It’s easy for authors to get bogged down with marketing tasks.

Where should you begin?
Which milestones come first?
Do you have to do all of them?

Novel Marketing listener Becca Kinze says:

“My biggest irritation when it comes to marketing is first, that I have to do it, but second, is knowing when to do it. Are there milestones a beginning writer should reach before building a website, for example? Or starting a newsletter? There’s a lot of pressure to dive right in and start gaining followers. But in the same way, I wouldn’t want to send a proposal that’s not ready, I don’t want to build a platform that’s not ready.” 

Today we’ll discuss book marketing milestones for fiction and nonfiction writers, and doing things in order will help you focus on what matters most for your current stage.

Many authors waste time working on the wrong thing first. 

There’s confusion around this topic because milestones are different for fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes the advice you hear assumes your write one or the other, but that assumption is not always stated upfront. You may be getting advice you believe applies to you, but it actually applies to someone writing in a different genre.

Today we’ll explore what to tackle first for fiction and nonfiction.

Marketing Milestones for Fiction

#1 Discover and define who you are.

Jim: I lead students through an exercise where they tell me their five favorite movies, and I tell them the theme of their life. Knowing your life’s theme will help determine your focus, which will help you create a brand. You must understand what defines and motivates you. That’s the foundation. I encourage people to discover that first because everything else flows from it.

Thomas: If you get your theme or brand wrong, it can cost you a lot of time and sometimes money. Many authors write their first book before discovering who they are, but that is a time-expensive way to discover your brand. It’s like spending two years at college majoring in the wrong thing. Find out who you are and what your writing is about before you write your book.

Besides listing your favorite movies, collaborate with trustworthy people who know you and ask for their insight. As we often say, “You can’t read the label when you’re standing inside the bottle.” Ask your friends:

What do you see that lights me up?

What kind of stories do I seem to enjoy?

What stories or ideas excite me?

When do you see me tuning out or getting bored?

#2 Build your website.

Jim: Once you get a feel for who you are, I say build your website.

Thomas: In my opinion, it’s too early at this point for a novelist to build a website because they have no content. You can put information about yourself, but there’s no substance. The act of making the website can help you discover who you are, and I would concede that point. 

Jim: If you discover the theme of your life as you’re building your website, you can create content around that theme. You can blog about your topics and themes and practice. You probably won’t have many web visitors, so you can experiment without hurting your brand.

Thomas: You can build your website in step two and refine your website later. I like to view the website as a living and evolving author asset. It’s not a brochure that you pay a lot of money to build once and then abandon. You need to tweak and update your website as you grow as an author.

#3 Write a short story. 

Thomas: If you’re writing fiction, the most important milestone is to develop your craft. In our course, The Five Year Plan, we encourage authors to write short stories as a writing drill to improve their craft. 

If your weakness is writing dialog, write a short story that focuses on using believable dialog. If your weakness is telling instead of showing, devote your short story to the practice of showing with character action.

#4 Write your first book. 

After you’ve tested the waters with short stories, write a novel. Rarely does a novelist’s first book make it to publication, but it’s an important step in becoming a better writer. We like to say, “The carpenter doesn’t just build the house. The house builds the carpenter.” In the same way, writing a book will shape you as a writer.

#5 Write more short stories. 

Jim: Write multiple short stories to experiment with the theme of your life that you’ve discovered. It’s best to discover and experiment with your theme in short-form writing rather than the time-consuming long form of an entire novel. 

Thomas: Students taking the Five Year Plan course have reported that writing short stories has transformed their writing. Some of them have even sold and published those stories. 

# 6 Refine who you are.

Thomas: How is this different from defining who you are?

Jim: It’s sanding off the rough edges and bolting on something new that needed to be there. I am a seat-of-the-pants writer who discovers the story as I write. People will discover the depth of who they are as they write short stories and their first book. 

#7 Refine (according to Jim) or Build (according to Thomas) your website. 

At that point, you refine your brand according to what you’ve learned. Reevaluate the theme of your life, your passions, and your goals. Once your theme is dialed in, you can return to your website to polish it. 

Thomas: You can refine your website or build it for the first time, depending on whether you’re following Jim or Thomas model.

#8 Build an email list.

Thomas: To build an email list, you must first choose an email service provider such as MailerLite, ConvertKit, or MailChimp (however, I no longer recommend MailChimp). Each service has different price points and various pros and cons. To learn which one is right for you, listen to our episode on How to Pick the Right Email Marketing Service.

After choosing your email service, you will embed forms on your website where people can sign up to receive your email newsletter and updates about your book-writing progress. 

Regardless of whether you choose indie or traditional publishing, your email list’s size is key to your success. 

#9 Build a landing page for your short story reader magnet.

To learn how to create a landing page, listen to our last episode on How to Create a Landing Page.

By this time, you will have written multiple short stories. Choose your best story and have it professionally edited. After the text is polished, hire a professional designer to create a digital “book cover” for your story. Now, you have something to offer people when they come to your website or event. Send them to the landing page where your short story (reader magnet) is featured. 

You could also place the reader magnet on your home page. That way, you can say, “Go to myname.com and download a short story.” 

When people join your email list, they’ll be introduced to your writing. You won’t have to wait for a traditional publisher to say “yes” in order to share your writing.

Pursuing traditional publishing is very time-consuming. Build your email list during the wait.

#10 Write the second book.

Jim: Most novelists have several novels in a drawer that never see the light of day. Writing novels helps you learn to write novels. Get started on that second book.

Thomas: We’re focusing on writing milestones. But if your first (or second) book has been published by this time in your journey, you will transition from platform building activities to book promotion activities. Indie and traditional authors take two different routes at this juncture.

Indie Published Authors

If you’re indie published, your next step is advertising. When you begin to advertise, you transition from being a hobbyist who is trying to spend as little money as possible to a professional who spends money strategically to make more money. 

This milestone separates the long-term authors from those who don’t make it. If your book doesn’t fit a market, if you haven’t done the work to write a good book, if you haven’t found an audience with whom it resonates, your advertising will fail. You’ll spend money, and you’ll get back less than you spend. If that’s where you are, go through the Five Year Plan and find out which step you skipped.

Check out the following episodes on advertising. 

Traditionally Published Authors

If you’re traditionally published, your next step is Public Relations. Traditionally published authors can’t profitably advertise. Advertising tools on Amazon are not available to traditional authors, and it’s not financially feasible for an author to make a profit advertising their traditionally published book on social media.

On the other hand, traditionally published authors generally have better access to media. They’re more likely to get booked on TV, radio, and podcasts. The next step for traditional authors is to focus on booking interviews for yourself. 

# 11 Experiment

Thomas: Experimentation applies to every tactic we cover on the Novel Marketing show. Whether the questions are about podcast guesting, blogging, or advertising, the answer is almost always, “It depends.” Everything depends on your strengths, your book, and your genre. To find out what works for you and your book, you must experiment.

Successful authors experiment and base decisions on hard data. Measure all your marketing efforts. Is your podcasting, Instagramming, or blogging selling books? That’s the hard data you need to measure. Don’t measure vanity metrics such as “likes.” 

When you experiment, you’ll learn things about your books that no one else knows. That information will help you make money from your writing. 

Learn How to Track Your Book Promotion Efforts

Jim: When you experiment and find out that something works, it’s a great feeling. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Marketing Milestones for Nonfiction

Nonfiction has a simpler list of milestones, but it does start with the same task.

#1 Discover and define who you are.

Ask yourself a series of questions and consider each answer. If your answers are vague, you can’t move on. 

  • Why am I writing?
  • Why am I writing this book?
  • Who am I writing it for?  

#2 Build a website.

Thomas: For nonfiction authors, the website and blog come before the book. Platform and marketing come before book-writing. If you’re ready to build your website, listen to our episode on How to Build an Amazing Author Website (and sign up for the free course!)

#3 Blog on your topic.

Right after your website is built, start regularly creating content on your topic through a blog, podcast, or video (younger audience). Promote those blog posts or episodes when you talk to people in person. Share your post with people one-on-one. 

As people read or listen to your content, observe whether they share it with others on their own. If they do, you’ll have a good indication that your content resonates with an audience. 

Jim: When you speak at different venues, you receive feedback. You can see when the audience laughs and when their eyes glaze over. Over time, you’ll build a reputation, and someone will ask, “Do you have a book?” At that point, you’ll have a lot of feedback about what works and resonates, and you’ll be equipped to write a great book.

Thomas: Feedback on your content will help you write your book before it’s written. 

It will hone your ideas and writing. If you’re afraid that people won’t read your book because you blogged about it, then you don’t understand how it works. That’s like saying people won’t watch the movie because they already read the book.

Books and blogs are different. By the time blog posts turn into chapters, they’re so different that your fans will be thrilled to review your refined chapters.

#4 Start an email list. 

As soon as you have content, email it to your readers. Connect your blog to your email service provider so that your new posts are delivered as emails automatically. Initially, you’ll offer your new blog posts. You’ll receive feedback and establish yourself as an expert. If they enjoy your posts, they’ll want your next piece to come to them automatically. 

You don’t necessarily create the reader magnet right away with nonfiction because the blogs are the magnet. 

#5 Create a reader magnet.

Create a reader magnet when you know what your audience wants. One way to find out what your audience wants is to review statistics for your past 100 blog posts. You’ll probably have one that received the largest amount of traffic. Explore how you can expand that popular post into a PDF that people would be willing to “buy” with their email address. It might be a tip sheet, a guide, or a printable checklist. 

Jim: Sometimes authors are afraid to give away their best content because they don’t want to give away the secret sauce. But go ahead and give away the good stuff, because if readers love it, they will be back for more. 

If you’re teaching time management, create a resource about the 10 Ways to Take Control of Your Life in the Next Three Days. Readers will be happy to sign up via email and receive those tips. As you continue to write helpful content, they’ll become fans, and your email list will grow. 

#6 Write the book.

Writing your nonfiction book comes much later in the process than writing a novel. Nonfiction books arise from an area of expertise you’ve already developed. If you’re aiming for the traditional publishing route, this also includes writing a book proposal and a query letter. 

Nonfiction authors do a lot of the marketing before the book comes out. That’s one reason nonfiction is less prone to failure than fiction. Nonfiction books are less likely to be sensation bestsellers everyone is reading. But they’re also less likely to strike out. 

Many nonfiction books fall in that middle range. Most aren’t a home run, but there are a lot of base hits. Maybe it wasn’t a home run, but it brought in a lot of sales.

If you’re following this method, you already have an audience interested in your content, and they are probably willing to buy. The pieces are in place that will almost guarantee a base hit. If you keep working it after the book comes out, if you keep blogging, keep giving interviews, and keep building your platform, your next book may become that sensational bestseller. 

# 7 Advertise & Experiment.

The path for nonfiction and fiction writers starts and ends with the same milestones, but the journey through the middle is quite different. 

Know what you’re writing, and follow the advice that pertains to you. You’ll save yourself time and consternation and position yourself for a long-term writing career.

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