Consider these riddles: If a tree falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it make a sound? If someone writes a book but no one buys it, does it make that person an author?
For the past seven years, I’ve coached over 500 authors from beginners to bestsellers and reached this conclusion: There is no such thing as an “author.” Instead, there are only people who write stuff that they want other people to buy. Nobody dreams about writing for free, and those few who don’t care whether people buy what they write are called “poets.”
Well then, if there’s no such thing as an author, how do we define people who write stuff that they want other people to buy? We call them “salespeople.” Am I serious? Would I dare use such language? The purists believe it’s blasphemy to use the “s-word” in literary company. You cannot unite writing and selling without being heretical. Maybe so, but I’m simply stating the truth. If you want other people to buy what you write, then you are a salesperson for your work. It’s not the act of writing that makes someone an author. It’s the act of someone else buying what you wrote.
Here’s my point: If you want to be a successful author in the digital age of publishing, you cannot afford to separate selling from the writing process. As you learn the craft of writing, you must also learn the craft of selling, which means learning how to answer the reader’s ultimate question, “What’s in it for me?” All too often, however, authors shirk the sales responsibility due to feeble misconceptions, such as:
- The publisher will do the selling for me (Those days are long gone).
- I’m a literary purist and selling is below me (Good luck making money off of snobbery).
- I don’t have time to write and sell my work (The problem isn’t time; it’s how you prioritize).
I’m not trying to give writers a heart attack. Here’s the good news: The easiest way to promote your work is to write more, which should be in a writer’s sweet spot. Selling your book means writing effective newsletters, blog posts, short stories, free resources, word-of-mouth tools, magazine articles, etc. If you’re truly a writer, then these types of promotional activities should be in your wheelhouse.
The problem is that too many writers categorize these selling tasks as a separate, negative side of writing. So, they do them half-heartedly or don’t do them at all. No wonder so many books fail to break even and so many writers fail to make a living. The answer is to make selling your work an integrated, positive part of working as a writer.
If you want more people to buy your books, you must view yourself as both a writer and a salesperson. You can choose to eschew selling and only embrace writing. But, you’ll usually live as a writer with a divided mindset who struggles to gain more readers. In contrast, when you embrace writing and selling as mutually beneficial, then you’re able to become a more productive, confident, and successful writer.
Remember, there is no such thing as an author. There are only writers who want other people to buy their stuff. If you can’t bear the thought of learning to sell what you write, I’ve got great news…the poets are always looking for new recruits.