Guest Expert: Laurel Marshfield
So what do these numbers mean for authors?
One thing they mean is that, with a million-plus books competing for readers, the likelihood of a not-yet-known author attracting huge sales looks fairly slim. But you knew that. And you wrote your book anyway, secretly hoping you’d be the exception — at least in your niche. Now, it hits you: how will not-yet-known You draw readers your way?
Here’s your “Author’s Best Friend” option. Given the crowded book landscape, what you need is a strategy that makes your book pop, when readers are gazing at those crowded shelves. That strategy is “personality promotion.” Sure, it comes from the simpler, black-and-white world of marketing, but it can be adapted for the nuanced world that authors inhabit.
“I’ve got five minutes,” you say. “Tell me how it works.”
Well, okay! First, you find — and second, shape — your personal story, while keeping in mind that your potential readers need to feel something for you. They need to empathize with who you are as a person. Think of this as the same kind of empathetic connection that occurs between readers and the main characters of your novel. You want your readers to identify with their plight and eventual triumph, to vicariously suffer and succeed as they do.
This type of identification should also occur with you, the author. And your personal story makes that possible — by inspiring an empathy that leads to a connection that drives the sales of your book. Over time, that connection may also blossom into a reader-author relationship. (Quick. Would you buy the latest book by your favorite author? “Of course,” you say, “right away.” That can’t-wait-to-read-it response comes from the empathy-connection relationship. You want that.)
So you’ve heard the what and the why. Now you need to know how to get the personality promotion process going. The clearest way to see how the first and second steps work — finding and shaping your author story — is to glance back in time at authors who’ve become literary objets d’art. Hemingway. J.D. Salinger. Virginia Woolf. We know what they stand for; their personal stories are clear and simple (in our minds), and they, along with their books, have long since fossilized into authorial “brands.”
The Hemingway brand we associate with manly excess, safaris, a hidden code of honor, and ultimate suicide. The J.D. Salinger brand we associate with never-ending adolescent alienation, a lifelong obsession with being absolutely reclusive. And the Virginia Woolf brand we associate with extreme intelligence, complex literary aspirations, and mental torment that led to self-drowning.
Here’s what you need to notice: The books these authors produced reveal a relationship to their personal stories, and vice versa.
“But,” you say, “I’m not Hemingway, Salinger, or Woolf.” True. Nor should you be; you have your own story. Here’s how to unearth it: find the point where your novel, your self-help book, or your memoir intersects with your own life. In the latter case, it’s obvious; in the first two, it may not be. But wherever that intersection is, write it as a story that you perfect and polish — so it’s clear, dramatic, and not convoluted (simplify, if need be). Then use it in every one of your book promotion efforts, in some way, shape, or form.
Need a little more info? Let’s look at the intersection between a current author’s life and book. And let’s choose a memoir, because the personal story of that kind of author is quite a bit easier to see.
In 2005, Jeannette Walls published The Glass Castle and, a mere two years later, she’d sold 1.5 million copies. Walls’ first-book success came from something that’s abundantly clear in her memoir’s many reader reviews on Amazon.com. Here’s an excerpt from one: “It’s probably the best account ever written of a dysfunctional family — and it must have taken Walls so much courage to put pen to paper and recount the details of her rather bizarre childhood — which although it’s like none other and is so dramatic — any reader will relate to it. Readers will find bits and pieces of their own parents in Rex and Rose Mary Walls.”
Note the reader identification, the empathy, the feeling that — though Walls describes a “rather bizarre childhood” — “any reader will relate.” This is a memoir and an author you can identify with; her story touches you. She gets you on her side.
It’s this kind of response that you want. Why? From this empathetic identification with your personal story – the intersection between your book and your life – your book sales will grow. As proof, Walls was herself unknown to readers before publishing her first book.
So here’s the bottom line: Your personality. Don’t promote your book without it.
Laurel Marshfield is a professional writer, developmental editor, and ghostwriter who helps authors shape, develop, and refine their book manuscripts for publication. She offers manuscript evaluation, developmental editing, co-writing, collaboration, ghostwriting, book coaching, and consultation for authors.
Her blogsite publishes inspiration and advice for the author’s journey: Blue Horizon Communications And her free eBook, available for newsletter signup (see the upper right-hand corner of her homepage) is titled: I Need to Be a Bestselling Author – Is That True?: The Five-Destination Roadmap to Authorship.
On Twitter, you can find her at: @BookEditorLM