Say the word “marketing” to a group of writers, and you’re likely to elicit a groan. Almost anyone with dreams of seeing a book in print can relate to the deflation experienced when it becomes clear that simply writing an excellent book isn’t enough to sell any notable number of copies. Sooner or later, any writer committed to publishing and selling a book will have to accept that learning how to market the book is just as important, if not more, to the book’s success than the book itself. This is often a frustrating experience since, in general, marketing is hard for writers.
Why is this? After posting last month about how my own approach to marketing has evolved over the last sixteen years, I started thinking about why it is that marketing is almost universally deplored by writers. Although some writers are, of course, exceptions, most writers hate the idea of marketing.
Here you’ve just done this incredibly monumental thing of learning all the complex and high-level skills involved in writing a book, only to be told you’re basically back to ground zero. Now you have to start all over and learn the equally complex and high-level skills of marketing a book. The difference is that most of us learned the art of fiction because we loved the process; few of us are equally attracted to learning the art of marketing.
Now, some writers may be perfectly clear that they are writing for reasons that do not require marketing. Perhaps they are writing a story for their grandchildren or a memoir for purely personal reasons, and it doesn’t matter much if they sell more than ten copies, if any. That approach is 100% legit. I am always a stand for getting clear with yourself about your own motives for writing and your own personal definition of success.
But most writers want to be published. More than that, most writers dream of making good money off their books, maybe even writing full-time. That’s also legit. But the dash of cold water is that this dream will not happen without the ability to market your book. Doesn’t matter if your intention is to publish traditionally or independently. Either way, more than half the job of being a successful writer is marketing.
I’m sometimes asked if I think a writer needs to go to college to get a degree in Literature or an MFA. My response (as someone for whom college wasn’t an option, so take this in light of its obvious bias) has always been, “No, you can learn everything you need to know about writing a book via the multitude of resources that are available online.” However, in recent years, I would amend that answer to suggest that, instead, if a person is serious about a writing career, they would do well to pursue a degree, or at least classes, in marketing or business. If I had it to do over again, that’s what I would do.
I say that to emphasize the sheer importance of marketing and business savvy as the leverage point to transforming writing into a viable and profitable career. If it sounds sobering, that’s because it is. However, it is also important to know that, just as the incredibly complex skill of writing a book can be learned by anyone with the initiative and discipline to study and practice, so too can the equally complex skill of marketing a book or creating a business around your writing be learned by anyone. The resources are literally at our fingertips. All that is required is the willingness to move past the initial (and often substantial) resistance that many of us feel and to begin putting in the work. After a while, marketing can turn out to be just as much a creative pursuit as writing.
5 Reasons Marketing Is Hard for Writers—and How to Change Your Mindset
One of the most effective ways to move past limiting beliefs—such as “marketing is too hard” or “I’m a writer, not a marketer”—is to recognize those beliefs as such. In today’s post, I want to explore some of the reasons I believe marketing is hard for writers (at least in the beginning), and how writers need to flip their mindsets in order to embrace marketing and business as tremendous opportunities.
To my mind, the reasons marketing is hard for writers generally come down to two factors:
1. Writers don’t usually start out with any marketing skills.
The belief that “I’m a writer, not a marketer” is 100% true in the beginning. And in the immortal words of Carmine Falcone, “Ya always fear what ya don’t understand.”
2. Writers fail to recognize that writing full-time is a business and has to be run as such.
The idea that being a writer means you spend the majority of your time writing is a largely antiquated notion. Being a writer these days isn’t so different from being an entrepreneur.
All of this can seem scary and overwhelming to writers who are already nervous about marketing. The first thing to realize is that’s okay. You feel that way because you’re facing a challenge to expand your growth on a number of levels. Feeling this way is a sign you’re on a positive track that will transform your life.
The second thing to realize is you won’t always feel this way. If you’re truly committed to becoming a successful writer, there is no reason you can’t learn everything you need to know about how to market and sell your books. All it takes is the willingness to learn, put in the time and the effort, make mistakes, try again, and nurture your own experience as you go.
To get you started, here are five mindsets to balance out the fear that marketing is hard for writers. Just being able to recognize and acknowledge underlying reasons for those fears can help you move through them to the tremendous opportunities and rewards available on the other side.
1. Realize Writing and Marketing Are Different Areas of Expertise
Marketing is a field all its own. One of the reasons writers initially struggle with marketing is simply that writing and marketing are entirely different experiences. Being a writer is an entirely different identity from being a marketer. In many ways, the two can seem completely opposite. If nothing else, writing is a personal and introverted task, while marketing is a public and extroverted task.
Completing the feat of learning how to write a book is a mountaintop experience that can often lead writers to exhale in relief. You’ve done it! You’ve reached completion. But the journey isn’t over. No one will ever read a book unless they know about it. The simple fact that a great book exists will not draw readers. The only way to attract readers (and sales) is to embrace the next mountain. Beliefs that you shouldn’t have to learn both skills or that simply writing a book should be “enough” are counter-productive and will only hold you back.
All of that said, it’s also useful to recognize that despite all their differences, writing and marketing also share common ground. Both are, in fact, deeply creative and inventive acts, requiring keen awareness of self and others and an instinctive sensitivity and intuition about what works. Viewing marketing as an expression of creativity can help bridge what sometimes seems an insurmountable wall between marketing and writing.
2. Embrace Marketing as a High-Level Set of Skills
Marketing is an art form. It’s not just the fries added on to your burger combo meal. Just like writing, marketing is a full ten-course meal all unto itself. To truly thrive at marketing—and to truly appreciate the experience of marketing—writers must recognize that marketing represents a high-level skillset. Successful marketing requires respect for those skills.
It’s no different from writing a book: although formulae can be followed (and often are in the beginning when the person is still learning), the true magic doesn’t happen until the person grasps the deeper theory and applies those principles in a way that arises from their own unique creativity and intuition.
By all means, learn the marketing formulae. Pay attention when marketing gurus tell you to start a mailing list, run promos, buy ads, etc. But don’t treat it as a checklist. Like writing itself, marketing requires more respect and love than that. It requires not just a commitment to learning what to do but also to understanding why.
It’s true marketing is not easy. This is often what trips writers up. But just remember this: writing isn’t easy either. If one is worth mastering, so is the other.
3. Commit to Gaining the Three E’s: Education, Experience, and Expertise
Marketing is a commitment. It is a commitment to yourself, to the book you have so proudly created, to your belief in the importance of putting that book out into the world where it can be read, and to your own continuing growth. If you have written a book that is ready to be published, then it is not “unfair” that you now have to market it. Marketing is the natural next step on your adventure. It is an inherent part of the experience. To spend years on your literary masterpiece only to expect to knock out the necessary marketing in a weekend is not only unrealistic, it is also disrespectful to your larger dream for that book.
The only way to become a successful marketer is to commit to putting in the time and the work. This requires the cultivation of the “three e’s”: education, experience, and expertise.
Educate yourself about marketing. And I mean go deep. Sign up for e-letters and blogs written by fellow authors who offer marketing advice (such as The Creative Penn, David Gaughran, and Kindlepreneur), but don’t stop there. Studying marketing itself. Study copywriting. Study advertising. Study social media. Study web design. Study graphic design. You don’t have to study all of these right away or to the same depth. But go beyond the advice of the writing world to study marketing from within its own field. Just as writing is a life-long study and practice, so is marketing.
Learn from your own experiences. The most valuable lessons I have gleaned about marketing have been through my own trial and error. Take what you’re learning and apply it. See what results you get. See how people respond. See how you respond. Find out what approaches light up your creativity versus those that make you feel icky or dead inside. Marketing techniques evolve more quickly than ever these days, so it’s important not to get stuck in ruts. Stay curious. You may even find that marketing becomes as enjoyable a creative pursuit as writing itself.
Finally, cultivate expertise. Take pride in your marketing, just as you do your writing. You are a marketer now, so you might as well be the best you can possibly be.
4. Start Thinking of Yourself as a Businessperson as Well as a Writer
Marketing is a business. If you’re now a marketer, then you’re also a businessperson. If you’re writing for money and particularly if it is your career or you want it to be, then writing is your business. This means moving beyond the starving artist trope to learn the technicalities and legalities of setting yourself up for financial success.
At the least, this might mean creating a professional website and mailing list. It might also mean hiring an accountant or incorporating as an LLC. It means budgeting and setting up retirement funds and paying for your own insurance and learning how to file taxes on royalties or as a self-employed entity.
As a writer, your top priority is your art. But as a businessperson, the bottom line is money. If you’re writing full-time, this means all your resources are dependent on your writing, which means practical concerns must enter in to your decisions, both about what you write and also about how you market and sell your creations.
I’ll be straight with you: marketing gets a whole lot more appealing right about the time you realize it’s what puts bread on your table.
5. Accept That Running a Business Requires As Much or More Time and Commitment Than Writing a Book
Marketing is a job. “Full-time writer” evokes idyllic images of spending one’s days scribbling away in a book-lined study, only occasionally emerging for crumpets and tea. Perhaps this was true enough a century or two ago, but for the vast majority of modern midlist or indie authors this is not the whole picture. If you’re a full-time writer, then the act of writing is only a small part of your professional responsibilities.
Last year when I talked about what my daily schedule looks like, quite a few people were surprised at how little time I spent writing. And it’s true. Half or more of my time is spent on tasks other than actively writing. I might be answering emails, maintaining or updating my website, or posting to social media. Or I might be working on other aspects of content creation necessary to get the writing out there—editing a blog post, recording a podcast, typesetting a book, researching, working with a cover designer, negotiating for foreign rights, doing monthly accounting, planning new projects, writing up a weekly schedule, etc.
Being a full-time writer can be idyllic. To the degree you are successful, you have the opportunity to set your own schedule, work from home, and control all the most important decisions about your work and your life. But as any entrepreneur or self-employed person can tell you, the idea that you will end up working fewer hours than someone in a corporate job (especially when you’re starting out) is laughable. There are so many other tasks involved with the business of writing than just the writing, some of which are mind-numbing, but many of which are great fun in their own right.
Ultimately, I think the main reason marketing is hard for writers is simply the result of their either not understanding the big picture of what it takes to live successfully as a full-time author or a “magical thinking” that is in resistance to those facts. There is no magic carpet that will take even the best-written book to bestseller status. There is only the opportunity, available to all of us, to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Making the business of writing your career is a grand way to spend your life. I have no regrets or complaints. Indeed, I feel incredibly blessed and lucky. But it’s not a fairy tale. It’s a job, and just like any job, the best way to get ahead is simply to put your head down and do the work.
If you ever feel resistant to the idea of marketing, see if you can go a little deeper and examine your own reasons behind this resistance. What you find may simply be a general sense of bewilderment at not knowing how to market. The good news is that’s where everyone starts. From there, the possibilities of what you may learn and where you may go are limitless.
Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Why do you think marketing is hard for writers? Tell me in the comments!
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