Marketing vs. Art or Marketing as Art?

This is Jenny. She’s brilliant, sassy, and all-around-awesome.

A touch of fascinating and heart-felt controversy erupted recently over a blog post by Delver Jenny Lovett on the Pikes Peak Writers blog. Jenny’s post provided some excellent advice on how to put together a marketing plan for your book, since–as she wrote–even those who are published by big New York publishing houses can’t seem to expect to receive extensive marketing support these days.

F.P. Dorchak objected–not to Jenny’s marketing suggestions, but to the idea that writers should be responsible for marketing their own work. Specifically, he objected in a comment and in his follow-up post to the fact that Jenny seemed to be tacitly endorsing the way the industry has shifted a lot of the burden of marketing to their new writers. By acknowledging this as unquestioned reality, FP pointed out that Jenny was in essence further encouraging this reality.

While I don’t agree that Jenny was trying to offer any endorsement (tacit or otherwise) to what seems to be the nature of publishing these days, I do empathize with many of F.P.’s sincere concerns about an industry that seems to be placing ever increasing burdens on new writers and taking far fewer risks in the work they support.

This is F.P. He’s also brilliant, sassy, and all-around awesome.

Now, I admit that I have not conducted a thorough review of every marketing budget that has ever been applied to every first time novelist published by a big New York publisher in the last few years, but it does seem from the many (and I do mean “many”) articles I’ve read that low budgets and low risks are the norm. Is that just because we’re all buying into a corrupt culture, or is it an objective truth readily verifiable by people in the industry? Maybe both? F.P. may object that I’m joining Jenny in tacitly endorsing the status quo by labeling it as such, but I haven’t seen any proof that New York is actually spending lavishly on new authors or taking risks on the unknowns who most need their attention and care.

These are suckers. Is this where the term “suckers” originated as a description of people who are gullible or easily manipulated? Can anyone tell me the proper etymology?

That said, is it true that any attempt we writers make to market our own work is playing into the hands of the “bean-counters” in New York? Is our only choice to either nobly resist the crushing commercial machine of traditional publishing or succumb to its pressure and hawk our own work like a bunch of suckers, thereby enabling a corrupt culture that fails to honor and support its artists and creators?

While I understand this is not F.P.’s precise argument (and I encourage you all to check it out, because it raises some great points), I do think there’s another way to look at this.

Marketing in the age of social media is not about trying to push your work on someone else by hook or by crook. Yes–certain questionable tricks and tactics can still prevail in getting mediocre work into the hands of readers. But I think there’s an opportunity to see marketing as something very different these days.

I believe the best marketing now is all about two things: 1) forging relationships and 2) delivering meaningful content.

It’s about taking the time to read other people’s blogs and reply in thoughtful and encouraging ways that forge connections with other writers in our global creative community.

It’s about going online and finding conversations to which your work could meaningfully contribute and then entering those conversations. [For example: Having looked around F.P.’s blog, I’m now eager to learn more about the way he weaves metaphysics into his fiction (a topic I find fascinating). So now I want to learn from FP about the way he does this in his books–like “Sleepwalkers“–which I learned about and am now linking to thanks to this conversation.]

Marketing now is about discovering the vital core of your own story and sharing that with others in a way that enlivens and supports them, so that those who can most benefit from your work will be able to find it and enjoy it and pass it on to their friends.

Looked at from that perspective, isn’t marketing more of an opportunity and an art than a burden or a scam regardless of the New York publishers and their priorities?

18 thoughts on “Marketing vs. Art or Marketing as Art?

  1. Promoting yourself on social media is hard and at times it can be very frustrating. But it can also be rewarding when you reach out to others that have the same interests and/or goals that you have. I am of a mindset that self marketing can only be a good thing and like to think of it as being a social butterfly.

  2. Sucker…..
    “young mammal before it is weaned,” late 14c., agent noun from suck. Slang meaning “person who is easily deceived” is first attested 1836, American English, on notion of naivete; the verb in this sense is from 1939. But another theory traces the slang meaning to the fish called a sucker (1753), on the notion of being easy to catch in their annual migrations. Meaning “lollipop” is from 1823.

    • Aaron–good to “see” you again. :-]

      Again, let me be clear. My concern was not about author marketing, my concern was with the following words: “…there is no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer….”

      I took issue with whether or not Jennifer should have said those 12 words, whether she and the audience really believed them, and what a continued belief in those 12 particular words do consciously and UNconsciously to everyone who believes them or hears them or continues to parrot them. Please re-read my rants. She has still not answered my question to her as to whether or not she believe those words 12 words or was simply repeating what she has been told. Either way, am extremely curious and won’t take further issue, since I feel I’ve made my point (though that is now questionable, since apparently, you, Aaron, feel I was combating the “author marketing” issue, so maybe I wasn’t clear enough! :-] ), and will respect her opinion, I just would like to know her stance and why. Whether authors should be marketing themselves is an entirely different issue I did not attack.

      At the risk of again running long, and in a very abbreviated way, as to the other arguments of art-v-business, whether authors should or shouldn’t market themselves, all excellent points. I have written about those before in some of my other blogs posts, but though I do believe in our work as art, as Joe Ponepinto points out, I do feel it has gotten out of hand, fair or not. But you can see echoes of this in my two posted rants referred to above. If industry professionals really are so concern about doing things right, why not let them shoulder the majority of the burden? Sure, it doesn’t hurt and I don’t really have much a concern with author marketing…I do have concerns with forcing manufactured platform on authors. To me, authors should just be who they are, and if who they are is writing novels, trading blog comments, and speaking at conferences, then so be it. But ti seems to me that publishing execs are getting a whole lotta something for nothing by letting the Unknighted Few sink or swim. Those who sink…gone. Written off. But those who just happen to SWIM, well, they get all kinds of return for nothing on their part. But, it seems to me, if publisher would just allow authors to do what they do, then take care of the big guns of promotion, with their house full of degreed and experienced people who best know how to do all this.

      But, again, this was not my issue. :-]

      As to metaphysics in writing, thank you for your interest and mention, Aaron! Sleepwalkers (2001) is my initial effort, and my follow-up to that one (actually a prequel), tentatively titled, Psychic, is forthcoming. I thought I’d have it out this year, but it may end up early 2014. There is no “crystal waving” or syrupy one-liners. I just tried to make it as “real” as possible without being “preachy.” I wanted to take metaphysical fiction to a whole, new level, I think you’d be surprised at “the metaphysical” involved in Sleepwalkers, as well as The Uninvited and ERO. None of it is what you might be expecting.

      Back to the point at hand, please, re-read what I originally replied to. It’s not about author marketing, it’s about whether or not you believe there is no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer, and continue to perpetuate that belief.

      • FP (Frank) — I very much appreciate the points in your reply. You’re absolutely right that those 12 words are the expression of a completely wrongheaded culture (at least as far as nurturing and respecting authors is concerned). One of the reasons I addressed the side point of marketing is that I’m completely convinced that Jenny wrote those words as her take on the current culture, not as her personal belief that the culture is right. It was just a shorthand way for her to point out what publishers seem to think. And I’m sure of that because I know Jenny and she certainly wouldn’t be working to become a first-time author herself if she believed first-time authors didn’t deserve attention and care from those who throw them out in shark-infested waters to see if they can swim.

        That said, I’m very happy you’re challenging the seemingly prevailing belief and providing really good reasons why we should all push back against it. One of the reasons I wanted to point people to your post directly and not claim that I was representing your whole argument is because I think you’re right on in that regard and wanted people to read so for themselves.

        P.S. – I’m very excited to check out your work. Kindle versions coming for Sleepwalkers or the others?

      • Thanks, Aaron. It’s discussions like these I hope continue to occur among all writers! Thanks to you, Chris, and Jennifer for this discussion. :-]

        Thanks, regarding Sleepwalkers, but I have asked AuthorHouse twice or more about when the ebook would be coming out, and they continued to stonewall, so, no, sorry, no ebook. But I hope to take the book back from AuthorHouse and work it into an Indie series with Psychic and a third as-yet unwritten novel next year some time!

  3. This is an awesome discussion, Aaron, Frank, Jenny and the rest!

    I’ve read through the posts here, at Frank’s blog (, and at PPW’s blog ( and I have to say I’m loving the intensity of the conversation.

    What ARE the issues being discussed?

    Jenny started out talking about how authors can market their books, using some fun football analogies, then we took a left turn based on one underlying assumption of that article: “there’s no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer” with objections presented by speculative fiction author Frank (F.P.) Dorchak.

    As the discussion has unfolded on all three blogs, I think I’ve come to understand Frank’s points–

    Frank believes the publishing industry should not be that way.

    I agree. BUT, I think it IS that way.

    Frank believes that the more we (writers, the public) accept this “reality,” the more real/entrenched it will become.

    I guess I’d agree with that, too. BUT, I don’t think that as an unpublished writer I will benefit from bucking the system and refusing to accept this state of the publishing industry. There are things I’ll take a stand on and rage against the machine, but this isn’t one of them.

    I think that as an emerging author, I have a lot more to gain from understanding the existing dynamics in the publishing industry and learning how to “play their ball game,” if we’re to go back to Jenny’s football analogy. And going back to Jenny’s original marketing advice, as well as the marketing insight shared by Aaron above, I’m grateful for all this terrific information–I’m definitely going to apply it to marketing my own books, whether or not The Publishing Industry decides I’m “worth gambling on” as a new writer.

    As for Frank, we’re old pals and I think we can congenially agree to disagree on the non-marketing issues discussed here. Can’t we Frank? I do have to say I’ve enjoyed the exchange, though. What else can we debate about, Frank?

    • Sorry, Chris, thought I’d responded to THIS comment, but got lost in all the posts. Yes, Chris, we certainly can agree to disagree! :-] Who knows what the future brings? I just know I’ve gotten fed up with things and three-plus years of my terrific ex-agent’s time. Yes, sounds weird, but after a while I realized my work seemed to be wasting both mine and my (at the time) agent’s times, whether or not she liked it and would continue to fight for me. We talked, I cut her loose, I went Indie. Plus there’s less runaway in my life than there was twenty years ago, even five years ago. GO FOR IT, twenty-and-thirty year-olds! I really mean it! But, now, whether it’s one book or fifty or 50 million, I have work out there that IS being READ. I just have to, with my limited amount of time and resources find ways to make those works discovered. But, at least those works are OUT THERE TO BE discovered.

      Again, I mean and meant no disrespect to anyone, let alone Jennifer. Perhaps my issue is till a little raw in my gut. I get intense. I back it off, but it still roars out now and then. To everyone: namaste. I mean it. Thanks to Chris and Aaron for your subtle and skillful diffusing. :-]

  4. Hello Folks! I’ve been reading all the back and forth trying to wrap my head around exactly what the issue is and I think I have it.

    First the line is a little out of context. “Even if you get the Big NY Deal, you are still expected to do the marketing because, frankly, there is no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer, which means little-to-no marketing money.”

    Put the words “with a major marketing contract” after gamble and I think the issue is cleared up.

    I absolutely do believe that the publishing industry SHOULD think new writers are worth the gamble of a publishing contract that includes a major marketing campaign. Unfortunately, everything I’ve seen, read and yes, been told, shows me they don’t.

    I think right now they believe new writers are worth A contract, otherwise they would never take on new writers. But the industry has shown they don’t think new/unknown writers are worth a GREAT contract, which is why they get little-to-no money for marketing.

    What I was implying in the blog post, and clearly missed it, is that the publishing industry will generally offer a small marketing package on a new or mid list writer because for the most part, the expected return on investment is really low, especially if the author is an unknown. That is reflected in the paltry contracts coming out of NYC for new writers. Seems to me the overwhelming business practice is to sign new writers and see what sticks.

    Is that fair? Well, from a strictly business perspective I think that depends. Some movies open only in a select few locations. Some products are only available in certain areas. It’s all about ROI. Some of the pathetic marketing packages I’ve seen offered to writers clearly indicate the publisher doesn’t expect much back. From a personal perspective, that practice is completely unfair to the writer and makes me want to pursue other options for publishing.

    I firmly believe that if the publisher is going to take on a new author, they should give that author every single resource available to help him succeed.

    They should fork over the money for a major marketing campaign that doesn’t force the author to supplement and therefore, break into valuable product development time (aka writing time). Not only that, they should either use a publicist or at the very least, teach the writer how to market. Again, unfortunately, that just simply hasn’t been the case with new writers I’ve talked with.

    The frustration I see over and over is their contract gives them 30% or less of the net profit and they are required to do an enormous amount of publicity, face to face and online. Again, is it fair? I don’t think so and neither did Bob Mayer, which is why he said screw it and went indie. It’s also why Lisa Renee Jones continues to tell new authors to demand better contract terms.

    What’s even worse is that some agents I’ve talked to say they are more likely to take on an author who has an established online presence as opposed to one who doesn’t.

    My goal with the blog post was to set a clear expectation that today’s publishing world expects the writer to market because there is a clear indication that the publishing world does not think a new writer is worth the gamble of a six-figure marketing deal.

    If my years of PR experience can help alleviate some of the fear and anxiety of that marketing, then I’m hoping new writers continue to write great books.

    And Frank, I absolutely agree with “publishing execs are getting a whole lotta something for nothing.” But I don’t think anything I wrote should sentence me to jail time with hard labor. I’m just trying to help my fellow writers.

  5. Well, this has been really fun! I find myself agreeing with all of you. Does that mean I’m wishy-washy? I doubt wishy-washy is a term anyone would use when talking about me. But that’s another subject altogether.

    I’ve been disgusted with how writers are treated by the industry for years. We produce a product, without which, the entire bunch of them would be out of a job. Yet, we’re treated like crap. They want our product but they can’t be bothered to even reply to a query. It’s a mindset that I find reprehensible.

    I once got a rejection letter on 2/3 of a sheet of paper. The bottom third had been torn off, maybe for a grocery list. And this from a name you’d recognize.

    Then, once they deem our product worthy of their notice, then they continue to treat us with only a bit more respect and pay us a pittance while expecting us to sell what is now their product. Of course, they know they have us over a barrel with this, that if we don’t sell their product, we can no longer sell our product. It’s a strange world.

    That is why Indie is beginning to boom, I think. Authors are finding out that they do have all the cards and that, if they’re going to have to do all the sales anyway, they might as well make more than cents on the dollar. I’ve made more money with three of my six books out there for under three months than I made in ten years with all my books out there. And I haven’t even really started marketing.

    Wow, I’m rambling. Sorry about that.

    I’ll let you all return to what you were doing with this: this is a strange industry that might be in big trouble once Dorothy and her little troupe of castaways discover that the guy behind the curtain is not a true wizard after all. (And I am successful at working in a WoO reference – my work here is done.)


    • Jax,

      Such great points! And I’m so happy to hear of your Indie success. It really is an exciting new world for those who can take proper advantage.

      Ramble any time. We love having you here and love having you drop your WoO references.


  6. Essential conversation, this, thank you for posting and for the ensuing dialogue. I will probably – hopefully – enter the shark infested waters at some point and God knows I don’t swim well, but I fight hard.

    Another incarnation for “suckers” – they are the stems that sprout from the stumps of eucalyptus cut down. Left to grow, the resultant “adult growth” from suckers are often sickly trees. If I’d wanted those darned trees in the first place, I wouldn’t have cut them. Eucalyptus are dangerous trees best left to Australia where they came from. Prone to catching fire and to falling over at their base, almost always with no warning whatsoever. A dangerous pest here in California – which adds another meaning to sucker as vulnerable, sometimes dangerously so.

    OK, way too much about trees.

  7. I’m not sure I fit into this conversation because my intention has never been to try to sell my books to the largest audience possible. When I found out about self publishing, and the idea of marketing my work on social platforms that would help me find people who were genuinely interested in my little niche, I was thrilled. I realized my dream of being published — and appreciated by those who would enjoy my work — was completely in my hands. I have been working now for about a year to get my books written, published and presented — and then to browse the Internet for like-minded people, and start commenting regularly on their posts. I have made WONDERFUL friends, because I spend my “marketing” time searching out the writing I personally enjoy, and cultivating a correspondence with people I feel will enjoy mine. I realize this is not a “fast” solution to marketing books. But it has been exciting and the “return” has been very rewarding.

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