Would you believe this is the third attempt at an opening? Or maybe that I’ve already tried everything from imagining a conversation to a start with some fire like this was a Killer Mike mixtape, and nothing so far has seemed to capture that intersection between why I feel you need to understand this and how I think you can and should approach it?
Okay, here we go.
If there’s a Family Feud big board of topics that come up in my conversations with writers, one of the top three answers on the board has to be “I’m not very good at marketing, I don’t want to market my stuff, and why do I have to market it”
Yeah, I know. That’s three things all by itself, but let’s just assume this is a really wide Family Feud board, and maybe Steve Harvey is shot in IMAX or something. (don’t picture that or googling it, please)
What I’m going to talk about now is that I think if you’ve ever said that trio of ideas, I think what this all boils down to is this – you don’t want to take the risk of promoting a thing and getting either no response or worse, a backlash. We can dress that up with the notion that you don’t know how to do it, or that you don’t have money to spend on it, but I’ve talked to people who do know how to do it, and I’ve talked to people who have the money, and it comes down plain and simple to that fear of rejection.
So let’s take a second and point out that it’s entirely okay to be afraid of the possibility of rejection or the ignoring of your efforts. That’s a thing that can happen. But there’s an equal chance of it being not-rejected or not-ignored. Because you haven’t done the thing yet, there’s a 50/50 shot. Them’s good odds, honestly.
But oh no, you’re saying from whatever seat you’re in while you read this, you need there to be this one kind of response in order to be worth the trouble and effort. It’s not enough just to get 1 sale, you need 100 sales, or 1000 views, or 16 reviews or whatever. There’s some hurdle to jump, some hoop to pass through, some point you have to surpass in order to give yourself the permission to entertain the idea that you’ve succeeded.
The nice thing about setting up those hoops is that it gives you something to point to when you don’t achieve it, and it becomes something a bit more concrete every time you fail, so that you get to stay in that bubble where you’re not good enough and can’t-ever-be-so-long-as-X-or-Y-or-Z-is-a-thing. Rather than loosening up on the self-imposed mandate that you need to hit some particular target to justify yourself, you double down, and that ratchets up all the pressure and tension on the situation. Which, and I don’t know if you know this, isn’t actually conducive to you being in a headspace where you can produce at the level necessary to reach the target. The notion that “pressure bursts pipes and makes diamonds” (which is a mixed metaphor) is great when you want to be known for pressuring yourself in order to produce, rather than getting yourself known for what you produce.
Too often we assume the worst is going to happen, particularly when something is more out of our control than in our control. And audiences are very much out of our control. We can’t make people act a certain way forever, we can’t make everyone conform, we can’t accurately predict the vastness of potential in response and its degrees.
This isn’t to say we have to be desperately grateful for every .000001 of every percent of every metric, as if we’re only good enough to warrant getting that much. You’re not. You deserve whole numbers. You deserve actual recognition. But that’s gotta start from within yourself and then radiate outward so that it can come back to you at all.
Being “bad” at marketing and promotion is something you can improve. Write more tweets, learn how to take 140 characters and get your idea across. Write readable blogposts. Learn 2 format, newb. If you’re writing ads, you can practice your salescopy. These are all skills that you can improve, with practice. Which means investing the time, and then following that up with money AFTER you feel more comfortable doing it – there’s loads of free ways to promote yourself and what you’re doing, so long as you’re willing to put that pressure building gotta-hit-this-one-target stuff to one side.
Marketing is as much about setting up expectations (in others) as it is about managing your own. When you write the copy, the tweet, the blog post, the whatever, going into it with the idea that “like everyone I know is gonna see this and love it, and then I’m gonna get like all the supporters and people will finally bring me what’s mine!” is a recipe for frustration when you realize that out of all the infinite possible responses you could get, you’ve set a very narrow gaze on this one particular one, and likely this one particular one requires a lot of other factors to align and move in specific ways and times. Basically, you’ve tried to control so much of the uncontrollable and unknown that you’re ensuring more frustration than success if it doesn’t go how you want.
Let’s talk about success. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that part of success is defined on your own terms, and that chasing other people’s definitions often keeps people from reaching their goals while mistakenly enforcing some notion that they’re “humble and hungry.” So let’s make it clear here – your success comes on your own terms. You don’t have to meet someone else’s criteria in order to be happy, because it is not your job to please them.
Other people can have their metrics and their ideas of success, and they can go apply them to their own efforts. Maybe their metrics and barometers are great, and by all means, you’re free to employ them if you like, but you’re not beholden to them.
Managing your own expectations means not only assuming the worst is going to happen. Expectations aren’t just two extremes, and I urge you to stop and take a deep breath before you go do a thing where expectations are involved – Are you assuming total failure? How high is the bar set? Take responsibility for your expectations.
And in that responsibility, I tell you to go one further. You’re the best resource to talk about your creation, because it came from you. In addition to being able to talk about what it is, you can also talk about the process, the emotions, and the decisions you experienced while you made it. When you rely on other people to talk about your stuff (like when you put your eggs in that basket where you expect a publisher to do the heavy lifting of making people aware of your book, but we’ll get there in the next paragraph), any information they have is secondhand – you’re the primary source, and if you’re truly proud of what you’ve made, why wouldn’t you want to talk about? (This is where, again, I point to expectations assuming failure and then point back to that 50/50 earlier)
There’s nothing wrong with having other people assist you in getting the word out about what you’re doing. It’s super helpful to you. It builds bridges, it makes connections, it strengthens networks. It helps create and direct the flow of positive information.
This is your creation, whatever it is, and you need to get out in front with it. Show it the hell off. Even if you don’t want to make it about you because you’re worried that who you are is somehow a disincentive to enjoy what you’ve made (and frankly I’m not sure if that says something about your ego or your work’s quality), make it about the work. What it is, what it means to you, what you are trying to do with it, all that good stuff. Put the focus where you want it to be. You get to the control that.
Several writers I’ve spoken to in the last eight months have talked to me about when they make it “big” (meaning: get traditionally published), they’ll be really relieved that they won’t have to do anything other than just write the books. I’m going to put on my Managing Editor of a successful publisher hat (shout-out to ParvusPress! airhorns! other celebratory sounds you can imagine!) and tell you straight –
A creator has to work even after the creation is made.
There are blog tours, there are interviews, there’s tweets to make, there’s people to email, there’s a lot of work that the author does. This is in addition to what happens on the publishing end, which is setting up all those things AND doing promotional stuff to aid the author in having a product that generate sales so that people earn paychecks. (You’re following @ParvusPress on Twitter, right? I’m just asking)
Maybe you’ve heard this before: If you want the rewards or results, you gotta do the work.
Marketing is no different, and everyone from Big-Fancy-Author-Number-Three to mid-list-Author-Eleven to random-creative-who-publishes-slash-fiction-about-Law-and-Order has to do SOMETHING (or more likely multiple somethings) so that people know that there’s something in the world they should check out.
It might not be easy, but it’s doable. And if you do it often enough, you’ll get better at it. Yeah, you’re gonna make mistakes, but it is through our mistakes that we can figure out what to improve so we can see better results.
You gotta do the work. And I believe in your ability to do it.