Like many authors, I’m not a natural salesman. After a mildly traumatic stint as Cutco Knives salesman in highschool, I pretty much learned that I had no talent for convincing people they needed to buy what they didn’t want. As I began preparing for the launch of my debut picture book (Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters (Atheneum 2017)), my distaste (and lack of talent) for sales remained. I just wasn’t comfortable promoting my own work.
Or, I wasn’t, until I found Tim Grahl’s book Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-By-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book (Out think 2013). Grahl’s book didn’t turn me into a used car salesman. Rather, it simply reminded me why I’m a writer in the first place, and helped me reframe my understanding of what sales actually is.
Before we get to the cure for my acute case of salesitis, let me just tell you who the doctor is.
Tim Grahl – Book Marketing Expert
Tim Grahl knows a thing or two about book promotion. He’s helped hundreds of authors become successful. He even had five authors on the New York Times Bestseller list at the same time. Yep, that’s what I said: at the same time! If that’s not a pedigree, I don’t know what is.
As I started preparing for my picture book launch of Muddy, I picked up Grahl’s Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-By-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book (Out think 2013) and found it to be chock full of simple, practical guidance for how to successfully sell your book. He’s also got a great newsletter and is notorious for giving away high-quality, free content on his website BookLaunch.com. You can even download a FREE copy of his new book, The Book Launch Blueprint here (all you have to do is sign up for his free email list which you should do anyway!)
The basis of Grahl’s Connection System, the name he gives to his system of author platform building, is creating “trust-based, value-driven connections with readers that naturally lead to book sales.”
What is an Author’s Platform and Why Do I Need One?
Simply put, your platform is your visibility as an author or illustrator. (If you have none, you’re not alone!)
More specifically, platform is your ability to sell books (or anything) through:
- Who you are (reputation and authority)
- Who you know (your personal and professional connections)
- Who knows you (digital and traditional media outlets)
Platform and brand are similar but different. Your brand is what you do and who you are. Your platform is how many people know what you do and who you are.
According to Grahl, “The authors selling the most books today are those that are focusing first on planning and building their platforms.” This is especially true for self-published authors who don’t have the marketing muscle of a publishing house behind them.
Before we go further, let me just emphasize that first and foremost, that your most important platform builder is your work. I meet too many authors that are so obsessed with building their online “presence,” that they forget that being successful at social media is not the goal. Being a great writer is. Once you understand that, and have scheduled your life accordingly, Grahl’s book has got some great ways to get a head start on the competition which is good, because there’s a lot of it.
The Trick to Selling Your Book
The biggest thing that Grahl’s book did for me, is that it encouraged me to think of not in terms of what I need (which is to sell a million copies), but in terms of how my book serves the needs of my readers. On a basic level, Grahl pushed me to think about why I’d written Muddy in the first place, and why I was a writer at all. He reminded me that books add value to people’s lives. That’s why we write, isn’t it?
Sure, writing can be a selfish and solitary pursuit, but ultimately, isn’t our hope that our books change the world for the better and help people in some way?
Well, guess what? Identifying how your book helps people will make it easier for you to talk about it (and sell it). Why? Because it takes the focus off of trying to sell, and places the focus on trying to help. This is the thing that natural sales people know intuitively. A used-car salesman makes the sales relationship about selling, but a good sales person makes it about helping.
Whether it’s a nonfiction book that teaches a piece of forgotten history, a work of poetry that explores the nature of love, or a straight-up thriller that offers pure entertainment, isn’t our intention to add something valuable to people’s lives? I think it is. Remembering this helped me re-frame my understanding of marketing and realize that my goal wasn’t to sell, my real goal was to help. On some level, isn’t yours?
If you’re like me, understanding this will make talking about yourself and your book much easier and much more comfortable. (Rob Eagar’s equally compelling marketing book for writers Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing and Publicity (Writer’s Digest Books 2012) has a great section on determining you and your books value to people, which I’ll talk about in an another post.)
In case you’re wondering, the cornerstone of Grahl’s platform-building approach is the creation of an email list. And one way Grahl suggests you do this is through a blog that offers consistent, high-quality content that establishes you as a credible authority within your field (it’s what I’m trying to do here!). But Grahl also understands that blogging can be a real drain on writers. In an upcoming post, I’ll show you how he fixes that with a simple trick that makes blogging easy and fun.
For now, let’s go back to our core topic and think about how our work helps people. From a business perspective, what we’re doing is simply creating a value proposition about who our product (or book) helps. To do this, all you have to do is think about who your book helps and how it helps them.
Putting it to Work
Can you generate 5-10 statements about how your writing or book helps people? I bet you can. Be as specific as possible. If you want, try refining the best statements into a definitive value statement about how your work helps people. I’ll post my list in the comments below and you do the same.