Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 20: Marketing 101 for Creators

Howard takes the moderatorial lead on this episode in which he, Brandon, and Dan are joined by Rob Wells for a discussion of marketing.

What is marketing? What’s the difference between marketing and PR?  What’s the difference between a marketing manager and a publicist? How can knowing this help a creator position his or her work? We’ll answer these questions and more…

Writing Prompt: Come up with 25 words that distill everything you want to say about your next work.


34 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 20: Marketing 101 for Creators”

  1. To be the first on the blog to comment on Writing Excuses! To scribble where no one has scribbled before! Ah, what fun!

    And now, to listen :-)

  2. Hey saw all three of you at LTUE this weekend, it was a great show, very informative. Buying Dan’s book off Amazon UK after hearing him read from it. Thanks for your efforts in developing other writers.

  3. Usually I put the temptation behind me, but when the posting first goes up, the prompt for a comment is something like “Be the First to Comment!” So yesterday I obeyed directions.

  4. Haha.

    He’s just following orders, Mike is!

    Thanks for joining us Rob. And thanks for the painting link/anecdote.

    Hooray for blue?

  5. While it’s true that Komar and Melamid have succeeded in manufacturing a series of painting that look like your typical mall art, I hope it’s understood it’s a satire. They are renowned performance artists and pranksters. The whole point is to demonstrate that overmarketing your “creative product” (bleh, I almost puked just saying that) will lead to disastrous and hilarious results.

    I’m a big fan of your podcast, and usually find it very inspiring. This episode however, left me with a funny taste in my mouth. I know, we all live in the real world which runs on commerce and all, but don’t you think that writing just to fit a niche is the reason we have so much crap in the book stores and movie theaters? Then or course, like Komar and Melamid have proven, each nation gets the art it deserves.

  6. @Nik I write to a niche, and it’s why I succeed. Of course I love the niche, and I’m writing what I would like to read, so that makes it very, very honest work.

    Consider, though… I have only recently learned how to market to my niche. Now that I know I’m creating what they want, I need to be creating messages about my work that convince people that it’s what they want.

    And that’s marketing, basic 101-level marketing… the kind of thing every creator should know.

  7. First, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy the fun you all have with this podcast. I enjoy listening to it so much!!

    Second, and the precise reason for my comment, I wanted to point out something funny. When this podcast showed up in my Google Reader, I flipped it on and immediately went to skim (and later read the next blog entry). It happened to be this post on “The audience matters most” over at ~syntheis~. Funny how things happen like that!


    His story about the Coca-Cola salesman goes very well with this podcast, I think. :)

  8. This was much too short for the subject involved. I hope there will be a part two.
    Still, Rob, it was nice to have “met” you. It was odd hearing someone supplant Brandon. First off there was Howard doing the intro, then you were the driver of the cast.
    From this brief glimpse of you and your brother’s interactions, all I can think is that the Wells household must be an interesting place.

  9. “You have no idea”, he says. If THAT doesn’t sound ominous, I don’t know what does.

    @Nik: I think Howard makes an excellent point, that writing what you love and writing to a particular market aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s just a question of knowing who you want to read the thing, really. Well, and being able to make money from it.

  10. Awesome stuff. Is there going to be a 102?

    I can’t explain how valuable your guys’ insight is. Just to hear you talk about the industry amongst yourselves reveals so much that someone trying to directly explain it to me by themselves wouldn’t.

  11. @Nik:

    I agree with you to a great extent: the process that Kumar and Melamid went through to create their painting is not the process that you want to go through to create a book. However, think of it this way: there is nothing wrong with any of the particulars of the painting: it has the same subject matter as many magnificent pieces of art; it has the same style as many of the masters; etc. The problem is in what Kumar and Melamid left out. The art has no meaning, or purpose, or heart, or whatever you want to call it.

    The point that I was trying to make in the podcast is that you can’t look at what sells and copy it (which is essentially what Kumar and Melamid did). However, if you want to sell books, then you would be wise to look at what your target audience likes. Kumar and Melamid stopped right there, but you shouldn’t. Instead, you should look at what your target audience likes, and then try to create something new that they will also like.

    The many teen vampire romances on the market right now will surely make some quick profits, but none of them will be remembered like Twilight. A few years ago it seemed like every publisher had a Harry Potter rip-off. None of the copycats—the books that closely copied others’ success—will ever be loved like the originals. On the other hand, many other authors saw a huge resurgence in the YA fantasy genre and jumped in with new and clever ideas, and their books are doing great.

    Like I said, it’s a positioning statement: “My book is targeted at ____________. It is similar to existing books because of __________________. However, it is new and different because of ___________________.” If you can honestly complete that statement (meaning: your book actually is new and different), then your chances of success will go through the roof.

    Of course, there are always instances of new books and products that buck the trends. However, the method to get there is to know your customer so well that you know what they want before they realize they want it. So again, you have to know your market.

    Or you could just get lucky. Lots of authors have been lucky. It’s just a lot less likely.

    (And, of course, there are lots of writers who aren’t as driven by commercial success. If your motivation is to write for yourself, not because you want to hit the NYTimes list, then the only customer you need to understand is you.)

  12. (Howard Tayler’s post near the top reminded me of this joke)

    What did the Youtuber say after he placed fifth in a race?

  13. Okay, this writing prompt has confused me. What’s the difference between an elevator pitch to an agent or editor, what goes on the back cover, and what you might put in a query letter? Now obviously I know the difference is that of audience, but it seems like I would say something different with all three of these. Am I wrong?

  14. I’m actually much more of a poet than he is. He writes romantic comedy thrillers, though, and you have to admire the guts behind that.

    Eliyanna, every audience requires different things. For example:

    When I pitch my book to someone, usually potential readers, I say: “It’s about a teenage sociopath who thinks he’s turning into a serial killer, so he sets strict rules for himself to help him stay good. Then a demon comes to town and starts killing people, and he has to let his dark side out in order to stop it.” That’s more than 25 words, but it gives a very quick, very clear picture of what the book is about and why it’s cool and why you want to buy it.

    When my UK editor pitched the book to her bosses and her marketing team, she simply said: “Teenage Dexter meets the X-Files.” In five short words she told them exactly what the book was like, how to position it, who to position it for, and why it’s a good bet in the current market. It’s probably too mercenary to work well on a reader, because they don’t usually like to think in those terms, but for a marketer who just needs to catch the vision, it said everything they needed to say.

  15. @Eliyanna: Your question cuts to the very heart of this discussion, and is the single most important thing anybody can ask when creating a blurb, or a pitch, or whatever.

    Dan’s example is great. Here’s a nice rule of thumb:

    The elevator pitch to an agent or editor needs to communicate the following:
    1) You can make money off of this book.
    2) I am easy to work with

    The query letter needs to communicate some of the same things as the pitch to the agent or editor, but it will have to be more refined and more targeted. I’d add…
    3) This work is like X and Y which you have already published, but is different because of Z.

    The blurb on the back just says this
    1) You want to read this book.
    2) Right now. You can’t wait to get it home.

    Those messages are very high-level. Obviously you’re going to refine them as you drill down into your genre, or get specific with a particular agent or editor. Ultimately, though, the difference is that the agent and editor are being told they can SELL the book, while the reader is being told s/he wants to BUY the book.

    The pitch to

  16. Judging by the abrupt ending, either there was a kid crisis, or we have exactly what is left in the comic buffer before we are all thoroughly disappointed and have to start the morning process.

  17. Is it just me, or have other people noticed that for like the last 5 podcasts, the audio balance is great for everyone involved except Brandon is really quiet? (Though sometimes he gets louder; maybe his mic is moving around?)

  18. it’s not his mic it’s his head, he’s talking away from the mic so you can’t hear him sometimes.

  19. Sorry about the partial sentence there at the end. I’m pretty sure that was a cut/paste artifact that had scrolled below where I could see it.

    Re: Brandon’s levels… Brandon doesn’t have very good mic technique, and Jordan doesn’t ride faders or run compression. IT IS THE PERFECT STORM.

  20. I am grateful to Rob and others for the thoughtful comments. And while I agree with you guys in principle, I still wonder, whether many great classical works of sci fi and fantasy would have ever been published if those strict laws of the market were applied to them. Anything original and breakthrough is hard to place into a category, and as such, hard to market. It seems many odd and quirky books that later gained a cult status don’t fall into any category at all. This may present a problem not only for an original writer, but also for a reader who likes unconventional stuff.

  21. I’ve sort of found how to compress an idea into a book cover. Take an every day problem increased up to eleven, and then subvert, subvert it, and subvert it again.

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