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6 Hard Truths About Marketing

Here are some of the things that I have learned about marketing which can be stated - in no particular order - without a great deal of background information. They are not necessarily palatable things. Some of them may come across as blunt or assertive. But they are observations that I have made after many years in the marketing business and I offer them for your use.

1. Good writing does not usually sell itself.

Just because you have written something - even if it is actually quite good - you should not imagine for a moment that that alone will attract readers. You need to create the mechanisms which will attract them.

Build a house, then build the road to the house - or no one will visit, even if the house is grand and even if they want to.

Obviously, it is centrally important that the piece of work itself is of a certain standard - but the fact that mediocre rubbish can attract millions of buying readers should be an indicator to you that there are mechanisms which attract readers irrespective of the quality of the work. (People can build roads, even when they lead to less-than-worthwhile places.)

2. One of the biggest obstacles writers face is their lack of knowledge of how marketing works.

Knowledge on how to sell and the belief that it can be done are usually the two biggest things writers lack, after a knowledge of the craft of writing itself.

Knowledge is relatively easy to acquire; belief isn’t. Without belief, of course, a writer (or anyone, for that matter) will not summon the required energy or wherewithal to discover the knowledge.

How do you build belief? Learning and experience.

3. Learn to work to a schedule and to repeat particular actions when they work.

Let’s say you have discovered that when you do particular things, particular results occur. But without the discipline to do those things again and again and again, that knowledge will be useless to you. You need to get control of your habits - not necessarily in an iron-clad, ruthless way, just enough to ensure that you repeat successful actions.

Marketing, like writing, involves work - not necessarily grotesquely hard work, but work nevertheless. Things don't usually happen by magic.

But when you know what you're doing, it can seem like magic to others.

4. Apparent failures in marketing are usually due to an inaccurate time scale and false expectations.

Do you feel as though your book is failing because it hasn’t become an overnight bestseller?

Do you judge your book’s success by the amount of sales it makes immediately after it is launched?

See # 1 above. Your book will not sell itself. You need to be thinking in terms of a two year time frame at least before you work out whether or not a book is a ‘failure’.

Sure, a few books sell more rapidly than that. The vast majority sell much more slowly. Most of the lasting classics that you are familiar with took ten years or more to become so. Our fast-acquisition society expects miracles in marketing, and is fired up by the occasional flash successes - but the more prosaic truth is that success takes time. You can do some things to ensure that things are moving along as quickly as they can, and you can do other things to make the wait workable, but start thinking long term for a start.

5. Self-worth and marketing success are separate things.

This is a sensitive one and a big issue for many writers.

Writers tend to pour something of themselves into their work, and therefore calculate self-esteem largely based on how well the work is received. Though it’s not always easy to do, it really helps if you can keep the two things divided in your mind and heart. This is especially true because the reception of the work can take years to mature. Those years can be a tormented period of self-doubt, or they can be a productive period of self-belief and further work.

If it helps, imagine that, as a writer, you are creating your own solar system: it takes (usually) a long time, but eventually you will have amassed enough work to create its own gravitational forces, and the world of readers will slowly but surely go into orbit around it. Readers tend not to go into orbit around the speck of dust which is a single short story in an obscure magazine: they like to see some substance, consistency and depth. Then gradually they alter their perceptions and positions and start looking for more of the same. It’s almost a law of physics.

5. Learn how to tell a good story.

This one sounds obvious, but there are two levels to it:

i) Your story or novel or series of novels must itself be crafted using the ancient and immutable laws of fiction, or readers won’t like it. That sounds too brutal and simplistic, but it’s true. You can learn an alphabet of letters, learn a syntax and grammar of words and learn how to string words together into a story of sorts, but there’s a hidden ‘alphabet’ of archetypes, a ‘syntax’ and ‘grammar’ of storytelling that readers are unconsciously looking for - and unless you master it, at least in part, you’re going to struggle to attract or keep readers.

This secret language of fiction is described in great detail in my book How Stories Really Work.

ii) Having grasped the basics of writing a good story, you need to learn how the same principles apply to marketing.

Marketing is storytelling. Customers, like readers, want to engage with your ‘story’. Passers-by become potential customers as soon as you have drawn them into a narrative of some kind. For more, see my Marketing Handbook for Writers.

(Another 6 truths tomorrow. I didn't want to overload you all in one go!)

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