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Five Rules for Author Success in 2021

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that flexibility and grace are necessary to navigate an uncertain future. Sometimes it seems like we’re always on a tightrope, trying our best to make good decisions while everything, including our own physical safety, hangs in the balance. At times like these, a few directions can be a relief, which is why I’m offering you five basic rules to guide your book marketing and promotion activities in 2021.

Rule 1: Be a clever businessperson.

Publishing and book promotion isn’t a hobby; it’s a small business. Yet an alarming number of first time authors show up on my virtual doorstep totally unprepared for what it takes to become successful and actually make money.

When you decide to write a book, you are also deciding to become an author. Your writer self attends to things like amazing content, style, presentation, and art. Meanwhile, your author self should be thinking about the product itself and how to sell it. Because if you aren’t a businessperson when it comes to your book, no one else is going to be. Sometimes your author self and your writer self work in tandem – and alongside a great editor or a stellar book cover designer.

Rule 1 should serve to remind you that after your book is written, you need to sell it. And you should actually be thinking of how you’re going to do that even as you write the book itself. Keep your eyes and ears open and do some research as you write – read some articles like this one or in other great publications, maybe listen to a podcast like AME’s “Book Marketing and Author Success.” The time you spend in this area will serve you well later when you need to craft a solid book marketing and promotion plan.

Rule 2: Don’t slack on your production schedule.

While we’re still not at the sexy stuff, Rule 2 is mega important. Publishing a book is your first step, and when you finish, do take time to celebrate your achievement. But also know that publishing your next book, and your next, should be on your short list of things to focus on. To sell more books, you need to release more titles, that’s just how this works. Really successful authors in today’s market don’t rely on a single book to make their reputations. Of all the book marketing strategies that have come and gone, it remains true that books sell books.

If you’re writing fiction, you should publish at least one book a year, and even that publishing schedule is asking your  readers to wait too long between releases. Try to do more: consider novellas if that’s better for your work/life balance. If you’re writing nonfiction, one book a year is a good goal, but don’t forget to capitalize on updating titles if you’re in an industry or covering a topic that keeps evolving.

Rule 3: Stop wasting your time.

Obviously no one says, “I want to publish a book and then waste a ton of time doing nothing to actually sell it!” But sadly, that scene plays out over and over. I talk to plenty of authors who come to us after the window to promote a new release has closed. Often they’ll say, “I just didn’t ever market my book, but I want to save it.” We also see a number of authors who frantically market their books in waves: when they feel like they have extra time or when sales totally drop off (or because sales never took off in the first place).

Book promotion requires a quality over quantity approach. Yes, you need to be consistent, but you also need to be smart. If something is working for you, even a little bit, focus on maximizing that strategy and spend your time there. You should also add other strategies to support your successful activities. Likewise, if something isn’t working, and you’ve tried a couple variations and played with the timing a bit, it’s okay to drop that approach and move on.

Rule 4: Be a market and reader expert.

Publishing a book also requires a dedication to being an expert in your reader market. Authors who sell more books truly understand their genre and the people who read that genre. When was the last time you brainstormed your buyer market demographics? Are you sure you’re on the right social networks based on those demographics? Do your potential readers prefer series or standalone books? What problems do they have that you can solve? Would they rather read novels or novellas? All of these factors should dramatically affect your book marketing and will definitely determine whether or not you sell more books in the future. Each answer you discover is another clue for creating a successful book marketing and promotion plan.

Rule 5: Build your confidence and stop all the guesswork.

Deciding to publish a book is a big deal and making that book successful is a big job. You can cut out a lot of the guesswork, while also building your confidence, if you commit to learning. For example, if you know you should be on Goodreads and Instagram, commit to learning to use all of the features on those platforms and keep up with resources that focus on maximizing your presence there. Goodreads has a fantastic blog for authors and advertisers, while many Instagrammers use other platforms, like Canva, to create the images they upload.

I talk to too many authors who say, “I don’t know if I’m doing this right.” And while I get that, unless the big checks are rolling in, there’s always room for improvement. You owe it to yourself to at least be able to say, “I’m doing everything right, but it’s just not working. I want to figure out why.” It’s a lot easier for me to help authors take their books to the next level when they’re already pretty savvy about their market, their potential buyers, and the platforms they should be using. Or at minimum, committed to learning and/or open to learning during our time working together.

If you’ve already published a book and feel lost, if a lot of the above resonates with you – there’s still plenty of hope! These rules were not compiled to subtly tell you to throw in the towel, but instead to serve as a reality check. Perhaps it’s not worth trying to go back in time with your current release, but you can commit to doing it 10 times better with your next release. That’s the beauty of being an author, we get a chance to do it better every time we decide to publish a book. May 2021 be a bountiful and productive publishing year for all of us!

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Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. To learn more about Penny and AME, visit www.amarketingexpert.com.