Marketing. Let’s talk about it. Hey now, no crying, don’t cry. Listen, I know. I know. You don’t want to be a product. I don’t want that either. I get that. I do. I know all about mirroring and repetition and attention-targeting. We’re not here for that. We’re not here to make you a product.
We’re here to make you “you.”
Because no matter where you go…
I want to change the word “marketing” out and make it “confidence.” I like to use the analogy of the furniture maker. You’ve made a beautiful table. Put a lot of time, effort, and craft into it. People need tables. They would love your table. Let me ask you this: Is your table in your basement, and is only known to be so by your cousins and immediate friends, all whom already have tables? If so, bad. Did you make color photos of your table and put one on every windshield of all the cars at Target? Bad. Don’t do that. Don’t make the environment hate you. Did you put an ad in the local classifieds and maybe a few community centers about table for sale? OK. Yes. You marketed. You said “I have a product, this is it” and then you backed away.
That’s marketing/advertising 101.
Unfortunately marketing/advertising 2.0 says YOU WON’T BELIEVE HOW GREAT THIS TABLE IS! 5 EASY STEPS TO GETTING THIS TABLE! LIKE SITTING? THEN YOU NEED THIS TABLE! And on…and on…
Marketing has become an assailant forcing things into your pockets whether you want them there or not.
That’s not what you want to do. Certainly not.
It’s harder for folks in the “arts”, especially writers. We’re indoctrinated to be invisible unless we reach Gore Vidal status in both personality and White privilege, which we won’t pretend isn’t a huge part of marketing. Writers are told to slide their manuscripts under the door then sit quietly for a few months until a decision is made. Writers are told that pride goeth before a bad blog; that it’s unseemly to openly like their own work; that hubris spelled backwards is sirbuh, which is an unpleasant-sounding word, which is what hubris is: unpleasant. We, as the meatbags behind the pens, aren’t supposed to draw attention to ourselves. On one hand that’s perfectly fine; I don’t need you to know who I am. Agreed.
But I need you to know what I do.
I make tables.
Except they’re books.
They might be weird books. Maybe disturbing books. Funny books too. Maybe a bit of all. Shabby chic. Not to get in your face about them, but I’d love for you to read them. And I’d love to give them away but, y’know, capitalism, ugh. So, like, I know we just met and this is crazy but…purchase me maybe? Boom, done, end of marketing session. And that happens different ways depending on your publishing avenue. If you’re a one-person show, you’re hitting blogs and book clubs and online communities now and again. You mention stuff on social when needed (new publication, new review, cool mention, that kind of thing). If you’ve got a marketing team behind you you do the same things, just not as much. All else that goes into that pot of artist/art is just you being you. You being enthusiastic about your craft, about the works of others, about cool stuff in general. Because as a writer you’re a cool, varied soul. You like things that most folks hardly ever notice. Websites about medieval hairdos. The fascinations of regional dialects. Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s genius run on X-Men. Kinky humpback whale pairings. All of that goes into your books. So by a long stretch of extension, you are your books.
Soooo… no matter where you go, there you are. You’re not forcing things people don’t want, you’re just you enjoying things. People respond to that, people dig that. Doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna buy, but it does make your life a lot less stressful.
You’re not a product. You’re just you.
And that’s what marketing should be, Charlie Brown. You’re good at making tables. Let folks know you make pretty damn good tables. And then go off laughing with them, or enjoying pizza, or catch a really bad action movie with them. Y’know, live your life. Can’t stress enough: folks will either buy or they won’t, but there’s always, always, time for chilling out with pizza and movies in a dive bar…which could be the staging point for a great adventure to write about.
What writer hasn't been plagued with "Why Bother?" A disheartening field full of No gets daunting. Why bother communicating when there are a thousand voices shouting? Because you're not shouting. What do people do to get away from a loud, boorish party? Look for a quiet spot. That's where you come in. Someone will come meet you on a quiet balcony away from the crowd and the two of you will look at the stars. And for that brief moment that's all you need.
There are times I wonder how my non-disciplined ass managed to write 4 books. Ambition certainly doesn’t drive me, otherwise you might have heard of said books by now. I’d much rather dig my toes in sand for 3 hours than drive market growth for 3 minutes. I’m Ernie. Giggly, mischievous, humorously Machiavellian Ernie. Which isn’t in itself a negative thing. Ernie is where the creativity resides.
But the work doesn’t happen without a little Bert.
Bert is discipline, even if only a whisper of it. Bert takes the idea and says do something with it. Shape it. Explore it. In an earlier post I touched on how some writers have a schedule: they sit after coffee, they load paper in the mental typewriter, and they have at it: they have clocked in and output is about to happen. Admittedly, I had a lot more Bert in me starting out than I do now. I was going to sell books, and buy houses for my family, and scowl across a coffee bar at Brett Easton Ellis, and never ever wake to anything but my body’s natural rhythms. My output had a clear and driven goal: escape from poverty. My Bert was a pragmatic guy, and I loved him. I did not, however, love the work.
I’ve published 4 books, but I’ve written 7 total. I won’t even get into how many short stories are entombed.
Bert was great at creating product; it was Ernie, though, who wanted to play. He wanted nothing more than to roll words like marbles, or egg Bert on to try something random and new, turn the workspace into a parade with himself as twirling marcher. The more Ernie crept in, the more fun I had. Ernie led me to do a collection of shorts featuring an experimental flash piece about barbarian Smurfs. His sardonic laughter brought about the gonzo urban satire Neon Lights, and you can be damn sure The Brothers Jetstream would still be locked away in my brainmeats if not for Ernie’s love of baths and rubber ducks.
So this brief post is about balance.
Striking it would seem to be a given, but look at the state of our world. It’s not, and we take conversations on it for granted. It’s like saying we need to breathe air. Duh. But you’d be surprised how many times you hold your breath per day without even realizing it. A lot of people see disciplined output as conveyor belt output. The opposing batch of folks say, “How’s that starving anonymity working out for ya?” The fallacy, though, is there’s no creativity in discipline and no discipline in creativity.
Bert liked to have just as much fun as Ernie, he just also wanted to be appreciated for knowing when it was time to get things done. When that switch flipped in me I realized the 4 books I’d written and liked, and thought I’d written as a creative dynamo… were collaborations. Bert had always been there. There is no either/or, Glorious Revolutionaries, life’s a blend. In advice pieces about writing we always hear “Do you outline, do you pants? 8 hours straight or 4 and 4? Word count! Did you hit it, did you score?” People on one side will say to that, “No, for I know that there is more,” and ride off to find sand and coffee. In writing, too many play the mental gymnastics of either/or, but the thing is this, in 3 parts:
1) You have to be disciplined;
2) You have to have fun;
Know the value of fine sand or a hot soak in a tub to both sides of your brain.
There’s no reason to look down on aspects of your creativity, and nothing dictates that what you do must be a “success.” The only thing is to do it and realize there’s a reason for doing it. That realization is the Bert in you. That’s the nugget of discipline I found. It fits inside me quite nicely. Yours may be larger, yours may be small, yours may be much more misshapen than mine. But it’s yours. Work with it, not against it.
Nobody else is going to do what you do. It’s not possible. They’re not you.
Nobody but you can watch over you, prod you, encourage you, beguile you, infuriate you, and smile with you while you move yourself through your creative days.
Nobody. So you need your Bert and Ernie. Discipline just means doing what needs to be done so you can do something else. Embrace the inner Bert.
Creative Person, you’re the one.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY