There’s no right answer to whether you should view writing as a business or not. It’s a personal choice dependent on myriad factors. Knowing the answer, however, allows you to effectively navigate choices you’ll face in marketing and/or selling your work. While you should always control your costs, there’s a big difference between the expense of a print-on-demand book intended for friends and family and the effort you may need to embrace in order to take a work to the competitive retail market.
In the previous post I said that marketing and sales were two ends of the same spectrum. The desire to resolve uncertainties about potential consumer interest is the glue by which marketing and sales are inextricably bound.
Exploring market uncertainties may involve advertising or promotional events or other common marketing and sales strategies. The results of those tests will be measured in pageviews, conversions, purchases or other metrics. As a writer, I think you should constantly remind yourself that marketing and sales are most useful when they are used to answer questions relevant to your personal objectives. Treating marketing and sales as gauges rather than goads means you will be less likely to sink cash into marketing and sales ‘solutions’ that are, at best, speculative, or be led astray by people who will gladly take your money in exchange for promises they can’t possibly keep. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Mr. SEO Evangelist.)
The Ends of the Spectrum
Imagine you’ve created something purely, unapologetically artistic. You’ve allowed no thought into your mind other than what the final form and expression of your creation should be. You don’t care what anybody else thinks of it and you don’t care if anybody else wants it.
Now imagine putting a sign on your creation that says “For Sale” or “Free”, then tossing it out a window. You don’t look to see where it lands, you don’t look to see if the sign is visible, or if anyone has taken notice of your creation’s arrival in the world.
That’s sales in its purest form. The product has been made available and the intent has been communicated, but only in the most minimal way. If someone does not literally stumble across the item there will be no chance of a transaction taking place.
Now rewind that scenario past even the act of creation. Imagine that you want to create something — anything — that will be readily, eagerly received. Maybe it’s something you want to sell, maybe it’s something you intend to give away, but the one thing you know even before you decide what to make is that you want it to be desired by as many people as possible.
That’s marketing in its purest form. In order to accomplish your goal, at least in theory, note that you will need to have perfect knowledge of what people want, as well as the means to notify every person on the face of the earth. This is the exact opposite of the pure sales example described above. In the sales example you gave no thought to what people wanted and you did nothing to communicate the product’s availability to anyone. In the marketing example all you’re thinking about is what people want and how you can make sure everybody knows it exists.
Admittedly these are the absurd theoretical ends of the marketing-sales continuum. It should also be obvious from these extreme examples that marketing and selling any product involves both intentions in some measure. Starting at the sales end, any effort to meet the needs of the customer involves marketing. Starting at the marketing end, any aspect of a product that will not shaped by consumer interests is something that must be sold.
How authors, and in particular storytellers, can find the right balance between the need to market and the desire to sell will be the focus of the remainder of the posts in this series.
— Mark Barrett