Self-publishing educators tell you how to sell your book, but very few bother to ask if that’s a worthwhile pursuit. Tacking marketing on as the de facto second phase of writing a book places many worthy artists’ resources in jeopardy. How much time, money and energy should you put into marketing your book? The answer is found in an honest evaluation of where your work lies on the spectrum between art and business.
John is a landscape painter. He has painted for decades, cultivating the skills to complement his talent. He works as a restaurant manager but he’s passionate about his art and maintains a studio in his garage. He has sold several paintings, had some gallery shows, and dreams of gaining enough stature as an artist to quit the food service business and devote himself to painting. After all, he paints at least as well as famous artists who make good money.
Wilma runs a vinyl sign shop out of her own garage. She creates graphics on a computer, exports the files to her vinyl cutter and applies them to shop windows and hanging banners. She studied design and takes her typography seriously, choosing appropriate typefaces and kerning the letters more carefully than her competitors do. Sometimes, she gets tired of doing commercial work; she wishes she could spend more time painting for fun but she’s grateful not to be working in a cubicle.
John is a fine artist. Wilma is a commercial artist. For our purposes, they represent the fiction and the nonfiction writer respectively.
Many authors start down the publishing road believing that printing books is the same as printing money, only to be disappointed by low returns and the amount of work involved. This guest article by novelist, poet and songwriter Richard Geller responds to advice offered by marketing luminary Seth Godin who suggests indie publishers should lower their expectations. Geller proposes different ways to measure success. Printing books is not the same as printing money, but for creative writers, printing books may give rise to something of even greater value. Changing expectations and lowering them are two different things.
In his insightful blog, Seth Godin offers two separate lists of marketing tips for writers. I want to reflect a bit on what he has in the number-one position on each list; they’re closely related:
On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority. (2006)
Any comparison of the number of books published versus the number of authors making useful amounts of money at it is damn sobering stuff. Seth Godin certainly has his facts straight. The odds are definitely against you achieving anything that resembles business success.
I have, however, a question about lowering our expectations. Does the unlikelihood of ever realizing material success or fame from your writing mean you should lower your expectations? Or should you, instead, adopt different sets of expectations—aligned with marketplace realities—that are high nonetheless?