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 contact 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 contact 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 contact 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
Natalie Sisson

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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. 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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 contact 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 facebook 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Nina says:

    I’ve just started to build my author’s platform. As I didn’t use social media before I’m a ferocious student. Still I don’t know all tricks yet. But I have some cards in my sleeve and according to feedback I get and Google Analytics my strategy is paying off.
    I personally reply Twitter followers who send me generic thank you note.
    Another thing I do is targeting influencers’ blogs in my niche and then I comment on their posts. I’m viewing this not just as connecting but as building strong connections.
    And to tease my potential readers I post excerpts of my books on social media. It seemed as nobody is reading, but when I missed a day I got a lot of questions what happened with Julija (my heroine).

  • Kevin says:

    Thank you for the great information. I especially appreciate the concrete tips/examples. I haven’t pursued any guest blogging opportunities because I do not have a product to market at this time, so didn’t see the value. Your post has changed my mind in that regard.

    Thank you!

  • Chuck, you are awesome! I’ve recommended your “Create Your Writer Platform” book to so many of my clients, colleagues and friends! Thanks for distilling this guest blogging 101 advice for us.

  • Ahavah says:

    My tip is: follow back &/or interact with your fans. No one likes a page that only self-promotes. Everyone – readers or writers – enjoys those authors who respond to questions and comments and share reader contributions more than they enjoy an unknown or unfriendly ‘wo/man behind the curtain’.

  • Dayle says:

    I think that it is good for an author to market his/herself as an author before marketing a book.

  • Good article, Chuck! I have short stories published, I have the novel in progress (two, actually), I have the website and I have the branded Twitter account – which I have managed to grow to 1,400 followers in the last six months or so (through real, live, personal interaction).

    I am considering using Mail Chimp to establish a newsletter and hope that by employing your advice and other topical wisdom, I can turn some of the 60-75 daily unique website visitors and 1,400 Twitter followers into embedded platform followers.



  • Join writing organizations, show up at meetings, network with the folks there, and if you’re good at speaking on particular topics, inquire about getting on the organization’s speakers bureau. Then hand out business cards with your social media contacts on it. That’s how I’ve gotten lots of my followers.

  • Joel Henderson says:

    I support authors who I’ve had the opportunity to connect with at a book signing and it always feels good when they remember me!

  • What better way to connect with readers than at the library. Make up some bookmarks or signet cards and leave them at your local library. Have a little blurb from your upcoming book and invite people to check out your website or blog.

  • Mona Andrei says:

    Great post and so timely for me since I’m working on my first book. A literary agent is actually interested in representing me and has asked for a book proposal. So, yeah. I’m a little nervous about screwing this up. Thanks for writing and sharing this 🙂

  • I like the idea of ‘acting like an author’ even though I’m not one yet; not only would it help to establish an online audience, but it would shift my mindset from ‘just writing for fun’ to something more career-minded. Thanks for the post, Chuck!

  • Becca says:

    I’ve been putting off working on my “platform” til I have something to sell, but you’ve convinced me to do it sooner. Thanks!

  • Larry Bone says:

    Great post for using social media to build a readership before your book comes out. Social media is an excellent means for marketing if its the kind of book they would buy, if they actually are your target readers. If your book is not right for them, you are better off creating either an author website with WordPress and specifically promote to your more limited target readers. Some say you need both. I think your book has to be really the best or one of the best of it’s kind. You might be better off spending 75% of your before publishing time on making sure your book is the most awesome of its kind. That is the best marketing. But this an excellent post on thorough marketing. A really good book is the best way to get the most out of ALL your marketing efforts.

  • Dave Emanuel says:

    Great advice.

    I have resisted establishing any sort of platform and instead focused on becoming a better writer. But that is a never ending process.

    I started my new blog, (focused on writing and parenting without sportsball) and am just getting into the swing of talking about my writing in public. Previously, I wanted my writing to be a private affair that I would share only after I produced something of value.

    That didn’t cut it.

  • Judy Baker says:

    I thought the best part of your article was at the end where you are talking about giving people an extra incentive to connect with you and share their emails. Pre-launch an author can offer “tips you can use delivered to you inbox” in exchange for an email signup.

  • Derek Murphy says:

    This makes sense for non-fiction writers; for fiction writers it’s trickier, because they often don’t know what to write about, and standard “how to” articles won’t attract their ideal readers who are looking for fiction. It would be better to post book reviews of bestselling books in your genre, network with other authors in your genre by swapping author interview on their blogs, or even just put up a free sample on Amazon and get readers to sign up on your list to get the rest of the book for free. Guest posts don’t work if the authors doesn’t have an attractive website nor an offer strong enough to get people to sign up to their list.

  • Kim says:

    My problem is I had to take a break from social media so I could focus on finishing my novel because it was seriously a distraction in my life! I can tell I have much more peace without so I am nervous to reintroduce it into my life but it sounds like an integral part of selling books, which I would also really like to do 🙂 I don’t balance well so this all makes me a little nervous I admit. But thank you all the same! It makes a lot of sense.

  • ashley says:

    I never would have thought to create a platform in advance. If we only have Twitter and Facebook, do you suggest that we make separate author accounts that are distinct from our private accounts?

  • I like the idea of speaking at group functions. But it’s so much easier to do when you write non-fiction. Right away you have a topic and a definite audience. When you write fiction like I do, what can you talk about that will interest people? Not everyone is interested in hearing about the writing life.

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Gillian, what are you an “expert” at — besides writing awesome fiction? Maybe the time period, geographical setting, or type of character you write about lends to public speaking opportunities?
      Thanks for reading!
      TWL Editor

  • DeAndra says:

    Im new at sll this and I sm loving the feedback and tips. Ive done far more speaking engagements than Ive done published writing but in my near future I would love to tie the two together so I appreciate you addressing the concept of capturing our aducience. I have gotten the call of being ask to speak due to a cancellation, it was my first time speaking pubicly on a very personal matter….I knew nothing abt capturing my audience back then.

  • Greg Miller says:

    One way I connect with people other than “I write stuff, here’s my blog,” is through shared interests. When I tell people about ideas I am working on I try to be more of a journalist/ storyteller and try to interest them in the subject. My mention of what I am working on is more like the 30-second elevator speech. Usually I hook them and they end up sending me related information. People love to help. Within the 30 seconds is an interesting tidbit, picked because the combination of ideas is unique. If they don’t express any interest then they are just not curious people. Those people are rare.

  • Alison Figueroa says:

    I tihnk being a source of networking is a way to attract people. Being somebody who knows somebody always interest me. If you let other know when they sign up with you, you occasionally do a who are you on your site/newsletter, the follower would be more intrigued. Peridically ou can ask the foloowers who they need to know and find that person and invite them to your site letting them know this is what you do.

  • Great advice, Chuck – thanks. I started my “author platform” web pages and blog a year ago, and have explored guest blogging without gaining new readers, but it seems like it would be worthy of more of my time. I like the idea of creating a giveaway and a call to action. I’ve written nonfiction successfully in the past without an agent, but now I’m working on a novel and my understanding is that I’ll definitely need an agent for that.

    I will work my way down your list and see how each suggestion works for me.

  • Jenna Brownson says:

    Your point of three weeks or three years is a salient one, especially in light of the slow wheels of publishing.

    Thanks for pouring a little lighter fluid on the embers,
    Jenna Brownson

  • Good information here for writers even if they don’t have a book to sell yet. Thanks! I passed it along.

  • S.K. Lamont says:

    Thanks Chuck! I’m looking at ways I can entice people into taking action to sign up for a newsletter, I’m an unpublished middle-grade fantasy writer! Any ideas are much appreciated, have not begun the query process yet.

  • LD Blenn says:

    thanks for the encouragement to get going!! I have several projects, and yes, this is exactly what I need to be doing, PROMOTION: self-promotion!! Chuck, thanks for the great post!!

  • Kathy says:

    Thanks Chuck. I see that all it takes is the willingness to put yourself out there. That’s the best way to interact and find future readers. I’m going to amp up my WordPress account and get to writing on my blog, it may just pay off. Thanks for the tip.

  • M.E. Bond says:

    I always enjoy your literary agents blog and I hope I’m not to late to enter the draw!

  • Valencia says:

    I am writing a book, a book that has been inside me for years. On chapter 4, hoping to finish it soon

  • Ben Oliveira says:

    Awesome text! I live in Brazil and we don’t really have a lot of literary agents over here… So the author has to build his network to sell his books.
    Thanks for the tips.

  • Tikaani Moon says:

    Thanks for sharing. I realizes this is what I have been doing all along, but you have given me new ideas about the newsletters, but I have many blogs on different sites and signed up for every social media site that is available, except Facebook, I will not use Facebook’s services for anything anymore after what they have done to my account.

  • Victoria says:

    Great post!

    I have been toying with the notion of creating a SEPARATE online platform for one of my writing projects because it will have a very different (fantasy) audience than my existing (business and life improvement non-fiction) audience.

    This post is confirmation that I need to develop that separate platform – especially as I intend to use an alias. I’m just not too excited about starting from scratch – a real pain in the derriere!

    Nonetheless – thanks and I’m a new fan! 🙂

  • Sheri Larsen says:

    You had me at clowns. Although, I hate clowns, terrified of them. 😉

    This is a very timely post for me, and something I’ve pondered for some time. What it really boils down to is being personable, which is hard for some (probably most) writers; me included. Exploring the dangers, issues, and joys of the world through words of fiction from behind a screen is one thing. Sharing about myself is completely another. I’ve recently sold my first two books (one YA, the other MG), so I’m revamping my poor-excuse-for-a-website to be more about the books, all while showing who I am, what I like, why I write, and so forth. I’m also developing a tab specifically for writers containing helpful links and trying to come up with something unique just for readers. We’ll see what happens… You’ve given some wonderful suggestions, as well as encouragement. Thanks so much!

  • Cat Darensbourg says:

    Look, you cannot sell a product you do not have.


    That is lying.

    Think of what would happen if any other person (let us say a medical doctor claiming he/she had finished their schooling) tried to even set a broken bone in a hospital.

    It is called lying on your resume. You can be fired, sued, and even jailed for it.

    Also, anyone in support of lying on a resume has tarred themselves with the same brush by posting their positive opinions about it here.

    “Okay!” you may argue, “I am still a writer! I just know it!”

    That’s like saying you are a parent before you have had a kid (and are even still a virgin).

    Would you sign a contract with one of the big publishers in New York for your vapor-ware, then say “I’ll have 60,000 (which is terribly short for an adult book) proofread, polished, self-edited, worth-you-while pages on your desk by tomorrow, like we irrivocably agreed for by 6 AM tomorrow!!!!”

    Not even a team of well trained Saturday Night Live comedy writers would try it. The Colbert team would shriek in real terror and run to lock themselves in the well and deservedly paid-for New York Lofts on the *good* side of town. You irritate one editor, you irritate them all — trust me. Ms. Snark says so — and she would not represent you for a falsified contract. That would ruin her agently reputation. Even under the guise of her pure networking sharpness, it “just wouldn’t do!”

    Alienate one agent, you alienate them all.

    Would you lie — have you lied — to the main way you make money? Did you say you went to Harvard when you haven’t even finished grade school? That is what this article is practically insisting that you do.

    Sorry. Keep yourselves honorable at all costs. And never EVER plagerize to make a deadline. In these days on computer savvy text crawlers, your wit would show up like lightening bugs next to the real lightening (rephrased quote from Mark Twain).

    Do not be so foolish.

    The only person you are lying to if you resume pad is yourself.

    –(Author of 22 plays, all performed, 4 Off-Off Broadway for Samuel French Semi Finals Competition in 2004, 2005, 2006 & 2007. Annoyed Friend of SFWA who will point other people to this page)

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Cat, I don’t think the author is suggesting you lie at all when using this method. It’s about building your brand by embracing your niche, building your credibility, and finding opportunities to share your expertise. Just because your big project is still in progress doesn’t mean it’s not valid. There’s a big difference between “Fake it until you make it” and outright lying, and in this post the latter isn’t even implied.
      Thanks for reading,
      Lisa Rowan

  • charlie says:

    These days it’s promotion overload. Everyone is promoting.With or without something to promote. At some point it is so saturated out there, much of it becomes noise, background noise. At some point it will have to reverse or take on different form. I live with the silly romantic notion that my book will mean something for what it is. Yes with some authentic promotion just not premature desperate attempts at being relevant for the sake of being relevant.

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