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

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


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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 🙂

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.



  • Dayle says:

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

  • 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’.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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).

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