groups am I pissing off?” (p.54), you’re going to want to fire off whatever brilliance pops up, pronto.

His questions funnel you into clarity about what you really, deeply give a shit about, then the book goes on to convince you that dude, quit worrying about stupid sales rank or follower count or whatever metric-du-jour you’re using to judge your worth. You know what makes you feel good? Working on that sacred-cow-slaying mission. You know what makes you feel like pummeled snail shit? Focusing on trying to get rich/famous/hot/etc.

It also makes you ponder deep truths. For instance, how fast have you been hoping you were gonna reach rich/famous/hot? Lightning fast. But how long does it take a human to achieve their birthright mission? Until their last breath. So what’s yer rush, stoopit?

Perspective, this book gives you. Perspective and a long, deep sigh of ohhhhh yeahhhh. That’s why I started this writing thing in the first place. Let me quit panicking and enjoy what fate is handing me. (P.S.: The whole second half of the book is chock full ‘o brilliant, creative strategies to make your book blow up the right way: not with advertising dollars, but with you, doing your actual mission.)

Book Three: Known

Known, by Mark W. Schaefer. This one’s the how-to book you’ve been dreaming of. It has clear directives, in bullet points, framed by snackable little anecdotes on how the author’s clients implemented his suggestions. His suggestions on what, exactly? Let’s let the subtitle tell you: “The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age.”

I read a “how to book market” blog post by Schaefer and found it to be so anti-cheerleading-B.S., and so concisely action-oriented, I had to get his book. Like, immediately. So I got it on Kindle, and quickly realized I needed it in hardcopy. Because this is the book you’re going to underline, and scribble with brainstorms, and use to develop complicated origami page-folding techniques, to differentiate what the different fold-styles signify.

Some of the material is the same scoop that every social media guru doles out: use BuzzSumo; here’s why. Use Google Keywords; here’s how. The difference here is in the delivery: it’s calm and slow-moving, with plenty of white space on the page to let your brain relax its shoulders. I’ve been hearing about BuzzSumo and Google Keywords for a decade or more, but always, it’s come at me through a megaphone with a Red Bull buzz, leaving me scrambling for a woobie and a hiding place. Discovering them at Mark Schaefer’s pace, I’ve been able to finally consider, digest, and implement these tools.

The real worth, though, is in the takeaway I got from this book. The big picture, holy shit, this is what I’ve been always needing to do revelation. This might sound hella obvious, but when you’re drowning in macaroons and hoodwinkers and electronic encyclopedias, the obvious can get obscured.

So here it is, my great Known realization:

  • An author’s book doesn’t sell bigly if the author isn’t known.
  • An author doesn’t get known by shouting, “look at my book!”
  • An author gets known by doing/being/offering something different, something worthwhile, something people want and need…
  • …and by doing/being/offering that thing consistently, and publicly, over the long haul.

Broken record alert, but: book success doesn’t come fast. And it doesn’t come via advertising or pushing. It comes because people like, and trust, the author.

So. You sick of being slimed by the rah-rah book marketing handjobbers? You ready for a committed relationship with the wise women and men of book publicity? Start with these books, a fast-moving pen, and a stack of big, lined sticky notes, and map you out an action plan. It’ll take work. It’ll take time. But it’ll also let you keep your money, and your dignity, where they belong: in your own pocket, instead of lining some cartoon trench coat.


  1. Iola on May 5, 2018 at 2:51 am

    Book marketing seems to have the Field of Dreams authors at one end of the scale (if I write it, readers will come), and the snake oil buyers at the other.

    If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, like most things in life, it’s a case of showing up and doing the work. Lots of work. But people are always looking for the quick fix.

    I’m a long-time admirer of Jane Friedman, but haven’t heard of the two men you’ve mentioned. But I like the sound of what they have to say, and I’ll definitely check out Known. Thanks for sharing!

    • Cyndy Etler on May 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

      See, it seems like there’s a dawning thought revolution. An author-reality akin to the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign, before it turned ugly. Let’s link arms & march forward together into reality, ya wanna?

    • Cyndy Etler on May 5, 2018 at 11:52 am

      See? I’m not the only one on the truth-serum. It seems like there’s an author’s movement starting, akin to Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, before it went sour. Waddaya say we lock arms and barrel forward into no-bullshit land together? C’mon! It’ll be fun!

  2. Jena on May 5, 2018 at 4:46 am

    But can’t I get by with a little help from my friends? Solid post- I’ve gone thru all the stages- but I’m getting better at picking the gems- and lots of good advice here. Thanks

    • Cyndy Etler on May 5, 2018 at 11:55 am

      Jena, picking up on the classic rock theme! Awwwriiiight. But seriously, the friends thing is a key to success in all this. Shoot, I’m here, right now, because Rachel is a good friend of mine…and my books are where they are, right now, in part thanks to Rachel’s friendship! Win, win, win.

  3. Lissa Johnston on May 5, 2018 at 6:45 am

    I’ll be sharing this all over the place. Every time I see a poster on FB asking for advice about whether $2000 or $5000 or whatever is too much to pay a publisher to publish their book, I die a little inside.

    Def yes on Jane Friedman. I also love Janice Hardy but she’s more on the writing end than marketing.

    • Cyndy Etler on May 5, 2018 at 11:57 am

      Riiiight? There are SO many hands out, ready to pick our pockets. I guess that’s the same for anybody, with any dream. If our driving need was perfect beauty, there’s plenty of plastic surgery and Sephora scams for that; if we needed to cross a border, we’d have a coyote whispering promises in our ears. We got be smarter, and humbler, and more patient than the sticky-finger scumbags.

  4. Laura on May 5, 2018 at 6:49 am

    Funny you should mention publishing one’s bank statements online, because that seems like one of the big things the shadiest marketers do! They show you that they’re making millions of dollars a year, and then throw in some quickie disclaimers about how these results aren’t typical, but still expect us to believe that if we buy their products, our bank accounts will become similarly enlarged. So, seeing screen shots of people’s accounts usually sends up a red flag, especially when they conveniently forget to tell you that most of that cash comes from teaching people whatever bogus methods they’re shilling, NOT from book sales.

    • Rachel Thompson on May 5, 2018 at 9:09 am

      I could see how you can look at it that way, Laura. The thing is with Jane, you can easily go check her rankings on Amazon and see where she is and that she’s clearly selling books. She’s also well-known in the industry and a teacher as well (her books are college textbooks). Your comment is a good caution for writers — don’t get pulled in by false claims, absolutely. That could be a great future post, in fact!

      For my content here this month for this initiative: Cyndy is the real deal, as is Jane. I wouldn’t have anyone here on #NaNoProMo that I hadn’t personally vetted. Hope that helps!

      • Laura on May 5, 2018 at 9:18 am

        Thanks for the clarification, Rachel. I do subscribe to Jane’s mailing list, since she’s such a well-respected source and has been around the block several times. It’s just frustrating to see how this kind of well-meaning proof can be so easily twisted by unscrupulous types. Otherwise, I am enjoying the NaNoProMo posts so far, so thank you for organizing this event!

    • Cyndy Etler on May 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      Hashtag Gross. But click that link, take a look at Jane’s breakdown. It is doing EXACTLY what you’re saying the other guys don’t do: she’s putting it right out there for people, like, “I make .2% of my earnings off of book sales.” The woman is so honest, it’s like she drinks bleach for breakfast.

      Wait, did that even makes sense?

  5. sarah on May 5, 2018 at 10:12 am

    This was another great post. I wasn’t expecting marketing to be easy but accepting that you need to learn to succeed pretty much goes with everything in life. I really want to ch class out these titles.

    • Cyndy Etler on May 5, 2018 at 12:01 pm

      Patience and persistence, baby. Those are the traits I’ve been working on developing. And yes, go check those titles out! Or, you know…WIN ’em! hahahaha fingers crossed!

  6. Pauline Wiles on May 5, 2018 at 10:20 am

    I’m happily adding these 3 to my TBR list… I appreciated you calling out the “long term” aspects of building an audience.

    • Cyndy Etler on May 5, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      Yeah. That. I take full responsibility for my own fantasies of easy, fast success. But damn. I’ve been doing this book-authoring thing for nearly a decade, voraciously reading the experts’ advice all along. Was I subconsciously ignoring that vital tidbit until two weeks ago, or is NOBODY putting that hard fact out there? It takes a long, ass, time to build that audience. It takes a ton of consistent work. Period. Argh.

  7. Tamsen on May 5, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    What an interesting/helpful collection of books and seeing the comments from others who follow Jane make me think I’m missing out…off to go check her out!

    • Cyndy Etler on May 6, 2018 at 5:40 am

      Oh my God, you’re a Jane newbie? Prepare to be launched into author wonderland. I bet you were up all night reading her years’ worth of brilliance!

  8. Jessica White on May 5, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    I’ve been following Jane since I first heard about her. She’s amazing. The other two are new to me. Still learning all I can about the business side of writing. Thanks for this series of posts, Rachel.

    • Cyndy Etler on May 6, 2018 at 5:42 am

      It takes a lonnnng time for all of it to sink in, to settle. There’s SO much out there. For me, half of the work is figuring out which handful of things I should focus on, as opposed to trying to tackle EVERY damn thing!

  9. Mark Schaefer on May 5, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    This is my favorite book review of all-time. Thank you so much!

    • Cyndy Etler on May 6, 2018 at 5:43 am

      Ayyyy! In the company of greatness, right?

    • Rachel Thompson on May 6, 2018 at 9:28 am

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Mark! Fangirling here 🙂

  10. Patty Newbold on May 5, 2018 at 6:57 pm

    Thanks so much, Cyndy, and Rachel for choosing such great guest writers. Such a helpful review of these books, and I can’t believe I had never even heard of Perennial Seller. Added it to my Kindle right away.

    • Cyndy Etler on May 6, 2018 at 5:44 am

      Yeah, Perrenial Seller gave me SO much perspective. When I start hyperventilating with fear about “not getting far enough fast enough,” I crack it open and immediately remember, “Ohhhh, yeah. It’s not about THAT, stupid. It’s about your SOUL. Your soul has no fast-forward button.”

  11. Kella Campbell on May 5, 2018 at 8:41 pm

    Great reminder that doing this right takes time. Thank you.

    • Cyndy Etler on May 6, 2018 at 5:48 am

      That, I think, is the most vital lesson that I’ve finally learned. It. Takes. Time.

  12. Dana Lemaster on May 5, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    You had me at Jane Friedman. I’ve taken a couple of her webinars, and she’s fantastic. If she’s got a book, I’m reading it. If you consider the other two authors to be of her caliber, then I’ll read their books as well. Thanks for a straightforward and enlightening article.

    • Cyndy Etler on May 6, 2018 at 5:46 am

      “You had me at Jane Friedman”–LOVE it! I don’t know if I can say ANYone is “her caliber,” but those guys definitely helped me sort my stuff out, as opposed to cluttering my efforts and provoking anxiety, as so many other folks do…!

  13. J.R. on May 6, 2018 at 5:15 am

    A frank, honest article with advice which speaks from experience and three solid book recommendations.
    Thank you for the post, Cyndy!

  14. Dahlia on May 6, 2018 at 10:36 am

    I think my heart stopped when I read this article because It Spoke To Me. I have no other words. This cut right to the real business.

  15. Rachel Thompson on May 6, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    ***Our lucky winner has been chosen! Please, continue this fab conversation.***

  16. BC Brown on May 6, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    Great article. Practical, no smoke up the area marketing advice is exactly what every writer needs.

  17. P.I. Barrington on May 7, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    Jane is my go-to when I cannot find information anywhere else or information that isn’t correct. She knows what she’s doing. Great article!

  18. Dena Garson on May 8, 2018 at 7:43 am

    Excellent book/resource suggestions. I have all three of them now on my to-buy list. Thanks so much for the sanity check!

  19. Rosanna Seabright on July 10, 2018 at 9:52 am

    I adore your article, keep it up!!

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