On Book Marketing: An Interview with Jane Friedman

Have you met Jane Friedman?

If not, I’m happy to introduce you—at least virtually, in this email. You can say hello and ask her questions live if you register for her March 23 masterclass with MWW, “From Anxious to Savvy: How Every Author Can Build a Lifetime Book Marketing Foundation,” (there’s also a recording). And if you come to MWW24 this July 11-13 in Muncie, IN, you can meet her in person—she’s our Friday night keynote!

Jane is the premiere authority on all things publishing. Whatever your publications plans are—even if you don’t have any yet—she has a wealth of information for you on her blog, website, and in the workshops she offers (like the one she’s doing with MWW on March 23. Did I mention that already?).

You’ll find her bio below this Q & A, but you can find out even more information about her on her website, which has a wealth of resources to peruse for writers at any stage of their publishing path. I highly recommend subscribing to her blog and newsletter Electric Speed (she has others, too!) for topical information and insights from Jane, as well as experienced and award-winning authors—many of whom teach top-quality writing classes through her site.

Sign up for Jane’s Upcoming Masterclass with MWW

Q&A with Jane


MWW: How is a marketing plan different from an author platform?

JF: This is a big area of confusion, so let’s start by defining platform. Once we hopefully agree on that, I think it becomes obvious how platform is not a marketing plan.

Platform as a writing and publishing concept first arose in connection with nonfiction authors. Sometime during the 1990s, agents and publishers began rejecting nonfiction projects when the author lacked a “platform.” At the time—before the internet—publishers wanted authors to be in the public eye in some way (usually through mainstream media appearances) with the ability to easily spread the word to sell books. Sometimes “platform” is used as shorthand for a writer’s celebrity factor, especially online. Because of that, platform gets conflated with a social media following. But that’s not really what platform is; impressive online followings tend to be the result of having a platform.

At its heart, platform is all about the visibility of you or your work. You want your work to be seen and most writers want to grow their readership, which typically leads to more earnings or earnings opportunities. Platform is particularly important to the extent that you want or expect to earn a living from your writing and publishing.

Unfortunately, building platform is often associated with marketing and promotion tasks used to bring attention to a book or product launch (e.g., being a podcast guest or getting the attention of a Bookstagram influencer). While platform gives you the power to market a book effectively on your own (because you have a popular newsletter or TikTok account, for example, or you’re close friends with Oprah), it’s not something you develop by engaging solely in marketing tasks. People don’t follow you to hear marketing and promotion messages, right?

So platform is not about self-promotion or hard selling, being an extrovert, or pleading “Look at me!” It’s about consistently producing work or sharing a message or building a reputation that attracts other people to you.


MWW: What’s the best way for an author to keep up with the rapidly changing tools and techniques for building a marketing plan?

JF: I’ll be honest: even I don’t keep up with all the tools, and I have to be selective about where I spend my time. It’s not possible to do it all. You aren’t going to find me producing TikTok videos, for instance, because I personally prefer text-driven channels, like email newsletters or Threads.

Most authors are best served by focusing on the platforms or tools that are inherently appealing to them or best show off their work. That’s going to vary from author to author. I know it’s hard to ignore the trends—like how much BookTok sells books right now in romance—but I see too many writers splintering themselves, trying to do too much. You’re better served by focusing on one or two things you do very well and building meaningful relationships in the category/genre you’re active in.

I’m in the process of building a marketing plan right now for the second edition of my book, THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER, and I’m capitalizing on the relationships and communities that know me best, and appearing in ways that fit my strengths. That mainly involves being a guest on podcasts or on YouTube channels, and doing Q&As for email newsletters like this one. That doesn’t mean I’d turn down opportunities or invites in new venues, of course, but once I’ve set my strategy and what I want to accomplish, I prefer to choose tactics that aren’t going to put me on my backfoot.


MWW: I hear a lot of authors say that they aren’t really active on social media, so it’s hard for them to maintain an online presence. What advice do you have for them to do so, and is it a necessary component of their marketing plan?

JF: Good news: it’s not necessary, plus there’s much more to an online presence than your own social media activity. More important, if you decide to use social media strictly to market and promote your book, don’t bother. You have already failed. Social media works best when you’re already a known and valued member of the community who’s been showing up, being active and supporting others.

Even if you don’t use social media—or if you don’t have a blog, podcast or newsletter to support your book launch—you can benefit from the fact other people have them, and “borrow” their audience. Consider pitching yourself as a guest or contributor, look for Q&A opportunities, or otherwise try to get featured by those who reach your target audience. This is where knowing your comparable titles/authors is so helpful, because you can look for places in the media these comps showed up for their book launch, and use that as a foundation for getting started.


MWW: Will you list a few “real life” ways for writers to market their books?

JF: Independent bookstores! However, bookseller support is more likely when an author has built a relationship with their local or regional independent bookseller over many years prior to their book’s release—by being a loyal customer and involved community member. Some authors go out of their way to support their independent bookstore as part of their book launch or overall marketing campaign. For example, they might “adopt” an indie bookstore to be their fulfillment center for anyone who wants a signed copy. When authors do that, it gives the bookstore something to offer that their competitors can’t.

Conferences, festivals, and events can play an important role in marketing, mainly because they help create an impression or a footprint. When you go to any event, especially in another city, it’s not just about the books sold, but the people you speak with—about making connections and building a network that will persist long afterward. Events also make it much easier to get media coverage, which can boost sales even if event turnout is low.

Which brings me to local or regional media coverage. With time and persistence, authors can secure such publicity, but this requires developing multiple high-quality pitches that fit the style, tone, and needs of the media outlets you’re pitching. And doing that well takes considerable research. Once you start pitching, you’ll hear mostly “no” (or silence). The people who succeed are those who aren’t deterred, keep refining their pitch, and stay alert for opportunities to pitch again.

The most important thing to remember: Nobody cares that you wrote a book. So don’t lead your pitch with the book. Lead with the hook or the story, and why it’s of interest to the media outlet’s readership.


MWW: What’s the greatest takeaway you hope for from your upcoming masterclass, “From Anxious to Savvy: How Every Author Can Build a Lifetime Book Marketing Foundation”?

JF: When writers conflate book marketing with social media, they can suffer burnout and question whether it’s really a useful practice. For long-term sustainability, it’s best to focus on cultivating stronger relationships, whether online or offline, and partnering with other organizations, businesses, and individuals to extend your visibility. Sometimes it’s about creating and pushing out more work—being prolific—which may be preferable for writers who don’t feel like their strength is in building relationships.


MWW: Oh and hey, I hear that the second edition of your book, The Business of Being a Writer, is being released by the University of Chicago Press in 2025. Congratulations! What can readers expect from this updated version?

JF: I devoted an entire part of the book to the core components of platform building, and I included two full chapters on book marketing: one that offers high-level book marketing and promotion advice, mostly geared to traditionally published authors, and another one focused on the needs of self-published authors. If my publisher agrees to add some more pages, there will also be a full part devoted to tax basics and business formation for writers.

Read More About Jane

Jane Friedman has 25 years of experience in the media and publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, a paid newsletter about the book publishing industry, and has previously worked for Writer’s Digest and the Virginia Quarterly Review. In 2023, Jane was awarded Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World; her newsletter was awarded Media Outlet of the Year in 2020.

In summer 2023, Jane had a disconcerting experience with AI book fraud. Here’s roundup of the extensive coverage and interviews about what happened.

Jane’s most recent book is The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal. Publishers Weekly said that it is “destined to become a staple reference book for writers and those interested in publishing careers.” A second edition will release in spring 2025.

Jane’s expertise on publishing has been featured across countless media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Wired, BBC, The Guardian, CBC, The Washington Post, NPR, and Fox News. She offers a free newsletter, Electric Speed, published since 2009, that has more than 25,000 subscribers. Her paid newsletter, The Hot Sheet, has more than 2,500 subscribers. In collaboration with The Authors Guild, she wrote The Authors Guild Guide to Self-Publishing.

Since 2001, Jane has delivered keynote talks across the globe, including the Writer’s Digest annual conference, Stockholm Writers Festival, San Miguel Writers Conference, The Muse & The Marketplace, and Digital Book World.

She’s also served on grant panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund, and is on the advisory board for the The Facing Project. For a while she flirted with academia, holding positions as a professor of writing, media, and publishing at the University of Cincinnati and University of Virginia.

In her spare time, Jane writes creative nonfiction, which has been included in the anthologies Every Father’s Daughter and Drinking Diaries. If you look hard enough, you can also find her embarrassing college poetry and secret newsletter.

Upcoming Masterclass with Jane Friedman

“From Anxious to Savvy: How Every Author Can Build a Lifetime Book Marketing Foundation”

If you’re the kind of writer who likes to ask, “What’s the single most important marketing activity I should focus on?” (because you don’t have time for anything else), this session is for you.

No matter how you plan to publish, or what you publish, every author must give some thought to marketing themselves as an author. But given how fast tools and techniques change—and how hard it is to attract attention—how can an author figure out what’s worthwhile to focus on?

This masterclass helps authors focus on the foundational elements that are most important to career-long book marketing, the bare minimum required for an online presence, and how to approach marketing when many of the traditional methods of publicity don’t work so well, given dwindling media coverage and review opportunities. This session will provide a framework for developing a strategy and approach that’s appropriate for your strengths and your work.

Saturday, March 23

Student Discounts available

Sign up for Jane’s Upcoming Masterclass with MWW


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