How to Market Yourself as an Author Before You Have a Book to Sell

How to Market Yourself as an Author Before You Have a Book to Sell

September 2015 saw the release of three of Chuck’s new books, the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents, the 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and his anti-clown humor book When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide.

Chuck will pick one commenter of this post at random after two weeks to receive their choice of any of his books. Must live within US/Canada to receive a print book. Otherwise, he can send a PDF ebook. Beware clowns. Update: The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who commented! Our winner is Marlene Bumgarner.

Let’s say you have a book out and want to promote it. So you a website and offer to write a free guest post (or several) for them.

In exchange for providing the free content, you have some requests:

  • You want the column(s) to be accompanied by your book cover
  • You want the column(s) to be accompanied by your headshot
  • You want the column(s) to be accompanied by your bio, with a link in the bio that will redirect readers to a buy page for the book — Amazon or IndieBound or whatever you ask

Some people may have further things to promote, like classes or workshops or consultation services or an eBay profile full of knickknacks. It doesn’t matter.

The point is that if you’re writing the column for free, what you want out of the exchange is the chance to promote something. Simple and easy.

This is Guest Blogging 101, and everyone wins in this deal.

The best time to promote yourself: now

But what if you don’t have a book or anything to sell yet? What are you selling then? Simple:  You’re selling a connection to yourself.

Sure, you don’t have a book for sale now, but you will in the future — so you need to connect yourself to interested individuals now so you can inform them of the book release down the road.

You can encourage potential readers to stay connected to you in a few simple ways:

  • Follow you on Twitter
  • Sign up for your free email newsletter
  • Like your Facebook fan page, or befriend you on your personal page
  • Subscribe to the RSS feed for your blog

If you get someone to connect with you in any of these ways (preferably in multiple ways), then you establish a lasting connection with a person that doesn’t likely disappear.

This means that when your book comes out in three weeks or three years, you still have an avenue to inform them of its existence, and thus possibly make a sale. This is your author platform, plain and simple.  

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

Give people a real reason to connect with you

Not sold on this concept? Let’s imagine a simple, watered-down scenario.

Say you get a call from the local Toastmasters Group. The coordinator says, “We just had a last-minute speaker cancellation. I’ve got 50 people in this room waiting to hear a speech. I got your name from [acquaintance] and she said you were an aspiring writer and a very good speaker. I wonder if you might be able to come down and talk to my crowd.”

Your answer is yes. You throw on some nice clothes and head down. Then for one hour you speak in front of this Toastmasters crowd about [anything you want].

At the end of the speech, you motion to a sign-up sheet near the door. “If you enjoyed what you heard today,” you say, “please sign up for my email newsletter so I can update you from time to time on my writing.”

This is the key element. You’ve given them 60 minutes of information for free. The whole payoff is them signing up for your newsletter.

Then all 50 people slowly get up and mosey out the door, with not one leaving an email on your sheet.

If that happens, then what was the point of speaking?

Fifty people just walked out the door and you have no means to them later.

If you don’t have a product or service to immediately promote and sell, you must connect to people so you can have a selling avenue down the road, or else they can slip away forever.

If they befriend you on Facebook or subscribe to your blog, then you nabbed that valuable connection and can potentially get them interested in your future products and services when you reach out down the line.

Keep in mind that people need motivation to stay in with you — they need to know you’ll be giving them something of value.

Let’s just say the Guide to Literary Agents didn’t exist and I had no books to sell, but I did have social media accounts.

In my bio on a guest post, I would say, “If you’re looking for a literary agent, check out Chuck’s blog, sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter. All those channels include free information about queries, submissions, new agents, interviews, platform and more.”

In other words, I don’t just say “And follow me on social media — pretty please.” I drive home the incentives of connecting with me.

And by doing that, more people link with me online, and I gather more followers to inform of a book down the road.

What tips would you add for forging relationships with potential readers?

Filed Under: Marketing
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  • Chris Possessky says:

    I get the idea that we need to take advantage of situations and be ready and willing, but most of us won’t get that call to fill in for a speaker who just bailed. If we get that opportunity, how do we get people to sign on? And if we don’t get the chance, how do we promote ourselves before the product is finished?

  • Elke Feuer says:

    Great post! One thing I do is attend book signings of writers in my genre. It’s an opportunity to connect with authors and people. I never mention I’m a writer unless I’m asked, but when they discover I’m a writer, they ask about my books and of course I have books marks ready to give them. 🙂

    • Terry Richardson says:

      I really like to trade bookmarkers with other authors, I usually give them 10 of mine for 10 of theirs and pass them out to others and ask them to do the same with mine

  • Dave Burnham says:

    Some great advice Chuck. After many years of freelance journalistic writing I’m turning more to fiction as an outlet. This advice is pertinent and timely for both areas of my work. Thank you.

  • Nita says:

    I guess these are things I need to start thinking about, since I’m working on my first book right now.

  • illustr8d says:

    I am convinced I need an email list. I’m still developing a website too, rather than something 3rd party. Thanks for these tips.

  • M. K. Louie says:

    Been a long-time reader and this article in particular resonates with me as I am writing my first novel. Thank you! I have much to do 🙂

  • Tamara says:

    Potential incentives: You’ll get the first chapter of my book right away — and free; help me name a character; join me in writing a short story online (readers help w/character names, plot twists, etc.); contribute to my book (quotes, info, stories, ideas) and be named in the credits; drawing for ## free copies of book. Okay, this has me thinking…

  • Gordon Diver says:

    Very useful and from the notes above informative post. Thanks for sharing Chuck. The solid advise works as you say for more than just your future novel. Well done.

  • Victor Uno says:

    This is really inspiring, Chuck. I believe people should be able to succeed against all odds. I wrote something on that. Your readers too may want to see it.

  • Aisling March says:

    This is great advice! I am so overwhelmed by all the channels of communication and promotion, it seems almost too daunting. Thanks for this post, it gives me somewhere to start!

  • Brent W says:

    A great post. Time to start cranking up the personal publicity machine as I try to sell one book and write another.

  • Luan Pitsch says:

    Promotion is my scary place. Which is why I fear to go there. Thanks for any and all advice.

  • C.J. Hayden says:

    Good suggestions, Chuck. For nonfiction authors, I would add that an excellent incentive to gain subscribers and followers is to offer a free tip sheet. Most nonfiction authors could easily create in a very short time a one-pager of valuable tips on their subject. That’s a quick freebie that can often significantly increase response.

  • Ronovan Hester (Ronovan Writes) says:

    Thank you for the tips. I have a book coming out, hopefully in December and although I host people on my personal blog, and promote people on a book review/interview site, I never actually get asked to guest blog. I am a backup plan for several blogs and adviser so I do post at random times to keep their blogs active when they are ill or just can’t be there, but other than that . . . no dice. I suppose I could put a Guest Post form on my blog so people can feel as though I am approachable that way, although I’m pretty approachable as is.
    Much Respect

    • Cali Bird says:


      Why don’t you ask websites that you like if you can be a guest blogger. Go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

      I once heard a really good phrase which is “select yourself”. You can do this


  • Philipp Maynard says:

    Excellent suggestions/advice/incentive. The usual quality info from Chuck.

  • Kathryn63 says:

    Some great ideas here! Thank you so much!

  • Spencer Radford says:

    This is actually what I am doing right now. I’m only 17 but I made a page a couple weeks ago since I am about 1/6 of the way done my book that I am writing. Got to start early and get your author platform.

  • Sheryl Aronson says:

    Good suggestions. It can be overwhelming to do all the things we are supposed to do to be writers. Chuck, I am so impressed with all the blogs, etc. you share with us,and still have time to get 3 books coming out. How about a post on how you organize your time?

  • Alyssa Mayley says:

    This post reminded me that I need to set up a few things on my website to help people be able to stay connected with me easier. Thank you!

  • Kelly P says:

    I hadn’t really thought about promoting BEFORE the book sold. I guess it makes sense though.

  • Michelle Chaisson says:

    Great advice! Now to implement it.

  • Wayne Kumai says:

    Thank you for this article, Chuck. Always full of wisdom.

    A comment: I always read of platform, platform, platform for authors; admittedly, the days of JD Salinger, hiding in the hollows of his New Hampshire hamlet, are over.

    That said, I’m often astonished at the meager online platforms–or offline, such as readings and interviews–of many high-profile, best-selling, traditionally-published authors. Ever try to find a single video or in-person reading by Haruki Murakami? Although he’s everywhere in-person, no flashy website, Twitter account, or Facebook for Jonathan Franzen. For every Tweeting Joyce Carole Oates, there are countless social media-less, blog-less, rarely-interviewed Anne Tylers, Ann Patchetts, Zadie Smiths and Karen Russells.

    Seems, sometimes at least, less is more. When these authors speak, it’s an event. Why? Because they haven’t been seen through the Everyman-looking glass of their half-eaten egg McMuffin on Instagram, or their pet dog’s new flea collar on Twitter, or guest blogs about how to sell more books by, well, guest blogging.

    Just the other side of the coin. Not trying to be controversial; just trying to understand. If anyone has a clue how they pull it off–aside from amazing writing–do chime in.

    (Note: there are a few with not-as-amazing writing but with a dose of media “shyness” are around. EL James, who does not do readings and rarely gives interviews, earned 95 million dollars in 2014 alone).


  • Peter Frahm says:

    Guest blogging makes a great deal of sense. What is interesting to me is that in my immediate circle of real-space friends, I am the only person I know who blogs at all. I thought it might be an age thing (I’m 50 years young) at first. But, I teach at a community college and the majority of my mostly twenty something students are NOT bloggers, just Facebook/Instagram/Pineterest users. (Big difference.) I would have thought blogging would be bigger among students.

  • Williesha says:

    Like with anything in life – waiting until things are “perfect” won’t work. I’d love to be JK Rowling, but even she got rejected a dozen times. Start writing now. Start building relationships now. That’s the key to selling more books – big platform? Big sales! I’m working on two books that won’t see the light of day for at least a year, but I’m still pushing forward connecting to other writers and editors.

    Also, I love Chuck, but I’ve already won a book from him LOL So you don’t have to include me in the contest. I’d feel bad.

  • Tricia Robertson says:

    Thanks! This is a timely post for me. I have been working on my novels for years but am just starting to build my online presence. I personally follow my favorite authors on several platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. I especially like FB posts about what they’re up to and when they engage readers with questions about their books (or ideas for sequels). It makes me feel connected to these writers–almost like a friend. I will try to keep these things in mind as I move forward.

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