“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
— The American Marketing Association
Sounds scary. What does that even mean? I’ll admit, that once upon a time, I was one of those writers who was scared of marketing. Why does it matter? I just want to make art, was my thought process.
It wasn’t until I landed squarely in Marketing Strategy (one of life’s little jokes, for sure), that I realized that marketing is an art form. Not only that, but marketing is an essential skill for writers of all shapes and sizes.
Here are the three most important things that you need to know about marketing as a creative writer:
1. You have to do it.
Imagine a stern, (but wise) English teacher, peering at you over the top of her glasses and saying: “Because I said so.” That’s the vibe you should get from this first concept.
Writers write for their readers. People have to find your writing in order to read it. Marketing is the part in between, the bridge that connects you to your readers.
If you aren’t marketing your work, you’re not really a writer. That’s not to say that you can’t have an 18th century Victorian Steam Punk Sci Fi Romance that’s firmly at draft number 3 ½, that you’re not letting anyone see yet. That’s okay. But eventually, you have to stick your neck out with a story, or it’s not going to fulfill its ultimate job: to be read and enjoyed.
So, why do we writers come to marketing kicking and screaming?
From what I’ve seen, writers are afraid of doing two things with their marketing: begging or bragging. We don’t want to hold out a sign that says: “Will write fantasy novel about mutant purse snatchers for food.” But on the other hand, we don’t want to boast about our mad skills.
The good news is, you don’t have to do either.
2. You’re already doing it.
When you market your story, or yourself, you are telling a story. And, gee whiz, that’s what we writers are good at. Writing a synopsis, query letter, treatment or even a blog post, is essentially a creative act. Each query letter has a story arc. Every blog post (even this one) has a structure and at least hints of characters.
You’re already telling stories; all you have to do is use those same skills to connect with your audience, your agent and your publishing rep.
3. It makes you a better writer.
Marketing forces you to think through your story. Writing a treatment (of any length) will give you much needed perspective, a bird’s eye view of the story. Any kind of marketing activity, even if it’s just telling a friend what the story is about, will pressure you to get to the core of your story.
Essentially, marketing asks questions from the point of view of the reader:
Why should I read this story?
Why should I care?
Why should I give up my time to read this?
It may sound harsh, but knowing the answer to those questions will help guide you through countless revisions and tiresome questions from jaded publishers. Not only will understanding the core value of your story, what your story has to offer and who will enjoy your story help you through the publishing or self-publishing process, but it can help guide you to creating a better first draft.
I will delve into this topic more in future articles, but for now, let’s just say that the more you know about the value of your story and why your target readers would enjoy reading it, the more empowered you will feel when crafting, strong, dramatic choices that shape the course of the your story.
A Word About Rejection
There’s a black cloud looming over this article. One clawing in the backs of our skulls:
What if nobody likes my story? What if my marketing fails? What if marketing reveals that my story sucks?
While writers say that they are afraid of bragging or begging, usually, those fears are just masks. What we are really afraid of is getting shot down in flames. If we do get rejected, it often feels like the end of the world. But, that experience is valuable, information.
There’s only one way to develop a thick skin: fail early and fail often. Each shot down query is a bit of feedback. Each blog post with no comments, a chance to rethink your strategy. Yes, it sucks to get rejected. But if you take each rejection as a new opportunity to reconnect with your story, to understand and tweak its core value, you will find your story getting better and better. Also, you will learn more about your readers and what they expect.
A New Definition of Marketing
In order to avoid falling into pitfalls of marketing – begging, bragging, or getting our butts kicked by rejection – we need to shift how we think about marketing.
So today, I am offering a new definition of marketing for us writing folk:
Marketing for Writers
Marketing is the act of connecting with readers, both future and present. Marketing tells the story of your story, and lets readers know why they would love to read your work.
What fears do you have about marketing? What nightmare scenarios have you experienced? What are some steps you can take to really connect with your readers? Leave your comments below.
Kent Bridgeman is a freelance writer and marketing strategist who also writes short stories, screenplays and poetry. He helps his clients clarify their marketing messages and craft potent content. He lives in Chicago with his lovely fiancée D, and a grumpy parrot named Poncho. Check out his work at thewritejazz.com