One thing I struggle to resolve is this idea of good ambition and selfish ambition. I know of a couple authors who tend toward Me-Monster-ness, and, because of that, I fear I’ll become that too. I know the authors I represent have this fear, too.
The stress for the author is this: Authors have to market, to let others know about their books. What’s helped me frame marketing has been Seth Godin’s tribes metaphor. Instead of always talking about me, I view marketing more like shepherding those God gathers for me to embrace.
Still there are times when I meander through Instagram and Facebook and see over-promotion. I worry. Am I doing that?
Do you ever feel that way?
And yet, no one begrudges a plumber who advertises, right? Or an accountant with a business card.
After I wrote about this struggle, my author friend Marc Schelske wrote this:
They spent quite a bit of time on this issue at the Launch Conference. One distinction they made was the difference between marketing yourself (“Hey, look at me, I’m so great.”) and marketing the service that you are passionate about and that you know serves a need. (“Do you struggle with pain around your story of sexual abuse? Me too. Can I share what worked for me?”)
Those two things feel completely different to me. When I started thinking like that, it really shifted things for me.
One point they made about speakers was this: For a new, or relatively unknown speaker, selling yourself really doesn’t work. An event planner doesn’t know who you are, and your accolades don’t mean much to them. But offering a solution to a specific audience, that’s what they want. They know their audience and their audience’s needs. So to connect the dots, don’t sell yourself to them, sell the solutions or the experiences that you have to share with that kind of audience.
Then, author Caroline Coleman added this insightful comment:
I really like what your friend Marc wrote above about just offering a solution to a specific problem, because what you said about plumbers got me thinking. Why DON’T we cringe when a plumber advertises? Perhaps we should model ourselves after plumbers? “If you are so stuck, you can’t even swallow, try me. I won’t just pour acid down your throat. I’ll help you locate the true source of the problem and extract it with minimal collateral damage. I’ve had the same problem and this worked on me.” Or words to that effect?
My friend Marc finished by saying:
The plumber analogy is a good one I think. Why don’t we begrudge plumbers their marketing? Well, in some cases we do. When it’s all about them. When they are clearly in it for getting the most money they can and ripping people off. But generally because they are offering a needed service, we don’t.
I suspect that’s similar with speakers and writers. If we’re offering a valuable service, people don’t begrudge the cost or the marketing (usually… there are some people in the Christian community that are convinced anyone in ministry has to be poor, but that’s a different conversation.) If we’re not in it for fame (which most plumbers aren’t), people don’t get itchy. So maybe the model for us is: offer a valuable service, clearly be about blessing and serving others, value what we do and ask for that value to be compensated, but be humble and human about it. Be excited about what we have to share, but don’t be about building an empire.
Honestly, my biggest issue with marketing and charging for what I do has nothing to do with what others thing. It has to do with my own internal junk about not being worthy. How could what I offer possibly be worth other people’s money? But that’s my own junk, to be resolved in my identity in Christ, and at times in my counselor’s office.
As for modeling after plumbers, I’m all for that — except for the belt line.
I love what my friends had to say. I pray those words help set you free to view marketing and platform differently. This is a business, and any business needs advertising and promotion. It’s part of the package. Instead of fretting, be free. Rest in knowing it’s okay to promote your book.
It’s time to re-frame how we think about marketing our books. It’s not about us-us-us. It’s certainly not about fame or accolades. It’s about the fact that we offering a valuable service or beautiful story that generates income to help our families. Maybe if authors thought more like plumbers, we’d all approach marketing with joy and ten times less stress.
What about you? How have your views on marketing and promotion changed over the past few years? What has helped you move joyfully forward as you promote your books?
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ooooh, I love this! Thank you, Mary. I actually have a friend who is a missionary plumber!
But that is perhaps a tangent.
So, I’ve actually experienced a recent shift this summer in how I view my quarterly newsletter. I took a good long look at my newsletter and realized that I was urging people to sign up based on the fact that I promised to only bother them four times a year!!!
Well, as noble as that goal is (As an Enneagram 4/5 I really really don’t like newsletters that arrive constantly) it occurred to me that I wasn’t saying anything about what the newsletter actually was (besides infrequent). So I pulled back, looked at the books I was offering (a RomCom and a children’s tie in) and thought about what the audience for those stories might like. Well, if they have young readers, they are wanting to foster literacy! Oh, well I have a lot to say about that! I have three voracious readers (all boys) and we did all sorts of things to foster literacy. Teachers often said weird things like, “But boys don’t read,” even though clearly all three of mine did and do.
So, I’ve actually organized my newsletter! I’m so happy about it I’m almost giddy. I had previously changed what I wrote stories about, but this did not extend to my newsletter. I just did this yesterday so that is why I am still wrapped up in the euphoria of newsletter organization. Who knew that organization would bring me so much joy? I have writer friends who can’t organize or they loose their writing joy, but clearly, I am not one of those. Anyway, now I have sections to my newsletter that I will fill four times a year. I am just so incredibly happy about this. Who would have known that putting a bit more thought into what value I have to offer (I tried before, but kept thinking I didn’t have anything) would help me to actually land on some things that I’m excited to share?
OK, so here is my brilliant plan, yay!
Mountain Writer–We live off-grid, which is apparently more interesting than I thought and so I chat about what is happening in our remote mountain meadow.
Wander in the Woods–I was also pretty good about getting my children outside (we trudged through mud and woods and the meadow constantly when the boys were little) and so I can give tips about this, too!
Recipe for Reading–Yep, reading tips.
Princess Leia Freyja Does Scandalous Things–Well, this section just makes me happy. Our dog is always doing silly things like refusing to drink unless it is out of her special mug or becoming suddenly addicted to mountain mist popcorn.
What New Insanity is this?–An update about what I’m writing next. To be fair, my writing does lean toward the silly side of written communication. But who will write about a giant platypus if not me?
Hmmm … this is less a comment and more a tome. Sorry about that! But I just sent out my first organized newsletter yesterday and I am still quite thrilled. Even if my organization does not thrill everyone else, it certainly has made me happy and that has to count for something! So, Mary, was this kind of what you were asking? It is a shift in thinking for sure.
I love this so much! I would imagine your readers will appreciate the consistency and the humor. Well done!
Kristen Joy Wilks
Thanks, Mary! You know, looking at my plan now, it just makes sense. But I’ve spent years trying to do this and all these things never occurred to me. It is funny how we have a hard time seeing ourselves as unique and able to give something valuable.
Literacy, reading books — preach it, Sister! In my semi-retirement, I work as a classroom aide in a high school. Every time I hear a kid say, “I hate books” (and I hear it all to often), I feel the pain to the tips of my toes. Our school librarian’s goal is to get a book that interests them into the hands of all the students — be it science fiction, a graphic novel, baseball tips, a biography. Anything to make them give reading a try. I grieve, thinking a child who never reads a book will grow up never reading the Bible. This is a spiritual battle too. Let us pray!
Kristen Joy Wilks
So important, Shirlee! As a volunteer in each of my sons’ classes, I know what you mean. I loved helping their friends learn new reading skills and seeing a kid matched up with just the right book. You are so right in that a love of reading is a spiritual battle as well, since so much of our walk with the Lord is inspired by reading His Word!
Interesting thoughts, Mary, thank you. I never pictured myself as a plumber, but I wept with gratitude for the plumber who showed up in the midst of my crisis.
I do see my writing as a step stool, one that helps my readers reach up and touch God.
Mary E. DeMuth
What a great metaphor, the step stool.
Your words are such a blessing to me this morning. You have helped me to focus on the promotion of my book, to reach out to women based on my experience as a widow.
Mary E. DeMuth
That’s a very necessary and needed ministry!
Great post, Mary! Like many other authors, I have a love-hate relationship with marketing, but posts like this one gives me hope that the relationship isn’t hopeless.
I agree, marketing me would never work…what could I say, except, “Hey, welcome to my boat. Pick up an oar and lets row together. Maybe if we team up and pull together, we’ll survive this raging river called life on earth!”
Another thing occurred to me about other types of marketing. Don’t oversell your product or service.
How many times have you watched a commercial on TV or heard one on the radio promising that the product or service will “change your life”; or transform your totally flawed family into a perfect example of love and relationship; or make you look or perform like you’re twenty-something again.
I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep; I want to point my peeps to the One Who never breaks a promise. I guess that means we can’t oversell God’s love, right?
Mary E. DeMuth
Yes true on God’s love. And, amen on not overselling our books. We are just vessels.
I revisit this topic often. Lately, I’ve considered this point of platform building and whatever issues we have with it, might just be the very place God wants to heal us.
Is the issue self-promotion? What heart condition does God want to address?
Is the issue that we hold back in some way? What fear does God want to speak into? Fear of failure? Success? Being seen? Not being seen? Not being enough? Being too much?
What if instead of worrying about platform we brought the topic to God and invited Him to show us what it is about the process that feels like a burden?
I’ve also thought about tribe building. If we forget the book and focus on the deep desire God placed on our heart to share this message, how would we communicate that with the person next to us? What if instead of the self-inflicted pressure and stress to grow a huge platform, we focused on the joy and purpose to tell as many people as possible about the gift of a life spent with Jesus?
What if our greatest issue with platform pointed to the heart issue God wants to heal in us?
What if instead of a burden to grow a large platform, we leaned into the desire to show as many people as possible the joy of a life with Jesus?
Such compelling questions and thoughts, Susan.
Mary, this is a terrific perspective on marketing. Although offering a solution to people’s wants and needs via fiction might take a bit more thought than with non-fiction, you helped me to sit back and analyze objectively how readers benefit from my novels. Fiction can be simple escapism, but with each of mine, I see distinct benefits that the various themes and heroes’ journeys provide for readers. Thanks for this thought-provoking viewpoint!
Thank you, Rick. Yes, highlight the reader’s benefits. I love fiction because there are so many!