Writer Fuel: Five Marketing Skills You Already Have (and how to use them)

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

One of the things I hear from writers again and again is how much they dislike marketing. Any time the dreaded p-word (ahem, platform) comes up in a room (in person or virtual), you can hear the collective groan ripple among the crowd. Marketing, sales, and promotion do not rank high among writers’ favorite things.

Which is weird because if anyone should be awesome at marketing it’s writers.

As writers we are naturally skilled at several things that can make us excel at marketing and sales… we just have to get out of our own way. Here are some techniques that you have already mastered as a writer, and how to adapt them to your author platform.

1. Writers rock at empathy.

Empathy is an essential component of a writer’s work. In order to craft stories that ring true and resonate with readers, we have to be able to step into our characters’ minds and understand what it feels like to be them. Well, guess what? Lesson number one in any marketing course is that you need to know your audience.

Many marketers struggle with this. In fact, I’ve sat in on dozens of marketing webinars or conference sessions that essentially teach the same thing: how to put yourself in the mind of the customer. I’ve seen tons of techniques and exercises designed to help marketers get inside the customer’s head. I’ll admit that I often chuckle to myself because it’s what writers do all the time.

As writers we are already good at putting ourselves in another person’s shoes because we do it with our characters. For marketers, this type of thinking can feel like a stretch, like they’re operating outside their comfort zones. For writers, this is our happy place. We just have to apply this same approach to understanding our audience, our readers.

2. We know how to create (and follow) our own rules.

When we write stories, the bulk of act one is where we lay down the ground rules. We let our readers know who the main character is. If there’s any sort of narrative device—like alternating time lines or points of view—we establish how it will work. We also give our readers a sense for the story’s world and the central conflict. These are all “rules” that we determine and, as the narrative unfolds, we decide whether to stick to those rules or artfully break them.

In marketing and platform, we also need to set ground rules. When your readers first discover your website or newsletter, they’ll get subtle cues as to what they might expect from you. For example, if you have a blog and you post every Tuesday, your readers will come to expect those posts and you’ll likely see a spike in traffic every time a new post goes up. If you post infrequently or at random, though, it will be much harder to build traction because your readers won’t know what to expect from you.

As writers, we already know how to set—and follow—our own rules because we do this in our storytelling. We just need to translate this skill from our manuscripts to crafting content for our platform.

3. We laugh in the face of “writer’s block.”

Let’s be real, compared to crafting a novel or a memoir, blog posts and tweets are mere drops in an ocean of words. As word wizards we’re used to writing because that’s what we do. Muggles run screaming from a blank page. We look at that same empty canvas and see a world of possibilities.

Now don’t get me wrong, writing can be hard at times, and resistance can happen to the best of us. And there are times (like, say, in the middle of a pandemic) when we need to honor our reality and maybe give ourselves a hall pass on a difficult project. That said, if anyone can muster the internal motivation to get back in the swing of things, it would be writers.

Think about it: as writers, delayed gratification is part of our job. Novels don’t get written in a day and publishing moves at a slower-than-glacial pace. If we’re going to write, the motivation has to come from us. If we sat around waiting for external rewards, we would never write a single word. This means that the ability to motivate ourselves and do the hard work naturally comes from within us. If we turn that same relentless determination to building a platform that we put into writing our books, watch out world!

4. We are good at research.

Have you ever gone down the research rabbit hole? You know what I’m talking about . . . One time, I was writing a story about a family that had a pet Komodo dragon. I thought “Hey! Let me just look up some Komodo facts on the internet for just a second.” Three hours and ten pages later I emerged from that pit of totally unnecessary research.

While research can be a form of procrastination from our writing, it can be useful when it comes to our platform. Plus, as writers, we’re already adept at seeing how different pieces of information fit together. We need to combine research and information synthesis and apply these skills to our platform. This kind of research can even serve as a convenient break from our writing.

Things to research include:

  • What other books out there are similar to yours?
  • What other authors are writing work in the same vein as yours?
  • What are people saying about those books and authors?
  • Where do these readers hang out, both online and off?
  • What do those similar authors  do in terms of their platforms?
  • How do they connect with their readers?
  • Where do these authors hang out on the internet?
  • Are they on social media? Do they blog?

The possibilities are endless! So instead of allowing yourself to fall into that bottomless pit of procrastination, take a break from writing and do some research to help your platform.

5. We are natural storytellers.

I’ve been secretly working on a new project—something that takes DIY MFA to a whole new level. This project is a storytelling model that bridges the gap between writing and marketing. 

I believe story exists in a three dimensional space, where each dimension represents one of three essential elements: character, plot, and world. As writers we have an instinctive feel for these elements because we use them all the time in our writing. 

Marketing and platform also have three essential elements that run parallel to story. They are: brand (i.e. the character), the audience’s journey (i.e. plot), and the market or context where both the brand and audience exist (i.e. world). The same craft-related tools we use  to understand character, to structure a plot, or to build a world, also apply to marketing. Understanding story puts us miles ahead of the game when it comes to these fundamental elements of marketing. All we need to do is shift our perspective a little and channel that knowledge from our manuscripts to our platform.

Platform doesn’t have to be painful and you don’t have to sell out to sell books.

I’ll admit, I used to hate marketing. I dragged my feet for six whole months before I started this newsletter. I moaned and groaned about creating a website or joining social media. All the platform-related whining and complaining… been there. Done that.

Looking back, I realize that the reason I resisted building my platform is because I thought I would have to learn a whole new set of skills. I had this notion that platform and craft were two wildly different things—and it’s no wonder I thought this way, because it’s how most people in publishing approach marketing as well.

Now I know better and I’m on a mission to help writers get un-scared of platform and marketing. Just as there is a craft to how we put words on the page and write a beautiful book, there is a craft to marketing and platform. What is more, there are common threads between writing and marketing and, as we’ve discussed here, many of the skills we’ve been building on the page translate to our platform as well.

Want to learn how to build your platform the DIY MFA way?

Check out Pixels to Platform, a marketing course for writers and by writers.

Gabriela Pereira is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of DIYMFA.com, her mission is to empower writers, artists and other creatives to take an entrepreneurial approach to their education and professional growth.Gabriela earned her MFA in writing from The New School and speaks at college campuses and national conferences. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews bestselling authors and book industry professionals and author of the book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community.

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