Balancing Act: Writing and Marketing

Written by on May 1, 2012 in On Writing

One of the biggest challenges I face as a modern day writer is the juggling act of writing and marketing–or rather writing while marketing. With today’s internet, social media and the changing world of publishing, writing and marketing are inextricably linked. But I personally don’t know too many writers that would rather be out promoting and selling their book instead of writing. The two activities seem diabolically opposed.

Writing is lovely for its solitude, for those aha! moments in the shower or on an ambling walk in nature when a whole project comes together with single idea; for the intensely focused feeling when the words are just pouring out in perfectly ordered streams. Writing is sort of like diving. It’s a little unnerving taking that step off of the diving board but once your body enters the water everything but that moment disappears. It is the sense of movement, holding your breath and pushing toward the surface. It is captivating, exhilarating and isolating. No one can do it for you and the rewards are impossible to describe. In short, it’s all about you. Your story, your art, your craft, your mind, your longings, etc.

Marketing on the other hand is about the other person, the reader, the buyer, the publisher. It deals with rejection, critiques and exposure. It means talking about your book like it was written by someone else; it means pitching it to agents like your peddling snake oil to some unsuspecting person from which you hope to never meet again. It means cajoling yourself after a failure, like a rejection letter from a newspaper editor or an email from an agent who simply isn’t interested in your work. Marketing is like being your own defense attorney at a trial, you are constantly trying to prove you are a half decent writer, that your work should be read and defending what you have written from those who would like to change it.

Marketing requires a certain courage, to face the world and its opinions, to speak your mind from a podium whether anyone agrees with you or not and to ask others to spend their money on your creation. Once your work is out there, the vulnerable feeling marketing induces becomes permanent. On the other hand, marketing and its rewards, i.e. royalty checks (no matter how small), receiving acclaim from a literary journal or an excellent review, seeing someone at the bookstore purchasing your book or getting an award make it all worthwhile. But still, it’s nothing like writing.  In short, its all about others. Others’ opinions, others’ approval, others’ interest, others’ reviews, etc.

So, how do you balance the solitary luxuries of writing with the exposure and validation of marketing?

Here is some advice I give to myself (and anyone else who may benefit): Stop pretending to be Ernest Hemingway, or Henry David Thoreau or Virginia Woolf. It is highly unlikely you will be able to sell books simply by writing them and having publishers trip over themselves to buy your book for mountains of money; it is doubtful two years of your life will be wide open for solitude at Walden Pond or, for some of us, it is still a pipe dream to have a room of our own.

So. . . just be yourself. You are writing at this particular juncture in time and it will be different from those who wrote before you and it will be different from those yet to write. Make the most of your unique opportunities. Write when and where you feel inspired, write only what is true for you and remember Rome was not built in a day. That leaves plenty of time for marketing. Don’t think of selling your writing as a betrayal of the art of writing. Think of marketing and writing as siblings that need to come to an amicable relationship. Both play a vital role in your success. If you only remain hidden in your writing chambers (if you are lucky enough to have a chamber for writing) you will miss out on all of the growth that comes when you risk rejection, the encouragement of positive feedback or the joy of communion with the people who actually love reading your words. If you get caught up in promoting your book you can quickly become bogged down with facebook numbers, twitter followers and fretting excessively over that one review with only four stars instead of five. Writing becomes an anchor for marketing, keeping you grounded and inspired just as marketing becomes a hot air balloon for writing, allowing you the thrill of seeing the possibilities and getting a good view of what needs to change. Learn to love marketing, even if you think it isn’t what writers are supposed to do. If nothing else it will provide contrast for those quiet inspirations in the silent ecstasy of writing.

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