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How to Fail as an Author: the Reverse Marketing Mantra

In my book Crack Your Marketing, I outline the incredible Marketing Mantra — not a chant, but a four-stage approach to building a long-lasting, successful career as an author. Apart from laying out a route to commercial viability and long-term stability, it also gives a series of clues as to what not to do if you want to succeed.

The Marketing Mantra goes like this:

1. Attract generally.

2. Attract specifically.

3. Engage fully.

4. Provide more.

Exactly how to do each of the above is explained in detail in my book — but we can use this as a template for how to fail by looking at its opposite, in reverse:

1. Provide less.

Far too many authors have fallen for a huge myth — that all they need to do is write one book, and then they can relax and wait for it to become a bestseller and earn their fortune. Even if we dismiss the stark fact that you probably have more chance of winning the national lottery or being struck by lightning than making it big with a sole publication, logic bears down hard on this: one book would need to sell millions, and continue to sell, to support you in your dream retirement, or even give you enough of an ongoing income for you to live on.

Publishing a great book is not like making a great pizza — if you made pizzas, even one really good one, you have a chance of making some income from that one product over time. With a pizza your customers might return when they have a hunger for that same pizza again — but when you sell a book, a reader can re-read it over and over again without buying another copy from you at all. So once your single book reaches a certain ‘saturation point’ in its market, that’s it.

Unpopular assertion: You need more than one book to build a career from writing. How many books do you need to achieve a steady income? I’d like to say ‘at least ten’, but that might freak out some people, so let’s leave it at ‘several’. I know that when I had about ten books available for sale, I started to get a small but steady trickle of income without any promotion at all. But banking on making a career from only one book is most likely pure fantasy.

So the first level of failure for a doomed author is to base everything around only one book.

As you will read in my book Crack Your Marketing, you need to be set up for writing many more books to keep your super-fans busy. How do you get super-fans? Read the book. :)

2. Engage poorly.

The opposite of fully engaging your readers is to fail to do so. A badly written book will lose readers on the first page. This isn’t to do with technical errors, failures in grammar, spelling, punctuation and so on, though they play their part — this is to do with an entirely different level of story creation.

What ‘different level of story creation’? That’s all outlined in my first book, How Stories Really Work. In that book, I go into detail about how successful characters are created, how effective plots are constructed and what principles lie behind every great piece of fiction ever written. These things are not based on my opinion, but a forty-year study of literature of all kinds. And I can guarantee that any story which has succeeded with readers has these things in place. Conversely, any story which fails (it’s hard to find those, because even if they get published they disappear rapidly from view) is doomed precisely because it lacks the elements described in my book.

So the next major level if you don’t want to build a viable career as a writer is to make sure that you don’t apply any of the material in my book. That will virtually guarantee that you will disappoint readers: you’ll fail to grab their attention in the first few pages, fail to build convincing characters which hold readers’ gaze, and fail to glue readers to what’s happening in the tale so that the readers will almost certainly drift off and not even finish the book.

3. Repel specifically.

Let’s imagine, though, that you haven’t fallen for the myth about the one big book and that you have several books on the market; let’s also assume that each one of these books is built correctly around the resoundingly successful principles described in How Stories Really Work, so that as soon as readers pick them up, they’re hooked.

That’s great — but how do you get them to pick the books up in the first place?

The Marketing Mantra says that you use devices like the book’s cover, its blurb and reviews, and its surrounding promotional material, like posters, designed in particular ways, to make sure that you are drawing in the right public. Of course, if you want to specifically repel potential readers, you need to use these things in an opposite way: your cover needs to be based on things that you think are ‘pretty’ but which have nothing or very little to do with the book’s genre; you need to make sure that you have garish, multi-coloured fonts because you ‘like’ them, rather than correct typefaces which match your genre’s expectations. To repel readers, your blurb needs to be a compressed version of your story rather than a marketing tool designed to grab attention; you need to make sure you have zero or mediocre reviews; and your posters need to be either non-existent or badly designed (like your cover).

So far, if you have only one, poorly-written book with an awful cover and incorrectly written blurb and so forth, you won’t get many readers at all. But you can get even fewer readers if you do this last step.

4. Repel generally.

Again, Crack Your Marketing gives you an exact procedure to create your own audience of warm prospects. But to ensure that you are surrounded by cold, disinterested readers, and to get no response at all from your marketing, make sure that you violate all these principles and bombard the world with ads for your book. You can spend a lot of money and time doing this and end up driving potential readers away.

So that’s how you make sure that you have no success at all: write only one book; write it badly; design its cover based solely on personal tastes rather than market research; and then cut yourself off from your correct audience, or any audience at all, by disaffecting everyone with a mass advertising campaign.

That’s not what you want?

Then get my book How Stories Really Work to make sure that you are writing lots of books based on eternally triumphant principles of fiction writing, then get my book Crack Your Marketing to lay out a correct route to viability.

Brutal, I know. But simple and effective.


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