What Writers REALLY Need to Know About Marketing

Write Craft with Sean and Johnny

There is a somewhat indelible taint on the idea of marketing, especially from artists who sell their work to make a living. Art is created by the muse and should be free for everyone to appreciate, the myth goes.

Which is fine, as long as you don’t depend on your art to pay your electric bill.

It can be frustrating, the cultural idea that artists shouldn’t be expected to make a living with their art. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you alone can do about the zeitgeist. What you can do — what I hope to help you do now — is to learn to reframe your own opinion of marketing.

Because here’s the thing:

Nothing is wrong with promoting your work, being proud of the stories you tell or the information you articulate, telling people about your work, or encouraging people who already like your work to get more.

You wrote a book (or painted a portrait or knit stockings or whatever you do). That’s amazing! Something that most people only dream of doing. You should be proud of yourself, and it’s okay to share that fact with the world.

If you find yourself resisting the idea of “selling” — which, rest assured, is an absolutely essential talent for a working artist to master — you need to get over it. 

Much of the resistance to selling and marketing that people naturally have is the fault of used car salesmen, timeshare companies, and multi-level marketers — fields based on the hard sell. Nothing matters more than nabbing the buyer, and if you must deceive and bully your prospects to get that sale, so be it. Coffee is for closers, they say. So close, at all costs. 

But life, for most marketers and sellers, isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross. The world’s used car salesmen and high-pressure realtors have left a bad taste in our mouths, because no one likes being sold to, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Being sold to, for most people, is something that happens almost against your will. Like an assault. When you’re sold to, the salesman might as well be putting a knife to your throat. But haven’t you ever bought anything outside of a high-pressure situation? Have you ever seen something in a store or seen an advertisement, thought you might like that thing, then bought it? That’s selling. That’s marketing. The seller set the object or service in front of you and accentuated the positives so that you could agree to buy it. Transaction done, and no one had to get knifed.

Have you ever gone to see the sequel of a movie you liked, or ordered dessert when the waiter offered it after your meal? Have you ever Super-Sized your Value Meal? Those are all examples of an upsell — another “dirty” marketing word. Yet you probably don’t regret any of those transactions. You might, in fact, have appreciated the chance to get more of what you already knew you liked, often at a preferred price. Shocking!

I could beat this to death, but you get the point.

In valid, non-sleazy salesmanship and marketing — which is the kind that you ought to be doing — everyone wins.

Do you really feel that you “lost” and that the seller “won” whenever you buy something? Do you really feel that duped? No? So, why be hesitant when you’re in the seller’s position? 

In an ethical sales transaction, the buyer and seller should be equally pleased. Each party should feel like thanking the other.

Ethical marketing is nothing more than letting people who might like your product know it exists — and, ideally, giving them some sort of a deal that makes the offer better for the potential buyer. 

If you ever find yourself resisting sales and marketing, read the previous paragraphs a few times until you believe it, because it’s true. If you refuse to believe it is — if some deep part of your brain continues to insist that all sales and marketing are about manipulation and winning at someone else’s expense — then you’ll never succeed as an indie author.

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