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Self Publishing: 5 foolproof ways to fail at marketing - and how to avoid them

Have you experienced any of these "Author Myths"?


Self Publishing: 5 foolproof ways to fail at marketing – and how to avoid them

By Diana Wink

“I’m an author, not a businesswoman.” 

This was my opinion of myself. All I wanted was to write great stories. 

When I decided to take the route of self-publishing (for financial reasons and the freedom and control it provides), I knew I had to do the marketing part. Emphasis on: had to

Being a creative who fought her way to a degree in Engineering, I knew how to approach challenges. I educated myself: read many books on author marketing, listened to podcasts, took several courses. 

And I still failed.

My first release what a disaster: my book swallowed by the dark forest of countless Amazon books, never to return. Can you relate? 



After the Initial Setback…

…some mood swings and I-will-never-make-its combined with comfort food, I began to analyze: Why? How come I was familiar with the theory, and it did not work out? 

It all came back to my deep-seated, but deadly wrong opinion: “I’m an author, not a businesswoman.” 

Of course, I had to do the marketing. But I regarded marketing as the “necessary evil”. Deep down, I resented it.

If you feel the same way, let’s bust some misconceptions about book marketing right now. This will change your approach, as it did for me, because those myths are holding you back in becoming a successful, creative and prolific marketer. 

“Our beliefs about what we are and what we can be precisely determine what we can be.” – Tony Robbins 

This is true in every area of life—especially in business. The way you think about marketing will determine your results. 

Let’s look at the 5 greatest misconceptions that make you fail at marketing and bring back the excitement into the author business.



1 The Salesman Paradigm

Knock knock. 

Behind the door awaits the sleazy salesman, trying to charm his way into your living room and your wallet. Sell a product with false embellishments to get his commission. 

Is this how you feel when you try to market your book? Like the dirty door-to-door salesman, convincing your email list and everybody else that your book it worth their money? 

A salesman’s job is to trick the people into something they don’t need. But your job is to find those who are desperate for what you offer. That’s why it’s so important to target your reader with knife-like precision. 

You’re not marketing to everybody. You’re not knocking on every door. And you’re not selling a redundant product.

First, face the hard truth that your book might not be for your friends, colleagues, kids or spouse.  You want the right audience for your books, those who have been craving it because this is what they consume or because this is the exact problem they struggle with.

Second, you want to provide your reader with true value. 

If the product you deliver is something that will blow them off their feet, you can be proud to market it, sell it with integrity.  And the result? They will thank you for it. They will rave about it in the reviews and recommend it to others. 

You’re not the door-to-door salesman because you are offering a valuable product to the right people, a product that will improve their lives, entertain them and give them what they have been craving.

Step Number 1: Create an amazing product/book. 

Step Number 2: Find your target audience. 



2 The Sell-Below-Value Attitude

Giving away all your knowledge for free is like casting pearls before swine. 

I’m not saying don’t be generous. And giving away things for free is certainly a great strategy to gain a following. 

But how much ‘free’ is too much? 

If you give people an extensive resource for free, containing all your knowledge, all your best content, the end-product’s value will decrease in their eyes. This is just how we’re wired. 

Instead, give away a small amount of your knowledge or content for free, provide value and tease a little for those who want more. Sell the rest. 

If people enjoyed your free resource, they will gladly pay to dive deeper.

But what is the right price to set?  

A good rule of thumb is: Always price slightly higher than you are comfortable with. This will indicate that your product is premium and high-quality, and attach those who are really interested in it. Aim for the top 10% of your market – or higher.

Needless to say, your product should indeed be of a high-quality, offer genuine value and improve over time with your customer feedback. 



3 The Strategy Overwhelm

Algorithms, metadata, retailers, SEO, paid advertising, newsletter swaps, giveaways, packaging … where to even start? 

You are bombarded with all kinds of different strategies. This overwhelm is what scares off the already reluctant and shy marketer inside. 

The first thing you need to do: bring order to the chaos. Give meaning to all those outlandish words that only seem scary because you don’t know what’s hidden inside. 

Understanding how the Amazon store works is really not that complicated. And there are great tools and ways to comprehend metadata, organize newsletter swaps and promotions, start giveaways … Here comes the overwhelm again. But the good news is: organization is key. Create a marketing educational plan.

Once you label and understand the terms, you will be able to master them. 

Write your own marketing strategy. One you are confident with based on your research and circumstances, and don’t let anybody else distract you. Don’t chase after the newest book marketing hype. 

Follow through with your own plan. A plan that is tailored to your book. 

Analyze what works and what doesn’t, and you will be much more confident and relaxed for the next round.  



4 The Mass-Market Mindset

There are tons of people out there who won’t like your writing. 

And that’s okay. 

Great art polarizes. Leo Tolstoy advised, “Stop caring about other people’s opinion of yourself.”

[Note from Nick: Or, my personal fave: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Eleanor Roosevelt].

Fiction authors especially struggle to narrow down their audience. They make the fatal mistake of “writing for everybody”. It’s a mindset that’s destined to backfire. 

In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King introduces the concept of the Ideal Reader, which for him is his wife Tabitha. He envisages her whenever he writes his stories, and she is the person King’s books are truly meant for.

Not all of us are that privileged to have our spouses be our ideal readers. I certainly don’t (to be honest, my husband rarely finishes any books …).

But your ideal reader does not even have to be a real person. More often, it’s an idealized figure with certain traits – and you need to figure out what she looks like.

There are several strategies to define the Ideal Reader. You can use the Audience Insights on Facebook to look at the demographics of your followers.

You can consider the “also boughts” on your Amazon Author Page to find what else your readers are buying.

And most importantly – talk to your readers. Try to establish a dialogue with them through email and social media, and gradually, your Ideal Reader will emerge like the image in a puzzle.

A word of warning: She might not be what you expect. Accept it, and tweak your marketing to entertain, please and provide value for her.  



5 The Overnight-Success Myth

Overnight success happens after years and years of hard work.

We all know that. 

And still, can you hear the nagging voice inside of you, that ugly whisper that you will forever remain a failure? 

Failing is the most natural thing in the world, and it’s a necessary step to success. But having failed once or twice feeds this doubting voice, beguiling you to finally give up. 

I set my mind to expect that I will never succeed with my first book. Not even with my second one. But somehow, deep inside, there was this hope that I *might*. That I would not fail *that* deeply. 

Sometimes, it’s not a voice inside, but the voice of your friends, relatives, or spouse: So how’s the book business going? Have you made any money yet? 

Blushing, you avoid the subject. 

In truth, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Overnight success never lasts. Your goal is a steadfast business that increases steadily. So step by step, you will climb that hill, and maybe it does not look like you are climbing a steep enough staircase, but when you look back over time, you’ll be amazed how high you’ve come.

[Note from Nick: “Overnight Success” is a myth. People forget about the years of hard work that go into making something work].

Marketing is a lot about testing. You have to test strategies, fail, tweak, test again, improve, and steadily work on a plan that works. 

Your first book won’t be a bestseller. But maybe your tenth will. With every new release, you’ll get better and better.



Now We’ve Busted the Myths…

…let’s look at the 5 truths about book marketing one more time: 

  1. Your books provide true value to the right readers 
  2. You can feel confident about selling premium products because they are worth the money and will motivate your audience to actually get the most out of them
  3. You can develop and test your own book marketing strategies, and you’ll get it right over time
  4. Your Ideal Reader is out there – waiting for your next book!
  5. It’s okay to fail – marketing success comes with experience and time

Isn’t that encouraging? 

When I read those truths, I couldn’t wait to set out and invest my best marketing efforts into my books. Once your attitude towards marketing changes, you’ll see how many things are possible.

Marketing is creative and innovative. 

Don’t forget that your Ideal Reader is probably scrolling through the internet right now, searching for the next book to entertain her or solve her problem. Desperate for YOUR book. 

One last piece of advice: When marketing, distance yourself from your writing side. Put on “the business hat” (as Joanna Penn puts it), and let the author inside of you take a nap. 

Forget how much heart you’ve poured into those pages, how much blood you’ve left upon the typewriter. The book is a valuable product now – and you want to get it to the Ideal Reader as efficiently and quickly as possible.

Are you excited about marketing yet?  


Diana Wink is a mountain child from the depth of middle Asia. She empowers creatives to tell great stories and lead a sustainable lifestyle.

She is also the writer of the Prometheus Dystopian Trilogy, striving to kidnap her readers into make-believe worlds, blend the borders between past and future, and master her own curiosity.


And now we want to hear from you: How do you approach marketing in your business? Have you “busted any myths” on your author journey? Leave a comment below:

  1. Lots of good reminders here! This is just what I needed to read. 🙂

    1. Diana says:

      Thank you! Glad I could help 🙂

  2. Some really good idea’s there. It does take time and a conscious effort to implement strategies but I think the effort is worth it.
    One of the myth’s I busted was the ‘You are an unknown indie with one book. You’ll battle to sell 100 books, EVER!’ Past that milestone 4 months in. Yes, it takes work, I’ve certainly made mistakes but that is all a part of the journey as well. 🙂

    1. Diana says:

      You’re certainly right, there are so many myths and doubts we have to fight along the way but the important thing is that we learn and move on 🙂 Good luck on your indie journey!

  3. Marcha Fox says:

    I learned the hard way about targeting my market. When I got some 3* reviews that complained because my book wasn’t what they were expecting, yet exactly what it was supposed to be, it finally sunk in. Now I just need to figure out where to find them. I think I know, but getting past the gatekeepers isn’t easy. (My books are educational sci-fi that kids who are nerds and geeks love. I have two science teachers who use them for extra credit reading. Getting into schools and libraries is tough, but I’m working on it.)

    1. Diana says:

      There are some great possibilities nowadays to get into schools and libraries – have you listened to one of the recent Creative Penn Podcast Episodes on that topic? You really should, there are great ideas inside. Good luck!

      1. Marcha Fox says:

        I took a rather pricey class on library marketing. As a result, I got PCIPs for all my books so they’re now in World Cat. I’ve sent over 100 personalized emails to librarians in the database I got with no results. I’ve donated copies to local libraries. I’ll keep trying, but so far no luck.

  4. This blog has motivated me to finally chose the topic for my first book. Your blog reminded me that it’s baby steps; there are no wrong steps as long as you get started. Thank you.

    1. Diana says:

      I’m so glad! The first steps are the hardest I guess, but when we look back it’s very often our own limitations that have been holding us back. There really are no wrong steps as we learn from every mistake 🙂

  5. Danie Botha says:

    Necessary affirmation—take a deep breath and take a step backwards—marketing can be conquered!
    I’ll be honest—I still find it intimidating. But, we’re working on it. Breaking it down into smaller bites …
    As Joanna Penn recently opined: we (often) can’t compete on price … or speed of publishing … we can learn to compete on being more authentically ourselves and market the latter.

    1. Bharti Athray says:

      Well said, Danie, sometimes one can forget to be authentic in all the competition that is out there!

    2. Diana says:

      Love your quote from Joanna.

      I’m also pretty intimidated by marketing but by breaking it down into those small steps, it seems less daunting.

      A little bit like writing a book 😉

  6. Thanks for sharing this, will make sure not to omit this mistake in the future!!!

    1. Diana says:

      You’re welcome, so glad I could help!

  7. Bharti Athray says:

    Diana, thank you for this lovely post, it is to the point, and very relevant. I don’t know how many half written books i have on my computer. Your clarity inspires me to set about completing these one at a time. Thank you.

    1. Diana says:

      I’m very happy I could help and inspire. Marketing is a tough journey and it helped me a lot to know that I’m not alone and that it can take years to figure those things out – step by step.

      Completing a book is the most important one. The good news is – once you have finished this first book, you feel like you can conquer the world! It’s such an inspiring experience. The next books follow suit pretty smoothly, you learn with every completed manuscript.

  8. Janet Pywell says:

    Great post – thanks. Very encouraging.

    1. Diana says:

      So happy I could motivate!

  9. Jonas says:

    wow, this post reawakened the giant in me. Though I haven’t had much success with my writing as I proposed, yet I have never considered myself a FAILURE. But I recently began to think it my writing is really worth it, because I have my family members asking ridiculous questions like; “How Much Money Have You Made so Far with your Book”, Why not settle for a real job instead of wasting time sitting in front of a computer?

    I am currently working on my trilogy book and I hope to make some money with it too and also add to my arsenal of books. Thanks Nick for bringing her onboard. I am inspired…

    1. Diana says:

      Jonas, I’m so happy that my article could inspire! I know those questions from family members and friends – never forget that we’re in this for the long run and it can take years before we make enough money. But even the first 50 Dollars are so encouraging! Best of luck with your trilogy.

  10. Wonderful and indeed motivating article, Diana! Just started wriring my book with clear target audience and know that I need to address them. Not knowing how to do that made me struggle to start writing for two years.
    Being luckily involved in another book as co-author, I used the launch event to commit sending the paricipants one chapter per month until July. This way the book gets finished, I have test readers beyond close friends and a deadline to get the marketing part rolling by reverse engineering from the timeline and a planned lanch in October next year. In that sense, your article came at the right time!

    1. Diana Wink says:

      Thank you, Gunnar! Finding the absolutely right audience is a tough task indeed, I am still in the process of it. Good luck with the upcoming launch!

  11. Thanks for the insight!

    1. Diana Wink says:

      So happy I could help!

  12. Walter says:

    The biggest roadblock for Authors and Writers is selling.
    Because we have negative pictures in our head of salesman like Diana wrote.

    But this on skill also made the biggest difference in my writing life: to sell your ideas, books and yes even “yourself”.

    Great article, Diana.

    Best regards from Germany.

    1. Diana Wink says:


      That’s ironic because lots of what I know about marketing and selling I know from your amazing course and seeing you live the success 🙂 (all the Germans reading it should go check out Walter’s website!).

      Selling “yourself” is still a huge point for me, but I’m trying to get there 😀

  13. Great insights Diana. Back in college studying music, I used to hate the idea of business and just wanted to focus on creative work. Now I love marketing because I see it as another creative outlet and way to serve people.

  14. Walter says:

    If you don’t believe in your work, hide it. If you Believe in your work, then sell it.
    Thanks for reminding us all.

  15. K.S. Trenten says:

    Thank you for the insights, Diana! I really needed to hear them right now.

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