Photo by Sam Howzit
Photo by Sam Howzit. Creative commons licence



Well, well, well.  Looks like my hypothesis was correct:  writers really are freaked out about marketing. 🙂


And that’s fine.  In fact, that’s great.  Because it tells me that you understand how important it is, and that you’re desperate for some clarity.  And that’s an excellent place to be!



Today, I want to introduce you to the most important aspect of successful marketing.  And it’s something almost no writers pay attention to.  (Perhaps that’s why most writers fail at marketing).


Here it is:



Your success in any marketing endeavor is directly related to the amount of value you give your customers.



Now, by “value”, I don’t mean money.  I mean things like:


* memorable experiences

* positive feelings

* connection

* usefulness

* reinforcement, and so on.


Think about the artists, musicians, authors and businesses you really enjoy.  Does the value they provide you begin and end with the price you pay for their goods and services?  Or is there something deeper, something bigger that your relationship with them provides you?



Here’s a classic example:  Jimmy Buffet hasn’t had a hit record in more than 30 years.   And yet, his concerts sell out large venues.  He’s built an empire of restaurants, music venues and merchandise (including his own tequila brand) under the Margaritaville umbrella and he’s an icon to millions of fans.


How’d he do it?   By giving massive value.  And by building a Tribe to keep the connection growing.


When his Tribe (Parrotheads) gather, folks who may have had a rough week in the office get to put on Hawaiian shirts and silly hats and feel like they’re on a beach in the Caribbean.  The feel connection with each other (for which they are eternally grateful to the man who set the Tribe up) and they feel connection to the artist.


Between shows, the value continues.  Videos, Tweets, blog posts, books, emails — all reinforcing the common bond that draws his fans together.



Now consider how most authors market their books:


They start by releasing their book and then just flail around trying to get some attention. If you ask them “What value are you giving prospective readers?”, they might say “The value is in how good my book is!”


Well, that’s nice.  But no one has read your book yet.  And so, you’ve given absolutely zero value.  No wonder you aren’t selling books!



Now, let’s look at a different scenario:


The same author develops a Tribe and showers them with value.  Fun tips, great quotes, freebies, a platform for Tribe members to share their feelings and experiences, a place for likeminded folks to meet each other, and so on.


Then the author releases her book.


And what happens?


Her Tribe repays the value she’s provided them many times over.  They are rooting for her.  They are excited for her.  They buy her book and go on a  quest so that others will buy the book (and join the Tribe).



I’m going to be blunt here, so forgive me if this rubs you the wrong way, but….


No one cares about you and your book.  At least they don’t right now.


You need to make them care.  And you cannot do that if you spend all day posting your book’s Amazon link all over Twitter and Facebook and expecting people to buy it.  And you can’t do that by setting up a blog and then posting one article a year to it.


The way to make them care is to give them value before you even talk about your book.  If you can get someone to say “Boy, I’m really glad this person is in my life”, you have officially achieved a status 99% of writers never reach.



Look, if all I did was spam you with “SUBSCRIBE TO CBI!” messages all day, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.  You’re here because I give you value.  You’re here because (I hope) I add something to your writing life and you appreciate that.  And when I do have a product I think you might like to know about, you receive the message with an open mind, knowing that you can trust me to always give you value — whether it’s something you pay for or not.




So right now, you need to ask yourself this very important question about your current marketing efforts:


Are you giving prospective readers any value, or are you just pushing

your book in their direction in hopes they’ll buy it?


If you’re doing the latter (and almost every writer is), you need to stay tuned for what’s coming next week.



I’ll be back on Monday with more thoughts about marketing.  In the meantime, use the comments section to share your takeaways.



PS: Those of you who write for young children may be asking “how do I grow a Tribe of 6 year olds?”  The answer:  you don’t.  You grow a Tribe of parents, teachers and librarians — the folks who are the purchasing decision makers when it comes to books for children and pre-teens.



PPS:  A fair amount of the feedback on yesterday’s post was from authors asking if this or that technique works, and what they should be doing.  I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m going to ask you to relax a bit.   Here’s why:  right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new course that will explain the simplest author marketing technique imaginable.  And since it’s the same Tribe-building technique that Laura and I have used to grow Children’s Book Insider into a  successful business (we just celebrated our 25th anniversary doing this!) I know it works. It’s not theory, just fact.


So stay tuned.  Clarity is coming, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg, I promise. 😉




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    Sheila Renfro
    7 years ago

    I hope I’m giving value back. I’m not published yet, but on my blog I’m doing book reviews and interviews and giving books away. Is this a good start?

    Monica Kelley
    Monica Kelley
    7 years ago

    It’s not so much that I’m freaked out by marketing as it is I have no idea how to do it. How do you build a tribe? How do you build a good website for your work? How do I create a product with value? Those are the thin f s that are keeping from doing this. I need help!

    KS Jones
    7 years ago

    Hi Jon! Excellent post, and an invaluable perspective. There’s an old “business” saying which is not usually related to writing, which says, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.” I think it’s true. And the funny part is, I really do care about writers, and their words, and their lives, so it’s actually fun for me to interact on social media. And sometimes I talk about my book.

    7 years ago

    Love this! The struggle I find is adding value before ever even having a product.

    Seems these days you need to build the tribe simultaneously as you write your book, and it’s hard to keep people coming back for more original content when it’s not out yet!

    7 years ago

    Yes, marketing is my nemesis…But I was told once, “you are a sinner for not sharing your writing!” So, build a tribe, it is.

    7 years ago

    Dear Jon,
    it is always a pleasure to read your post! Full of commune sens! And you know what you gave me that extra spice to be out there! Ciao ciao Elena

    Diane Jackson
    7 years ago

    This is GREAT, John. All my lovely friends are so excited about my first two books currently in publication. They have been so supportive through the whole process and all say they will buy them when they are printed. I hadn’t realized I was ‘marketing’