I recently gave a presentation to a group of authors on the topic of marketing mindset. The subject matter resonated so strongly with the group, that I am sharing the presentation in blog form here. I hope you too find it helpful.
When we conducted a survey of over 1,000 authors last year, marketing was the one area that authors said they found the most challenging, and where they could use the most help. In this post, we cover why marketing can feel so daunting and suggest a marketing framework and mindset that we use here at Written Word Media to make marketing more manageable.
How Authors Feel About Marketing
This gif summarizes how authors are feeling about marketing. When asked about how much time authors were spending on marketing we heard a lot of “not enough”.
Across all groups of authors, marketing was listed as the most difficult aspect of being an author. Authors feel guilty that they spent too little time marketing. This seemed to be the case no matter how much time authors actually spent on marketing.
When we parse the feedback from authors, it’s clear that many authors are feeling inadequate, resentful, helpless and frustrated when it comes to marketing. That’s a tough set of emotions to be feeling, especially given that marketing is unavoidable if you want to make a living as an author.
What I can tell you is that anyone who has ever tried to market has at some point had these feelings. Myself included. What I’d like to explore is why marketing can make us feel this way, and what we can do about it.
Why do we feel this way?
In the 1970s, psychology researchers asked the question, how do we stay internally motivated? What makes us tick?
The studies conducted around this question resulted in what’s known as self-determination theory. Self-determination theory asserts that there are three universal needs that are essential for the psychological health and well-being of every individual: 1) Competence, 2) Autonomy and 3) Relatedness. The current marketing landscape, what I’m going to call Marketing Land, is pretty good at undermining these three basic needs.
Competence is wanting to feel good at something. Many of the marketing tools and platforms out there require some level of competence if you are to use them well. The challenge is that just as you gain mastery of a platform or technique, things change. New features are released, the user interface is redesigned or the algorithm is changed. It is very hard to feel a sense of mastery in Marketing Land. This leads to feelings of inadequacy and frustration.
Autonomy is our need to feel that we have a sense of control over our life. Anyone with kids has seen this play out with toddlers and their ubiquitous “I Do It Myself” statements. In Marketing Land, we lack the control we would like. We have no recourse when the rules are changed, our accounts are disabled, or effectiveness declines. The lack of control in Marketing Land leads to feelings of helplessness and resentment.
Lastly, we have Relatedness. As human beings, we are hard-wired to interact with and be connected to others. In our current age of social media proliferation, this can lead to a constant fear of missing out. We compare ourselves to others. We believe they know more than we do. We believe we may have overlooked the one marketing tactic that everyone else knows about and will solve all of our marketing woes. This leaves us feeling guilty.
Pursuing competence, autonomy, and relatedness are the things that make us human. When these needs are not being met we will experience negative emotions. So what can we do?
What can we do about it?
We can admit defeat. Or we can take another path. You can turn to the dark side or you can embrace your inner Jedi master to make Marketing Land a place that can be fun. That’s what we do here at Written Word Media. We are, at our heart, a marketing company. All of us here engage in marketing every day. And we actually enjoy it. It’s fun. I’d like to share a little about how we do that.
Here is one of the graphs we produced based on results from our 2019 author survey. It plots the effectiveness of different marketing techniques against the time investment required for each. What you’ll notice is that aside from Bookbub deals and promotion sites (like ours), most marketing activities are clustered around the midline.
Which marketing tactics are effective?
The data gets more interesting, though, when you look at the distribution for each answer. Bookbub Deals scored the highest in aggregate but when we look at the distribution, a whopping 21% of authors rated it as ineffective.
Here’s the distribution on Promotion sites like ours. They work for the vast majority of authors, but not for 13% of the author set.
Newsletter swaps were scored pretty low by most authors, but there are at last 50 authors out there who swear by them.
Facebook ads lean decidedly to the left, but I can tell you that we find it a very effective way to reach readers here at Written Word Media.
Amazon ads work for 25% of authors… but also don’t work for 25% of authors.
What’s Your Power Zone?
What these graphs show is that there is no silver bullet strategy that works for everyone. The wisdom of the crowd can point you to marketing tactics that are more likely to be effective. But at the end of the day, the tactics that will be most successful for you are the ones that play to your strengths. Your job is to find your power zone.
To find your power zone, ask yourself: Where do I already have competence or the potential to have competency? Where do I have curiosity? What do I enjoy doing?
If you don’t enjoy a specific marketing technique, it’s going to be hard to be good at it. It’s always going to feel like a slog.
For example, I am a data person. I love crunching numbers, I love Excel spreadsheets and I love the challenge of identifying the right message for the right audience. For that reason, creating, running, and analyzing Facebook ads is my happy place. I enjoy it, and I have the skill set to be good at it.
For some people, sharing their lives online, writing witty posts, and connecting with people is where they shine. So social media is a place that feels fun for them.
Or maybe you just want to be left alone to write. You can be successful at marketing without self-promotion or social media. No matter who you are, there is a way to market your book that will resonate with you. You just have to find it. The most important question to ask yourself is: What feels fun? What sparks curiosity or joy?
Joanna Penn talks about how she has the skillset to be good at Facebook and Amazon ads given that she was a management consultant before becoming a full-time author. But scrolling through spreadsheets all day is not fun for her. So she chooses not to focus on ads as a primary marketing tactic. Similarly, some authors may feel like they don’t have the background or skillset to try paid ads, but reading and learning about it sounds fun and sparks a desire to be good at it. That’s enough. Take the time to learn and to grow your competency if that’s is something that feels good.
Forge Your Focus
Once you have identified your power zone, it’s important to focus on it to the exclusion of other marketing tactics. This is easier said than done. You will be tempted to switch gears and try the shiny new thing. You will feel discouraged and want to give up. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to stay committed and focused on the marketing plan you have chosen.
This does not mean you never change course or try something new. Competence includes learning through experimentation. However, instead of becoming distracted when you hear about or come up with marketing inspiration that is outside of your plan, write it down! After you finish deploying your current marketing plan, you can come back to these ideas and see if you want to try them during the next marketing plan period.
Specificity Trumps Intent
We find that when it comes to marketing plans, specificity trumps intent. What that means, practically, is that you can have the best of intentions of focusing, but to really put your new plan and mindset in action you will have to be specific about your areas of focus, the number of hours you want to set aside for marketing each week, and the duration of your marketing plan.
We recommend doing your planning in 90-day increments. That means you set your intention for the next 90 days and you create a detailed plan on how to execute on it. At the end of that 90 day period, evaluate how things went and leverage your insight and experience to craft your next 90-day plan. By having a specific plan, it means that when you sit down at your desk each day you won’t have to spend time figuring out what to do. It will all be laid out for you so you can dive right in. This will make you efficient and drive momentum.
If you take this approach you may find that you actually spend less time on marketing. That’s okay. You will be doing less, but better and more focused work so that you can gain traction instead of spinning your wheels. You’ll also regain a sense of control. You’ll be spending time in activities that you enjoy and you’ll start to build competence in specific areas.
Marketing on Your Terms
To recap what we’ve covered:
- Knowledge is power. It’s important to understand the emotional triggers around marketing. Knowing how and why marketing makes us feel is the first step in conquering the challenges around marketing.
- No silver bullets. There are various marketing channels and techniques that work. Not every channel works for every author. As an author, you do not have to master every channel.
- Find your happy place. You are less likely to succeed at something that you don’t enjoy. Identify one or two marketing channels that feel fun to you.
- Forge your focus. Stay committed to the channels you have identified. Leave FOMO behind.
- The devil is in the details. A detailed plan is your key to success. It will keep you focused and make you more efficient.
- Change is a constant. Accept that things will change. Make testing and experimentation part of your plan.
If you can shift to a new way of thinking about and conducting your marketing activities, we may be able to dispense with the sighs, and perhaps even find ourselves smiling the next time we find ourselves entering Marketing Land.
7 comments on “Marketing Mindset: Playing to Your Power”
A lot of good advice here, but I can’t follow it through because I can’t afford it.
Funny how they never mention this, altho it would be even more helpful!
Excellent post. I liked the graphs showing what seems to work best for most authors. I would agree with the findings. One thing that wasn’t addressed was newsletters. Not the swaps, but the author’s newsletters to readers. That’s one of my most effective marketing tools and it turns out I also enjoy it. Thanks for digging into the psychology of the process and I loved the gifs. 🙂
Good article. Inspired ideas that are right for me. Thank you.
This was a very interesting article. I really liked the marketing plan layout and I’ll use that as a guide. I am helping my husband, who is the author in the family, try to deal with the marketing end of the writing business and I am overwhelmed by all the choices. We do have a monthly newsletter (we use Mailchimp) which we both work on, and I love doing the Instagram posts. He keeps up with Facebook and I have done a couple of .99 cent promos. We are just getting involved with Amazon ads and Facebook ads with the help of a couple of people who know how to do it. Eventually, I hope, I will learn enough to take over. I am realizing now that advertising is a necessity and not a luxury if you want to sell books.
My wife (the author) just came across this and shared it with me (the executive assistant and marketing director). You absolutely hit the nail on the head. I WISH I’d read this two years ago when it came out.
I’d love to know if all/most of this still rings true what with the massive landscape shift in the marketplace what with COVID, the war, inflation, etc. Is there a chance you’ll update this for the decade’s worth of change that took place in the last two years?
Also, to those who say they “don’t have the budget,” I urge you to make the budget. Even if it only starts with $100 a month (even less if you don’t have that), you’ll be amazed at what some well-targeted marketing can do for your sales. Of course, none of your marketing will matter if your product isn’t at its best. My best advice for checking that is to join some author groups on Facebook. One thing I love about the author community vs others I’ve been a part of is the amount of help others are willing to provide.
So, make some friends, get some constructive feedback, change what needs to be changed, and then start marketing. Your book is never going to be seen if you don’t put in a little money. It’s a hard truth, but it’s the truth nonetheless.
This is helpful. Last July I made a fall marketing plan (I write “mushroom thrillers” so fall is my big sales season). It took me all month to lay out the sequence of promos and to book the ads. (WrittenWords is easy). It did pay off and I felt better about having a plan.