Shift from Storyteller to Story Seller: Promote your book without selling your soul

 In The secrets behind the practice of good writing, Tips for Writers

by Cathy Park Kelly

I have a small vase on my desk (a gift from a writer friend) that I look at when I’m wrestling with self-doubt. It says: Hey You, You Matter.

And I know it’s corny and very ‘we’re-all-special-little-flowers’ but I also believe that it’s true. Deeply true. Each of us matters. And as creatives, what we make matters too.

When my memoir, Boiling a Frog Slowly, (about extracting myself from an abusive and controlling relationship and learning to thrive) came out last year, I had to give myself several pep talks.

I had worked on this story for ten years and the urge to share it with readers who were struggling as I had, burnt like a flame in my chest.

Yet there was a little voice in my head that whispered slyly, ‘Who cares? Why bother?’ And every time my finger hovered over the Share button, every time I was invited to do a launch or webinar, that little voice cleared its throat and prepared to talk me down.

So, with each Facebook post, Instagram reel, every book event I did, I worked to shift my mindset. I decided I was not going to apologise for posting about this heart-project. Instead, I reframed my book promotion efforts as an act of generosity. I had created something I was proud of that I knew could help others.

And because I knew I was going to work hard on book promotion, I opted to enter into a 50/50 venture with my publisher, Karavan Press, even though they offered me a traditional publishing deal with royalties. So, we shared all the production expenses and halved the income from sales.

The end result? Eighteen months later, we’ve each made a profit!

Like any good publisher, Karavan Press gave my book a strong push in the first few months but then, inevitably, they had to shift their attention onto their next titles.

Leaving all the marketing up to the publisher may work for established and prolific authors, like Gail Schimmel, (Little Secrets) who says: ‘I have a full-time job because I don’t have the means to be a full time author, and I DO regard publicity as the publisher’s job…honestly, to be able to take the time to fully market your work is not a luxury we all have. And my publisher does a great job.’

But the best case for a book – given that publishers have limited budget and time – is when the author can sustain the platform-building efforts over an extended period, to increase the shelf life of a book.

Author Joanne Joseph (The Children of the Sugarcane) described the reciprocal relationship she has with her publisher: ‘I was very fortunate to have a publisher who invested both time and financial resources in my book with tours, launches, interviews etc. But my book is already 1.5 years old and it’s not fair to expect the same input from my publishing team… From the start, I’ve brought my network to the party…It’s in everyone’s interest for me to assist in this way.’

So build your community of fellow authors and readers. Begin by giving before you ask. Be a generous literary citizen: attend and post about book launches, write reviews, take joy in the success of other authors, share their news on your social media. Cultivate a generosity of spirit in your social media and this will come back to you threefold.

I was excited about actively building connections between my book and my readers. My constant question was: ‘How can I get my book into readers’ hands – in ways that feel true to who I am?’ (Because even though I love dancing, I drew the line at doing dance videos on TikTok.)

I like people. I get energized by engaging in meaningful ways with interesting people. And I like crafting posts and captions that have an impact on the reader.

Writers are storytellers, so I reframed my marketing efforts as storytelling. I learnt that I could have fun creating stories about my book that felt real and sincere, and didn’t make me want to blush/vomit/down a stiff drink.

Marilize Roos, a prolific indie romance author (the Club Angelus series), says: ‘From the publisher’s perspective, they’re more likely to invest in a writer who is committed to helping make that book a success.’

As Ron Irwin (My Side of the Ocean) says: ‘Writers are now their own marketers…Any writer who thinks they can be Cormac McCarthy and live in a hovel and do zero promo is in deep, deep doo doo. The good news is that there are ways to promote yourself without being too obvious about it.’

There is so much you can do yourself to create points of connection between you and your readers: tell them the story of how you found your publisher; show them photos of your messy desk, share your fears and vulnerabilities.

As Anne Donaldson, a book fanatic, said: ‘As a reader, I love it when the author is at least partly involved in their own marketing/promotion… anything that makes the author more ‘real’. It’s perhaps looking for some point of commonality?’

Because in the end, we’re all in this together. And we all love a good story.


Join Cathy for a free webinar on how to Shift from Storyteller to Story Seller in 3 Steps Wednesday 16th August, 6 – 7pm SAST. She, with independent publisher Karavan Press, will show you how you can sell more books without selling your soul.

Click on this link to register:

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