Most of the things I write about for authors and marketing are tactical, lists of to-do’s mixed with some shiny new ideas and marketing trends. But one thing I’ve realized is that without a solid footing, none of it really matters.
So for my last piece of the year, I thought I’d get a little more motivational with a serious dose of reality.
Because we’d all be wildly successful authors if it weren’t for one thing.
And that “one thing” is that we often get in our own way.
The truth is, over the 16 years I’ve been in business, I’ve seen a lot of authors who have a ton of talent but who have books that never quite make it. In most cases when a book doesn’t succeed it’s for one of two reasons: the book (or book cover) are bad, or the author is their own worst enemy.
Take Emotion out of the Equation: I know this is easy to say, especially when publishing a book is such an emotional quest (for many of us authors) but if you can work to stop feeling every bump in the road your journey will be a lot smoother. I had an author one time tell me that it feels as if the world was set against them and their book. The problem with that statement is the word “feel” – when it comes to marketing your book, this should not be an emotional rollercoaster because if you let it be that, you’ll never get far. You’ll be too exhausted – emotionally – to keep on keeping on. Now, I’m not asking that you become some unfeeling robot. Of course that bad review is going to make you feel bad and I’m sorry that Oprah isn’t returning your calls or emails. But if you can step into the shoes of someone other than yourself, even for a micro-second, you’ll start feeling a whole lot better.
Here’s a fun way to turn the emotion into a story – and since we’re all story-tellers this should be easy, right? Take out a piece of paper, or your journal if you keep one, and write down how the experience made you feel. The idea here is to get it out of your head and onto paper. By putting your emotions (even the dark, twisty ones) on paper, you’ll get it out of your head and be better able to deal with it.
Some years ago, I had a blogger (a pretty big one) write a horrible review of one of my books. I was so upset I felt like rocking in a corner. But instead, I decided to write down how it made me feel and then I stepped away from it. I didn’t obsess about the review, I didn’t contact the blogger, I didn’t re-read it 100 times. I literally stepped away from it. By first brain dumping onto paper and then giving yourself some distance, you gain perspective and some much needed emotional control.
As it turns out the blogger did have some valid points in the review – the book needed improvement and in the next edition I made it better. As it happens, about a week after the review ran, the blogger reached out to me and said he’d edited it down – and taken all the negativity out of it. He apologized saying he was having a bad day and shouldn’t have pummeled the book the way he did.
By taking the time to take a beat, take a step back, all of this could have been avoided. More often than not, highly emotional authors aren’t successful. They fall into tailspins with each high and every single low and we know, from experience, that when you’re the new kid on the block, there are a lot more lows than there are highs.
Stop Letting the Unknown Define Your Success
I don’t know Instagram as much or as well as I should. Yes, I write about how to get on Instagram, what hashtags to use and what photo filters are more popular for authors to use, but beyond that, I’m still trying to find my way there. Instagram to me is still somewhat of an unknown. I’ll post a picture that won’t get one single like and then I’ll post another that almost goes viral. I know you’ve all been there – and it’s that unknown, it’s that uncertainty, that can sometimes make us feel like throwing in the towel. I want to give up on Instagram. Do I have to be on there? Probably not, but it’s better for my book if I am.
The unknown, whatever that is, can shape your publishing future in ways that don’t always support your end goals. If you don’t know something – ask – or plunk down the money to take a class. If it’s keeping you from being successful, if it’s frustrating you or sucking up a ton of your time, maybe a class can help empower you with the knowledge you need to master whatever it is that you’re trying to learn.
And most importantly, it’s not all about you. It’s about your market. And if your target readers love Instagram, then suck it up and get with the program!
Stop Using Excuses
I have worked with authors who have a million excuses. Yes, sometimes stuff happens, life gets in the way – but if you keep hearing yourself throw out excuses instead of working on your book (or promoting it) then maybe this isn’t something you really want to do. I’ve had authors who write books, and actually start promoting them before they realize this isn’t what they really want to be doing. Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean let’s face it, it is a fun New Year’s resolution. “I’m going to write a book this year!” But writing a book is hard work, it takes time, creativity, discipline and a seriously limited use of excuses.
“I just don’t have time to promote this book!” There’s an old saying that goes: We make time for the things that are important to us. So remember, unless you’re just writing your book for yourself and close family and friends, writing it is just a small piece of the pie – promoting it and ensuring people find it is no small feat!
If you find yourself caught in the vicious excuse cycle, ask yourself if this is really what you want to be doing, if it is, create some rule to get yourself out of the habit of using excuses.
In some cases I’ve seen authors get writing buddies. It’s sort of like a workout buddy, you keep each other motivated. But be careful here. While some writing buddies can be great and helpful others are enablers. I’ve been to writer group meetups where the biggest thing on the agenda is catching up on what’s going on in each other’s lives. This won’t help you finish or market your book. What you need is someone who will hold you accountable – or a writers group that’s full of serious writers looking for real success. Find a buddy who is a couple steps ahead of you, be honest that you want to be better, they’ll appreciate your candor and likely welcome you on board. Because for most people it’s super motivating to set a good example!
Don’t Take Baby Steps
When I was learning how to ride a bike, my mother decided to hide my training wheels. I loved riding my bike, so much so that I’d spent a ton of timing looking for them. She pretended to help and then we decided (with a heavy sigh) that they’d gone missing, maybe forever, but she knew that I wasn’t going to let my shiny bike just sit there. I needed to ride. So I got on, sans training wheels – and though wobbly of course – I took off. It took a while before I could ride without tipping over, but I learned to ride twice as fast as anyone else I knew. Maybe hiding your kid’s training wheels isn’t model parent behavior, but it does lead me to my next point: sometimes baby steps can hurt, more than help you.
To many authors, baby steps often feel like they’re doing something. The problem is that we can spend a lot of time with training wheels, long after we actually need them. Taking baby steps is a good way to start, but after a while you stop making progress.
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you took them off? Want to start doing speaking? Don’t just go to events to watch speakers, pitch yourself there! Want to do a book signing? Ask the retailer. Want to be on national or local television? Start contacting producers. Remember that the clock is ticking on your work. If you sit on it too long, it’ll be too old to market. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had authors come to us, 3, 4, and sometimes 5 years after their book came out. Sometimes their delays were unavoidable but other times they were completely made up excuses – take the training wheels off, force yourself out there and enjoy the ride.
Believe That you Already Have a Fan Base of Millions
Blogging on a brand new site, or posting to your Facebook Fan Page when the only person following you is your mother feels pretty silly, doesn’t it? That’s why I love this exercise. First off, close your eyes (well, after you’re done reading this of course), now imagine you’re doing a book signing and there are so many folks waiting to see you that they’re literally lined up around the outside of the bookstore. Yes, this may also be a great visualization exercise but it’s also a great way to start “feeling” your fan base long before they’ve arrived.
A lot of what authors first post on social media or on their blog is a bit “throwaway”, meaning that it’s just something to fill the space or the update. But that’s the wrong way to do it. By visualizing millions of fans your posts will become stronger, more focused and a lot more serious. If you had zillions of fans loving and resharing your stuff, what would you say differently? My guess is, a lot.
It’s not always easy to do, especially if you only have a few stragglers following you. But it’s a great mindset to get into. It’s also a fun creativity exercise and certainly, if you’re into visualization, it’s a solid tool to help you stay motivated and on track. Your millions of fans may not be here yet but I bet, if you keep writing great books and positing solid content (and doing all the right things) they’ll show up.
If You Don’t Do It, Someone Else Will
I knew an author once who told me for years about the book she wanted to write (when she had the time). It was a great idea, too. It was one of those ideas that I thought: I wish I’d thought of that. I kept in touch with her for a while and then she dropped off – I assumed to write her book.
One day I got a call from her, in serious distress. Someone else had written the book she wanted to write. The exact book. No, it wasn’t a case of idea theft. It was a case of someone else just having the same idea. It happens, it happens all the time and while there are no new ideas, there is something to be said for seeing your idea taken over by someone else. Candidly, it’s heartbreaking. If none of these other points shook you awake this one just might.
Don’t wait, if you do you may end up like the author I mentioned. She never wrote her book, even though I told her she could probably do it much better.
I have a friend who takes spin classes (indoor cycling) at 5:30 in the morning, she loves it, raves about it. So much so that I thought: Well I have to try this. But you know 5:30 is pretty damn early, I mean don’t most people only get up at that hour? I went and signed up and promised myself I’d get up, I mean how hard could it be? As it turns out, pretty hard. The first few mornings I sort of hated it. Also, spin is not for the faint at heart, you can’t show up half asleep and hope for the best. You really have to work at doing it right. But then something happened. As I kept doing it and kept forcing myself out of bed at 4:45AM, it became a habit and I loved it so much, I wasn’t willing to let something like an early wakeup call get in my way. This small change, this seemingly minor “start” has had a domino effect on everything else I do. That’s what happens. Not just with a workout but with anything that improves your life or your work.
In the end sometimes it’s just about starting. Do something, sit down – write one sentence, create a book outline, or start doing marketing – or in my case get yourself out of bed when most of the world is still sleeping. This is YOUR book, and while I’m sure it’s amazing, it won’t write itself and it won’t sell itself.
I know authors who write 25 books a year. It took me a year to finish Red Hot Internet Publicity and it was long and hard and painful (very painful) but I finished it and I’m proud of it and most of all, it’s done. There were days I did not want to start on that book. I’d rather be doing anything else (oh, look, a butterfly!). The point is, if you don’t start you will never know how truly amazing you can be.
This year, vow to drop your excuses, your training wheels, and anything else that’s keeping you from being the best writer you can possibly be!