When I was a Management Consultant — which is really just a fancy name for someone from whom business people sought management advice — the subject of marketing came up almost all the time.
If you’ve been following this series, you’ll know the accompanying diagram by now, showing the seven functions required of any self-published author, but also anyone trying to set up any kind of enterprise: planning, management, marketing, finances, production, quality and distribution. These functions are all inter-related and mastering them is much like mastering the piano — one has to learn to ‘play’ them, if one wants to be successful. What tends to happen in any enterprise, not just small businesses but also for any writers going down the self-publishing route, is that some of these functions get overlooked or neglected and this throws everything out of balance, just as playing a song on the piano wouldn’t sound right if you could only use half the keyboard.
My whole job as a Management Consultant, in fact, was based on small business owners having neglected the task of managing their own shows — they had called me in because they hadn’t done the job of ‘management’ themselves. Luckily, I was very aware that the main product of my job was to make myself redundant: if I did things well, the client would have no further need for me, but would have learned to ‘play the piano’ for themselves. (It’s the same for writers, too — anyone reading these articles should gradually learn how to do all of these things for themselves and not need these articles any more.)
I found that there was a pattern: no matter what the business was, from retail to telesales to rentals to professional services, almost all business owners failed to plan, to manage, and to market. Their attention was on finances, production, quality and distribution. You can probably spot what followed, one for one: in the absence of those first three functions, there was almost always a tremendous squeeze on finances, leading almost all the business people I worked with to have huge problems with finance stress. Their jobs danced between production, checking quality and making sure distribution was occurring to worrying about the lack of income and the consequent mounting bills.
Does that sound familiar to you as a writer? Are you spending your time jumping between writing, editing, making sure that your books appear for sale on various websites, and then getting frantic about money?
All that’s happening is that you are concentrating on just over half of the full ‘keyboard’. To get away from the piano analogy for a moment, it’s as though someone is making you write a story using only two rows of your three-row keyboard, or using only words in the dictionary after the letter ‘J’. That would be ridiculous, right? Not to mention tough. But that’s the analogy that shows what you are doing in trying to run your writing career without activating half of the resources at your disposal.
What actually happens is this: many writers feel that all they have to do is write something reasonably good, edit it into shape, and then get it distributed to the mass market in order for the income to come in. They are short-circuiting themselves, like this:
They write and write and write, and edit and edit and edit, and then along comes something like Amazon, promising to be a distribution dream: they think that all they have to do is get their book in front of millions of Amazon customers, and all will be well — sales will pour in, leaving them more time for writing and so forth.
I’ve written a whole book on why this doesn’t work, but so enticing and appealing is the simplicity of the above that many writers are still hypnotised by it. Of course, it’s something that seems to make sense, and, moreover, it aligns with the writer’s dream to make a living from writing alone. The answer, they think, is in Distribution, and that problem was solved by giant super-corporations like Amazon.
It escapes their attention that Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, doesn’t see Amazon as a retail company at all, but as a piece of technology. Amazon was designed to solve precisely the problem of distribution, and solve it it does — but no more than that. Amazon — and similar websites — are all about the ease of getting a product from A to B.
Meanwhile, three whole functions are getting overlooked by the writer: planning, management and marketing.
We’re going to take a closer look at marketing next time, but for now, ask yourself: What exactly is it?
Whenever the subject came up in my Management Consultant days, I would get exactly the same look from each and every client: blank, bemused, a little nervous, a little embarrassed. It came with a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh. And it came with two expectations: firstly, that it was going to be expensive, and secondly that it wasn’t going to work. Both expectations rested on the assumption that marketing, like the alchemy or astrology of yesteryear, was an arcane, opaque business, beyond the capacity of mortals to grasp, and almost certainly a field full of chicanery and quackery.
We'll take a look at the truth in the next article in this series.