I love authors.

Being one myself, I know I’m biased. I’ll own that. But the label “author” is actually so voluminous, so broad and encompassing, that a statement like “I love authors” doesn’t narrow things down in the least. There are, after all, authors who work from makeshift writing spaces in the utility room of their trailer home, authors who write from cafes and coffee shops, authors who write using expensive pens and stationary and authors who write exclusively on word processing software and beige-box computers from the 80s. There are authors who live with sixty cats in a one-bedroom rental and writers who live in castles imported from Europe, stone-by-stone, to the Florida coast.

There are as many types of authors as there are types of stories. To me, the authors are the story.

In my daily work, I tend to deal with a particular type of author, namely the self-published, indie author who is plucking away toward a dream of financial success, with books as their vehicle. And for these authors, marketing is a topic of keen interest—as well it should be! Marketing is, after all, the key to that dream and success. And we authors of this indie ilk, the author who understands that marketing is the way, we are always looking for marketing opportunities.

When I hear or read that phrase—marketing opportunity—something about it always makes me picture smoky offices crammed with cubicles, guys wearing white collard shirts and loosened neck ties, sleeves rolled to their elbows, styrofoam cups of coffee stained around their rims, and Alec Baldwin saying things like, “Coffee is for closers!”

Doesn’t feel right for our space.

And I think I know why. It’s because for authors—and I suppose this is probably true for anyone marketing anything, especially something they’ve crafted and created with their own hearts and hands—but for authors, the opportunity to market our work is the marketing. Which really works out, considering the title of this blog post.

Over the years, through author coaching and in this blog, I’ve often shared my definition for marketing, when it comes to authors and their books:

Marketing is anything that increases and improves the odds that the reader will discover your book at the moment they are most prepared to purchase it.

Authors are always asking about things like social media, Facebook advertising, blogs, video content, billboards, first-in-series-free, ARC giveaways, and hundreds, even thousands of other things.

Should I be doing this? Will this help sell more books?

That second question is a good one. That’s the question you should always ask, every time you try something or commit to something. But that first question is the one that plagues us. Should I be doing this?

The unspoken second half of that question would be, Is this a waste of time/money/resources?

And the answer is, yes and no.

The things about marketing is there is always a cost. You should always expect to pay some price for the attempt to reach readers and let them know about your book. There will be money. There will be time. Both are part of the negotiation. The amount of each is what you have to work with. That’s what we’re going to refer to as “opportunity.”

The Inverse Relationship of Time and Money

First, an unbreakable rule about the economy of marketing: There are a lot of financially free ways to market your book, but there’s no way to avoid spending time.

In fact, the less you spend financially, the more time you’ll spend, and vice versa.

That’s because time and money have a sort of inverse relationship—money is a shortcut for saving time. If you have a budget that will allow it, you can cut a lot of time out of the marketing process by strategically spending. You can use your budget to maximize your reach, to get your book in front of readers where they’re most primed to buy, or to at least take note of you and your book (or books).

Money lets you buy targeted ads, and more money lets you refine and fine-tune those ads to reach your specific audience. Money lets you buy exposure, getting you into high-traffic areas of attention such as national or international mass media outlets, billboards, high-profile sponsorships, and anything that lets you associate your name and your book with something or someone that has a large audience.

There’s a reason big corporations have their names on sporting arenas. Money, and lots of it, gives them the ability to leverage the popularity of a sport and a particular sports franchise, so they can benefit from the goodwill. We know this instinctively.

If you don’t have the budget for that sort of thing, then you can work to accomplish the same results by putting in time. You spend time doing activities that bring you closer to the readers you want to reach, including time building an “author platform” via social media and email newsletters, time attending events such as reader-facing conferences (in-person or virtual), time connecting with readers in groups, time writing blog posts and making videos and other content that readers can discover.

Time is more expensive than money, but it’s also a resource you come with pre-loaded, so it’s often the first expense paid for marketing yourself and your work.

So here’s where “opportunity” comes into play.

Since time is an inevitable expense for marketing your work, you’ll want to be strategic about how you spend that time. You’ll want to look for the best opportunities that will bring you the most results, at the least cost. Because, as the saying goes, you can make more money, but time spent is time gone forever.

I may have made up that saying just now, but you get it.

The point is, you’ll want to be looking for opportunities everywhere. And you’ll want to always be looking.

Basically, if you’re doing it right, marketing becomes a lifestyle.

When my wife and I go to restaurants, one thing I like to do is leave a card alongside whatever I’m leaving for a tip. On one side of the card is an interesting bit of art from one of my book covers. On the other is the phrase “Get a free thriller novel!” followed by a URL they can visit. If they go there, they can sign up to my mailing list and download a free ebook I’ve made especially for them.

Since we’re currently driving around the US in our conversion van (#vanlife), and have been for almost two years now, I’ve given out thousands of these little cards. And every time someone uses one, they get on my mailing list. So dining out becomes a marketing opportunity.

Total cost for those cards, by the way, was about $50. It only takes one reader joining my list and going on to buy a copy of each of my books to cover that expense. In fact, I only have to sell 14 books total to pay for those cards. And with thousands of them floating around out there, those are good odds.

You don’t even have to pop for dinner to do this.

We just attended a Labor Day party hosted by some of our extended family, and were introduced to about 20 or so new people we’d never met. The topic of conversation will always, at some point, turn to “What do you do?” At which point I explain that I’m a thriller writer. That’s almost always enough of an excuse to hand out another of those cards.

Online, I’ve spent time writing blog posts that relate to my writing, and I’ve used those to set up recurring social media posts. I’ve saved pins on Pinterest, I post on Twitter and Facebook, I post on Instagram. And all of it is content that potential readers would enjoy.

Not sales pitches. Not “buy my book.” I write and create original content that will be interesting to readers, and I share it freely and as widely as possible. In each blog post there is, at the end, a call to action (CTA) to go find something of mine that might be fun to read, to buy the latest new release, or to get a free book for getting on my mailing list.

The content I create, in other words, creates new opportunities for me to reach more readers. This has a cumulative effect.

The cost to me is the time to craft the content and the time and money to spread that content around using social media. The benefit is greater discoverability, or the increased opportunity to have my books pop up in the right place at the time the reader is most prepared to buy it.

That’s the point of content marketing. You’re not asking for sales directly, but are instead creating useful content that attracts readers, and then giving them the opportunity to discover your books.

Opportunity is marketing.

If you approach marketing from this perspective, it shapes up to become a strategy. You become aware of the costs, in time and money, and you start focusing less on “how do I sell more books?” and more on “how do I increase the opportunity for readers to discover me and my books?”

That second focus is one that guarantees success.

It’s slower than you’d probably prefer. It takes time—the first and greatest cost of marketing is always time. But it should always be time well-spent, time used strategically, time leveraged to create more and more opportunities as you build. Again, it’s cumulative. You build and grow as you go, and eventually the investment of time can pay off better than even the biggest marketing budget could have accommodated.

Marketing is not Selling

Basically, stop trying to sell. That’s not what marketing is. Instead, start trying to improve your odds by improving your exposure, by creating more opportunities and by creating and finding and then exploiting the opportunities that come along.

Opportunity is marketing. So go find opportunity everywhere it’s hiding. Or better yet, go build it yourself.