The 80/20 rule and how you can apply it to your writing and marketing (The Pareto Principle)

The 80/20 rule is pretty simple. You want 20% of your effort to bring in 80% of your results. If you did 80% of work for only a 20% ROI, you’d get burnt out pretty fast. So what does this rule really mean? When it comes to writing, publishing, and marketing, you have to figure out what will require the least amount of effort that will give you the most return. That can be different for everyone. Here are some tips to getting ahead with 20% of effort because no one has time to work for nothing.

  1. What are you writing? Bryan Cohen came up with an excellent analogy during the last webinar I listened to. He said, if you’re not selling books, take a look at what you’re writing. Is there a demand for it? He used underwater basket weaving memoirs as an example. If you’re writing a series about your experiences with underwater basket weaving but no one is into that, writing book after book isn’t going to help you find readers or increase sales. You’re just adding supply where there is no demand. You’re wasting a lot of effort for little return and eventually you’ll get burnt out and possibly give up. What can you do to fix that? Think about what you want to write. That is always important because you need to like what you’re writing. There are other genres I’m sure you like to write besides underwater basket weaving. If you can find what you enjoy writing and match that up with a genre that’s selling, you’ll be a lot closer to that 20% of effort because you won’t be spending so much time writing something that won’t sell.
  2. Find an ad platform that works for you. Beating your head against a wall trying to figure out Facebook ads and how to use them without going broke might be a huge waste of your time if Amazon’s auto placement ads bring in steady sales with a low cost-per-click. On the other hand, maybe your ads aren’t working at all because your cover isn’t on target for your genre and you’re getting plenty of impressions but no clicks. You’re wasting 80% of your effort trying to make ads work, and when you only gain maybe 20% in return, you’re either losing money on clicks that don’t generate sales or you’re wasting time fiddling with click cost, daily budget, and ad copy, which can be just as valuable, or even more so, if your life is packed and you have a limited amount of time in which to write. Amazon ads work well if your categories are set correctly, the keywords you chose when you published are accurate and relevant, and you have a good cover/title/blurb. Contrary to popular belief, if you show Amazon evidence you have a good book, they will help you promote it by showing your ad. Facebook ads work well if you can zero in on your target audience and can create a good ad–stock photo, headline, maybe an excerpt from your book. How you go about learning those platforms is up to you, as we all learn differently and click with different people teaching those classes.
  3. Choose your social media platforms wisely. If you’re on Twitter 80% of your “free” time and your engagement isn’t encouraging sales, maybe it’s time to rethink where you spend your time. It’s different if you’re on for social hour to relax or blow off steam, or if you’re wanting to make connections and network, or join in a chat, but tweeting promos all the time with no engagement (on your followers part) and no sales seems like a gigantic waste of time to me. You’d be better off creating a Facebook Author/Reader group and posting engaging content on there, or blogging about genre-specific topics to encourage your readers to buy your books. You could also start a newsletter and write a reader magnet, or if your reader magnet is old, create fresh content to spice things up. Whatever you do, if you’re not seeing a return for the investment of your time, it’s time to try something else.
  4. Make a list of what’s working… or not. If you’re like me, you haven’t been in the game long enough to know what works, or at it long enough to know what doesn’t. I’m not making much money. The five years I’ve been writing and publishing have been true lessons of what not to do. How can we make a list of the things that work if we don’t know them? Look to the pros. Everyone says newsletters are the key to a good launch and steady sales. I don’t have evidence to the contrary, so I started one. Writing without a niche didn’t give me very far, so I’m drilling down. Not networking in my genre has left me feeling lonely and I don’t have any opportunities for collaboration or newsletter swaps, so I’m joining in more. Those are all big mistakes, but if I correct those and experiment to see if those are things that will work for me, I can add them to the list.

Chances are, if you’re a writer, you can never go wrong with spending the most time writing your books. Building a back list can increase your overall sales, and consistently adding books to your front list will keep the algorithms at Amazon happy.

Ultimately, you want to work less but while doing so, achieve more. This is especially important if you’re like me and writing isn’t your day job. I have a lot of places for my time and attention to go, and doing things that won’t move my business forward will only be a waste of time in the end.

What are your 20% activities? What are some that are considered part of your 80% but still enjoy doing? Let me know!

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