Whatever your age, gender, or race, we all share something in common—we want to be successful. Our definition of success may vary from person to person and industry to industry. For us authors, it could be writing a first draft, landing a book deal, receiving royalty checks month after month, becoming a bestselling author, having loyal followers, and so on.
But do you know what makes a successful author different from everyone else?
Marketing is what separates successful authors from the pack; it’s what takes you from selling from 0 to 100 books a year to actually earning sustainable income from your royalty checks. It is the core of the business, and most aspects of your success are determined by successful marketing.
And that’s true in every industry, not just writing: many companies have closed because they didn’t pay enough attention to marketing and their sales crashed.
Now, there are a lot of tips on how to be successful in marketing. There are a lot of specific strategies that I can teach you. However, these specific strategies and ways to sell more books won’t work if you don’t have the right foundation to firmly stand on.
I learned that there are six key foundations that you need to understand and practice in order to achieve marketing success.
1. Get Crystal Clear on What You Want and Why
You need to be able to articulate what it is that you want and why you want it.
Most of us spend our life doing what other people think we should be doing—what our parents think we should be doing or what society thinks we should be doing. We get degrees based on what’s in demand, and then we get jobs based on whether they’ll make us financially comfortable.
But how much of that makes you happy?
The foundation of real success isn’t just about how much money you make or how many books you sell. It’s about living a life that you are passionate about and living a life of purpose. If you want to live a life with passion, excitement, contribution, meaning, and purpose, then you have to get crystal clear on what you truly want.
Here are some great questions for you to answer to start defining what you want:
1. Why Do You Want To Be an Author?
Do you know why you want to be an author in the first place?
Maybe you’ve already written a book and sold a lot of copies, but do you know why you are writing? Do you know what drives you? Do you have a purpose? Do you have a message that you want to share with the world? Do you have a mission to make the world a better place through your writing? Do you have a story that you think should be out there?
What is it exactly that you want from being an author? Do you want a full-time career? Or is this just a part-time gig for you?
With my experience, I’m almost certain that I know how to get what you want, but I cannot show you how to get it unless you tell me what it is that you want. Without a crystal-clear vision of what you want, you’re like a ship without a rudder, in danger of drifting aimlessly. Clarity gives you power, control, and direction.
2. What, Exactly, Is Your Goal?
Do you just want to write one book? Do you want to write 10 books? Do you want to become the #1 bestselling author on Amazon? Or do you want to become a New York Times bestselling author? Do you want to sell a million copies of your books? Do you want to entertain people? Do you want to turn your book into a movie someday?
Most authors don’t fail because they are not good enough. Rather, they fail because they quit before they get the opportunity to become really successful.
The very first taste of success that I had was when I published my first book and sold 11 copies without doing any marketing. I felt the high of success until I realized that 11 is not that large a number. For a minute there, I lost my drive to pursue being an author because it seemed like I was winning without doing much. But because I became clear about my goal of earning a full-time income as an author, I regained my motivation.
The road to success is not easy. There’s going to be pain, struggles, obstacles—all kinds of stuff that might make you want to quit. Having a clear goal is what’s going to fuel you when those tough times arise. When you’re feeling awful, you can go back to your goal and realize that there is a worthy cause to fight for, even as you endure the struggles and all the obstacles that are being thrown at you.
Your goals may change over time and that’s fine. The important thing is to know why you are doing what you are doing and to understand what you want to gain from the experience.
2. Focus on Your One Best Target Audience
Don’t try to solve every issue for every person. Don’t try to engage all the readers at once.
This is a huge mistake that many new authors make. They write random books based on what interests them in the present moment.
Now, I’m not saying that there is something wrong with writing in different genres. Authors are creative, and when you’re a creative person, you like to explore different areas of life. You have varied interests and different things inspire you.
But if you’re looking to earn a full-time income from your writing, you have to focus on one target audience when you’re just getting started.
Because you need to build your audience and build your platform.
Imagine that you’re just starting out and you’ve written a sci-fi novel, a health and fitness book, and a romance book. Now you have to market these three very different books. What would happen?
You’re catering to three different audiences and you are going to be spread thin. You won’t reach that critical mass to become the #1 bestselling author in your category. The readers of your romance book might not add to your health and fitness sales. The readers of your sci-fi book might not want the sappy themes of a romance novel. So you’re really not building a loyal following for the books that you are publishing.
What you want is to focus on your best target audience. So if you’re good at writing sci-fi, focus on writing sci-fi. Build your email list for your sci-fi audience, build your social media following for sci-fi, and focus everything you do on that audience.
You’ll be rewarded with a deeper relationship with your audience. They become your repeat customers. Long-term success is about building long-term relationships, and if you divide your attention between a number of markets, you won’t have the energy or the time to build meaningful relationships with your fans.
Basically, we’re talking about brand building. As a new author, you need to differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd with a solid brand.
The easiest way to build your brand and earn repeat customers and repeat business is to continue creating new products and new services that help your existing market. If you started with a sci-fi novel, write a second book or maybe a trilogy in the genre. Get the momentum and slowly grow your audience from that marketplace.
3. Find Out What they Want
Failure to know what your customers want is one of the biggest mistakes any business can make.
Even if you’re an established author, you need to realize that the tastes of your readership could change over time, and you can only get ahead of the game if you understand what your readers want.
There are several ways to do this:
1. Find Forums for Your Market
As a nonfiction author, your job is to solve problems. So if you’re a nonfiction author writing about gardening, research the top five online forums for your market. Study people’s posts and look at the problems that they’ve had. Once you know the common problems in that niche, give people the information that they need, providing sound solutions that can make their lives better.
You can take a very similar strategy if you’re a fiction author. If you’re a sci-fi author, search for sci-fi forums for readers. There are tons of forums for different genres online and you can discover what the readers in that genre like and don’t like so that you can provide exactly what they’re looking for.
2. Read the Customer Reviews of the Top 100 Books on Amazon for Your Market
Read every single review for the top 100 books on Amazon in your market. Take some notes about the biggest things that the customers liked about each. Are there particular scenes, ideas, or strategies that they love? Write those things down.
Then do the opposite: note down the things that they hate or didn’t like about those books. Once you finish listing the things that readers like and don’t like, you have a formula to create a better book for that market.
Although all this information is publicly available, I can guarantee you that only a handful of authors are doing this. This is a very powerful strategy for writing better books, connecting more deeply with your audience, and building a bigger, better platform.
3. Read the Customers Feedback for Your Own Book
Once you publish your first book, you’ll get feedback. Some of it will be good and some, well…not so much. Make a note of the good stuff and do more of it; take the bad stuff and eliminate or put less of it in your next book.
You don’t want to change your book based on every little bit of feedback you get—that will just drive you crazy, because everyone’s opinions differ. Instead, only change the things that really stand out as common threads.
If you get 100 comments and there’s one saying they don’t like your writing style, that’s fine. It’s probably a fluke, and you don’t have to change to suit that reader. However, if you see 50 comments about a scene or idea that your readers didn’t like, then you probably want to consider taking their feedback to better serve your audience in the future.
4. Give Your Audience What They Want Again and Again
The authors who thrive are the ones who give the readers what they want, when they want it, how they want it, before they even know they want it.
Let’s say you wrote the best book in the world and sold millions of copies of this book. What’s next?
If you want more success, you need to keep upping your game, bringing it to the next level. Write more books of the same quality, engage your audience through video training courses, write blogs, do interviews, etc. The point is to keep connecting with your audience and keep giving them what they want.
In Key #3, you’ve learned how to find out what your readers want. Here, you use that knowledge to add value for your readers by serving them what they want again and again.
Does that mean you have to keep writing more books? That’s a typical path that many authors take, and it’s a great way to give the readers what they want over and over again. But there’s also another way to do it.
I have a client who wrote a nonfiction book, Heal Breast Cancer Naturally, and I’m not sure if she’s going to write more books. This book is very thorough and it’s selling really well, but she has already exhausted this topic.
So you might think, “then she’s not giving her readers what they want again and again.” That’s true, at least in the respect that she can’t write more books about that specific topic.
But her online presence is very strong. She’s constantly tweeting, doing interviews, and blogging, and she built an entire business around this book. She’s always connecting with her audience on a deeper level, and every day, she adds value for those readers by being very active on social media. This drives more sales for her book; plus, she gets paid speaking gigs, consultation opportunities, and coaching engagements.
If you’re a novelist or a fiction author, you can do interviews, videos, blog posts, and so on. But the easiest way to give to your readers what they want is to write more books. That’s your job.
5. Focus on Adding Value and Not Selling
People get tired of hearing pitch after pitch after pitch. And because everybody seems to be hustling for sales, going after people’s hard-earned money, customers are becoming more savvy…and more easily frustrated. They don’t like being sold to.
If you go to Facebook, join groups, and simply post “buy my book now” or “leave a review for my book,” do you think anyone will pay attention to it? Probably not.
99% of the time, no one will pay attention—they’ll probably think that it’s just more spam. Even if spamming is not your intention, people will see it on the same level. If you really want to increase your sales, you first have to add value for your readers.
Let me give you an example. You want to write about gardening; maybe you’ve even written your gardening book. In the third key to success, I advised you to go to the top five gardening forums to find out what the readers in your niche really want.
Now, on these same forums, you don’t just step in and say “please buy my book.” Never do that.
What you should do instead is write the most helpful, educational article that you can muster and post it on the forum. Once the comments start coming in, engage each one of the posters. Answer their questions, thank them for the feedback, provide more helpful tips, and basically, just respond to your readers.
Once you’ve established yourself as an authority on the subject matter, you can go back to the forum and let them know about your book. It doesn’t have to be pushy; just tell them about your book. The reason why you don’t have to be forceful is because people already trust you; they like you and they want to learn more from you because you’ve been so helpful already.
Marketing today is not like back in the 1990s or early 2000s when everything was about advertising. People are now overwhelmed with marketing messages and they become fed up with it because they think that you just want to get money from them. But by creating real value, you are breaking down this mindset and creating a culture of trust.
Another way to add value is by simply writing more books. Pretty much everyone agrees that writing 10 books is more valuable than writing one book.
What do I mean by that? Imagine that someone is a voracious romance reader, like he’s in the top 1% of avid romance readers in the world. The problem that he’ll encounter is that his favorite author can only write so many books. So once he’s read through all his favorite author’s books, what do you think he’ll do?
He’s going to find more authors with new books.
Let’s say he finds an author with one romance novel, and he reads it and loves it. He probably wants more of that author’s work, because it was just what he was searching for. But since that author only has one book, there’s nothing more for him to buy.
So in this case, you are not able to serve your reader well and you weren’t able to add value for that reader. And as mentioned, we have to give the customers what they want even before they know they want it.
6. Keep Doing What Works
Never give up!
That’s a great inspirational message…but sometimes you have to quit. “Keep doing what works” means keep doing what is working and stop doing what’s not working.
If you have spent the last year of your life using Twitter for marketing and you always feel that it’s a burden to do it, then you have to stop. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not working for you. It won’t give you the business result that you want because you’re definitely not giving it your all.
I know a lot of authors who can drive sales through tweeting. But personally, I tried Twitter and I don’t like it much anymore. I got burned out from checking my phone every day looking at the different messages.
I found that what I enjoy is writing books, speaking, and doing podcast shows and interviews. Those are the things that I love, and those are the mediums that I use for my marketing strategies.
We all have different strengths and weaknesses. We have different personalities. So don’t do what everyone else is doing—do what works for you.
A lot of people think that they need to do everything. They think they can increase their online presence by joining all the social media platforms and being everywhere, all the time. It’s okay to try all the marketing platforms and strategies you can, but once you find what’s working for you, you have to focus on that.
If life becomes busy and you have to cut back, then do so. Don’t burden yourself by sticking to multiple strategies that you aren’t passionate about. I’m sure it’s doing very little for you.
Focus and build on what’s already working. If you’re skilled at blogging, then keep blogging. Make sure you supply your readers with a steady stream of blog posts. Don’t let them go three months without receiving anything from you. That’s bad for business.
These key foundations help me established my marketing roots. The six keys have worked for me and for the authors that I’ve coached, and they’ll work for you. These principles are the fundamental truth to success.
Since there is no better way to achieve success than to follow in the footsteps of those who have already succeeded, I invite you to take these key foundations to marketing success and start practicing them today.
For more on how to achieve your publishing dreams and reach success as an author, sign up for Ebook Publishing School, our free training series.
By connecting with your audience and giving them exactly what they want, you can create a sustainable full-time career as an author.
For more on maximizing your success as an author, read on:
- How to Choose a Bestselling Book Title for Fiction or Nonfiction
- 4 Online Marketing Strategies Every Author Should Use to Sell More Books on Amazon
- The Best Way To Market Ebooks With a Limited Budget
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!