3 Common Marketing Fallacies That Writers Need To Be Wary Of

Today I want to cover three common marketing fallacies that I see all the time. These are things I see that bump writers off track, and tend to leave them overwhelmed. Also, I’ll give my advice for what you should do instead. Okay, let’s dig in….

Fallacy #1: Following Trends That Offer You a “Simple” Key to Success

I see this constantly. A viable piece of advice to help writers reach readers is amped up to such a degree that it begins to eclipse all other proven strategies. Let me put this into context with two trends I have seen, encouraging writers to start email newsletters, and encouraging them to create courses around the topics in their books.

Email lists

The good. Yes, email newsletters and email marketing work! They are wildly effective ways to develop a meaningful connection to your core audience. Way more effective than so many other marketing strategies. I have sent a newsletter every single week since 2005, and am a huge advocate of establishing your own. Pretty much every single client I work with ends up starting an email newsletter. Love ’em.

The bad. I have loads of writers emailing me that their greatest challenge is “to grow their email list.” Let’s let that sink in… their single greatest challenge is stated as growing an email list.

It’s as though they have lost all perspective on their bigger goals. Such as, you know, writing a great book. Getting more readers. Feeling a deep sense of fulfillment in their lives. Nope, all of that is secondary to what they have become convinced of, which is, “All happiness is predicated on whether or not you have a big email list.”


Their thinking is so blinded by this idea of “If I have a big email list, my writing career will take off.”

This is something authors are sold on again and again. Not just “email is a core way to grow and engage your audience,” but rather “If you have a big email list, you WILL become a bestseller.”

This hard sell creates a sense of inadequacy in writers; that if they don’t have a big list, they are doomed to fail. And that simply isn’t the case.

Also, there is a big secret that no one tells you — you can have a small to medium-sized email list and still be wildly successful. You don’t need 10,000 subscribers. Or 50,000. With a list of a few hundred people, you can do a lot.

Can an email list be a part of how you grow an audience and engage them? Yes! I’m a huge fan. But it’s not your biggest challenge. It is one part of a larger strategy, one focused on writing, on readers, on engagement.

Online Courses

Wow, is there a lot of promotion around encouraging authors to create online courses right now. I began teaching online courses back in 2010, and the online course space was kinda quiet back then.

Today, I see these pitches constantly promoting online courses as “way easier than you think,” and then hint at revenue numbers anyone would love to have. “A six-figure launch” or statements such as “I earned $15,000 in just one day last month by launching a course.”

I’ll be clear here: online courses are AWESOME, fun, helpful, and yes, potentially nice revenue streams for you. I mean, look at this amazing one from Jennie Nash, and these from Jane Friedman. Go, take those courses! Become a better writer! You will love it.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that creating your own courses will be easier than you think to create, easier than you think to promote, easier than you think to sell, easier than you think to run, and easier than you think to create passive income.

It won’t.

It is all possible, yes. But it will be MORE DIFFICULT than you think. I’m simply encouraging you to be prepared for these realities.

I don’t just say this from my own personal experience, but from talking to dozens of others who run online courses. Now, I LOVED running online courses. Sure, it was a lot of hard work, but I enjoyed it. And here is something to consider: if you don’t love it, you will dread the process.

There are a huge number of ‘courses on how to create courses’ right now. Can you turn your book into a course? SURE, it’s possible. But no, it’s not for everyone. Do you want to spend all of your time running a course? Or writing?

But maybe you are thinking, “Dan, I totally want to create an online course — how do I do it?” Boy, do you have some options from:

David Siteman Garland
Joseph Michael
Derek Halpern
Lewis Howes
Amy Porterfield
The Book to Course Summit

Let me clarify — David, Joseph, Derek, Lewis, Amy, and all of the speakers at the Summit are lovely people. Smart. Passionate. Helpful. They offer wonderful resources. They are good eggs.

And if online courses are for you, go ahead and JUMP on these resources. But… don’t assume that since you are being sold courses on courses, that courses on courses is what you need.

Fallacy #2: If You Get “10,000 Followers” We Will Publish You

What agents & publishers mean when they say “We won’t consider publishing you unless you have 10,000 Twitter followers” is this: Can you give me some kind of indication or proof that you can meaningfully work to put this book into the hands of readers? Because that is difficult. We are going to try really hard. But you know what helps? If you — the expert on the topic, the person 100% embedded in your niche, genre, or industry — have spent a few years developing the relationships needed to help us out.”

Does anyone really know what to do with 10,000 Twitter followers? Will they really publish you just with that metric?


Instead, it is an indicator that you are a partner that can not only write a great book, but help it connect with the people who will appreciate it most.

Do you know what else they would care about just as much, or perhaps MORE than 10,000 Twitter followers? For starters:

  1. If you speak at 30 events per year.
  2. If you run a business that has successfully served your market for years.
  3. If you are actively a part of groups and organizations that your potential readers love.
  4. If you show them ANY metric that indicates that you have a big audience – it could be blog, forum, a social network, in-person, or so much else.
  5. If you show them a marketing plan more thoughtful and strategic than “I’ll Tweet about my book. Then Tweet again.”

Fallacy #3: Mimicking Your Literary Hero Will Make You Successful

The good. As anyone who has worked with me will tell you, I’m a huge fan of researching others in your field, and doing audience research. There is so much you can learn from other authors who have found success.

The bad. Too often, I see people try to mimic the actions of successful authors, while ignoring some serious things.

For instance, an author can learn that one of their literary heroes tried a marketing tactic that worked well for them, so they seek to mimic it. The key thing they forget: this marketing tactic worked well four years ago, and that author was one of the first to use it. But today, it is common practice that is no longer as effective.

Here is an example in terms of productivity: I have seen Stephen King cited many times in terms of how he writes — what time of day he begins, how many days per week, how long per day, how his office is set up. By studying this, we hope for a “life hack” — a shortcut to Stephen’s early success.

But what do we ignore? Or simply overlook?

YES, Stephen King’s habits can serve as inspiration. If you are inspired to write on the same typewriter as Stephen King — go for it. But don’t convince yourself that it gives you an objective advantage.

What do we ignore in Stephen King’s story? The years of drug and alcohol abuse that nearly killed him. (See this interview as well.) I see plenty of quotes about Stephen King’s productivity habits from his early years, and few reminders of his drug & alcohol regimen.

You can’t reverse engineer someone else’s success, pick out the bad parts, and think that this creates magical system for you to follow.

Stephen’s success is inspiring. But studying his “secrets to success” can’t overlook some very serious realities.

The Solution to These 3 Fallacies

Someone emailed me recently asking how I optimize my site for search engines. I told them honestly:

“I don’t. Caring is what I am optimizing for.”

I am optimizing for the deeply human connections that allow me to better understand creative people and how to serve them.

Not jugging SEO, metadata, and such because I have convinced myself there is a technology secret. Instead, I focus on the human secret of what it means to care, to engage, to listen, to help.

SURE, tech can give you an advantage. There are all kinds of stories of those who got on YouTube early, or Twitter, or LinkedIn, or gamed SEO years ago, and how it gave them an upper hand.

Which reminds me of my favorite quote:

“Caring is a powerful business advantage.”
– Scott Johnson

Most writers and creative professionals that I speak to are overwhelmed with all they are told they have to do. My point in this post is this: Focus on what matters most to you. Focus on people, not things. Pursue opportunities that make sense, but be wary of trends that derail your focus and take you off track.