Friday, February 10, 2012

Ninja Marketing Myths

Hey there!

For those of you who missed the Ninja Novel Writing Convention online this past Saturday, I thought I would just post my little piece of it here for anyone who is interested. Feel free to shout out any of the many myths I missed :)

Marketing Myths Writing Ninjas Must Defy
By: Sheralyn Pratt

Ninjas, at their cores, are rebels. They’re not up in everyone’s face about it, though. Ninjas know that in their day-to-day lives they must appear normal, even ordinary. But when certain things need to be done? They don the persona of an icon and take care of business.

Such is necessary for authors looking to market their books.

You’re reading this article right now because you’re looking for a marketing plan. Maybe this is your first time out of the gate and you’re revved up and ready to go, or maybe you’ve been around the block a couple of times and looking for something new. Either way, you’ve no doubt heard a LOT of advice and been given a lot of to-do items.

But you’re a ninja now. And ninjas don’t uphold the status quo. They take it out with a puff dart and disappear into shadow, leaving others to wonder what in the world just happened.

Ninjas introduce change.

More importantly, ninjas don’t do things half way or  give up because the task is harder than they originally planned. Once a ninja accepts an assignment, success is the only acceptable outcome. That said, are you ready to become a ninja? Because it means doing things a little differently and never giving up. It means scrapping all the rules “specialists” give you if they don’t get you where you want to be. The fact is, to be remembered and get where you want to be, you need to introduce change. This means that there are some rules you MUST break if you want to be a ninja marketer.

Here are 5 of them.


Nearly every first-time author falls into this trap because, to them, the publishing business is still just a fantasy and it’s easy to imagine themselves as a rising star. But guess what? Ninjas don’t live and operate as if hypothetical, idealized futures are fated to become a reality. They operate in the here and now, focused on a goal. If it’s not relevant to the moment, a ninja probably isn’t thinking about it and neither should you!

Think of your task—what’s sitting right in front of you. Not a fantasy situation where you are carried on the shoulders of an adoring crowd. (Unless, of course, that IS what you’re dealing with in the moment. Then by all means, ride that pony!)

But DON’T think big. Think NOW.

Granted, thinking big is good if you have big money and tons of manpower, but chances are you don’t. I don’t know how many authors I’ve worked with that say something like, “Well, if I could just get an ad in (insert your favorite large paper’s name here), my sales would jump!” They dream up a fantasy situation that hands them success with little-to-no effort on their part and sigh with longing.

Such fantasies are a feel-good lie. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it.

You are an author. You create content that people will either value or they won’t, which means your best endorsements will ALWAYS come by word of mouth. Always. (Although your cover and synopsis definitely help, too.) Your goals are to:

  1. Get people to read your book
  2. Get them to talk about it favorably

There are as many ways to do this as there are people on this planet, but as a ninja, you need to take stock of your current environment and work with what you’ve got—not what could be. What is. The fact is that you’re small and your greatest battles will be one on small battlegrounds in the beginning of your career. Your overall plan for literary domination can be as big as you want it to be. In fact, your overall vision should be epic. But do NOT let your marketing approach and investments get caught up in the emotion of your vision.

Always THINK NOW, until the day comes where thinking big is part of your now. Then, and only then, will you know the best move to make going forward.


This mantra has its place, but it’s not in marketing. Unless you’re a full-blooded narcissist, self-promotion is one of the most uncomfortable things you will do. It just is.

So hint: if you’re not uncomfortable when you’re marketing, you’re not doing everything you can.
If your book is like having the family you always wanted and living in the house you always imagined, then marketing is the job you go to everyday to make sure you can make the mortgage payments.

In short, marketing is work. So unless you’ve mastered the Zen art of turning work into joyous play, then chances are you’re going to have your moments of wanting to stop paddling mid-stream while marketing. Normal people do give up when the going gets uncomfortable.

Ninjas don’t.


If you’ve taken any form of martial art, you know that when striking a nose, you don’t aim for the nose. You aim six inches behind it. If you want to break a board, you don’t aim for the board. You aim behind it. Breaking the board is incidental to getting where you’re going.

There are many ways this rule applies to ninja marketing.

Yes, you want to “break your board” but achieving your goal is incidental to aiming somewhere else.
The first example that comes to mind relates to signings. Few authors like doing unpublicized signings where you feel like you’re guilting passersby into buying your book.  Still, these authors may go to their signing and say to themselves, “I want to sell twenty books.”

Well, here’s another hint: authors who go into a signing with the sole goal of selling X number of books probably aren’t going to sell that many unless they have a solid elevator speech down and a very universal book. You know what most authors do who have the art of signing down? They don’t go in wanting to sell X number of books. They go in trying to create X number of impressions.

·         I will sign 50 people up for my newsletter.
·         I will talk to 100 people.
·         I’m taking 200 bookmarks and not leaving with any.
·         I will learn every employee’s name on duty and leave a store copy of my book for them to read.

Things like that—things that actually connect you with people and create an open a dialogue. Things that people will remember about you and be able to talk about to others.

“Oh, I met that author at Costco. She was way nice and her book sounded interesting.”

That statement goes a lot further in advancing your cause than:

“Oh, I met that author at Costco one day. SO pushy! It took me like five minutes to get away from him.”

Remember, people rarely buy anything the first time they see it unless they are highly incentivized by an experience or an endorsement that they trust implicitly. On average, people need 7-20 exposures before they will give something a try. Remember that, and make it your goal to create as many impressions as possible to the same target demographic. Then the sales will come.

The most damaging lies are the ones that sound good—the ones that seem like they should be true. Practice makes perfect. Sounds good, right? All your effort turning into something perfect over time? But any ninja can tell you that practice does not make perfect.

Practice makes habit.

If you practice something wrong over and over and over, you will do it wrong very well. And you will likely become so entrenched and invested in doing it wrong that you will not be open to helpful directions from someone who sees your error. After all, you’ve put so much effort in mastering how to do it poorly.

Just because you’ve always done something a certain way, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting the best benefit out of what you’re doing. The #1 thing you can do is keep an open ear when people around you mention things they see that are problematic. And when I say this, I’m talking mainly about outsiders who have no emotional involvement in your book or its marketing. People who are just going about their day, see what you’re doing and say, “Um, based on my experience, this might work for you.”
These are people to listen to.

For example, for several years I coached students who competed in the Sport Karate circuit. My specialty was forms. Yes, I did choreography but the real reason people came to me was to get rid of the flaws in their technique that would lead to a series of minor deductions that could potentially take them off the podium. As a coach, I didn’t care how advanced their routine was or how many flips they did. I cared if their kick was a kick, their punch was a punch, and whether they knew how to land in a stance.

Most didn’t.

They were so caught up in being flashy, that they literally couldn’t even stand correctly. If I were to hold something up in front of their punch while they were doing their form, they’d likely break a wrist. Many of these students were so interested in looking cool that the basics had suffered. As a result, they were coming to me baffled that they were losing in competitions when they could land a 720 or do a back flip out of a ball kick.

The diagnosis was simple: they had practiced imperfectly, and now were only capable of doing very flawed forms with a whole lot of attitude and confidence.

It takes a lot of humility to go back to the basics once you think they no longer apply to you. Some of my students didn’t. They were convinced that it didn’t matter what their feet looked like when they landed or how solid their punch was before they moved into a barrel role. They saw me as a killjoy for stopping them after the first kick of their form, correcting them, and making them drill something as simple as a sidekick. I mean, c’mon! They were black belts and that was white belt stuff.

Needless to say, those students didn’t have many sessions with me and went on to find coaches that said things they wanted to hear, all the while continuing to be baffled—claiming tournaments were rigged when they continued not to place.

I’ll bet you can tell me what happened with the students who went back to the basics, practiced them perfectly, and created new habits, though.

Be open to casual critiques—especially if the person making them has nothing to gain or lose by you following their advice.

Another dangerous lie, so seductive because it seems so inherently true. But tell me, are ninjas “themselves”? Do they show up to “work” in what they wear around the house?

No. They don’t. We all know a ninja when we see them, because we know what they wear. And when people see you, they need to know they’re seeing an author.

Embrace it: you’re an author. People WANT you to have some level of prestige and mystique. They want to remember you. They want to look at you and see something that compels them to read what you have written. As a rule, you are selling them fantasy—an escape. So don’t show up looking like someone who lives down the street. They know that story.

Embody your work in how you present yourself. Let readers see what they’re buying the moment they see you and your set up. Let the people stop who are on your wave length and let those who hurry past hurry past. You don’t want to waste your time with someone who will politely hear you out and then run away as soon as there’s an opening because you write romance and he’s a fifty-year-old divorced man who only reads presidential biographies.

Let him go… with a bookmark if that’s one of your goals, but let that fish swim!

Representing your protagonists and NOT being yourself is one of the best things you can do at a signing. After all, very few readers actually care about you, personally. No offense, but they don’t. You are a ninja to them—mysterious. The messenger. Most people imagine authors are some elusive creature that sees the world in a way they just can’t.

Embrace the legacy authors before you have established. Build on it! Because here’s another hint: If you shatter or are unable to maintain that illusion, people will just assume you’re not a good author, which only makes them feel better about not getting your book.

Remember, to be a ninja you must defy the status quo. You must live in the now and resist the pull to live and act as if your imaginings of the future hold sway in the present. You must leave your comfort zone and do things that lie outside your fantasy plan but will be highly effective in reality. You need to aim beyond the mark of simply creating book sales to creating positive impressions, while realizing that doing what you’ve always done may not be the best option. You may need to have objective third parties take a look at your trajectory and then listen to changes they think you should consider. And you also need to realize that being perceived as an author is more important to readers than being perceived as you. Like a ninja, you need to personify what you’re about when you go to task. Leave the ordinary you at home, and go out and kick some butt.

That’s how ninjas get the job done.

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