Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable?

A dollar bill planted among other seedlings in a field

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Note from Jane: Today’s guest post is adapted from Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing by Ed Cyzewski (@edcyzewski).


“I’ve never seen an author work as hard as you,” my publicist wrote after a book release.

I wanted to print out that email so that I could either frame it on my wall or burn it in the alley behind our house. I couldn’t decide which I wanted to do more.

I love to write books, but I don’t love book releases, even if my publicist praised my effort.

Almost every author I know jumps into book marketing with very mixed feelings. Authors are committed to the long, slow process of writing, so the fast-paced, socially awkward, time-sensitive demands of promotion prove difficult and draining for many authors. Even worse than that, many new authors know next to nothing about marketing and feel slimy when jumping into it, but we’re still tempted to measure our personal worth and the value of our books based on our sales numbers.

How do you promote a book well without bringing misery on yourself? Here are a few ideas that I discuss in my book Write without Crushing Your Soul.

When Bad Marketing Happens to Good Writers

The first time one of my books completely bombed, I went into a tailspin of self-doubt, self-loathing, and an overall sense of doom about my career. Some of my sales struggles in the past have come from a poorly titled book or a marketing plan that didn’t effectively target my core audience, but regardless, I’ve always been tempted to take my sales numbers personally.

When I finally turned my sales around on a subsequent project, I finally accepted that sales are just numbers. Book sales tell you a very small slice of the story about your book and your work, but they are far from the full picture. Slumping sales may indicate that you need to change some things, but they aren’t definitive proof that you need to give up or even that your book is worthless.

Very few authors believe they have sold enough books. Don’t seek personal validation for your career through book sales.

Commit to your writing as a mission or calling to serve a particular audience, and let the feedback from your audience determine whether you have been successful. The results of marketing campaigns are difficult to predict, so don’t let sales numbers determine whether you have served your readers effectively or whether you should keep writing. However, don’t ignore your sales numbers completely, since they may indicate that you need to try something else in order to reach your audience.

Stop Imitating Another Author’s Path to Success

During a meeting with one author, she shared with me how much she loved helping a friend with a podcast, but blogging was an absolute chore for her. However, she persisted in blogging because “That’s what you do to get noticed by publishers.”

I’ve been there, and it’s true that many of my contacts with publishers have come about because of my blog. For many authors today a thriving blog is all but assumed.

However, I suggested to my friend that many of the most successful bloggers I know live and breathe blogging. In addition, I personally can’t stop thinking of ideas I want to blog about. In her case, she had untapped artistic and audio talents that she had overlooked. I was also able to share how I had unintentionally copied the way another author uses Twitter because I thought successful authors need to use Twitter just like him. However, I made myself miserable in the process and ultimately struggled to make progress in my career by copying him.

Don’t lose your personality, quirks, and passions by trying to imitate the success of another author. In fact, you may not find your voice or tap into your greatest talents if you try to duplicate what made a fellow author successful. One of the most successful bloggers I personally know told me that she has reached more readers through her podcast than her blog.

Marketing Experts Disagree about What Works

At a writing conference I had some time to sit down with my publicist to plan my next book release. I mentioned that I was just wrapping up a fairly traditional publicity campaign for a book with a different publisher that included radio interviews and ads in magazines. She startled me with her reply: “It’s not working, right?”

“Yeah, it’s really not working,” I replied.

“That doesn’t work for most books,” she said.

Mind you, there are some well-known authors who can drive book sales through interviews and ads, but for the majority of midlist or independent authors, we’re going to run into conflicting advice from one publisher to another. In most cases, a relatively unknown author will struggle to sell books through traditional media advertising.

Having worked with several publishers over the years, I’ve noticed how different publicity departments can be from each other. While one publisher emphasizes Twitter followers, another looks at your email list, and yet another wants connections at magazines, conferences, and bookstores. There are certain trends that appear more common than others, but if a particular publicity practice strikes you as draining or ineffective for your book, there are plenty of options out there to consider, and there’s a chance you can find an expert who can walk you through it.

That also means that authors should consider whether a publisher’s marketing team is a good fit for reaching their particular audiences. Most publishers have a standard marketing plan that is the basis of what they do, and it may be wise to find out how your network and viability as an author match up with your publisher’s marketing preferences.

Diminishing Returns for Trying to Do It All

I once asked an editor at one of the Big Five publishers about balancing traditional with new media advertising, and she said to do all of the traditional stuff and to then do the new media stuff until I dropped. That may have been realistic for success with a Big Five publisher, but it’s hardly possible for the average author who wants to have family time, personal pursuits, or some sort of spiritual practice each day.

I tried to follow her advice for a season, but over time I found that trying to dive into all of the social media marketing options out there at the same time meant I did all of them poorly. Instead, I focused on improving my newsletter, sharing my real-time, off-the-record thoughts about being a person of faith in the publishing industry. I got more specific and personal with my audience, and I immediately noticed an increased response from my readers. I also built my email list by giving away short ebooks, which I find much more enjoyable to write than anything I can cobble together on social media.

Most strikingly, connecting with readers in a personally authentic way ensured that my newsletters receive the highest engagement when I’m true to myself rather than writing sales pitches or offering “special deals.” I’ve unintentionally built something that only works if I interact with it in ways that I personally find healthy and authentic. I don’t want to spend my day crafting pithy, quotable tweets or hunting down potentially viral content for my Facebook page, but the people who appreciate my newsletter are more likely to follow me on social media after reading my longer form content.

You’re Never Done Promoting a Book

The hardest thing about sustainably promoting a book is that you’ll never reach an official finish line. There’s always one more book to sell and one more reader to ask for a review. That alone can bring about burnout and misery.

This may be the worst publishing advice you’ll ever read, but I don’t set sales goals or anything numerical as a goal during my book promotions.

I budget a set amount of time and prioritize certain actions. For instance, I make sure I write some guest posts, send some emails to my list, share copies with my friends and colleagues, and run a few sales or ads on ebook promotion sites.

When I run out of time, that’s that. I need to wait until the following week in order to follow up on anything else that didn’t fit into my release week time slots. In the weeks that follow, I try to find a few new ways to share my books with readers rather than constantly pushing for more exposure. Even saving the most popular book-related posts on my blog in Pocket and then dropping them into Buffer each week can help keep your book in front of new readers. Publicist Tim Grahl calls this slow and steady approach a “long game” book release.

Finding Your Voice in Book Marketing

Spiritual director and author Tara Owens shared in a recent interview on my blog that an author’s voice is perhaps one of the most important aspects of a writing career. Without finding, nurturing, and guarding your voice, you’ll most likely struggle, burn out, or quietly wish you could do something else.

Book marketing is much the same. Just as you need to find your voice to write a book, you need to find your voice in order to share a book with your audience.

There are more publicity tasks than you could ever learn, there are never enough hours in a day, and publishers are far from united in their opinions on the best way to market a book. You may as well develop a few key ways to reach readers that are sustainable and authentic that capitalize on your strengths.

The cover of Writing without Crushing Your Soul.You can’t always control the effectiveness of your book marketing plan, but you can control the way that book marketing impacts your relationships, mental health, and spirituality. If you hope to make a career out of writing, it’s especially important that your publicity practices leave something of yourself for the next book.


For more about writing sustainably, check out Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing, on sale for $1.99 the week of November 9 via Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.


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Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion and tagged , , .
Ed Cyzewski

Ed Cyzewski

Ed Cyzewski writes and edits books in Columbus, Ohio, and is the author of Pray, Write, Grow, A Christian Survival Guide, and Write without Crushing Your Soul, among other books. You can find him at www.edcyzewski.com and on Twitter and Facebook.

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46 Comments on "Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable?"

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lynne0312

Great article. Thank you.

philipparees

Concur. One needs a sense of proportion and I have failed to retain one. Good to be reminded.

Pam Newberry

WOW…What a timely message and so very valuable! Thank you for your insights. I especially like the last thought: “…You may as well…” and you are so VERY right! You’ve inspired me. I’m waiting on your book to download (sigh – tomorrow), but I know I’ll read it with much enthusiasm. Cheers, Pam

jamesrcallan

Good blog, Ed. You have made several points, important points, that I’ve never heard before. And it may keep some of us from either burn-out or going stark raving mad. Generally, the advice is directed to people as if they have 36 hours a day to do marketing. Few of us have that much time or energy, and if we do, when does the writing get done? My days are shorter, and I do have a life outside marketing – or at least I want to have one. I think I will now. Thanks.

Marcy McKay
Hi Ed, I DESPERATELY needed to read your guest post today. A tiny publisher picked up my debut novel and will release it in late January 2016. I’m thrilled about this this, but I’ve been running myself ragged and making myself crazy with all the marketing “stuff.” The two things that spoke to me most from you are: 1) Do not validate myself by my book sales. Yes, they’re important numbers, but they don’t define me. 2) I need to get back to email my own list more. It’s about 1,100 folks whom I ADORE. I need to return to… Read more »
augieaugie

I really needed this information….thanks

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[…] Author Ed Cyzewski offers insight into building authentic, sustainable practices in book marketing and promotion.  […]

MJ Greenway

This was just what I needed to read. I like the idea of not focusing too much on sales numbers. My debut novel Dating Maggie was just released by a small press recently and I’ve been running myself ragged trying to figure out the best way to promote it. Reading this made me feel like it’s okay if I don’t do every Facebook takeover and unlimited blog tours. Write Without Crushing Your Soul is a great title by the way!

Ernie Zelinski
As an author whose books have now sold over 900,000 copies, I believe that this is one of the best articles (certainly in the top 5) about book marketing that I have read over the years. I have been self-publishing since 1989. As you say, you must discover what is best for you. I discovered that the best way to use social media (Twitter or Facebook) to market my books is to avoid it as much as possible. What’s more, I don’t use email lists (although I know that email lists can be very powerful in marketing books if the… Read more »
Eileen Flanagan

Thanks so much for this! I’ve been promoting my third book, working harder than I ever have before, and struggling with many of the things you name–the feeling that as an author I “should” be doing more in tension with the feeling that as a person of faith I “should” just be trusting God more and letting go of my own ambitions. With my last book (ironically on the Serenity Prayer) I found my book sales improved when I stopped pushing so hard, a lesson I’m trying to keep in mind this time. Good luck!

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[…] Can You Promote a Book Without Making Yourself Miserable? (Jane Friedman) Almost every author I know jumps into book marketing with very mixed feelings. Authors are committed to the long, slow process of writing, so the fast-paced, socially awkward, time-sensitive demands of promotion prove difficult and draining for many authors. Even worse than that, many new authors know next to nothing about marketing and feel slimy when jumping into it, but we’re still tempted to measure our personal worth and the value of our books based on our sales numbers. […]

Jesse Magnan

Bookmarking this,as it is very tempting to try and do it all and helps when someone says that I really shouldn’t and here’s why.

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[…] Lots more from Jane Friedman here. […]

Stan R. Mitchell

Loved this:

“Commit to your writing as a mission or calling to serve a particular audience, and let the feedback from your audience determine whether you have been successful.”

Pure gold. Thanks for the beautiful post.

Rebecca Stonehill

Brilliant advice, thank you Jane. This rang especially true for me: “You may as well develop a few key ways to reach readers that are sustainable and authentic that capitalize on your strengths.” As you rightly point out, it’s so important to be true to ourselves in this whole process rather than struggling through procedures we feel we ‘ought’ to be doing as writers. This is not a good return on investment and is bad for the soul! Thank you for putting all this so articulately.

Jane Friedman

All credit goes to Ed on this one. 🙂

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[…] writers shy away from marketing. Ed Cyzewski shows how to promote a book without making yourself miserable, Diana Urban gives us marketing tips for sequels, and Lynn Griffin tells us how to help your […]

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[…] Ed Cyzewski: Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable? […]

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[…] “Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable?” Good post by Ed Cyzewski on Jane Friedman’s site. […]

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[…] Can You Promote A Book Without Making Yourself Miserable? Eventually, everyone has to promote their book, that goes for both indie and traditionally published authors. The process is time-consuming, exhausting, and it can be miserable. To that end, Jane Friedman explores the question we’ve all been wondering. […]

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[…] you promote your book without making yourself crazy? Hope so.  Here’s some tips to […]

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[…] Cyzewski on Jane FriedmanCan You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable? “Almost every author I know jumps into book marketing with very mixed feelings. Authors are […]

thewritertracy

Excellent article, excellent advice. And might I say a relief to read. It’s refreshing to think I can proceed with doing what works for me in a smart, consistent way and that just maybe, if I continue to do that along with continuing to focus on writing well, it might all work out.

bytestory

This post came at the perfect time. A few days ago my first novel went live on Amazon and since then I have been obsessed with marketing. Thank you for the moment of clarity.

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[…] Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable? Jane Friedman gives us some decidedly authentic and down to earth advice about book marketing that may surprise you. […]

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[…] Ed’s post on Jane Friedman’s blog […]

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[…] Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable? Jane Friedman gives us some decidedly authentic and down to earth advice about book marketing that may surprise you. […]

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[…] 19. Can You Promote a Book Without Making Yourself Miserable?  Okay, Ed Cyzewski won me over with his title, because it sounds so much like my own. If you’re stalled with your book release or unhappy with the idea that promotion is part of your job, start here for the encouragement to find the path that works FOR YOU, not for the last guy. […]

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[…] Cyzewski presents Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable? posted at Jane […]

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[…] “Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable?” Jane Friedman […]

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[…] most of the time and a writer in the few remaining hours of the day. Ed Cyzewski writes in “Can You Promote a Book without Making Yourself Miserable?” that it is better to focus on a few marketing techniques and do them well. He chose to share […]

R. Martin

Very informative post, indeed.
Another way to promote a book is to advertise it in promotion sites, like:

http://promoteproject.com/books
FreeBooksy
GoodReads
http://itswritenow.com

There are many others similar pages. So, it may be a good start.

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[…] second is from Ed Cyzewski (a writer who has penned several pieces here on publishing). It is a picture of his rabbit. I’m not a rabbit person. But getting this seemingly random […]

Brian Robben

Happy to see the advice about finding your voice, because that’s huge in book writing and marketing. Something as small as a tweet or Facebook post with strong voice behind the text will get 1o times more engagement than something without voice.

Kerry McAvoy

Ed, thank you for your sage advice. I appreciated the honesty regarding the fact indie authors can’t do it all. I particularly resonated with your suggestion to find my “voice”—not just in terms of my writing style but also in terms of my marketing practices. Excellent advice. Yes, I can see how such a practice could help to protect me from burn out. I have been doing a resemblance of this without having the words to describe the effort, but after reading this article, I have a clearer picture and a better direction. Thank you!

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