How Book Marketing is Like Storytelling — A Four-Part Series on the Transformative Journey from Author to Marketer

by Karen Jonson

Part One: From Wasteland to Fear — What’s Holding You Back from Your Book Marketing Journey?

Warrior with sword in fog

Have you accepted the call to embark on your transformative journey from author to book marketer — and slay every dragon holding you back? If not, it’s time to leave your comfort zone.

“I loved writing my book, but have no idea how to get the general public to even take a look at it — and I’m too afraid to venture out into this strange world!”

An author wrote this on LinkedIn recently.

I suspect she is not alone in her feelings. In fact, I’ve heard variations of it before.

Due to this mindset, many authors never embark on their book marketing journeys — or if they embark, they jump off before they conquer any of their demons.

However, there are also authors who have accepted the challenge to market their book. They have already casted off into parts unknown to conquer dragons and win the prize — book sales.

I am purposely describing authors’ marketing adventure this way for a reason — it recently occurred to me how much book marketing is often analogous to the classic hero’s journey in storytelling as described by Joseph Campbell.

I decided to explore my theory.

This post is the first in a four-part exploration of how the hero’s journey in storytelling compares with the author’s book-marketing journey.

The Transformative Journey from Author to Marketer

The classic hero’s journey is a cycle of separation from the norm by a call to adventure, where upon tests and challenges are faced with courage — until, finally, the hero returns from the journey as a transformed person.

We love and resonate with stories because they reflect the journey we are all on to accept the challenge of embracing our fears while chasing our passion and purpose in life (“following our bliss” as Campbell calls it). Archetypical stories speak to the inner potential in all of us.

The most important lesson that great myths are designed to teach us is to go beyond what we perceive as the limits of our possibilities — to trust ourselves.

Like these iconic stories, authors who embark on their book marketing journey face a separation from their comfort zone — writing books — and face a scary new unfamiliar world of marketing books, which they must learn how to navigate.

They either face their fears and accept the adventure or retreat back to the safe haven of their computer screens. Those who venture forth meet helpmates along the way who provide direction and help them develop new skills. As the journey matures, the writer is transformed into a book marketer — enjoying the fruits of their success: increased sales of their books.

Let’s explore the comparisons.

The Author’s Book Marketing Journey — Step-by-Step

1. The Ordinary World or “Wasteland”

Good stories start where the hero or heroine is in his or her life — their present or common-day world, referred to as the ordinary world or wasteland. This is where the hero existed before his or her adventure begins. It’s is a place where the hero feels safe, but where he or she is not living his or her bliss.

In A Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell characterizes this as:

“A world full of stagnation and a land filled with people living inauthentic lives. It is a world that evokes nothing of a common humanity’s spiritual life, human potential, or even human physical courage.”

Compare this to the life of an author. We begin in a world where we are comfortable — writing our books. We are safe in our offices, in front of our computers, composing our words with little outside judgment or ridicule, or scary activities like selling our books.

Then everything changes.

2. The Call to Adventure

In storytelling, the hero’s adventure begins when he receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his safety, his family, his way of life, or to the peace of his community. This disrupts the comfort of the hero’s ordinary world and presents a challenge or quest that must be undertaken.

In myths this unknown place is represented as a dark forest, a kingdom underground, a mountaintop, or a distant land.

For authors in the real world, one day the writing of a book comes to an end. Then we’re faced with a dilemma: leave our comfort zone and embark on a journey into the new world of book marketing where we feel lost and afraid, or retreat back to our safe place and make meager attempts to sell our books, or even give up and “just keep writing.”

Some intrepid authors take action — and accept the call to embark on their book marketing adventure.

But too many still let their fears overwhelm and derail them.

3. Reluctant Hero — or “Refusal of the Call”

For a story to be compelling there needs to be conflict. The first conflict is the hero’s reluctance to accept the call to embark on the adventure presented before him.

At the threshold of adventure, the hero balks.

After all, he or she is facing the greatest of all fears — the fear of the unknown.

Typically they outright refuse it. This may be due to a sense of duty or obligation, fear of the unknown, insecurity, feelings of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that hold the person in his or her current circumstances.

The troubles in the strange place, at this point for the hero, outweigh the treasures. When this happens, the hero will refuse the call and, as a result, may suffer somehow.

Campbell said:

“Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless.”

Authors also suffer when they don’t market their books.

They end up caught in a push-and-pull stranglehold by need, doubt, and duty. The need to market hangs over them like the sword of Damocles. But the fear of marketing roars like the proverbial dragon at their doorstep.

Too often author focus on the price tag of living their dreams (entering a scary new world of book marketing) instead of the potential benefits (becoming a popular professional author).

No matter how much discomfort you feel about failing to market your books, at least your life is familiar, you rationalize. Venturing out into the unknown is too scary. If feels comforting to stay exactly where you are.

Except when you don’t!

4. Separation from the Ordinary

In storytelling, the hero must, eventually, accept the journey offered. They can no longer allow their fears, wounds, negativity, or bad habits to control their life.

When they do, they are immediately plunged into a new world and separated from their old world — which leads to a whole new spiral of doubt and fear.

It’s akin to the Kübler-Ross grief cycle, where, after the refusal of the call, the bargaining, then the acceptance of the adventure, they suffer residual doubts.

Authors too face this next challenge. Accepting the adventure is but one step.

The next one is moving through the next wall of fear we face when we begin marketing our books for the very first time.

5. Fear

At this stage, the hero looks back to their old life and fixates on the safe everyday world he or she left behind. For a moment, we are unwilling or unable to cut the umbilical chord that connects us to the “motherland.”

In movies and books, we fully expect that the hero may give up. According to Campbell:

“The usual person is more than content, he [/she] is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds…”

In real life, at this stage authors often do give up book marketing — citing all manner of reasons. The new world is too unfamiliar, too foreign, too demanding.

The comfort of home is far more attractive than the perilous road ahead. Better to retreat and call it a day.

But — this is the exact moment when authors must once and for all overcome their fears and fully commit to their book marketing journeys. We must say goodbye to our ordinary world, firmly choose to face our fears and answer our calling.

However, we don’t have to do it alone.

As in every great story, authors can call on a wise mentor to guide them through the adventure’s unfamiliar territory.

Stay tuned for Part Two in this series — From Magical Helper to Initiation: How to Traverse the First Threshold in Your Book Marketing Journey.

Subscribe to this blog to make sure you don’t miss Part Two in the Author-as-Marketing-Hero Journey four-part series. (Your subscription will include a free blogging 101 course for authors.)

Do You Need a Roadmap for Your Transformative Book Marketing Journey?

The Market Your Book Smarter Workshop for Authors hands you a clear map of the critical steps to preparing to market your books — and helps you avoid the dragons and gain every advantage along your transformative journey from author to book marketer.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellynore Seybold-Smith January 14, 2015 at 8:34 am

Work, work, work! Write, edit, submit to publisher, edit and edit again, work on cover with artist, wait like an expecting mother, finally the birth and one holds the baby. And now the work begins? Are there any competent people out there who would do this blogging part and mailing list bits on a monthly update for a reasonable fee? If there are, I would be glad to talk with them.


Jim January 18, 2015 at 10:22 am

I was all keyed up to do my marketing and got the shingles as a result. Now what?


Karen Jonson January 18, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Are you serious Jim? If so, heal your shingles and then resume your book marketing plans. 🙂


j. fran baird January 19, 2015 at 10:17 am

I enjoyed reading the analogy and while much of it is true, i.e. there is a certain amount of fear of the unknown and rejection, there is one major factor you failed to mention. There are huge costs involved in marketing. Just the cost of buying your own books for book signing events will break the bank. I’ve just read your first job. Looking forward to more.


Kay Armstrong Baker January 22, 2015 at 9:45 am

I’m having trouble organizing myself to market AND begin writing my next project! How does one juggle the two?


Karen Jonson January 22, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Hi Kay, Great to hear from you — and great question. It takes creating a strategy and a plan — and they working the plan. I help authors create their strategies and plans in my courses, if that’s something you’re interested in.


RG Frazia January 22, 2015 at 1:42 pm

I think this article is great. I could use the structure, advice and a plan. I signed up! Thanks for posting!


Karen Jonson January 22, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Hi RG, Thank you so much. That made my day. I saw that you joined my Market Your Book Smarter workshop == I’m so happy to have you and I’m looking forward to helping you create a book marketing strategy and plan.


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