One of the most brilliant marketers in the Old Testament was Queen Esther. What can modern-day authors learn about marketing from an ancient queen? More than you might think.
Esther was the Queen of Persia, and she was in a tough marketing position. She had presumably fallen out of favor with the king since he hadn’t asked to see her in more than 30 days.
Sadly, Esther’s people, the Jews, were scheduled to be executed the following year according to the recently codified law of the Medes and Persians, which couldn’t be overturned or revoked.
This policy complicated Esther’s situation. She needed to ask the king to spare her people from execution without revoking the law that mandated her people’s execution.
Further complicating the problem was that the king had not summoned Esther. To approach the king without being summoned was a suicide mission. She would be executed for her audacity. If, however, the king extended his scepter to her as she approached, it would be a sign of his favor, and she would be spared.
Esther had to make a big ask with high stakes in a complicated system.
When Esther approached the king, he did extend his scepter and was quite glad to see her. He offered to grant her any request, up to half his kingdom.
But Esther was a winsome queen. She didn’t lead with a desperate plea for the lives of her people, though that was her purpose. Instead, she invited the king to a banquet in his honor.
At the first banquet, she still refrained from asking him to save her people and instead invited him to a second banquet. When the second banquet was finished, she finally made her request.
What can authors learn from Esther?
Many authors are like Queen Esther in that they’re not in favor with their readers. Beginning authors don’t have thousands of readers anticipating their next books. Unknown authors may have zero people waiting to read.
Asking a stranger to buy your book is a big ask. Why should they buy your book if they don’t know who you are?
Take Away #1: Timing Changes Everything
There is an old saying that you must strike while the iron is hot. Shaping metal through blacksmithing is more about timing than effort. If you let the iron cool, you won’t be able to form the desired angle regardless of how hard you strike it. Striking while the iron is hot allows you to reform the metal.
In Esther’s story, the king’s assistant, Haman, was the bad guy. Coincidentally (or, as it turns out, providentially), Haman had scheduled the execution of Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, on the day after the second banquet.
But that very night, the king had a terrible time going to sleep. He asked for his favorite story to be read to him, which happened to be the record of his own life. When his attendant read the part about a man named Mordecai who foiled a plot to assassinate the king, the king asked, “What honor has Mordecai received for saving me?”
“Nothing has been done for him,” replied the attendant.
In the next moments, Haman, the king’s assistant, walked in to ask the king’s permission to execute Mordecai, but before he spoke, the king asked Haman, “What should be done for a man the king desires to honor?
Believing the king was planning to honor him, Haman detailed an elaborate parade to distinguish the honorable man.
Timing is Everything
If Haman had asked for Mordecai’s execution one day earlier, Mordecai likely would have been killed. But as it was, he was a day late, and that timing changed everything. In the intervening time, the king had learned that Mordecai had saved his life.
Haman tried to divine the best time for his pogrom by casting lots (which were called Purim). He thought that if he could just find the right time, the universe would make his life easier.
But Esther made her own good timing. Esther took action, while Haman was passive. Followers of Christ must take action. It’s easy to think laziness is holiness. Esther asked her attendants, her uncle, and all her people to fast and pray for her, and then she took action.
Good timing can be manufactured. When the king asked a third time what Esther wanted, she made her urgent request.
Take Away #2: Throw a Banquet First
To think like Esther, you must change your marketing mindset.
Throw a banquet for your readers before you ask them to buy your book. Commit to seeing marketing as an act of service rather than self-promotion.
How do you throw a banquet for your readers? You could throw them a literal banquet at your launch party. When I launched my book, I hosted a banquet and 1950s-style dance. I can confirm that approach works because I sold a lot of books.
But if you’re not ready to launch, take a cue from Jesus.
Jesus said that you must be a servant if you want to have followers (Mathew 20:26). If you serve people well, they will want to follow you.
Think About Your Followers
I recommend putting a sticky note on your computer that asks, “How can I bless my followers today?” That simple question will keep you from always talking about yourself and help you focus on writing that will bless your followers.
Listen to Your Followers
Ask your followers how you can serve them. If you don’t know who your followers are, how can you bless them? Spend time listening to your readers so you can understand their hopes and fears.
Write for Your Followers
Write your book for your audience rather than trying to find an audience for your book. Writing for your followers is a mindset shift for many authors. To make this mindset shift, think like a magazine editor. Create content for the preexisting group of followers you already have rather than trying to find a new group of readers for every new book.
Successful indie authors use this mindset to make massive money and grow lucrative platforms.
Publishers who are moving to this mindset are doing very well. For years, Seth Godin has been urging writers to find a book for the audience rather than finding an audience for the book.
You can build a strong author brand by writing for your readers.
How can you bless your blog followers?
Review and Recommend Similar Books
Contrary to popular belief, similar books are not your competition. As you recommend good books that your readers love, you’ll become a trusted source for book recommendations on your topic or in your genre. The most voracious readers want to read more books than you can write in a year. They will get their recommendations from someone, so why not curate a list so they come to you? When your book releases, they’ll be eager to buy it.
Reviewing similar books also forces you to read in your genre. Familiarity with the genre is the difference between successful and struggling authors.
Novelists need to understand the tropes of the genre and what readers expect. Nonfiction writers must know what other experts are saying so they’ll know where their voice and topic fit into the conversation.
The forward of my book, Courtship in Crisis, is written by Debra Fileta, who is arguably my biggest competitor. Her book is called True Love Dates. I liked her book, yet I didn’t see her as a competitor. While we agreed on many things, our topics, approaches, and books were different enough for us to work together. I introduced Debra to my audience, and she introduced me to hers.
If people email you questions about your book, write a blog post that answers them. You could write a single email reply, but if you publish your answer on your blog, other readers will get to hear your answer too. Instead of blessing just one reader, you can bless many!
How can you bless your email subscribers?
Give Away Short Stories
Giving away short stories is a great way to build anticipation for your upcoming novel. You can write a prequel or novella featuring characters and settings from your book. You can also email those short stories to your subscribers to thank them for being on your list.
Another way to prepare a banquet for your readers is to offer discounts. Make sure they are the first to know when your book is for sale or on sale.
Review and Recommend Similar Books
If you’re posting book reviews on your blog, why not also provide those reviews to your email subscribers? You may even want to automate the process through WordPress or your email service provider so that your post is automatically emailed to your subscribers every time you blog.
How can you bless your social media followers?
I’m not big on social media, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still throw a banquet for your follower there. If you plan to spend time on social media, do it in a way that edifies your followers.
Make Them Laugh
Many social media users are looking for levity. They want a break from the stress of the world, and they often come to social media looking for a laugh. Funny people get more followers because people want to laugh. Not every topic lends itself to humor, but if yours does, funny will get you followers.
Pray for Them
When Mary DeMuth asked her readers what they wanted, they said, “Prayer.” She began writing and posting prayers for her followers on Twitter and Instagram. Her followers loved it so much that she started a podcast called Pray Every Day, which has been incredibly successful.
Give Personal Encouragement
Powerful encouragement is often personal encouragement. You can encourage a group by saying, “Hey! You can do this!” But it’s more powerful to speak to one person and say, “Hey Joe, you can do this!”
Authors are eager to use one-to-many communication tools, but one-to-one communication is far more powerful. Have your life-changing moments come from one-to-many interactions where someone speaks to a huge group from the stage. Or have they come from memorable one-to-one interactionswith another person or in a small group?
Social media is moving toward one-to-one communication. Young people prefer SnapChat, over Facebook because it’s a one-to-one messaging platform. The trend is toward personalization, and users expect more personalized interaction.
Review Similar Books
Again, you can review and recommend similar books on your social media, podcast, blog, and email newsletter.
Some people try to game the system by posting book reviews on their blogs all the time. You may think those blogs would be a good place to have your book reviewed. Sadly, those sites get almost no traffic. They are run by bloggers who stopped reviewing books for readers and started using their reviews to get free books.
Don’t waste your time setting up a blog tour on blogs that receive no traffic. Having your book reviewed on one popular blog can be more effective than 10,000 unpopular blogs.
Putting it Into Practice
I would like to put this into practice and ask you how I can better serve you with this podcast.
- Which episodes have you enjoyed? Which haven’t you enjoyed?
- What topics would you like me to talk about more?
- Where are you on your publishing journey? Published? Just getting started?
- Where are you headed? Are you planning to walk the traditional or indie route?
Be creative and prayerful as you throw a banquet for your readers. Every book has a hook for a unique banquet. Hosting a 1950s-style dance was a unique idea for my book about traditional dating, but that wouldn’t work for every book.
Find those creative ways to serve your followers, and you will grow your reach and platform. The bigger your platform gets, the more potential you’ll have to change the world.
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