As an employment attorney, consultant and executive coach I work with both employers and employees who are trying to navigate the changing workplace. And, because I have always wanted to be a writer (but doubted I could earn a living in the field), a number of years ago I decided to write books to complement my primary roles. Now that I gone through the process of developing, writing, and marketing six books as well as recently launching a new project that consists of shorter articles, I have learned about the incredible parallels between the advice I provide job seekers and the advice I wish I had received as I embarked upon my writing journey. And the biggest mistake I made was that it took me a long time to realize, writing was never about me. Let me explain.
When employees come to me discuss their career goals, they often tell me about their life-long dream to work in a certain industry or for a certain employer. They tell me about their passions and interests and their commitment to finding a job they love. Other job-seekers approach me at different points in their careers, when they are struggling to make ends meet and need to make a change to ensure they can stay afloat. All of this background information is useful for me to know as I get to know my potential clients. However, none of this information is relevant to their job search and none of it should be shared.
The reality is that even today, during #thegreatregisnation, the job-search is not about the job-seeker. It is about the employer. The way to win over a potential employer is not to alert them to the fact that you lost your job due to the pandemic, have a mortgage to pay, are facing growing medical bills, or need to work from home to handle child or parental caregiving needs and therefore absolutely, positively need this job. A prospective employer will see this desperation as a distraction that may and probably will prevent you from being productive. The way to impress an employer and get the coveted offer is to answer whether (a) you have the skills that they’re looking for, and (b) you can hit the ground running and get the job done. Even if you consider a particular vacancy to be your “dream job,” you don’t want to exude flowery proclamations about how excited you are about working for the company. Believe it or not, sharing that information can actually hurt your chances of landing the job. You need to remember that it’s not about you—it’s about what you can do for the company. This is even more true in the post-pandemic work environment.
Within the context of my job search, I almost learned this the hard way. A few years after I graduated law school, I left my first full-time job (with benefits) to enroll in a graduate program and become a student (again), just so I could qualify for an unpaid internship at a large entertainment company. I lived in my childhood bedroom as I went back to school and worked for free, all the time grinning ear to ear because I was pursuing my dream.
After completing my program and working at my internship for about thirteen months, I landed an interview for a full-time job in the entertainment industry. I approached the interview with confidence because a number of people at my internship knew the interviewer and had provided ringing endorsements of my qualifications. The interviewer and I had a comfortable and spirited conversation. I was fairly certain the job was mine.
As the end of our discussion neared, the interviewer slowly closed the file folder on his desk and asked, “Is there anything else you want to add?”
“Where’s my office? What font options are available for my nameplate? Can I get my business card printed vertically instead of horizontally just like the other creative types I’ve met? These were the questions that were swirling in my mind.
But because I felt like this was my last chance to show how much I wanted this job, I said something like this:
“I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am that you’re considering me for this position. I’m sure you’ve a lot of qualified candidates, but I can assure you that no one wants this job more than me. I spent the last thirteen months basically working for free at an entertainment company to get my foot in the door and now that I’m here, I want you to know I’ll do anything to make it work. I type more than ninety words a minute and I’ll even follow you around in your negotiations, take notes, and type them up for your review. Whatever you need, whatever it takes, I’ll get it done.”
The interviewer smiled at me awkwardly and said: “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I can assure you what I don’t need is an overpriced note-taker. As we’ve discussed over the last ninety minutes, I need someone who can get on a plane at a moment’s notice to go to a city where others might not necessarily want to travel. Upon arrival, I need someone to negotiate a deal, come back to the office, and get ready for the next assignment. That’s what I need. Thanks so much for your time.”
Ouch. I showed that I was desperate and love sick for the job, not a qualified savvy professional.
Thankfully, I was offered the job. But the comments the interviewer made left a lasting impression on me and reminded me of the reason that we work. Employers have limited budgets, now more than ever. They need someone to get the work done. They don’t care if you think that working for their company would be a dream come true, or that you’re willing to do tasks other than those for which they have a need.
I was lucky. Had I made those comments today, I doubt a job offer would have followed. In the post-pandemic work environment, the last emotion you want to broadcast is one of desperation. Here’s what I should have said:
“Thank you so much for asking. I’m confident that I have the exact skills to hit the ground running. You’ve a backlog of contracts that need to be negotiated. I’ll negotiate them. You have a list of destinations others don’t have the time to visit. I’m ready to book my flights. I have no concerns about my ability to perform the work, so my only remaining question is whether you’ve any concerns about my qualifications that I can address.”
So, I’m sure your question is how does this translate into relevant advice for writers. The fact is, the exact same parameters apply. When writing a book, I have come to learn that, just like my job search, it’s not about me–it’s about my readers and potential readers. I could post ongoing content about my qualifications and, regardless of what those are, many people will (understandably) not care. Where I went to school or where I worked doesn’t matter to my potential pool of readers. My readers have a problem and want to know if I can solve it. And this is true for the readers of most nonfiction books.
Think of it this way: you could be one of the world’s most incredible trainers and you could have the magic pill to help people lose weight. But, if you are marketing your book to an individual who can eat whatever she wants and has never stepped a foot in the gym, she just won’t care. The writing process, and more importantly, the process for marketing the book is not about you. It’s about the readers you want to attract.
This may seem obvious in your high-level marketing efforts, meaning if you are writing a weight loss book you likely know to target those who struggle with their weight. But, this advice should trickle down to everything you do to market your book. When I first started writing I had a small group of friends who wrote romance novels and had great success with a number of marketing companies who offered their books for free or reduced rates in order to gain eyeballs, exposure and, of course, coveted reviews. I followed their leads and over and over and over and over again, my results fell flat. While my friends might see 350 downloads after a free promotion, I saw one maybe two. I just didn’t understand it until, I did!
Remember readers of books are generally looking for a solution to a problem. The reader of a romance book might be looking for a steamy novel to read on their beach vacation. And, a free or reduced price romance novel would address that need. Or, an executive working in a stressful job might want to unplug on a Friday evening after long week and curl up with a good book; again, an inexpensive novel would do the trick. But, the critical point is that readers of most nonfiction books are looking for a solution to a problem that is different. Readers of nonfiction books may be looking for advice about how to get ahead at work, how to negotiate a contract, or how to get employees on board with a workplace diversity single, which are the types of books I write. So, while offering a deeply discounted romance book might attract new readers, those who are looking to solve these issues do not want a bargain–there is too much at stake. This is not to say nonfiction readers might not be interested in a discounted book as a way to learn more about an author, but they are simply not going to websites offering deals seeking them out.
What this means in practical terms is that you have to approach marketing in a different targeted way. Most likely your book has a specific audience (such as job-seekers, individuals looking to start to date, or managers looking for help working with unmotivated employees). So, rather than focusing on mass marketing strategies you have to find ways to connect with people who are the most likely to want the solution for the problem to be solved. Websites that offer free or discounted books generally are solving a problem, but it’s likely that problem is not the one your book is designed to address.
The bright side is that when I get up before the sun every single morning to sit at my laptop and write, it is about me, my passions, my interests, and my dreams. But, to transition those things into book sales, I tend to keep those interests to myself because, quite frankly, many readers (understandably) just don’t care. Nonfiction readers seek out books because they 1) have a problem and 2) want a solution. So, to achieve the greatest amount of success, I have found that I have to ensure that everything I say, do, and write, is laser-focused on providing it.
To see how I have put this advice into practice, please see the book tab of my website at http://www.lorirassas.com and my Amazon bookpage (https://rb.gy/qaye1k). My latest project, Lifescripts for Today’s Workplace, are on-demand talking points to help managers and employees navigate challenging workplace discussions. This idea came about over the past few years, as I was flooded with client requests to provide talking points to help them navigate difficult conversations. Tackling these discussions was often problematic for managers, so now, I’m working to provide an affordable, immediate, and comprehensive solution to this problem. (See the available Lifescripts here: https://rb.gy/o7f2q5)
Lori B. Rassas is recognized expert on employment law and workplace issues. Rassas has more than two decades of experience working on the full spectrum of employment and labor matters. An SPHR-certified HR professional, employment attorney, executive coach, and trained mediator and arbitrator, Rassas is the author of seven books, including Lifescripts for Today’s Workplace and It’s About You Too. In addition to her own HR consulting and coaching practice, Rassas has worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbia University, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.