A few months ago Seth Godin posted one of his typically short and to the point blog posts with the headline “When should we add the marketing?”
(Godin is also the author of the famous advice that the best time to start building your platform is three years before you publish your book. This will give you an idea of where Seth is going with this topic.)
Here’s part of the argument:
“Marketing is the first thing we do, not the last. Build virality and connection and remarkability into your product or service from the start, and then the end gets a lot easier. Build it into your app, your book, your movie, your insurance policy, and the red soles of your shoes.” —Seth Godin, “When should we add marketing?“
Robert Bruce at Copyblogger picked up this theme in an interview with Godin where they went into even more detail on the idea that you start with marketing concepts, it’s not something you “tack on” to a project already in process.
The idea that the marketing is the first thing we do will sound unpleasant or even sacrilegious to many writers. For lots of people writing is a refuge, or the fulfillment of a vision, or a daily need, something they are “called” to do, or simply something they do because of an inner drive.
What, these authors might ask, does marketing have to do with any of that?
But there’s one central truth to what Godin is talking about here. This truth applies to writers who want to interest other people—people who don’t know them and who aren’t related to them—in an idea, a story, a skill, a collection of information.
That truth is this: making marketing part of the beginning of the process acknowledges the importance of readers, the end users of our books. When marketing is “baked into” our books or other offerings, we’ve really thought about the readers first.
Writing without regard to readers all too easily ends up with the scenario I’ve described before: a phone call from an author who has gone through the whole process of writing and publishing a book, and now wants to know, “How do I sell these things? Should I start marketing now?”
Brian Clark, the founder of Copyblogger, didn’t ask his readers what products they wanted, and he never ran a survey on his blog, even though it quickly grew to one of the most widely-read sites online. But he listened. He listened to his audience, read his reader’s comments, and studied what people were saying.
It was the market intelligence Brian gained from that listening that allowed him to launch one blockbuster product after another, building a content-driven empire.
The funny thing is, as writers, we have access to one of the best sources of market intelligence ever invented, one that gives us an unfair advantage over people for whom writing is a struggle. It’s the same tool Brian Clark used to great effect.
The blog. Yep, that’s our secret weapon.
Message to Nonfiction Authors: “Not So Fast!”
I talk to quite a few authors who are clients, colleagues, or readers. From those experiences, I’d say about half the nonfiction authors I’ve talked to have missed this point entirely.
• They don’t know who their readers are.
• They have no market intelligence.
• They don’t know the bloggers or other influencers in their niche.
Consequently, they have no “listening posts” or ways to engage their audience.
Painful though it may be to hear it, my advice to these authors is usually to put the book aside and spend the next three, six, or 12 months finding out how to answer these questions. Usually the best way to do that is with a blog.
Through a blog you can
• Engage readers in an “endless conversation” that will provide massive amounts of market intelligence
• Enter a deeper relationship through content your provide to subscribers if they grant you permission to talk to them by giving you their email address
• Experiment with content and how to present it to see what works best for your readers in the real world
• Network with other authors and bloggers in your field, cross-fertilizing your ideas and building a “network of networks” made of readers within your subject area
And that’s just for starters.
Where Do You Stand?
So what’s it going to be for you if you’re a nonfiction author? Will you get obsessed with the book itself, and drive toward publication whether you understand what the market wants or not?
Are you so convinced of how right your ideas and presentation are that you think people will simply accept how awesome your book is and rush to buy it?
Or are you willing to step back, take the time to build a robust platform first, and thereby ensure that when you do publish that book, you have the support of a community of fans, people whose opinions, likes and dislikes really matter to you?
The difference can be immense. Imagine presenting your book to a room full of the people you know now. Once friends and family leave, you’re likely to be alone in the room.
Now imagine the same scenario after you’ve grown a community, acquired readers interested in what you have to say. There will be plenty of people in that room willing to help you celebrate your publication, and help to spread it to other people too.
Which one will it be for you?
Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, an award-winning book designer, and an accomplished blogger. He's the founder of the Self-Publishing Roadmap online training course, and a frequent speaker at industry events where he talks to writers about how the new tools of publishing can help them reach and inspire their readers.