The Dreaded “M” Word

There’s much said in writing circles about “marketing.” Most of it I did my best to ignore, at least until getting my first contract, when I realized it was suddenly relevant and I better pay attention, because even traditional publishers have limited resources for that sort of thing.

Over the years, I heard lots of words like promotion, sales numbers, networking. The first evoked uncomfortable images of foisting myself and my writing on everyone I meet, like I’m some sort of commodity. The second merely made my eyes glaze over. (I’ve never been good at economics and finance.)  The third, well, I knew that it had something to do with why I’ve persisted in attending writing conferences over the years and taken the trouble to do Facebook and other social things, both online and in “real” life.

The problem is—and this applies to everything from sending out query letters to letting friends and families know that hey, I finally sold a story, and if they’re interested, here’s where it’s available—writers aren’t usually sales people. If we were, we’d be out selling someone else’s product, because that’s ever so much less painful than peddling our own words (which usually winds up feeling like we’re peddling ourselves …). The current state of the publishing industry doesn’t leave us much choice, however, so what’s a person with even a bit of modesty to do?

One thing I found freeing is to realize that yes, while writing might be a solitary endeavor, we write so that someone, someday, might actually read our work. From that angle, marketing can be defined simply as what we do to help readers find us.

Networking, then, is the process of connecting to other people—some of them industry professionals (editors, agents, other writers) but some just ordinary readers. We can get pretty wrapped around the axle over whether or not we impress or offend industry professionals, while forgetting that readers are why we write, and ultimately they are the ones who determine the future of our writing career.

This was the slant of most of the marketing workshops at last September’s conference, much to my shock. The keynote speaker talked about being accessible, being transparent, being vulnerable—all within reason, of course. Others spoke about approaching marketing with humility, seeking to meet the needs of readers. This doesn’t mean being self-deprecating, or taking an “aw, shucks” attitude in accepting compliments. If people like our work, we shouldn’t be shy about thanking them, and sincerely. But understand there’s a lot of competition out there, many voices clamoring to be heard. A person who shows more concern for others than for their own fame is bound to stand out from the crowd.

So, how do we do that?

Listening, for one, goes a long way in creating an emotional connection with other people. One speaker challenged us to ask the people we met at conference (or any event) three questions, and honestly pay attention to their answers, before jumping in with information about ourselves. This might seem a little manipulative, since most people really are thrilled to share about themselves, and are much more likely to remember you as caring and genuinely interested in them. But keep in mind the old saying, “Be swift to hear, slow to speak …”

Just make sure you’re doing this out of a desire to really understand and connect with people, and not from the selfish motivation of making them love YOU. 🙂

Exercise/challenge: What are some other ways to serve your readers?

About Shannon McNear

A transplant from the Midwest, Shannon McNear has lived for the last 20 years in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her husband and eight children. With two graduated and in college and the younger six still homeschooling, she does her best to steal slivers of writing and reading time in between being ballet and drama mom.

Read more about Shannon.

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