Promoting Yourself with Nothing to Promote II: Battling Fear

You know you’re supposed to start promoting yourself before you even have your first book out. But something is still holding you back. Something is still preventing you from putting up your author website, ordering your business cards, and getting on social media. What is it?


This month, we’re talking about how to promote your book before you even have a book to promote. In case you missed last week’s introductory post, you can see it here: Promoting YOU.

The Real Hurdle: Fear

Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of making big promises and not following through. Fear of fill-in-the-blank. Fear is what’s ultimately keeping you from getting out there and promoting yourself, starting today. 

First of all, know that you’re not alone. Every author has been there. An exercise I find helpful involves a series of questions intended to kick fear in the back of the knee:

  1. What, exactly, am I afraid of? (Be ultra-specific.)
  2. Why am I afraid of this?
  3. How big a deal is it, really?
  4. What will I do if my worst fears happen?
  5. Is the reward worth taking the risk? (Answer: Yes! Book sales! Reviews! Fan mail!)

After going through these questions, I usually find that my own fears, looming so large a moment before, have dwindled to a more manageable size.

But the ultimate way to defeat fear is to get out there and do the thing that scares you. Fear is crippled when you look it in the eye, challenge it, and show it that you’re the stronger of the two.

It’s All About the Numbers

Afraid that your promotional efforts will go unnoticed? Don’t worry. They will.

No, I really am still trying to boost your morale. Stick with me for a minute.

A discussion on promo would not be complete without telling you the one hard fact: It’s about numbers.

So you start your blog. People start reading it. Of those people, only a small fraction will subscribe. And of those subscribers, only another small fraction will go on to buy your books.

Same goes for your social media accounts. Though a lot of people may find you, only a fraction will follow you, and only a fraction of that fraction will buy from you.

Same goes for your business cards. Same goes for your guest interviews. Same goes for any promotional activity you add to your regimen.

Depressing? Yeah. We’d all love it if everyone who met us gripped us by the shoulders and yelled, “Where have you been all my life! I cannot live without you!”

Doesn’t usually work out that way. But don’t let it get you down. Bread crumbs are the staple diet of every business. Before I opted for book writing, I explored copywriting–writing advertisements. The biggest take-away I learned is this: It doesn’t matter what business you’re in; the majority of people who encounter your product won’t be interested.

This is not a reflection on you as an author. The every-day event of A Sale is actually a miraculous combination of very specific elements:

  • The buyer becomes aware of your product.
  • The buyer feels the need for your product.
  • The buyer feels the need for it now. 
  • The buyer has the money for it now.
  • The buyer likes your version of it better than anybody else’s.

As an example, I’ll never be able to sell my book Journaling to Become a Better Writer  to somebody who can’t stomach keeping a journal–and I’ll certainly never sell it to anybody who has no interest in becoming a better writer. The only people who will buy my book are those who are interested in both journaling and writing. A pretty narrow demographic.

So if 99% of the people I encounter aren’t interested, that’s okay. It’s business. So long as I can find a healthy little 1% who would love to buy my product.

And the larger my 100%, the larger my 1%. As of this writing, I have about 300 followers on my relatively young Twitter account. If only 1% of those followers would be interested in buying from me (and that’s just a guestimate), I can hope for 3 sales from Twitter. Yay!

Now, if I have 30,000 Twitter followers, I can maybe improve my odds to 300 sales coming from Twitter. Now that sounds more like it!

So I keep scattering my bread crumbs and growing my following. The majority of people I meet won’t be interested in making a sale. But it’s that healthy but large 1% that counts.

Hanging Out Your Shingle

So, you’ve come to terms with promoting yourself at all. You’ve even come to terms with the hard reality of what promoting yourself is going to be like. You’re well on your way to overcoming all your fears. And yet … you’re still teetering on the edge. Why?

You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t just hang out your shingle and call yourself a lawyer.” Well, writing is one field where you can. And should. Provided you really mean to dig in and become a writer.

And that, perhaps, is why promoting yourself before you have a book to show off is so scary. Up until now, you’ve dreamed of becoming a published author. Maybe you’ve even looked into what it takes to get published, traditionally or independently. But the minute you order those business cards, put up a website, and start your social media accounts–you’re declaring to the world, “I am an author.”

This is the day you start taking you  seriously. And that’s the last hurdle of fear you have to overcome.

Only you can answer that question: Is today the day? Am I a real author?

You are not an author the day you publish your book. You are an author the day you start thinking of yourself as an author.

I hope you’re getting a lot out of this series on how to promote your unpublished book. Any questions? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! We’ll keep talking about book promo next Wednesday.

If you’re interested in keeping up to date on this series and our other posts, we welcome you to subscribe! Our new subscribers will receive a free copy of Carrie’s book Writing a Novel Is Like Walking a Cat.

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