generous marketing

The Problem of Writers Writing About Writing to Get Readers

Oh, man, guys. Bookshelfbattle just put it perfectly.

Sometimes with all of the blogging, twittering, and social media-ing, I just wonder if all writers are doing are talking to other writers. It’s like we’re all door-to-door salesmen, knocking on a door, “Wanna buy my book?” And the person answers, “No, but do YOU wanna buy MY book?” [link]

This made me so happy! It’s exactly right, with a brilliant mental image thrown in. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially as I’m getting into blogging properly for the first time in a while. I’m already slipping into writing as a writer for writers to attract writers to my writing blog so they’ll read… my… stories? Well, that’s no good.

My real goal is to find a huge band of brilliant friends and fans who love reading what I write and talking about things I’m into and doing cool stuff to make the world a better place. So I start writing about whatever I’m currently obsessed with to draw the people that will align with it. And I’m obsessed with writing, self-publishing, generous marketing, etc. And other stuff, but it’s taking a strange degree and style of discipline to get into other headspaces in the context of blogging.

So I end up writing a blog for writers rather than readers. Which might work out, because writers are mostly thinking people who love great stories and read a ton, so that’s cool. But even so I’m engaging them as writers trying to get better at writing, not as readers looking for a good story.

So then I figure I need to be writing stuff my (potential and actual) readers would enjoy. Not content about creating content. Just…you know, content. Except I write novels, and that’s not great in blog format. So I can write supporting bonus materials and behind-the-scenes stuff.

Tricky bit there is that only a few dozen people are familiar with my work at the moment, so if I give excerpts, backstories, fun tidbits about the story world, character profiles, and that sort of thing, nobody will know what I’m talking about, and if I talk about other stuff it’s a different form of the original problem. I’m just talking to game-lovers about games or communal people about living in community or spiritual people about our invisible friends, and I can occasionally tack on a mention of my books and people might read them, but it’s still not really engaging with readers as readers.

I’m still figuring this out. The easy first steps are to be very generous and to actively be a reader, not just a writer. At minimum this opens up a dicey little quid-pro-quo with you other aspiring writers where I’ll try out your story and read/buy/love/recommend it if I like it, and maybe in a few cases you’ll try mine out too. But I don’t really enjoy that arrangement. Setting aside the fairly low readership numbers it’s likely to garner, it also just feels a little fakey and weird. I love reading peoples’ stories, but I don’t want it to be so they’ll read mine and I don’t want to feel pressure to respond a certain way because I want them to like me and I don’t want them to feel obligations and all. At best, it’s a strange and roundabout way to find one of the aforementioned brilliant friends.

More fundamentally, I want to get better at providing all kinds of cool things that I like and that my aforementioned brilliant friends would like. Sometimes writing, sometimes game design, sometimes kerning or sea monsters or metaphysics. And sometimes my actual stories, either bonus materials or just actual chunks of story. And sometimes exciting announcements that the next book is out or that I have a cool bundle of fun available. (Speaking of which…)

What’s scary about that is it means constantly re-breaking the mold. I’m theoretically all for losing readers rather than redirecting my writing to cater to a perceived audience’s perceived expectations. But already, a few posts in, I find myself hesitant to write posts that are much shorter or longer than what I have, or in a different format, or about a different kind of thing, because I’m already finding really cool people who like what I write about writing, and if I write about sea monsters maybe it will break the spell and you’ll all leave. (Which is irrational, of course, because who doesn’t love sea monsters?)

So all that to say, this blog isn’t going to just be writing tips. Might be a little while before I get it out of my system because the art and business of writing are what I think about for dozens of hours a week. But there might also be tea and mythical beasts at some point. Some of you find that exciting, not disappointing, and I’m really, really excited that you’re here.

Thank you, bookshelfbattle. Really great phrasing of an important situation. Everyone else, do you want to buy bookshelfbattle’s book? I think you should buy bookshelfbattle’s book. (Bookshelfbattle, do you have a book? Blast. Should have thought this through.)

But seriously, at least check out the blog. I’m enjoying it a ton. Finally someone who’s putting out engaging ideas for discussion, not just writing writing tips for writers writing for writers.

Cheers!
—Ben

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Non-Evil Marketing for Authors

I sense a deep tension in many of the writers I talk with, particularly those who aspire to make a living from their writing. You may be one of them.

Perhaps the idea of marketing your work seems distasteful, maybe even unethical. It’s not that you’re afraid of hard work or shy about telling people about your stories. It goes deeper than that. Marketing feels inherently un-artistic, maybe even anti-artistic. It’s like once you take the dive into marketing strategies and “building your author platform” and (ick) “growing your personal brand,” you’re going to shrivel into a soulless SEO linkbaiter and everything will be ruined forever.

I have a different way of looking at marketing, and it has pretty much changed my life. It has made me more generous, more excited, and more sincere. It gives me a filter for when and how and where to spread the word about my stories, so that I can get great readers without just being an annoying self-promoter. Best of all, it has aligned my goals so that I can throw all of my energy unhesitantly in one direction rather than feeling like I have to flip-flop between doing the good work of writing my stories and making the necessary compromise of marketing them.

From now on, when I say ‘marketing,’ I mean telling people a thing exists or helping them get it more easily or cheaply. (I think I may have stolen this from Write. Publish. Repeat. Maybe not. Either way, I recommend it.)

This gets really cool really fast. Here are three of my favorite angles on it.

No Tricking People

You’ll notice one part I left out of my marketing definition: making people think they want or need something. I think this is the heart of why so much traditional advertising feels so soulless. It’s intentionally planting dissatisfaction in people so that they’ll buy something they don’t need so that other people make money.

My job is to find the people who do want or would want my stories and get the word out to them.

Create and Spread Real Value

So if we’re not tricking people into wanting it, it has to be something genuinely valuable to them. (For the record, that also means valuable enough to make it worth paying what’s being asked.) This is the part that helps me align my energy, effort, and enthusiasm. If my book is going to make peoples’ lives better, it’s worth helping them get their hands on it. If it’s valuable to some people but not to others, I’ll tell the some but not bother the others. If it’s not going to make peoples’ lives better, I shouldn’t be writing it in the first place, much less marketing it.

This all seems simple in retrospect, but it’s been absolutely revolutionary for me. If I genuinely believe my stories are great and will make peoples’ lives better—and I do—I have permission to be truly enthusiastic about marketing my stories to them. You could even argue I have a duty to spread the word. If I have something that would make peoples’ lives better and I don’t exert my full energy, intelligence, and persistence in getting it to them, I’m not living as I should.

Generous Marketing

Now here’s where it gets especially cool. If someone would genuinely enjoy my stories, telling her they exist is doing her a favor. If my story will make her life better, helping her get it is a generous act.

Think about the books that have changed your life, that you’ve gone back to over and over. What if nobody had ever told you about them? Sad, right? But you did hear about it. Does it matter whether it was a friend or the author or a library sale that first drew your attention to it? Not at all. It’s not being creepy to help someone find or get something they’ll love.

So that’s it. Make sure you’re creating something valuable, find the people whose lives it would improve, and help them get their hands on it.

In that vein, I’d like to offer you a gift. The Dream World Collective is a novel about chasing what you love. It’s quirky and geeky and silly and sweet, and I think a lot of you will love it. It’s due for publication later this year, but in the meantime I’d like to give it to you for free. I’m pre-releasing it in sections as I work through the final edits.

1. Click here to download the first section. I’ll keep posting more at bit.ly/latestdwc.

2. I’d love your help getting the word out. Details here.

3. If you’re not into it, no worries. I’m grateful you read this far and I wish you all the best.

Cheers!

—Ben