Very often, I hear that writers eschew the idea of building a platform or marketing their writing because they are afraid of having to sell their work. They don’t want to be seen as that self-involved person trying to get a sale for their book at every turn.
Today I want to reframe what your author platform can be, and how marketing is different from sales. And dare I say, platform and marketing can be deeply meaningful and even fun, something that your ideal audience wants to engage with you around. Let’s dig in…
Marketing vs selling
The other day I was watching a long interview with Lee Anderton, who owns a music store in England. (I mentioned him a year ago, in this post.) His father started a small music store in the 1960s, and Lee began working there in the early 1990s. Around 11 years ago, he started uploading videos to YouTube. What happened next was astounding: the channel took off, and currently has more than 700,000 subscribers. His shop has grown considerably. In the 1990s, most of their business was directly in their store, with 15 employees and around 4 million pounds in revenue per year. Today most of their sales come via the website, partly because of how much their YouTube channel has grown. They have 150 staff members, and bring in 70 million pounds per year.
Why am I telling you this? Because marketing isn’t selling, but it is a key step in the sales process. If you aren’t concerned with whether your work sells, that is totally fine! You can stop reading and going back to just creating. But if you are wondering how to get exposure for your work in a strategic manner, keep reading….
When asked about the videos, Lee shared the lightbulb moment he had when he stopped seeing the video as a sales channel, and understood that it was really a platform and marketing channel:
“I was doing 1 or 2 videos a month, and about six months in, I’m going ‘this is not bringing any business in, it’s a waste of time, I think I’ll just knock it on the head.” I think that is British for ‘I think I will stop doing videos.’
He continues: “But I just started to see the odd email coming into the store going, ‘I just bought XYC from you, I know it’s nothing that you’ve ever videod, but I enjoy watching you, so I wanted to say thank you for the videos you do.’ It was like, bam — that’s what we can do with the YouTube channel. It’s all about engaging at some intangible sense, it’s not QVC, which is originally what I thought it could be. Its not about doing product demonstrations in the hope that at the end, somebody clicks and buys that. It’s about going, ‘you love music, we love music, let’s just have some fun with it.'”
I will say, their videos are honest looks at the pros and cons of different gear, the celebration of music, and mostly just presenters geeking out over their appreciation for it all. This is the Andertons YouTube channel, and here is the full video of Lee’s interview in the event you want to listen to two music store owners talk for one hour and forty minutes.
What I find fascinating about Lee’s insight is that it aligns so well with what many writers and artists learn about the process of developing an author platform, and marketing their work. They are busy people who perhaps grew up dreaming of writing a book, not posting to social media each day. They worry about selling out.
But what Lee shares does align to that dream of creating. Because the other side of creating is sharing. Years ago, it may have looked like walking into a book club at a local bookstore, or a poetry night at a local cafe. For the writer back then, this was their chance to connect with like-minded creators and those who love the written word.
When I see writers deeply engaged in social media, this is often what I feel. Not that they have turned into self-involved sales people, but that they are in-conversation with readers and creators and booksellers. They are a part of a literary community, and the wider marketplace where writing connects with readers.
I would encourage you to not look at social media as just a way to promote your work, in the same way that we can’t whittle down a carrot into just a vitamin A pill. Your online platform can be many things, and it is you who gets to decide the focus, the tone, and who you connect with.
Can your writing career JUST be you sitting at a desk writing. Sure. Of course. Do whatever makes you comfortable. But it doesn’t have to be just that. I grew up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and always saw the arts as something that could extend into conversations where it connects with others. When your creative work connects with a reader, that is where the magic happens.
Sharing online isn’t selling. It is connecting. It is allowing people to understand what you create and why. It is opening up ways to find shared connections between who we are and what inspires us.
The Marketing Funnel
So how does marketing connect to sales? Well, too many people think sales is a two step process:
Step 1: make a pitch.
Step 2: hopefully someone buys what you pitched.
But that isn’t how it works. Or, at least not for sales beyond impulse purchases:
Step 1: you see chocolate.
Step 2: you like chocolate, so you buy it.
What does a marketing funnel look like? This is a diagram I included in my book, Be the Gateway:
The diagram shows that to engage someone, there are a series of steps that one moves through. In this simple example, the steps are:
- Awareness: do people even know about your book, what it’s about, why they would love it, who else loved it, and how to get it? Awareness is not a cold sales pitch, it can be talking with someone, it can be a social media post about what inspires you, it can be anywhere you show up that makes people aware of your work.
- Consideration: do they not only like your book, but do they have the 5-10 hours to read it? The consideration process is where they debate whether they will love your book more than the many other books they want to read. Will it make them feel inspired, or informed, or even part of a current trend? The other day, I found an unused movie rental voucher from the early 1990s. Do you remember going to the video store back then, and wandering through the aisles unable to choose a movie amidst thousands? Did you ever leave empty-handed? That is the consideration process that readers go through every day.
- Conversion: this is the point of sale! When a potential customer spends the $14.99 to buy your book! Dance for joy!
- Loyalty: Wait, what?! Oh, that’s right. The goal is not just to sell a book. It is for the person to read the book. Did you know that lots of books get bought, but never read? It’s true. So you want this person to read the book, and perhaps even become a fan of your writing. Perhaps they may even follow you elsewhere, such as a newsletter or social media. I mean, how else will they know about your next book? Or know to show up for a book signing? Or to listen to a podcast episode you were a guest on? Or read an essay you wrote? Or like that photo of avocado toast you posted?
- Advocacy: isn’t this what we really want? Not just for a book to sell. Not just for it to move someone. But to have them talk about it. To tell a friend or share with others how this book affected them. A career is built not with a single $14.99 sale, but through word-of-mouth marketing, advocacy, and developing a connection to people who appreciate what you create.
So while the marketing funnel can include sales, that is the primary focus, and it is only one small part of a much larger ecosystem. If you worry that talking about what you create is too salesy for you, I would suggest you reframe how you look at it. Instead of focusing on the sale, focus on the connection to like-minded readers and creators who love writing for the same reason you do.