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The Business of Being a Writer: Turning Attention Into Sales

Posted by Cynthia on April 12, 2018
Jane Friedman has spent more than 20 years in the publishing industry as a writer, editor, publisher, and professor. The following is an excerpt from her newest book, The Business of Being a Writer.


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To establish a full-time living from your writing, it’s essential to learn basic marketing principles. There is something of a formula, and it looks like this:

The right message + the right words + the right audience = success!

Typically, the biggest missing piece for writers (and publishers too) is the right audience. While you may tune out market concerns during the creative process, once that process is over and it comes to the business of writing and publishing, there’s no way around the discussion of audience. If you can’t reach an audience, your career will stall.

While “word of mouth” plays a powerful role in making anyone’s work more visible, a strong marketing plan can be integral to sparking that word of mouth in the first place. Nearly all great work has to be thoughtfully marketed to gain visibility, and thoughtful marketing starts with understanding of audience.

The wealth of online information and social media means it’s easier than ever to develop a portrait of your audience: where they hang out, what types of media they consume, where they shop. To better understand your readers and how to reach them, here are some starting points:

  • Come up with at least two or three established writers who produce work similar to your own. Study reader reviews of their work on Amazon or Goodreads. When you find a stellar review by a person who is active online, dig deeper—take a look at their profile and their website if they have one, and develop a portrait of someone who could be your ideal reader.
  • Think of a writer similar to you or one you wish to emulate. Which publications have interviewed or reviewed that writer? Do those publications serve your target audience? What can you learn about the audience from those publications?
  • Where do writers similar to you appear – both in real life and online? What events do they attend? Look at their social media activity: What does it say about who their readership is?

Once you know who you are approaching and where you can reach them, that’s half the battle. The other half is communicating well: the right message and the right words. Your marketing communications will usually have one of two objectives:

  • 1. To drive a sale
  • 2. To build a relationship

Platform building is directed toward the second goal and is what most of your marketing communication consists of. It’s an ongoing effort to develop your audience and reach new readers. Big corporations participate in this type of communication as well, and it’s typically called brand building. When Coke runs an advertisement that says “Open happiness,” that’s not a sales-driven message; that’s a brand-building message. Conversely, when McDonald’s advertises a $1.99 McRib sandwich available only for the next two weeks, that’s a sales-driven message meant to directly affect the bottom line.

Sales-driven communications are typically tied to specific marketing campaigns, product launches, or short-term initiatives. This is where you would be most likely to measure your effectiveness, and look at cause-and-effect outcomes. For example: Did my promotional posts affect my email newsletter sign-ups? Did my discount affect book sales? But when you’re building relationships, you typically do not measure cause and effect, because making a sale isn’t the point. Building a conductive environment or making a connection that will lead to a sale later is the point. Be aware that if you emphasize sales-driven messages across all your marketing communications for extended periods, your community will tire of you.

Established, full-time writers know that a large online following doesn’t equate to a sustainable business model. Instead, and engaged audience that helps spread word of mouth leads to success. Use analytics to identify how and where you get the best engagement, and what tools help you find the right audience, rather than the biggest audience. Ultimately, this is the most powerful feature of digital media: its ability to find and reach just the right person, who enjoys your work or who can benefit from your service.

Excerpted with permission from The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman © 2018 by Jane Friedman

Tips for Applying This to Goodreads


  • Find authors in the same genre or with a similar writing style and follow them on Goodreads to see what kind of activity they do.
  • Use Ask the Author to ask successful authors for concrete advice. Read Michael J. Sullivan great answer to one readers' question here.
  • Decide how your Goodreads activity will fit into your marketing plan. For example, figure out when you will run a Giveaway or take questions from readers using Ask the Author.

How do you approach book marketing? Share your tips in the comments below! Jane Friedman will be responding to any questions left for her the week of April 16, 2018.

Next: How to Engage with Reviewers on Goodreads

You might also like: Excerpt from Online Marketing for Busy Authors - Know Thy Reader

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Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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message 1: by J.L. (new)

J.L. Canfield How do you try to engage with your readers (assuming you know who they are) if you are an extreme introvert who wonders why anyone would want to read your work?


message 2: by Jane (new)

Jane Friedman J.L. wrote: "How do you try to engage with your readers (assuming you know who they are) if you are an extreme introvert who wonders why anyone would want to read your work?"

It sounds like there are two separate issues here:
(1) introversion
(2) lack of confidence

That is: introversion doesn't necessarily mean you would think no one wants to read your work. I count myself among the introverts of the world, but I've given a lot of thought about how my writing/work can help people, and how I can best serve. This has the added benefit of taking the focus off me, as the author, and focusing instead on the needs or interests of the reader.

"Engaging with readers" at its core simply means showing up, like I'm doing here in the comments, and having a conversation about mutual interests and life outlook. What do we have in common? How might we help each other? What can we learn from one another? Curiosity and insightful observation (which I think is a hallmark of many introverted writers) helps you in this process - to be interesting to others, you often need to express interest in them. Again, this takes the focus off you, and puts you into a more comfortable position, with the spotlight shining elsewhere.

Often, to engage is simply to share what you enjoy (like books on Goodreads) and to share pieces of what you create in small ways, something that offers insight into your perspective on the world and might lead to a conversation. Over time, the pattern of what you share creates impressions of who you are and what you care about, and makes you identifiable and memorable to others.

If all this sounds overwhelming, remember that engagement always begins with listening. Listen first, and you'd be surprised at how much the rest will take care of itself, if you're genuinely attending to what you hear.


message 3: by Kari (new)

Kari Trenten Thank you for the excellent excerpt! You've given me some food for thought and solid advice!


message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert Tobin Jane wrote: "J.L. wrote: "How do you try to engage with your readers (assuming you know who they are) if you are an extreme introvert who wonders why anyone would want to read your work?"

It sounds like there ..."


what a thoughtful response. thank you.


message 5: by Marie-Jo (new)

Marie-Jo Fortis "[D]evelop a portrait of someone who could be your ideal reader." That struck me. Although it means, find the perfect audience for your book, for a novelist, your phrasing brought the notion to life, and it suddenly made more sense.

Thank you,

Marie-Jo


message 6: by Allyson (new)

Allyson Can't wait to read this book! But first, I'm curious about your opinion on something. You wrote "When you’re building relationships, you typically do not measure cause and effect, because making a sale isn’t the point. Building a conductive environment or making a connection that will lead to a sale later is the point." There is clearly a time for each type of message and activity. But when do you think that time is? For example, I've seen that it's harder for most brand new authors who lack audiences and other key platform elements to get results from sales-driven messages. It's like shouting into the wind. Instead, it seems more effective to focus first on building (strategic) relationships that can support sales later. What do you recommend?


message 7: by T.S. (new)

T.S. Learner As a seasoned traditionally published author with three 'bestsellers' under her belt in three different genres and one that pre-dates the era when authors had to market their own books through social media platforms, and one who has a very diverse audience (my genres: historical fiction, thrillers and erotic fiction) I struggle to work out what persona to present to what reader? I'm not sure I buy the concept of the 'perfect reader'?


message 8: by Olney (last edited Apr 22, 2018 11:01AM) (new)

Olney Ford I have a new book out and want to get it in front of readers. Its called: Gods Freedom Guide to the Golden Rules of Finance
see video @ seeingclearlyweb.com
Correct your money views and change your life forever.
I really ask for advise in drawing attention to future sales and speaking engagements. Any suggestions ?


message 9: by Amber (new)

Amber Taylor T.S. wrote: "As a seasoned traditionally published author with three 'bestsellers' under her belt in three different genres and one that pre-dates the era when authors had to market their own books through soci..."

I kinda agree with you. I'm an avid read across genres (recent author) but as an avid reader. Some readers will on a regular basis read anything that comes across their eyes and catches their attention. I think it's about finding "readers" period and producing a "interesting product" regardless of genre to catch a persons eye and attention span (which is sadly very limited with almost all age groups now) as so much content is out there.


message 10: by Allyson (new)

Allyson Amber wrote: "T.S. wrote: "As a seasoned traditionally published author with three 'bestsellers' under her belt in three different genres and one that pre-dates the era when authors had to market their own books..."

I'm an avid reader like you, reading across many genres. But people like us are not the norm. Anyway, I think the point here is about effective marketing, not about limiting yourself to certain kinds of readers. You always want to choose an ideal reader/target reader around which to base your marketing efforts. It's what helps you determine the best bloggers to pitch to, the right groups to join, the live events you should fly out to attend, etc. rather than spreading yourself too thin to make any impact. That doesn't mean others won't find or enjoy your book, but if you try to market to everyone, you end up speaking to no one. It's a time-tested principle in marketing all types of products.


message 11: by Sheila (new)

Sheila Shotwell My YA novel was published in November and I'm quite pleased with the progress. Even though it's self-published, it's being carried by my local libraries and three bookstores in my city. I've been asked to make two presentations and I had a book signing at a small shop. Sales on Amazon are going well. I have a sequel that I'd like to get out by July and what I am wondering about is if I should continue to classify it as YA. I have not heard of one teenager reading the book so far. It's being read by adults from age thirty and up. My father's ninety-three year old cousin read it and told me to hurry up and get the sequel out. Sadly, she passed away last month. So, I'm wondering what any of you might think about changing the classification to adult or leaving it as YA. Thanks so much!


message 12: by Jane (new)

Jane Friedman Allyson wrote: "Can't wait to read this book! But first, I'm curious about your opinion on something. You wrote "When you’re building relationships, you typically do not measure cause and effect, because making a ..."

Hi Allyson: Exactly right. It's hard to put a definitive timeline on when the right time is. It's kind of like asking, "When is the right time to ask a new friend for a ride to the airport?" :-) Every relationship (and author) will be a bit different. But the time you have a new book launching that is very important to you, (hopefully) you've been active in your community for many months/years prior, and it becomes "your turn" essentially to be supported by those you've built relationships with. It's always a give and take—and not just a take.


message 13: by Jane (last edited Apr 20, 2018 10:26AM) (new)

Jane Friedman T.S. wrote: I struggle to work out what persona to present to what reader? I'm not sure I buy the concept of the 'perfect reader'?

In an ideal world, you're presenting a single, consistent persona (or brand, if you prefer that word) to your core/target readership, rather than a variety of personas. Some agents/editors talk about choosing the 3 things (or pick your number) that you will consistently talk about or share with the public or with the readership, that you will become known for and identified by. Those 3 things can be whatever you're comfortable sharing that you believe will resonate with that "perfect reader" (or that you can sustain without boring yourself). It helps to choose things you're continually interested in or obsessed about, hopefully that influence how and what you write.

The perfect reader probably doesn't exist - it's just a stand-in for who or what you think about when you're writing or expressing yourself in public as an author. There is some voice or approach you adopt (just as your narrator in your novel has a voice or approach to life), and thinking about that perfect reader helps get you into the perspective or mindset to communicate effectively and consistently.


message 14: by Jane (new)

Jane Friedman Olney wrote: "I have a new book out and want to get it in front of readers. Its called: Gods Freedom Guide to the Golden Rules of Finance

See if this post helps you: https://www.janefriedman.com/how-auth...


message 15: by Jane (new)

Jane Friedman Sheila wrote: "My YA novel was published in November and I'm quite pleased with the progress. Even though it's self-published, it's being carried by my local libraries and three bookstores in my city. I've been a..."

Hi Sheila: It's hard to say without seeing the work itself, but I'd ask the libraries/stores/outlets that carry your work for feedback on the issue. It may be that you simply haven't heard from the young people who are reading the work. Check your book reviews at GR/Amazon, and Amazon also-boughts, for evidence of a YA readership—it could be there.


message 16: by Olney (new)

Olney Ford Thank you Jane: I will look to see what may be a good tool.


message 17: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara Olney wrote: "I have a new book out and want to get it in front of readers. Its called: Gods Freedom Guide to the Golden Rules of Finance
see video @ seeingclearlyweb.com
Correct your money life and your out lo..."


Spellcheck.


Ryder Author Resources Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom, Jane. I always appreciate how clear and practical your suggestions are!


message 19: by Olney (new)

Olney Ford Clare wrote: "Olney wrote: "I have a new book out and want to get it in front of readers. Its called: Gods Freedom Guide to the Golden Rules of Finance
Thank you Clare, for pointing our the over sight.



message 20: by Sheila (new)

Sheila Shotwell Jane wrote: "Sheila wrote: "My YA novel was published in November and I'm quite pleased with the progress. Even though it's self-published, it's being carried by my local libraries and three bookstores in my ci..."

Jane wrote: "Sheila wrote: "My YA novel was published in November and I'm quite pleased with the progress. Even though it's self-published, it's being carried by my local libraries and three bookstores in my ci..."

Thanks for responding. Reviews all seem to be from adults. Maybe I should just assume like me, many adults are reading YA. And I think the retro/nostalgia factor is grabbing them as well. BTW...my book is called Gone Before Spring.


message 21: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara Olney wrote: "Clare wrote: "Olney wrote: "I have a new book out and want to get it in front of readers. Its called: Gods Freedom Guide to the Golden Rules of Finance
Thank you Clare, for pointing our the over si..."


Welcome... always present the best impression for your works.


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