5 Reasons Marketing Is Hard for Writers

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

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.

. . . .

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.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors

PG adds that most publishers are terrible marketers as well. They use the same recipe over and over again. How many great advertisements have you seen for a traditionally-published book?

A great advertisement is one people remember for years.

6 thoughts on “5 Reasons Marketing Is Hard for Writers”

  1. Tbf, I remember very clearly a book ad from years ago. It was a skylight ad on the right hand side of the page and showed a book cover and said read the first 100 pages free. Super simple. I only remember it because I clicked, read the first 100 pages, and then promptly bought the book to read the rest. Very effective.

  2. “A great advertisement is one people remember for years.”

    While it is true that by this standard I have never seen a great advertisement for a traditionally published book, it is equally true that I have never seen a great advertisement for an independently published book either. Hamburgers, I have seen a great advertisement for: “Where’s the beef?” On the other hand, I don’t think I have ever bought a Wendy’s hamburger. I also would not walk a mile for a Camel. Perhaps being memorable is not the only, or even the most important, criterion.

  3. The real problem with publisher marketing is that traditionally, historically, it has been directed not at readers but at bookstore owners and, increasingly since the 1970s, chain-bookstore “buyers.”

    In the nonemotional language of statistical analysis and validity, publishers have historically marketed to a sample that is not representative of the population.

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