What are the tools we have for marketing what we create? For decades, this is what they looked like:
We would sit at our desks and type letters to be mailed off. We would pay for long distance calls to try to reach people in other cities and states. Calling overseas would have only been done in very extreme circumstances. We kept tabs on what is working in the marketplace by listening to the radio, and reading the newspaper and magazines. We would spend hours in the library researching names and phone numbers, feeling like an “insider” when we added one to our Rolodex. (Which reminds me, I need to add a vintage Rolodex to my collection here!) And of course, we would show up to places, trying to meet others, get access, and be a part of the communities that only happened in-person back then, because there wasn’t an internet.
When I wasn’t at this desk, perhaps I would pay someone to sit there for me, and take messages. I recently found these old notes from my dad’s office when he worked in Manhattan in 1987:
If you were a writer, artist, or creator in the days before the internet, your marketing goals would have been largely the same as they are today:
- To publish your work, meaning that there is more than one copy of it.
- To distribute this work to places where your ideal readers may find it.
- To give it the look and feel that may attract those readers to pick it up.
- To share what it is in a compelling manner.
- To hope that people not only buy or read what you create, but tell others about it, through reviews, media, or word of mouth marketing.
- To establish a professional connection with these people. This could be booksellers, librarians, and of course, readers themselves.
- To create enough recognition for you and your work in the marketplace that people begin to look forward to what you create next. To take your creative work from a dream to a career.
Of course, the tools today are different. I hear from discouraged writers all the time about how difficult marketing is. They talk about how crowded the marketplace is; how their work doesn’t align to the latest trends; how everything they’ve tried hasn’t worked.
But imagine if the only tools you had to share your writing or art were:
- A typewriter
- A phone (that cost you money every time you dialed it)
- Travel (be it local, regional, or across state or country borders)
- Placing ads in the media
Those tools worked for decades, and they still work today. But let’s face it, they are often slower. They offer less vision into the marketplace than we have today. The tools themselves tend to get in the way between establishing a real human-connection with those you hope to reach. As someone who loves vintage things, I can’t ignore the fact that that some of the typewriters in my collection weigh 20+ pounds, and make a super loud CLACK every time you type a single letter. That making small corrections required white out (a gooey white liquid that you applied on the paper), or you would simply throw out the first draft and start all over again. That’s different from messaging back and forth with an author or reader on your phone, wherever you happen to be.
Today, writers and creators tend to focus on different tools:
- Building a website
- Honing how they describe what they create through copywriting
- Creating a newsletter and perhaps a blog
- Getting on social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, TikTok, YouTube
- Taking photos, creating images, and recording videos
- Starting a podcast, or pitching to become a guest on one
- Writing for media outlets, blogs, or elsewhere
- Being a part of an online event, whether it is a, summit, webinar, etc.
- Attending in-person events: from big conferences to a local bookstore gathering
- Soooo much else. Check out the nearly 3-hours of video where I walk through my Creative Success Pyramid that covers the marketing process more deeply.
The downside of all of this opportunity is that it is easy for an author or artist to be overwhelmed by choice. To not know where to begin, or to feel that they are juggling too many things at once. Often, they may also have the pervasive sense that they have to keep searching for the next tool that is the one that will work. And of course, they are inundated with a constant stream of articles and posts from others who are encouraging them to try the next big thing.
So the question remains: when do you invest in tools? And which tools?
While the answer to that question is different for everyone, here is some advice of how I answer that question for myself, and how I often advise clients I work with:
Less is More
Tools matter in how you use them, not how many of them you use. You can take the simplest tool and do compelling things with it that feel meaningful to you, and truly engage an audience. This is why I talk about the idea of Human-Centered Marketing, to never forget that the goal is not the tools, but in how we connect what we create with other human beings. The psychology behind that connection is where the magic is.
The good news is that this means that “fancy” is not always better. Having a simple newsletter is often way more engaging than one that has a professional template, with a large header image, all these different sections, and looks like an entire magazine staff put it out.
This can apply across a wide range of tools. I usually encourage a writer to first create a simple website, because they can let it evolve slowly over time. On the flip side, I think it is worthwhile to consider how to learn how to take photos they can share, create short messages that would engage a potential reader on social media, or how to write a pitch that will get a podcaster’s attention.
This is a form of literacy, I suppose. In other words, I would rather you learn how to create a compelling photo, than learn how to use BRAND X PHOTO FILTER, CONNECT IT TO BRAND Y AUTOMATION TOOL, TO THEN INTEGRATE IT WITH SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNEL Z. I’m all for filters, automation, and social media, but one thing I love about tools is that they often pair with the idea of craft and mastery.
The best writers don’t have a fancier word processor.
The best podcasters don’t need an expensive microphone.
The people most popular on Instagram aren’t that way because of how much they spent on their camera.
Because marketing is about effective communication and trust. Which means tools are a smaller part of a bigger process. As you develop how you will share what you create with others, focus on less. Focus on doing a few things really well. Show up in a manner that is authentic to who you are and they themes that are infused in your writing or art.
Go Deep in Human-Connection
Remember that the tools deliver a message, but they also deliver a feeling. If you have ever seen someone who is incredibly successful, and wondered, “Why them? What they do doesn’t seem so extraordinary?” Perhaps it is because amidst all they share, the are able to convey a sense of connection that simply resonates with their audience. It may be a feeling that just grabs people. I’ve stood amidst tens of thousands of people all singing the same song at a concert — it’s a wonder to imagine how one song (or one artist) can create that, while thousands of other songs fail to attract much attention at all.
It’s not just that one song is inherently better than others. I imagine most of us could point to an artist or album or song that we think is incredibly under-appreciated. And of course, all of us have created and shared work that we hoped would amaze people, only to find it fall flat.
Craft is the first step: create what matters to you and do it as best as you can. When it comes to sharing it, consider the emotion it may give someone, and how their experience of discovering your work and what it represents aligns with their identity, their hopes, their challenges.
As it relates to tools, this is why I have watched some podcasts get longer and longer over the years. Logically, you would think that podcasts would get shorter, because “people are so busy” and editing tools are readily available. Can’t someone cut a 60 minute interview down to the most compelling 3 minutes?
But I see more and more podcasts that are an hour, or two, or three. Why? Because that is where the human-connection is. Not hearing an edit of sound bites, but in feeling a part of a long conversation. For social media channels that you see short post, I would encourage you to then look at frequency. Oftentimes I see a successful creator who focuses sharing short text or video do it very frequently. There are some people I follow on Instagram who share 20-40 times a day. Does that seem like too much? What if it was your favorite author? What if what she shared inspired you? What if it made you laugh? What if what she shared was a meaningful respite in your otherwise busy day. Suddenly those 20 posts become something of a lifeline to your own creative journey.
The tools are the same for the creator who posts once a month or the one who posts once an hour. Again, it is how you use the tools that matter, and I would encourage you to use them in a manner that goes deep on human-connection.
Also: The Tools Don’t Matter
I can imagine some of you thinking: “Wait, what?! After reading 1,600 words about tools for marketing, yo are telling me they don’t matter?!” But I think that is especially true for marketing. You will always find someone who is using an outdated tool to do incredible things. Someone who has a phone or camera or computer that is ancient, but finds a way to share what they create in a manner where it is still incredibly effective.
Don’t let the tools stop you. Whether that means you don’t have what you feel are the “right” tools, or whether you look at the tools and they feel too complex. You can absolutely make do with the basics. Just share what you create and why with a sense of authenticity. Of course, the challenging part of that is to resist the urge to hide what you create, and the creator behind them.
There is more to share on the topic of marketing tools, but I will say, this is what I have done myself. I have sent out an email newsletter every single week for 15 years. I have shared podcasts for years. I have been posting to Twitter since 2008. In some ways, these tools are “old.” But I try to show up each day as who I am, and what I have found is that it has connected me with writers and creators in ways that have truly filled my life with meaning. Thank you for that.