The marketing spiral of doom

Today I would like to talk about two different ethos in marketing your writing. These are the underlying structures that drive how to approach getting people to know more about what you create, and consider engaging with you and your work. Let’s dig in…

The Excitement & Fear Marketing Spiral of Doom

Yep, that’s what I’ve started calling one type of marketing that I see all the time. Or just: The Marketing Spiral of Doom, for short. The kind that is constantly hyping up something to get you excited, or warning you of something dangerous.

The Marketing Spiral of Doom is basically trying to get people to become emotionally engaged by either:

  • Encouraging excitement or even celebration
  • Encouraging fear. Often, this is based on logic and wanting to be super smart by avoiding something.

I mean, that sounds fine, right? Celebration? Fearing things that are logical to fear? And it is. I see people use marketing like this all the time, and they are good people, with good intentions, trying to help.

What does that look like for authors? Articles, podcasts, courses, products, services with headlines like:

  • “The hottest new trend to finally get an agent to read your work!”
  • “Did you know that Amazon made this small change behind the scenes, and only savvy authors are taking advantage of it?”
  • “I talked to 100 bestselling authors and uncovered a remarkable 3-part system that made their books fly off the shelves.”
  • “These are the 5 biggest mistakes authors make with marketing. Number 3 will cost you years of your time, and could even be embarrassing.”
  • “Email newsletters are the best way to sell more books! Also: email newsletters are dead!”

The connection point with all of these randomly made up examples are to always make the reader feel that they are on the cusp of missing out on something. This has writers ping-ponging between:

“OMG! Look at this great thing! I don’t want to miss out! I’m so smart and savvy by being a part of this. Yay!”


“Ack! Something is potentially dangerous, and could cost me time or money down the road. I must take preventative action now! And spend hours and hours and hours researching it to make sure I get it right. Whew, I’m smart and logical for worrying about this.”

Now, there is no doubt that this kind of marketing can be very effective. It can even be fun — people enjoy getting excited, or being alerted to trends, or worrying about avoiding mistakes.

But… I don’t love this style of marketing. I know so many writers feel pressure to market this way; to fill their feeds with hype of celebration or fear, even when neither resonates with who they truly are. They don’t like the idea of everything having to be dramatic, or what they write to be optimized for the most social media ‘likes.’ Instead of looking forward to releasing their books, they resist it. They assume it means they have to become a carnival barker.

Much of the Marketing Spiral of Doom relies in this concept of “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. It’s this idea that you don’t want to be a fool by missing out on a hot new trend or opportunity, nor do you want to make an obvious mistake that you could avoid. That’s why I said I see this type of marketing all the time, and why the people who use it are often genuinely trying to help others. There is nothing wrong with that. Use elements of the Marketing Spiral of Doom if you like. But, as I said, I don’t really love this kind of marketing. Let’s explore an alternative…

The Daily Work of Human-Centered Marketing

So I spend every day working with writers on marketing, and have done so full-time for 10 years. I’ve come to call my process Human-Centered Marketing, and it consists of:

  • The practical side of marketing focused on authentically sharing who you are and what you create, and forging meaningful connections to like-minded people
  • Sustainable practices that can be done either in a big time sensitive launch, or in tiny actions each week that slowly builds up.

What’s more, I have found that this work feels personally fulfilling. To spend one’s time in how they connect their writing to readers to be filled with moments that matter, a sense of creativity and expression, and as though your work is truly resonating with others.

To me, this kind of marketing doesn’t rely on little “tricks” to encourage extreme emotions in those you want to reach. Instead, it is about the fulfillment of what many writers and readers look for: how writing brings us closer to what we dream of for ourselves and the world.

What does Human-Centered Marketing look like? I’ve shared some case studies for the work I’ve done with different authors:

Now, of course this can include excitement and fear if you like. Human-Centered Marketing need not be boring. But, it also can be boring if you like. Working from home with my family around me this past year, I’ve often looked at the marketing work I’ve been doing as a “lovely boring daily task.” It includes:

  • Outreach: sending an email to one person. I think of it more like traditional letter writing.
  • Reading: focusing on the work that truly inspires me to learn more about the market, to become inspired, and to then identify how I can support these creators.
  • Helping: making it a habit to consider what supports the creators I’m inspired by, and trying to help people learn about their work.
  • Honing: my own craft. This means doing less and less variety of tasks so that I can focus my energy on the deep work that matters most.

Then, I take a tiny action each day to do this. I literally have a recurring calendar item each day for this. Some days, I spend a half hour on developing a bigger marketing idea. But many days, I send a simple email, then move on to the rest of my day.

Small steps, each day.

Too often writers hesitate to do any marketing for their work. But what if you took a tiny action each day or week? Something that felt iterative and meaningful? What if, over time, it really added up? That is the most basic way to do Human-Centered Marketing. It, of course, can be scaled up to big promotions, which what I do what many writers I work with.

I’ll be sharing more practical parts of the human-centered marketing process in the coming weeks here in the newsletter. In the meantime, please consider checking out some of the advice I share over on Instagram.