Essentials for Managing a Writing Career

When I was on a panel at PALA (the Publisher Association of Los Angeles (an associate of Independent Book Publishers Association or IBPA), I was asked to give them the five most important tips to an independent writing career and this is an abbreviated rundown of what I told them:

  1. One of the most deleterious ideas—the one that has the most disastrous effect on the welfare of an author’s book—is that marketing is selling. Especially selling people something whether or not they want it (or can use it).This incorrect idea of what marketing is at its roots is unethical, destructive to creativity, and absolutely false. It is what marketing is not. Here’s what marketing is:
    1. It is having a passion for one’s own book, a passion coupled with a strong belief that it will help others—either a certain group of others or everyone. That it it is an authentic belief that the book will make their lives better. Help them. Entertain them.
    2. Marketing is the process of learning who those people are and showing them why it is right for them and helping them access it in the most convenient way for their needs.
    3. It is about caring and making it evident that this caring is  apparent through the campaigns and promotions the author does. Authors will be forgiven for that awful term selling if the reader can see—and feel—the caring. Both in the book and in the marketing campaign itself.
  2. Here’s my most inspirational tip:. You can now be in charge of your own writing career. That means you get to make your own decisions. Fortunately that also means you have the never-ending uphill learning curve to climb and I believe it’s fortunate because you will never get bored.
  3. There are no blanket rules—no undeniable, unforgiving, steel-clad rules in writing or publishing. But you must know the rules anyway. If you don’t,  and you put out a less than professional product (and it is apparent there is no good reason for having broken those rules), you have done yourself and all the other independent authors a disservice.
  4. Learn, learn, learn. One of the best ways to do that is to use the benefits offered by respected writers organizations. Use them to learn more but also use the benefits they offer to help you market. Both their paid services and the ones that come free with membership. Example: One that works well is renting one of their lists for a direct marketing campaign.  
  5. Learn to fight what is left of Book Bigotry or Entrenched Publishing Rules without spending time trying to change others’ minds. People only change their minds when they’re in enough pain. Be confident in knowing that entrenched (read that traditional) marketing ideas aren’t the best way to sell books anyway. The best way to use your marketing budget and time is to find the ways you can reach the most people in the least time (and where you can make the greatest net profit)—and that isn’t by selling through bookstores. . .or in airports.
  6. Tips: Read, read, read, but read cautiously. Everyone on the Web isn’t an expert. Find experts with newsletters written by experts who will keep you up to date.
    Examples: Amazon sends information about their new promotion opportunities to those who are already published. To get that information, you have to read their e-mails.  And read newsletters. My favorites are:

                           I.        Dan Poynter’s

                         II.        Hope C. Clark’s

                       III.        Joan Stewart’s (The Publicity Hound)

                        IV.        My SharingwithWriters (Subscribe at

                          V.        And for speakers (one of the best ways to market), Tom Antion's letter for speakers

  1. Join organizations:
    I love Independent Book Publishers Associations (IBPA), of course, but there are lots more targeted associations like memoir writers, journalists, the Military Writers Society of America, PEN. Remember they only work as well as you work them.
  2. Join listserves, sometimes called social network groups or forums. IBPA has a great one. Author U is one founded by Judith Briles. Here’s a tip: Learn which contributors are experienced and which aren’t before you take advice to heart.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .


Debra Quarles said...

Great ideas, and thanks so much for listing your favorite newsletter! Awesome help.

Kathleen Moulton said...

Carolyn, I just got your book, "The Frugal Book Promoter" and I'm devouring it. I'm printing out your 6 tips above. I am grateful for how you get right to the point and make things clear. So helpful!

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great tips Carolyn. I can't pick a favorite tip because they are all great.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@Kathleen Moulton, many thanks for getting #TheFrugalB ookPromoter--and devouring it. Ha! I really love it when I can help authors avoid the pitfalls I fell into when I first started. Everything in it are things I tried myself. And it IS fat, right?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Thanks to all of you for coming by!

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, these are great tips. I especially like #3 and #6. After creating a quality product, you have to find the marketing strategies that work best for you. And, you do have to be careful of who you're listening to for advice online.

Unknown said...

Great tips and links. I love your clarification that marketing is about passion for your topic and providing readers with what they need.

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Hi, Carolyn,

Great tips. So much goes into a writing "career" other than just writing. And I like what you say about marketing and selling. I hate to sell. But I love to market! Most people don't know the difference, so glad to see you explain it here.

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks Carolyn,
I haven't thought of linking up with forums. That sounds worth looking into.

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