On Creativity and Risk, Self-promotion and Fear

Reading Jane Friedman’s publishing column the other day made me wonder if it could be harder to get a publisher than I think without a much bigger platform than I have now. Then I read some literary agent’s tweets about the importance of platform even for memoir writers. Later, the thought hit me:
If I’m going to build a platform, I need to enlist the help of my network now, and start growing it now. That means reaching out and sharing my challenges, as I am most certainly NOT wont to do.
I’ve been holding off on the blogging until everything was just right. Had to work on more of the book first, and then I needed a book cover so because it would drive the look and feel for the website, and I needed the website to be upgraded before I started sending traffic there, so there was no point blogging about anything yet. Etc. Sometimes, this impulse is a good one. Some things really do need to be worked out a bit before showtime. I’ve decided that in this case, it’s an example of my perfectionism and polish being unproductive. Blogging is now beginning in earnest. I’ve just purchased this blogging course and access to resources from Jon Morrow, a renowned copywriter and blogger.
So let’s start. Let’s go on a journey of what it’s like to give birth to something and then have to go out and sell it. It’s the same story regardless of the goal. We envision, we work, we create, and we pray someone will care. We pray a little bit harder if we are a starving artist, or have a real job but are really unhappy, or are writing full-time without, say, an advance or a recession-, divorce-, and caregiving-proof personal treasury. But we all want to reach for something.
A platform means the product is not the book but your writing and ideas. It's YOU. Scary. Click To Tweet
So these writings will also be about creativity, and therefore uncertainty, and therefore managing fear and distressing thoughts, and therefore about resilience and grit.
So you’ve worked on a book over a period of, oh, six years – not to mention the life before that for, say, 44 years. Now what? One of the more excruciating realities for writers is this: the quality of your book, your baby, is just one of three pillars of getting it sold.
Creating the book is only one part of the creative puzzle. If you want or need any return on the investment of time and foregone income that a book represents, you’ve got to attend to the business side. Writing a book and building a business call on very different backgrounds, skills, and strengths, which is why they rarely seem to be housed inside the same person. (When they are in one person, judging from the output of the gurus of self-publishing, they write mostly genre fiction, like sci-fi or mystery or spy vs. spy stuff).
In the last week, I’ve messaged with several would-be and budding writer friends about the publishing side of marketing. It occurred to me that the months of research I’ve done on marketing, books in particular, and publishing could be useful to them, and maybe also to you. I know I want to see the fruits of all their experience and learning and thinking out in the world:

  • Kate has been living with unimaginable pain for over two decades, ever since a surgeon sliced through the nerve plexus in her lower back, and she’s done so while working (at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and as a commodities trader), avoiding addiction, and being an extraordinarily sunny, encouraging, and positive person. She’s got something to say about both moving on in one’s best interests — she decided suing the doctor would sap the strength she needed — and managing pain.
  • Chris was a NYC firefighter while we were in law school (in Cambridge), and within a few years of graduation he had gone to Rwanda to work for the UN after the genocide. He risked his life, built an orphanage, protected kids, and eventually adopted three Rwandan girls himself (now all multilingual and living in Europe). He’s taught international and EU law in Amsterdam and Berlin. He’s already reached about 35,000 words, he reports, in sharing his thoughts on what’s behind humanity’s intractable descent into violence, its painful legacy, intervention, and aid.
  • Andrew wants to write about the evolution of consciousness. He’s both high-IQ and high-EQ, a very thoughtful guy in all senses of the word. I want to see what he has to say, as he put it on Facebook IM, about “the most important insight/tool for human beings to reach their optimum/full potential…personally and communally . . . [and] an argument for positive change and activating our potential.”

These are all non-fiction works, but most of the marketing strategy is the same for novels. So please share this post for the benefit of your own friends who are interested in the creative process of writing, building a business or a platform, publishing a book, marketing, social media, blogging, website creation, negotiation, contract law, and more. Some of it, I know fairly well. The rest I’ll be making up like any other citizen. [inlinetweet prefix=”null” tweeter=”null” suffix=”null”]For creators, managing uncertainty — How will I do it? Can I do it? Will I fail? – is a superpower.[/inlinetweet]
Learn how to build a book platform and proposal (or any biz plan) Click To Tweet

Get These 3 Things Right and Sell a Ton of Books

We’ll be covering marketing through the three main pillars of publishing success:

  1. The Book. Depending on the type of book, what matters to publishers and readers beyond your circle of friends will be some combination of the hook and the big idea, the timing, the usefulness of the information conveyed, the quality of the prose and thinking, the characters, the story and its plot, and much more.
  2. The Marketing Plan, or Book Proposal. The marketing plan is where you establish a fit between your product, the book, and a large-enough group of motivated readers, or the market. In startup circles we call this product-market fit. A book proposal is required if you’re trying to get a deal with a publisher, but [inlinetweet prefix=”null” tweeter=”null” suffix=”null”]any would-be author who wants to go beyond merely completing their book must create a marketing plan[/inlinetweet].
  3. The Platform. Imagine standing up on a stage, or platform, and holding the attention of a rapt audience ready to pick up what you’re layin’ down. If you want a traditional publisher, you need to have a platform before you approach them. Why? It reduces their risk of too-few sales, and it validates that whatever you’re doing, someone is already finding it interesting. That’s how you sell books. Even if you’re going to self-publish (an increasingly more attractive option), you’ll need to build the equivalent of a platform to sell your book. Your platform may consist of audiences of your speeches or podcasts, or of a TV show or radio program; social media followers; blog subscribers; and email lists, to name a few.


There are surely better all-around marketers out there, but I do have a unique perspective. I’ve been crafting persuasive arguments for things since law school, and a business proposal is basically an argument, supported by evidence and reasoning. In the late-90s, I worked for a while as a literary agent. As a tech entrepreneur, I’ve created and critiqued countless business plans for angel investors and venture capitalists, and have pitched them as well. In December 2008, I wrote a non-fiction book proposal that got the attention of 21 publishers, caused 16 of them to go to auction, and resulted in a $200K advance from Random House and nearly another $100K from publishers in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Poland.

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