The Real Secret to Marketing Your Writing

This week I was thinking about a quote from author Leigh Stein: “Launching a book is like an iceberg: the public sees the crown of ice at the surface of the water, but they don’t see the mass below the surface that grows over many months.”

An illustrator on my team, Klare Petit Frère, created this based on the quote:

I mean, that says it all, right? The tactics written on the iceberg are just a small sampling of potential actions that may be a part of a book launch. As writers, we may hope that writing and releasing the book is “enough.” Enough for what? To reach readers. To be purchased. Read. Discussed. Shared. To have an impact on someone’s life.

For many of us, that doesn’t just magically happen. There is so much work that happens below the surface.

I spend each day in the trenches with writers developing marketing strategies and helping to execute them. This is the practical stuff to identify one’s ideal reader, develop an author platform, launch books, and so much else.

Today I want to talk about the ingredients that makes one strategy work, while another flops.

The solution is this free app that you can download… oh, okay, no it’s not. There is no magic app that will make any of this easier. Sorry.

If you are a writer who wants to create and share your work in a manner that feels authentic and fulfilling read on…

Step #1: Create! Like It Matters. Like It’s a Priority.

I spoke to a writer this week who said something to me that I loved: “I write every day, relentlessly.”

I often hear about how writers struggle to find the time to write. Days, weeks, even months go by where very few words get down on the page. It just kills me a little bit inside when I hear that a writer doesn’t write. Don’t get me wrong, I know that people are busy, and their lives are filled with important responsibilities.

But I feel that writing is the best marketing. To not treat it like a third-rate hobby, your ninth identity, and the thing you can do only when everything else falls into place in life.

When you develop a writing habit, you are immersed in a process that makes it easier to communicate what you write and why. This gives you something to share on social media with other writers and readers. It is a reason to talk about writing: the process, inspiration, and themes.

If you don’t feel you have a solid writing habit, here are some quick tips to establish one:

  • Set a ridiculously small goal to begin, such as writing for 1 minute a day. Or once sentence. Once you get the habit established you can grow from there.
  • You have to do this every single day, no breaks.
  • Find excuses to write that challenge your assumptions. Stuck on a scene? Waiting for edits on a chapter? Write something else. Something weird, silly, different — anything as long as you write.
  • Befriend writers. Surround yourself with those who make writing a priority. That could be local to you, but could also be online.
  • Stay accountable: post an update to social media sharing that you wrote.

Here is a post where I discuss what I learned writing every single day for a year. The process doesn’t look exciting, but it’s how the work of writing and sharing gets done. This is a series of images from back when I took a photo of myself each day writing:

Step #2: Stop Collecting To-Do’s, Gurus, and Systems. Pick One and Commit To It.

Many writers I speak to are overwhelmed by all of the advice of marketing tasks they are told they “have” to do. In order to try to figure it out, they end up collecting advice. They take course after course, listen to podcast after podcast, and keep discovering the next guru who seems to magically solve their problems… until they discover a new person a few weeks later.

This can be fun, a process of tasting and testing loads of different ideas. The problem is that they always half-bake them.

It’s like buying self-help book after self-help book, and never fully reading them, and never taking an action on the advice within them. It fills you with ideas, it immerses you in an ecosystem that feels like you are embracing change…. but without the actual actions it takes for change to happen.

This is the difficult part of transformation — of learning who your ideal readers are, where they show up, how to engage them, and then develop practices around sharing your work like it matters. Maybe you have seen this illustration somewhere:

That squiggly part is where you don’t jump from random idea that feels comfortable to random idea that feels comfortable. It’s where you stick with a system, mentor, or idea long enough to move past the messy middle.

(If anyone knows the name of the illustrator who created this, let me know. I want to give them credit, but I couldn’t find it.)

I want to give a small example of this from the past week. In one of my programs, I encourage writers to directly reach out to connect with those who inspire them. A writer shared this feedback:

“Here’s a great BIG testament to Dan and how, thanks to him, I used social media to keep it small and have a meaningful fun connection! I wanted to get in touch with an actor in [a popular muscial] so I Tweeted him. My Tweet led to his quick response which led to a question and an answer and we went back and forth until I literally had a Twitter interview. By the end, I had accidentally acquired an entire mid-section for my blog post. The whole experience was fun and it didn’t matter that no one “liked” our Tweets or that no one else was following.”

She took the action that so many skip, taking the social risk to directly reach out to someone that you can’t imagine actually reciprocating with you.

Real progress with finding and engaging your audience requires social risk, not hiding behind the “safety” of vanilla best practices that everyone else is already copying. Don’t just collect ideas and hop from one to the next. When you find a compelling marketing idea, system, or a mentor who resonates with you, double-down on seeing that through all the way. Because you will learn so much in the process, that you can later take with you when you are ready for something new.

Step #3: The Surest Way to Fail Is To Do This Alone

Don’t go it alone. When you consider how you will share your writing, I strongly encourage you to have collaborators. This could be a mentor or coach, or it could be a colleague (other writers), a formal group you belong to, or even a highly engaged friend.

This should be true 1:1 engagement, not just being a member of a group or organization with thousands of people. Why? Because connecting to other people in a meaningful manner around your writing is best when the process itself is social. When you have someone helping you thinking through actions, keep you accountable to them, and help you through that squiggly line in the chart above.

There is such a profound difference between guessing what to do vs getting feedback from someone you trust. This doesn’t have to be complicated either. For instance, a writer I know just signed up for one of my programs. She asked me a series of questions in the first week, and in a single 12 minute video, I helped her feel a sense of validation and clarity on some key aspects of her author platform, including:

  • How she talks about why she writes and uses that to set her goals.
  • Deciding which social media channels to use.
  • Website branding plans.
  • Whether to use a pen name.
  • Feedback on a marketing idea that gave her a whole new way to think about it.

She described how for many of these, she had been struggling with them for awhile, and with my feedback, she totally understands what she needs to do. And I want to be clear here, it’s not that she is just blindly following my advice, she is not. Having a collaborator can help you understand what feels right deep inside you. It helps you make decisions and take actions authentic to who you are.

I always say that the two key elements of an author’s platform are communication and trust. Invest in both of these things by finding people to collaborate with you on how you share your work. This gives you an incredible resource to help you work through your goals and challenges.

Step #4: Be Consistent. Be Consistent. Be Consistent.

Be consistent with the strategies you do choose to embrace. Don’t just show up willy nilly to many places or marketing tactics and expect great results.

When you decide to share, do it consistently. Show up often. Connect with others directly. Double-down on it by trying to give it more creative energy, instead of siphoning it off to 3 other new ideas.

For instance, one of my writing clients is just starting to develop his platform online. We got really clear about his ideal readers, where they show up online, who they trust, and what resonates with them. We streamlined his efforts, and when he started getting traction in one social media channel, we began putting more focus on it. This is about showing up to it with consistency.

A couple week’s back I shared a social media case study of author Rachel Hollis. As I studied both a single week of her usage of Instagram, and looked back on her 8 years on that platform, I found she showed up consistently. Thousands of ways that she shared her message and connected directly with her ideal readers.

If you want to go deeper on any of this, here are some resources to check out: