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What It Really Means to Market Your Writing

by | Aug 28, 2013

There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to market something.

Not the least of these is that marketing somehow cheapens writing or other creative work. Many writers, artists and other creatives avoid marketing like the plague — as if it will infect all other aspects of their work.

It’s understandable that so many writers think this way; a lot of the advertising that we see every day is far from appealing, and the industry has earned a bad reputation for brainwashing people, being sneaky, and generally causing trouble.

But the truth is that all that stuff is NOT what marketing is really about!

Without marketing — real marketing — no one would be able to make a living writing, share their story, or gain new fans and followers. (Click to tweet this idea.)

Marketing is much, much more than running an ad or a television commercial, or selling yourself long and hard, and marketing isn’t sleazy! You can do it ethically, honorably and effectively, to tell people what they need to know for them to want to read your work.

What marketing is NOT

What is it that keeps so many writers from really getting out there and promoting themselves? Primarily, it stems from a huge misconception about what marketing is, and what it means to do it.

The fear (and it’s an understandable one) is that when you “market” your work, you have to ruthlessly promote yourself, and sell out your ideals to make a buck.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Marketing isn’t sales or advertising; those can be elements of marketing, but they’re far from the whole story.

After all, as an independent writer, you’re not going to promote your novel by taking out full-page ads filled with scantily clad women in the newspaper! You’re not going to have billboards on highways promising dire consequences for all who have not read your book.

Nor will you rampage through bookstores holding people at knifepoint until they make it to the cash register with your work, or fool people into thinking that you’re something you’re not.

Marketing isn’t about brainwashing or trickery; it’s about finding people who will be genuinely interested in what you do and what you have to say, and telling them what you’ve got for them.

Now, people can misuse marketing, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Marketing is only sleazy or unethical when marketers are. It’s not the hammer’s fault when it’s used to harm another person–and it’s not marketing’s fault when advertisers lie.

That same hammer, in the hands of a carpenter, can build wonderful things, just as marketing can help you build your audience, and readership.

What marketing is, and how to do it right

Okay, so now let’s take a look at how marketing can be used ethically and effectively to get your message to the people who need to hear it.

Let’s start with this very important assumption: you can’t make anyone do something they don’t already want to do.

Yes, it’s true, despite what some people think about marketing. Someone who hates yoghurt isn’t going to see an ad for it and immediately run out and buy a pint. It doesn’t work that way.

Likewise, a blog post about science fiction isn’t going to induce a die-hard western fan to go out and pick up a mountain of Star Wars fan fiction. It’s just not going to happen.

So what’s the point?

The point is that there are people out there who are dying to read your work–there really are! But they don’t know who you are or that they should be looking for you. It’s your job to let them know that you exist, and that you have stuff that they’d love to read! Marketing is what you’ll use to make that connection.

That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Making connections with people who could be interested in what you do?

Now, let’s get a little deeper into this whole marketing thing. It actually has three distinct and important stages: Alignment, Attraction and Engagement. Briefly, alignment is about making sure you’re trying to connect with the right people, attraction is about getting their attention, and engagement is about building a relationship with them.

Now, these elements are necessary for all good marketing, but let’s look more closely at what they mean for you, as a writer.

What ALIGNMENT means to a writer

You’ve probably heard that you need to picture your ideal reader. This is absolutely true. No matter how brilliant a wordsmith you are, odds are that not everyone on the planet is going to be interested in your work. And if someone’s not interested, you don’t want to bother with them!

A big mistake that a lot of authors make is failing to really identify their ideal reader at all. It can be challenging to admit that there are people who won’t find your writing appealing, but let’s be honest. A 20 year old surfer dude and a 65 year old grandma of two might love the same books (that’s the beauty of things!) but they probably won’t.

You want to invest your precious time and money trying to make connections with people who are most likely going to be interested in your work.

 There is a specific type of person who is really going to “get” your writing–and you, as the author, have the best understanding of who that’s going to be. Spend time thinking about them, paint a mental picture of them, and imagine where they spend their time, what they do when they need something new to read, and who or what they consult for recommendations. That will be your way to them.

If you need some help getting started, check out this post about finding your ONE person–just replace the word “customer” with “reader”, and you’re good to go.

What ATTRACTION means to a writer

This part of the marketing process is actually the least important of the three, but it’s the one that most people associate with the word “marketing.” This is probably because it includes all of the things that people do in order to get themselves noticed.

Attraction is about getting out there and making yourself known: writing blog posts for popular blogs, sharing information on social media, taking out ads with Google or in print spaces (which I don’t usually recommend for writers, by the way), joining communities, or whatever. There are lots of ways you can get someone’s attention, and as long as it’s the right person, that is usually enough to start a relationship.

Now here’s the thing: this is only difficult if you can’t identify your target reader. If you can, then you’ll find that this part isn’t very hard. So if you’re struggling with getting attention, go back to the part about alignment.

Remember that you’re not trying to trick or fool anyone into buying your book. You’re alerting interested readers to the fact that you’ve got something amazing to share! This is information they want and will be happy to receive.

What ENGAGEMENT means to a writer

Engagement is what you do to help move a reader from knowing that you exist to buying and reading your work. Sometimes that’s as simple as, “Here is my book!” and they buy it, but sometimes it takes a little more, and that’s okay.

After getting someone’s attention, you need to get them to do something about it. Knowing about you isn’t the end goal; you want them to be reading you!

Invite people to join your mailing list so that you can offer them samples of your writing, talk to them about ideas, and keep them updated on your new projects. If your alignment is good, this will be appealing to a reader.

Remember that for every action you ask them to take, whether it’s downloading a copy of your ebook or writing a review for you on Amazon, you want to thank and reward them for their support with more value, interest and content.

It’s a cycle where you ask for something, provide something of greater value, and then ask again. Over time, a stranger you met through an advertisement or blog post becomes a loyal fan who tells all of their friends when you’ve got something new ready, and who buys anything you produce.

Okay, so where to begin?

Does all of this sound a little overwhelming?

Don’t worry–that’s okay. Marketing is a big topic, and you’re a writer first and foremost.

Some easy first steps are:

  1. Consider carefully who your ideal reader is. If possible, look at your current readers and try to figure out what they’ve got in common. Do they tend to be mothers? Self-employed? Living in cities? That’s a great place to start fleshing out your reader profile.

  1. Get involved in the communities on and offline where your readers hang out! If they’re on forums, join the forums! If they comment on blogs, comment on them too! If they go to the library, put up notices!

  1. Plan out your relationship-building process. Once someone knows who you are, what do you need them to do? Do you want them to buy your book immediately? Do you want to build a longer-term relationship? What, other than your book, can you offer them to make a relationship with you sound appealing?

For a more detailed description of the stages of alignment, attraction, and engagement, check out my free Naked Marketing Manifesto.

Remember: you’re not doing anyone any favors by sitting around twiddling your thumbs and hoping that people will find and enjoy your work. Writing is not enough; you need to let people know you have something wonderful to share.

There’s no shame in giving someone all the information they need to make a decision. The only shame lies in never giving someone a chance to do so.

What have you done so far to market your work? Have you had any successes? If you haven’t done any promotion of your work — why not?