Why I Suck At Book Marketing (& WHY You Do Too) #indielife #IWSG #amwriting

The other day I read a post entitled, “I Hate Self-Promotion” at Out:Think by  Tim Grahl. I realised while reading through it just how WRONG I’ve been in my book marketing endeavours.

You see, all I’ve been doing is writing and sharing blog posts about my book, using the various aspects of promotion. Such as a price reduction, a giveaway, a new addition, the book’s launch …blah, blah. I shared all this to as many relevant Facebook / G+ / Twitter / Pinterest groups and pages and walls as possible in the hope the one cherished individual would read the post, buy my book, love it, review it. As well as this, like many of us, I’ve also spent good money and had several blog tours. All of this has had limited, if any beneficial effect on sales.

It’s frustrating. I’m lost in the slothful sea of Amazon ebooks. I sea my ranking go up and down without any idea why. I see other books storm the charts, gather accolades like Best Seller and have no idea why. I read How to’s until I’m almost blind, all saying to ensure you have the right cover, the right keywords, the right title, the right book blurb. I’ve done all of the above, and then some, and still no change. Why?

Tim Grahl suggests this is about SELF PROMOTION rather than AUTHOR PLATFORM BUILDING because it is missing one crucial element: The Why! Not the why’s I’ve been asking, another much more vital WHY.

the WHY badge


For non-fiction writers I imagine this is pretty simple. They need to heal you or show you how to do something. But with fiction, it’s different. With horror, perhaps it’s make your skin crawl? With hard sci-fi, perhaps it’s a profound message of where our world is headed. But mine’s a paranormal mystery with aliens and supernatural creatures and a psychic heroine. Where’s the why in that?

Seth Godin says we need a  “tribe” ( Tribes).  To him, a tribe is “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”

You therefore need 3 things to build your author platform (TRIBE):

  • Author – (the leader)
  • Readers – (the members)
  • The Idea – (the WHY!)

Tim says:

What is your why?

Every writer I’ve met has a “why”. From the vegan chef to the management guru to the steampunk sci-fi writer… they all have their own “why” that is bigger than themselves and book sales.

This is the place you find your cure to self-promotion. When you identify your “why” and make everything you do about that, you will attract your members and be a true leader.

Stephan King knew this ages ago when he said: “It seems to me that every book – at least the ones worth reading – is about something.”

I wondered and struggled and floundered, and fretted: But what is my WHY? I want a WHY. There is no WHY?

So, guess what I did? I made a list of all the issues the MC has,  and the themes my books deals with, and it looked a little like this:

  • Psychic oddities (so many!)
  • Isolation
  • Feeling alone/lonely/unloved
  • Self-loathing / Lacking self-worth
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Abuse
  • Denial
  • Introvert
  • Mental Health
  • Supernatural / Paranormal
  • Afterlife
  • Sin / Suicide
  • Family & Friendship
  • Community
  • Belonging
  • Courage
  • Honour
  • Self-belief
  • Love
  • Romance
  • Good vs Evil

There were more, but I tried to stick to the big-guns. So, I asked myself: “WHY did I write the book and fill it with these elements? WHY would someone be entertained, learn something, get value from reading my book? WHY should someone be exposed to my book and its contents? What’s my WHY?”

In essence I asked,

Why should anyone buy my book?

Answers were vague at first, I’ll be honest.

Tim looked at favourite fiction authors to find their WHY, to add clarity to his idea. I did the same. Try it, it’s surprisingly difficult to get past, “It’s to entertain their readers.” 

One example of those I looked at: Charlaine Harris – (True Blood’s WHY) –  To show us the US Southern side of supernatural creatures as they merge with the lives of everyday Southern citizens. She does this using humour, humility and an insight into the great folks of the US South (all dressed up in a sexy urban-fantasy wrapping).

I see that. Do you?

In fact, I see it clearly. Of course, you might see True Blood’s WHY equally clearly, but differently. But this is the WHY which made me buy the whole series in paperback and DVD.  Did Charlaine mean to apply this WHY? No idea. But does her publisher? Hell yeah.

But I don’t have a publisher (and it’s marketing machine) to see my WHY, to show it or share it. So, I still couldn’t see the WHY of Finding Esta. And that’s just it. If I couldn’t see it, my readers wouldn’t either. So anything I share is blatant self-promotion: The spam of every WALL and Newsfeed.

I don’t want to be spam. I want my WHY!!

So I stopped doing everything else for a while (I usually spread myself too thinly and do several things at once, getting no where fast) and read through my list (above) again. I asked myself: “What one thing about my book stands out as important to me? Is there one resounding message?”

And there is! Here’s my WHY!

No matter how alone we feel we are, we are never truly alone. However unloved, useless, unsuccessful, unattractive, crazy – whatever – we think we are, it is within our power to change.

This theme means so much to me personally (fighting bipolar disorder and chronic insecurity in general) that it has infused Finding Esta unintentionally. Many of us have struggled to overcome some level of personal strife, whether it’s heartbreak, loss, mental health issues, or a lack of self-confidence. If we’ve got through struggles, we know it’s possible. But some find it harder: they might not have support, cannot deal with things as well as others, are alone in the world and have no one to reach out to, so they flounder in a place of isolation, of depression, of hopelessness, scared that that’s all there is. Soon, instead of getting over one problem, then another, gathering strength, experience, wisdom, there backs break with the gradual burden of too many woes.

I wanted to suggest to these individuals that denial helps no one, that fear cripples us more than reaching out, that loneliness is relative. I also wanted to illustrate to the other’s, the ones who can cope, who do have a great support system, that they are the lucky ones, and to be aware of people reaching out. However quietly.

Luna is crippled by psychic issues which prevent touch, overwhelm her with emotion, even refuse her the simple enjoyment of food or the warmth of a sunny day. She has been raised by cold unloving parents to believe she is an object of fun or irritation, and she is more connected to the world of the dead than the living. We see her laugh with her Shadow friend and think she’s happy with her lot, despite all these issues. But bit by bit we see how she relies on denial to cope with heart ache, and blind hope to deal with the cruelty and dread of her parents. Still, Luna strives to make more of herself, to grab a slice of success, and even when her world crumbles around her and is reconstructed, against her will, into something entirely new, she scrambles to make sense of it, to find something or someone to belong to, while being true to herself.

 …..When everything (including herself) has become inhuman, she is her most human.

Through the series we follow Luna as she searches for the one thing I think we all strive for, above all else. I could call it love, or family, or community. But it’s all of these things, so I prefer to call it …  belonging. As long as we truly feel we belong – to a country, a people, a group, a religion, a person, a home, a heart – we can not only survive. We can truly live.

So that’s my WHY and it will someway or another influence my book marketing from now on. That’s the next problem of course!

Tim says:

Once you are deeply connected to yours [WHY], it becomes much easier to invite people to connect with you. Sure, you want to sell some books. But it’s bigger than that. It’s no longer about you and your self-promotion, it’s about your calling to add to your readers’ lives. From that foundation you can build an author platform that you can be proud of and leave self-promotion behind.

Do you know your WHY?

Do you suck at book marketing?

Do you have any other tips to share with us?


I dedicate this post to…

Indie Life meme

Indie Life meme

It’s been a while since I got my head straight enough to write an Indelibles post. Ever get the feeling you’ve signed up to too many memes? Each of them offers huge value, but still. Anyway, it’s definitely INDELIBLES turn 🙂

Go find the rest of these awesome indies. 

What do you think?

  1. You know, I’d really have to think about the why of my book besides an opportunity to escape. Glad you found yours. And after three books, I think I finally don’t suck at marketing. Maybe.

    • Your Why is support, Alex. It surpasses your book’s Why. So no, you don’t suck at marketing at all. Indeed, IWSG was no doubt the best marketing concept you had or needed, regardless of whether that was it’s intent (which I very much doubt!) 🙂

  2. I think a lot of self pub author struggle with self promotion (if my Twitter feed is any indication…a whole lot) I like this idea of WHY.

    As a reader I’ve been turned off by blatant self promotion, but have purchased books because I love the tone or content on an author’s blog. Posts that talk about the genre I love with passion or about something missing in the genre that they saw a need to fill.

    It’s hard to say what will catch a reader’s attention but you are right… screaming at the top of your lungs buy my book will turn away more readers than you gain.

    • I have screamed; I hate that I’ve screamed. But I only hope I have screamed as loudly for other authors in my genre as for myself. Of course, that may well have meant that all that screaming has done nothing for anyone – which is beyond PANTS!!! But it all came from my heart, I promise! Onwards onto a new kind of promo, for my own work and for those I support.

  3. I’ll do a book buzz post on my blog if your interested? Have you had a book tour from your author buds? Just a suggestion. Set it up and see if Alex can feature it in one of his posts to get authors to sign up. What about a giveaway hops? Those are great traffic builders. Email marketing is another great way to connect with your fans. You could try a discount Kindle Countdown Deals for your fans- (read here: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=201293790) and then send out an email communication letting them know about the timely discount. Your book has at least 20 reviews on Amazon so that’s impressive.

    These are just a few thoughts. I hope they help. Keep the faith and keep on writing!

  4. Interesting post, like Alex I would need to think about the why aspect in greater detail. I am sure I will find the marketing hard when I get to that stage. I think what worries me is the sheer volume of books out there – how does mine differ and why should a reader go for it?

    • The volume is TERRIFYING but also, in a way, liberating. It says: Anyone can get their creativity out there: and that’sd a great time in history. Of course, most if it will be ‘critically’ tripe, but one persons’ tripe is another’s treasure. So hey, that give us all scope for fans and improvement. 🙂

  5. Wow, I don’t know how it’s possible, but your MC and my MC must be related. I’m very intrigued.

    Also, I’m constantly thinking of my why. I think I have a pretty good handle on it too, but marketing is still a struggle. I work hard to not let it get me down and keep trying new things.

    Great article.

    • Oh I love that our MC’s are similar. That means you and I might be too. Don’t your think? OR is that just me? Either way, there are tow characters suffering all sorts out there at our behest. 🙁 Woe!!!

      You know, since writing my WHY in this post, I think my WHY is more about TRUTH than I previously thought. Luna searches for Esta, then her own. Everything else come form those searches. So I think this whole WHY thing could be fluid. Not only in terms of ones own marketing perspective, but also from a fan’s or prospective reader’s perspective. So it’s a changeable market, and a changeable marketing tool. More yummy is that it’s a marketing tool based on fact, truth, and sincerity: Now that’s a whole bundle of rarity right there.

  6. Now that got me to thinking again, for which I thank you. It seems so obvious once someone – such as you – has said it! The why of what I write? Nostalgia and rebellion – wanting the old days of England back (the ones that never really existed other than in fiction); needing a giggle instead of another item of dismal news; wanting somewhere to run, away from Hollywood’s endless guns and violence. Those are the whys I’ve thought of in the past few moments, now to think of more and then to work out if they might be shared by my intended readership!

    • I got you thinking – now there’s praise ! 🙂 As an English person, I totally want the old of England back, but most of that is imaginary. If I look back at any point in history – wow – England’s never been perfect so I totally get that. Running from Hollywood is perhaps a massive (never gonna happen unless you never watch a movie again,. EVER!!) idea, but admirable. 🙂

  7. This is a great post! I never thought of the “why” before. Thanks so much for this, and I love the “why” for buying your book. The info about the heroine is excellent — really heart-wrenching. I have to take your advice (and Tim Grahl’s) and think about it when I next do any promos for my book.

  8. I’m almost at the point of marketing – so reading your post has come at the perfect time. I’m not just going to bookmark it – but will try (brain cells allowing) to memorize it too! Knowing where to focus your energies when marketing your own books for the first time is a real challenge – this post has given me a genuine direction in which to go forward. A big thank you!

    • Wow, praise indeed, Teagan. If we can each share a little of our own learning processes and experiences, our wonderful online writing community can get through anything 🙂

  9. I went through a similar process, and went from not knowing anything about why I write (other than it makes me feel good) and why anyone should read my books (other than because I said so) to realize that I am writing to educate people about mental illness, poverty, addiction, and abuse, to share my worldview with them. Oh. Wow. Is that what I’ve been doing all this time?

    • Ta-Dah! Love those eureka moments. 🙂 And hey, if you’d like to submit something of that process here (especially as we share a similar over-arching WHY), please do so via my contact page. X

  10. I need to think about my why. Thanks for posting this, Shah. Most of us struggle with marketing and promotion. I know I often wonder why I bother..

  11. Thank you for this one, Shah. I’m still asking why as I stumble forward on the marketing of my first book. This article outlines a lovely way to dig a little deeper than the blurb to understanding why a reader will pick up your book and fall in love with it! It’s not always about that marketing platform!!!

    • I get tired of the whole ‘author platform’ prescription. It is over-explained yet elusive, at least to me. It purports magical qualities, yet I see no sign of the evidence.This why theory works to show me what a platform could be, or at least, offered me another way which seemed to make sense. 🙂

    • Do Christine. It’s quite a buzz when you discover your WHY, not only for the marketing aspect, ut because for me, it opened my eyes to more themes in my book. Themes which came from deep within me, unconsciously. It’s good to see the WHY in other’s work too, and to see how they use it in their own BRAND or marketing. X

  12. Terrific post, Shah. These points have greatly simplified my approach to marketing, and I will endeavor to apply this insight. I may even write a supporting blog post (with links back to you) on the subject after I let all this information seep into the ol’ noggin.

    On another point, I haven’t seen many authors who write in the speculative fiction genre. I’ve had to request book sites to add that genre so I could list one of books. Best of luck to you.


    • Thanks Stuart. Glad you got something out of it and look forward to reading your follow up post. There aren’t many book sites using the term speculative fiction, especially considering it is an umbrella term for so much popular fiction. In those circumstances I have get more specific, although it’s difficult because my book is cross genre.

  13. Shah — Excellent stress on “why?” And, as I get it, the “why” has more to do with purpose than motivation.

    I have three books in print and one on the way (April). Warner books published my first book, Too Nice For your Own Good. Warner kicked off the promotion 15 years ago, and it continues to sell 8 to 10 thousand a year. On my other books, for several reasons, I’ve used CreateSpace rather than a traditional publisher, and I’m hoping to find ways to piggyback on my first book . A year ago, I published a novel; the others are nonfiction. Because I’ve been working rather feverishly on my new book, I’ve done virtually nothing, until now, to promote them.

    My agent from my first book (she’s no longer in the business) talked about identifying the fears your potential readers have, and write to relieve them. Maybe that’s my why.

    In my new book, A Middle Way: The Secular/Spiritual Road to Wholeness, I write to those who are afraid to anger God (The Big Guy in the Sky) by not believing in Him and being sent to hell; those who are afraid of disappointing their parents or letting other family members down by giving up what they were taught as children; those who live one day in religion’s “enchanted forest” and six days in the cause-and-effect postmodern world and rightly are afraid this leaves them in conflict with both; those who are afraid of atheists; those who are afraid of religion; and those who are afraid they will continue to miss out on the warmth and sense of place in the world that religion offers.

  14. I love stumbling across new marketing tips, and this one stands out as one of the best. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  15. VERY nice, thoughtful, thought-provoking post. I’m going to share this on my own blog!

    I think “Why?” is a good question for readers as well as writers. Why did I like this book– or why didn’t I? My guess is that most readers won’t get much further than “I enjoyed reading it” or “it bored me.” Asking “Why?” might tell us something interesting about ourselves.

  16. I love this way of looking at it! That’s not something I’d thought of before. I totally know what you mean about those aspects of your why infusing themselves into the story with you barely realising it. I set out to write what I thought would be a fun Cinderella-esque romance and ended up examining the roles of women in society and the futility of war. That took me completely by surprise. I’ll have to remember all of this when I finally get around to publishing it (hopefully in the not too distant future!).

  17. Great article. I have written non-fiction book so it is much easier to know my “why” but I just wanted to let you know that I got a lot out of it and will be going back over my descriptions to let others know why I wrote the book and why they should buy it (benefit).

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