Writing a book is a Herculean task. It takes years of work to get your ideas, stories, or philosophy down on paper in a way that really speaks to your readers. But once the book is done and it’s time to start promoting your book, it can be much more daunting to explain your work through marketing channels that don’t offer you the luxury of hundreds of pages of space that books do. Book promotions require you to communicate succinctly, sometimes in a few sentences, and in a context where readers aren’t already “bought in” to your perspective (like scrolling through their Facebook feed). So it’s important to work on “messaging” yourself and your work in a way that fits these more dare-I-say “superficial” mediums.
Whether you’re being interviewed for radio or TV, writing marketing copy, building a website to showcase your work, or explaining your ideas in writing for a guest article, these tips will help you to express your ideas in a more compelling and clear way:
- Remember, They’re Not In Your Head One of my writing mentors once defined the process of writing as “communicating well enough so that others see what you see.” I consider this to be the foundation of good messaging, and it informs all of the other points in this article. I can’t tell you how often I see authors (and others) making this mistake in their marketing copy, blog posts, articles, or media interviews. They fail to take an “outside perspective” on their work and make major assumptions about their readers, which manifest as obscure points, using “insider language,” or just plain lazy thinking. So when you set out to develop your suite of messaging materials, which includes titles, taglines, interview talking points, and marketing copy, make sure you strive to view your work as if you’ve never heard of it before. Look at yourself from the outside and always pass your messaging through that same filter. It will be hard at first, but will soon become natural.
- Assume They Have No Idea Who You Are I once had a client who wanted to follow up his first book, a New York Times bestseller that we’ll call “Great Wisdom,” with a sequel entitled “Great Wisdom for Business.” He was hoping to mimic the success of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series model. I implored him not to do it, because I wanted to use the second book to appeal to a new group of readers, in the business world, who had no idea who he was and had never heard of his first book. But he did it anyway, and the second book sold many fewer copies than his first. There’s a lesson here that applies to every aspect of your messaging, from book titles to Amazon promo copy to interview talking points: Always assume no one knows who you are. Don’t use insider language or refer to concepts that require people to be card-carrying members of your fan club. Even if they do know who you are, they won’t be annoyed by you re-explaining your concepts . . . and it will usually be better writing or speaking.
- Imagine Your Readers Are 14-Years-Old I previously worked as a journalist, and in my first magazine job, our editorial team had one primary criteria for all our articles: could a 14-year-old understand this? The same goes for any kind of promotional writing or speaking about your book. Be simple. Don’t try to impress people with your highfalutin knowledge. They won’t be impressed, and they’ll certainly be confused. Force yourself to break down even your most sophisticated concepts into easily understandable nuggets. You often won’t have more than 50 words or a few minutes to explain yourself, so do it simply. Don’t worry, this isn’t “dumbing down” your work. It will actually make you appear more brilliant. The most influential thinkers are those who can take profound concepts and make them conceivable to the rest of us.
- Don’t Bury the Lead Early on in my career, I sat in on a session with a media coach who was working with one of my author clients. She was trying with all her might to get him to answer each question within 10 seconds. Her logic was sound: If you can get to the point right up front, you’ll be prepared if the interviewer moves on quickly. If there’s more time to expand, you can still do so. This lesson applies to writing also. In articles or marketing copy, many authors love to “bury the lead” and build complex arguments that only pay off at the end of the piece. But it’s always better to deliver your key points right up front (for the skimmers of the world, of which there are more and more), and then expand on them as you progress.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Redundancy One of the defining characteristics of good messaging is redundancy. Once you’ve locked in your key points (for speaking and writing) you should stick to them, and say them over and over and over again. This helps you to maintain brand consistency and to make sure that you’re always putting your best messaging out there. You might find this boring, but remember, you’re the only person reading or hearing all of it. For most readers of your articles or listeners to your interviews, this will be the one and only time they hear your points. And since you’ve worked so hard to develop them, why reinvent the wheel?
Of course, there is a lot more depth and nuance to good messaging, but if you can pull off these five points you’ll be well on your way. I hope you’ll take them into consideration and do the hard work of preparing yourself for the book promotion phase that awaits you once the book is done. I’d love to hear any of your experiences, questions, critiques, or advice on any of what I’ve shared in the comments!