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Marketing: Think Of Your Readers’ Tastes & Habits, Not Your Own

Marketing: Think of Your Readers’ Tastes & Habits, Not Your Own

headshot of JJ Marsh

JJ Marsh turns the spotlight on her readers

Bestselling crime writer JJ Marsh, based in Switzerland, describes the light-bulb moment when she realized that marketing wasn't about her, but about her readers, and describes how this became a turning point in her fortunes as an indie author.


You Are Not Selling To Yourself

In the last year, marketing has started to make sense. Like so many authors, I loathed trying to sell my books and found the whole business an embarrassing, dispiriting struggle. But I persevered. Because pug food doesn’t grow on trees.

I bought books on marketing, subscribed to ad courses, listened to gurus and tried to apply what I learned. Finally I stopped dragging my heels and started my own newsletter.

Then came the revelation. In the very first session of Tammi LeBrecque’s Newsletter Ninja, she said this:

You are not your reader

That might seem obvious to you smarter ALLis out there, but it changed my whole mindset. Of course I hated marketing while I was trying to sell to a mirror image of myself.

Right after reading that, I changed strategy and tested some techniques I’d always avoided because they wouldn’t appeal to me.

box set of six Beatrice Stubbs books

JJ Marsh writes the highly acclaimed international Beatrice Stubbs crime thriller series

Me vs My Readers

Let’s compare me and my reader.

  • I am a middle-aged, British indie writer living in Switzerland. I’m the author of a European crime series. I like travel, Prosecco and Netflix.
  • My target reader is Betty from Columbus, Ohio. She’s retired and belongs to a library and a book club. She likes baking, crockpots and the Acorn TV channel.

Author Newsletters

I don’t subscribe to author newsletters. I have never responded to one in my life no matter how many emojis are in the subject line.

Betty does. She writes back, saying she likes hearing my news and the ‘colorful headline’ always cheers her up. She answers my which-title/cover-do-you-prefer questions and tells me she’s been checking out the book locations on Google Maps.

Out of 1.5K subscribers, over 20% are just like Betty.

Advertising & Other Forms of Extroversion

Hard-sell advertising, clichéd copy and boastful claims put me off rather than attract my attention.

Not so my readership. ‘Nancy Drew for adults’ is one of my most successful straplines under an ad so far. ‘SHOP NOW’ is more effective than ‘FIND OUT MORE’ as a call to action. Sticking five individual stars on the ad actually works.

Attitude to Facebook

I wouldn’t dream of commenting on a Facebook ad, and unless I know the author, I rarely ‘like’ pages.

Betty and her friends have whole conversations on my ads. Since I’ve realised I’m not actually talking to myself, I tentatively started inviting some of those engagers to ‘Like’ the page. They’re now steaming along to the 5K mark.

I’ve never joined a Facebook group to discuss an author’s books. I’m too busy trying to write (and sell) my own.

When I bit the bullet and set up my fans’ group on my author page, I almost spontaneously combusted at my own arrogance. “I’ll give it three days and if not even my sister has joined, I’m taking it down.” Today I’m preparing a signed copy for the 200th member.

Result: More Readers, Soaring Sales

photo of JJ Marsh's pet pugs

Will write for pugs.

This change in mindset has resulted in a steady increase in sales, a committed readership and a reassuringly large bag of kibble for the pugs.

It has also enabled my husband to quit his job to market my books full-time. One stage removed from being the author, he shares none of my qualms and happily uses every tactic going to connect my books to the right readers.

Betty has been joined by Bec in Australia, Bill in the UK and Bonnie in Canada. We’re learning all the time what type of marketing appeals to each kind of reader, because it does differ.

But what we do know for sure – not one of them is me.

OVER TO YOU What was your lightbulb moment in moving from indie author wannabe to soaraway success? We'd love to hear about your experience.

#Indieauthors - don't market to someone like yourself - get to know your readers and sell to them instead! @JJMarsh1 explains how this approach has made her sales soar. Click To Tweet


Author: Jill Marsh

Writer, journalist, teacher, actor, director and cultural trainer, Jill has lived and worked all over Europe. Now based in Switzerland, Jill is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs Series, a founder member of Triskele Books, European correspondent for Words with JAM magazine, co-editor of Swiss literary hub The Woolf and a reviewer for Bookmuse. For more about JJ Marsh's writing life, visit her author website.


This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. Jill, that was a great post. So true and to the point. It reminded me of my ten years’ sales experiences and one lesson I learned: No one buys what they don’t want. Give them what they need and you will sell.

    So, the trick is to find out what people need and give it to them.

  2. Kudos, this is what I *try* to do. And like you, I’ve got to keep kibble in the bowl for the Karma-Kat and Bravo-Dawg (he’s 100 lbs and growing!). I need to do this better, and appreciate the gentle kick in the nether regions.

  3. Great post, Jill! I also bought Tammi Labrecque’s “Newsletter Ninja” book recently and that phrase “you are not your reader” leapt off the page at me! It made so much sense and I love her humour at getting across her message. My current mailing list is minuscule but when I tested out the principle with an “either/or” question I was amazed at the responses I got, and the enthusiasm that I picked up in the replies blew me away!
    As a family historian who writes genealogy mysteries I already interact by default with many of my readers on Twitter, sharing research discoveries and posting queries etc but my plan is to crank things up some more. So I’ve just finished writing a reader magnet novella to use to increase my mailing list as a first step. Your post is very encouraging!

  4. Oh my, this is marvelous! My current series is for 9-12 year olds, so a bit harder to reach through the social media platforms (except Instagram and Pinterest) but I do use social media to reach their parents and grandparents. My five-year plan is to have an adult series out and I can definitely see how your suggestions will be valuable! I think I’m putting the reader in my mind, but this post flushed out some of the things I might have pooh-poohed…and made me rethink about them. Thanks much!

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