Sometimes I want to lay down my ambition, hit cruise control, and glide through life. But as an author (and human being) there’s so much I don’t know and want to learn. Case in point: I had a wonderful experience publishing my memoir with She Writes Press. I’ve come close to selling out my 1000-book print run—except for a few boxes left in my garage, which remind me of this important fact: books don’t sell themselves.
The realization that I (along with most authors today) need to take responsibility for the business part of my writing life has been sobering—but also, surprisingly fun. I’ve been reading marketing books the way I used to read craft books as a young writer—inhaling them with wonder and awe. But these days, more than ever, authors are expected to sell their books, no matter how they publish. Knowing as much as we can about publishing and book promotion is essential for success, not to mention peace of mind.
Dan Blank, author of Be the Gateway, has been on my radar for years. His book sat on my shelf unread. When I finally picked it up a few weeks ago, I couldn’t put it down. Just as I was beginning to become curious about blogging and newsletters and wanting to understand these tools better, Dan offered a four-week workshop on this subject, so I signed up.
I didn’t expect what came next.
Dan had me evaluate my priorities, craft a mission statement, and get clear about what I was doing and why.
And then he challenged—disrupted—my ideas about author marketing.
Disruption is your friend.
I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me something that contradicts what I believe to be true, my default position is to become defensive. This makes learning difficult. But the reason we hire coaches and teachers is to learn from them. It made sense to set my ego aside and listen to, and at least try, Dan’s suggestions.
This instruction challenged me most:
Dispense with your fancy, designed newsletter and send out a plain text email. Reach out to the people on you email list as a person, not a brand. Really? I thought, recalling how I’d paid my web designer to create a spiffy Mail Chimp template that reflected my brand, complete with banner, logo, and author photo. Dan said that I didn’t need these advertising bells and whistles.
But the thought of showing up without them—just me (as if I’m not enough without my “brand”)—made me nervous. I didn’t feel completely naked, but I definitely felt vulnerable—and scared.
That’s when I realized it was easy to hide behind the window-dressing of my newsletter/brand.
I asked myself: What do I like to see in my inbox? I had to stop and think about this. I knew what I didn’t like: anonymous advertising and people overwhelming me with information, offers, and promotions. By contrast, I realized that I looked forward to Dan’s emails, as well as others who regularly offer valuable insights (and free) advice and suggestions that enrich my life and work. People writing from their hearts about what they’re seeing and learning, and sharing their hard-earned discoveries with me. I savor this type of human connection. And then this became clear:
The definition of marketing is connecting with people in a human way and doing it as authentically as possible.
Many authors don’t realize that marketing can be as innovative and raw a process as writing. The difference is that instead of communicating just with yourself (and your higher power), you’re communicating with others. Sixteen (instead of the usual five or six) people on my email list replied to my first (experimental) plain text email. They responded with great ideas, conversation, and support. More people opened that email, too. And a few people even shared it with others! Hearing that made my day. Someone enjoyed what I wrote so much they felt compelled to share it! Amazing. I felt rewarded for my courage and grateful to Dan.
The deeper reason I hired him is that I’m working on a proposal for my new book, and although I have confidence in the material, I realize that my author platform may not be robust enough to attract a traditional publisher. And, regardless of how I publish, I want to learn more about finding and building an audience for my work.
The title of my new book is Where Do You Hang Your Hammock: How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. Between the books I’m reading, the Nonfiction Writers Conference I attended last week, and the work I’m doing with Dan, my mind is flickering with marketing ideas. For example, last week I heard that there’s a “National Hammock Day,” which “commemorates the universal symbol for relaxation”. Who knew? Perhaps publishing my book on or near this date might provide publicity opportunities? Although my book is geared toward writers, its message of resilience, flexibility, and cultivating freedom and peace of mind extend well behind this niche. Several ideas come to mind: I could write and pitch stories about relaxation to media outlets when my book launches—and every year after on my book’s “birthday.” I could reach out to special sales clients for bulk sales. Maybe writing associations, organizations, nonprofit groups, or even writers’ clubs might want to purchase copies to give to their author-members as a welcome or thank you gift? The possibilities are fun to consider. And, of course, if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
But getting back to blogging and newsletters. I’m not saying I’ll never send out another designed newsletter, but for now I’m challenging myself to show up “plain”—just me and my thoughts about my unpredictable journey, in conversation with beloved readers and friends. One of the things I discovered about myself while speaking to a writing mastermind colleague recently is that I’ve spent too much of my life hiding and trying to look good and it’s time to stop and just be me.
Here’s the mission statement I wrote for Dan’s class:
I believe in the power of writing to heal and transform lives, and I view publishing and book promotion as opportunities to deepen self-awareness, nourish meaningful connections, and delight in peak experiences while being of service.
Dan also encouraged me to get clear about my blog’s subject matter, which wasn’t hard to nail down. My blog explores intersections between the writing life, spirituality, and personal transformation and growth. That’s what my new book is about, too. I want to give this project its due. I want to give it space, let it breathe. I’m not in a hurry. Tim Grahal encourages authors to build an audience well before their book launch.
Is this easy? No! Does it diminish your overall creativity and writing output? No! Does it make you immune to vulnerability? No! But, honestly, I wouldn’t want to live any other way. I’m human. I vulnerable. I’m afraid. I take chances. And I sometimes fall on my ass.
There’s no one right way for authors to market their books. What works for one person may not work for another. The key, as I’ve said, is to come from your heart and to be authentic.
This past weekend, while visiting the Descanso Gardens, I took this photo. Bridges literally connect us from one place to another. They are also great metaphors for psychologically transporting us from where we are to where we'd like to go. People can be bridges. So can unexpected situations, or sudden insights. While writing this post, it occurred to me to do some additional, authentic marketing by putting my memoir on sale for the holidays.
Raw is available for $9.99 (no tax and free shipping)—if you buy it directly through my website. I’d be happy to sign the book to you or a friend or family member before mailing it. This offer is good through December 21. If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, please do. And if you read and enjoyed Raw, please consider buying a copy as a holiday gift. Your support means more than I can say.
Thanks for being part of my journey!
These are my favorite books that lay out today’s publishing landscape: The Business of Being a Writer, by Jane Friedman and Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing, by Brooke Warner.
These books are excellent for marketing: Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-by-Step Guide, by Fauzia Burke; Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book, by Tim Grahl; and Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, by Dan Blank.
Do you ever expect yourself to have all the answers? Do you become frustrated and impatient when you don’t know what to do about something in your writing or in your life? Do you get hung up on doing things “right”?
On this week’s mastermind call for women writers, after sharing questions I had around marketing my work, a colleague jokingly said, “You mean you don’t have all the answers, Bella?”
That’s when it hit me: I expect myself to have all the answers and when I don’t, I angst, thinking that I’m getting life “wrong.” Lurking beneath this irrational thought is a need for control. Digging deeper, I find the old, conditioned (mis)belief that somewhere, deep down, I’m not okay—and I need to do something!
This is a lie, an illusion, a trick of the ego.
In Native American lore, the coyote is the trickster. He’s a clever fellow who knows how to express himself, but he’s sneaky. He appears when we least expect it—and fools us. He makes us believe things that aren’t real. He distorts and deceives. For writers, the trickster/ego might say things like Why bother writing? Nobody cares. What do you have to say that could possibly matter?
Writing—and sharing your work—is an act of generosity of spirit. One writer in our mastermind group said that she’s come to think of marketing as a way to love people, because she’s sharing her stories. Sharing our stories is also a way to love ourselves. Stories help us understand the world and our place in it. Stories make us more human, more alive, more courageous, and more loving.
As writers, we make up stories on the page but also in our lives. It helps to be aware of the stories we repeat in our heads rather than become fused with them. We do this when we identify with inner narratives that limit us. For example, many of my students and clients become consumed with stories about what they think they “need” to do. Their to-do lists make them feel as though they are living in a pressure cooker that's about to explode.
Non-Doing is Your Release Valve
The way to ease this pressure is to realize when you’re making up rules or regulations and enforcing them. Ask yourself, “Does xyz have to be done right this minute? Can it wait until tomorrow? Or next week? Is this a ‘must’-do or a ‘want’-to-do? What do I believe accomplishing xyz will achieve? What if I’m okay right now in this moment and don’t need to do anything?”
Dr. Gail Brenner, author of Suffering is Optional: A Spiritual Guide to Freedom from Self-judgment & Feelings of Inadequacy, says, “In the space of non-doing there’s a great perfection in things as they are.”
If deep down, underneath our frenetic thinking, we are fine, then there’s nothing for us to protect or defend. Nothing to do. We can just be. And from this place of being we are free to do what we want (within reason and law) and not pretend that our lives—or our well-being—depend upon it. In other words, we can lighten up!
Another woman from my mastermind group for writers works at a homeless shelter, where she has a “listening post.” She shows up and listens to people. She doesn’t offer advice or try to fix anyone. She just listens.
We can all do this for ourselves: just listen. Our inner tantrum-throwing toddler will eventually get tired and our wise self will emerge to remind us that we are all connected and made of the same miraculous stuff. Underneath our urgency and fear, peace and love reside. When we look in this direction, we realize that we are okay no matter what’s going on. We are more resilient than we think.
Next time you’re feeling pressured to do things “right” or you’re not sure about a next step, consider this: What if there is no “right” way to do things? What if the “right” way is whatever is in your heart? What if you simply choose to trust yourself and follow your inner guidance and wisdom? The great Persian poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there’s a field. I’ll meet you there.” And Hamlet reminds us that “there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Thought is our inner coyote. It helps us navigate our life, enables us to howl when we must, and even helps cultivate awareness. But when you learn to become a neutral observer of its shenanigans, you gain freedom.
We have to exhale in order to inhale. Let go. Trust life. We may not have all the answers, but the truth is that we do not need them. Learning to live in the questions, befriending uncertainty, and patiently waiting for answers to arise in their own sweet time is a nourishing and liberating practice.