Monday, May 30, 2011

Marketing as Good Stewardship

Dear Author: Is it God's will for you to sell a lot of books?

To some, that question illustrates the complexity of understanding God's will. To others, that question illustrates the complexity of understanding book sales. Either way, when it comes to successful marketing, there seems to be a strange dance between skill and luck, hard work and good fortune. Or to spiritualize it -- there is a give-and-take between the book's creator and the author's Creator.

Have you noticed that marketing often gets a bad rap from Christian writers? Don't get me wrong, I'm no marketing whiz. Like most of you, I am much more comfortable writing than selling. Nevertheless, it puzzles me how some Christian writers approach marketing. It goes like this:

I'll do the writing, but God must do the marketing

In her post Why Do We Think Jesus Will Do All Our Marketing?, Mary DeMuth quotes Randy Ingermanson:

I’m hesitant to say this because I know I’ll immediately hear from people who say that I have no faith, that I am sacrilegious, or that I am Not A Real Christian. But somebody needs to say this. So here goes:

The worst advice I have heard is “Jesus will do all your marketing for you.”

Let’s be clear that Jesus is on my management team and I consult him often when making big decisions. But in my experience, Jesus has never typed a press release, called a radio station to set up an interview, posted a blog entry, fixed the CSS on a web site, or written copy for a sales page. (emphasis in original)

Randy's POV takes aim at a perilous but pervasive mindset among many Christian writers: We've come to see writing as "spiritual," and marketing as not. Marketing is the "ugly" part of writing, the "worldly" dimension of being an author, the "necessary evil" you must tolerate, the downside of being published, the greens in an otherwise tasty meal.

This bifurcation is symptomatic of the sacred / secular mindset suffered by many evangelicals. It goes like this: Church is sacred, work is not. Praying is sacred, doing the dishes is not. Reading the Bible is sacred, reading Robert Frost is not. Serving at the homeless shelter is sacred, volunteering at the art gallery is not. Thus, writing is sacred, marketing is not. Which is why
  • We over-spiritualize the writing process, and
  • We under-spiritualize the selling process
One of the unspoken (but perhaps intended) results of such a compartmentalized view of writing is this: We can always blame poor book sales on God. "I am proud of my book," we say. "It just wasn't God's will for it to take off." Heaven forbid that an author blame themselves for poor book sales.

Please do not misunderstand me: Just because you approach marketing with vigor and savvy is no guarantee your book will do well (and really, what is "doing well"?). There are multiple factors to a book's success -- like good writing, hard work, the right publisher, market trends, endorsements, platform, etc. (see self-published phenom Amanda Hocking's post entitled Some Things That Need to Be Said.) And having all those things in place is still no guarantee your book will perform well. Nevertheless, the person who sees God as having "called" them to write can inevitably stick God with the blame if their book tanks.

For this reason, I'm starting to believe it is helpful to see writing and marketing as flip sides of the same calling. If God's "called" you to write, then He's "called" you to market.

I'm thinking of The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30). In this classic tale, not only did the master entrust his servants with different sums of money, he held them responsible for their management of said sums. Those two elements are the crux of the lesson: (1) Gift and (2) Management. So for the writer, that looks like this:
  • Writing is your gift / talent.
  • Marketing is your part of the stewardship of the gift / talent.
No, marketing is not the only part of stewardship. Nor is it probably the biggest part. I faithfully manage my writing talent by trying to write better, not just trying to yell louder. Marketing is just one way to "multiply" my talent, which seems to be a big deal for the master in the biblical parable.

Another interesting spin on marketing from a biblical perspective could be this: Your talent is intended for others, not just you. This may sound supremely arrogant, as if you are "God's gift" to others. Nevertheless, Scripture teaches that our talents are not meant entirely for personal gain. Take this verse: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (I Peter 4:10 NIV). So...
  • Your talents are a gift from God
  • Your talents are given to serve others
The point being: If your writing gift is intended for others, how else are you going to deliver besides, um, just writing?

Of course, if a Christian writer's sole purpose in marketing is to "get rich" or "become famous," they probably missed the gist of their "gifting." This isn't meant to imply that prospering from your talent is wrong, but that the heart of marketing (from a biblical perspective) is sharing, not getting rich, it is connecting with others, not just advancing your "brand."

So for the Christian writer, getting an agent, growing in the craft, employing an editor, expanding your platform, studying trends, jumping through hoops, may not seem very "spiritual," but they can all be parts of being a good steward with your talent.
And parts of selling more books.

Yeah. Writing is a lot more fun than marketing. Marketing can be a grind, it can be distasteful, it can bring out the absolute worst in a person. Nevertheless, marketing can also part of "good stewardship."

Question: Do you agree that marketing gets a bad rap from writers? Should it? Do you tend to see marketing as the "un-spiritual" part of writing? Do you think it's God's will for writers He has "called" to sell books? What are some signs that a person is going overboard with marketing?

* * *
Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," is in stores now. You can visit his website at


morganlbusse said...

Very good post. There is a balance between leaving all the marketing to God and being an annoying marketer. I want to be somewhere in the middle; a place where I have placed my writing in God's hands for Him to do as He wills, but also let others know about my book. I think this can be done when a writer uses what tools and ideas are available out there to market their book, but do so in a respectful, humble, not-in-your-face kind of way.

Carrie L. Lewis said...

Do you agree that marketing gets a bad rap from writers?
Most definitely (and from other creative sorts like artists and poets). A lot of creative people seem to take the view that the created thing is the be all and end all and that any form of marketing it is, in essence, 'prostituting' the work.

Should it?
Absolutely not! I have never quite understood why it's okay for a shoe maker or a chef or a seamstress to market themselves, but it's not okay for a writer, painter, etc. to market themselves. There is a level of creativity AND service involved in each of those endeavors.

Do you tend to see marketing as the "un-spiritual" part of writing?
Actually, my answer to this goes back to the notion that Christians can compartmentalize their Christianity.

For the Christian, everything should be part of the Christian walk. Church going, witnessing, writing... cleaning the toilet, mopping floors, cooking, laundry, everything.

That does include marketing.

Do you think it's God's will for writers He has "called" to sell books?
Yes and in the same way it's God's will for farmers to till the ground and plant the seed, but also to harvest the crop.

What are some signs that a person is going overboard with marketing?
For me, the best sign that the focus on marketing is blurred is when the marketer stops seeing the people to whom they market and sees only the bottom line.

I've been marketing paintings a lot longer than I've been marketing stories, so I've learned there are many benefits to marketing.

The chance to meet people I wouldn't otherwise have met.

The chance to influence their lives in some fashion.

The chance to be a witness or to serve in some unexpected capacity through the marketing effort.

There's no way to know all the ways God has used my talent, my marketing efforts, maybe even my mere presence to influence a life somewhere. I can't point to very many instances and say "A difference was made because I was there or spoke to that person" and I may never know all the occasions on which that did happen.

But to hoard my paintings or stories and ignore the marketing aspect of the business is to ask God to use the talents He's given me to help others, but refuse to do any of the work toward that end.

Rather like praying for a good potato crop but not bothering to plant potatoes! That just isn't going to work.

KC Frantzen said...

Tell it!!!

Yes absolutely right and said so well. Thank you.

We are doing our best to build our reader base, we are also being creative in positioning the book. We have found a wonderful plush toy, and dressed it in custom collar and sunglasses to be a Mini-May (our book's heroine is May, the K9 Spy) and we have partnered with an amazing pet treat company - Joshua's Pet Treat Bakery.

We hand out business cards everywhere and direct people to our Facebook page and website.

We will see how all this goes, but thank you very much for confirmation and encouragement!!

Today we especially remember to thank our veterans for our freedom. We remember the families of those who have lost their loved ones in particular.

Jennifer said...

Thanks you for putting this post out there. I get so tired of Christians having two different categories for everything. The sad thing is I used to think the same way. This music is good,this is bad. This activity is good, this one bad. It's taking a long time to get this wrong mind set out of my mind but is so freeing. Hopefully, people will read this post and find a path to freedom also...

Ane Mulligan said...

This ROCKS, Mike! Yes, Jesus is our Savior, and He's the Lord of my life. But He expects me to be involved and to DO something.

Personally, I think the "God will make my book sell if He wants it to" mentality is a cop-out. If the book fails to sell, the author can say, "It wasn't God''s will."

Baloney! When Jesus fed the 5,000, do you suppose He REALLY needed those few loaves and fishes? I don't. He could have spoken them into existence, but He had the disciples DO something to make it come about.

I believe He gives us favor with the publisher where He wants our book published. But we have to write a great book first. Then it's up to us to do the marketing.

Robin Bayne said...

Great article, thanks for sharing! I have seen so many writers go round and round about the marketing issues.

Angela Breidenbach said...

I enjoy marketing but really appreciate this fresh perspective. Another thought on it is the sower/reaper parable. Take it to the observable. The sower sows everywhere. Then when the healthy plants come up, he works those through to harvest. But he seeds so he can harvest.
I want to free women from being stuck as victims. My calling is to help others get past the past so they can live out their calling. I can't help someone if they don't know the ministry my speaking and writing offers.

Angie Breidenbach

Mary DeMuth said...

Great post. I don't think new writers realize just how much time and energy marketing takes, so they simply don't adjust it into their time paradigm. I was shocked when I realized how much time it took.

That being said, I enjoy marketing, but I can't necessarily figure it out. So I "scatter my seeds" everywhere, seeing what will hit. And ultimately, that's where a strong belief in God's sovereignty helps me.

In the immortal words of Keith Green: "Just keep doing your best and pray that it's blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest."

Kristin said...

I have a degree in marketing and was a marketing director before becoming a writer. I think the reason it gets a bad rap is because writers confuse pushing themselves obnoxiously vs. marketing the book/platform. One feels very selfish and "using" and the other is about one's passion.

There are writers who send so much stuff, I never read a thing. Take this piece of advice, writers: Make it matter. If you have nothing to say, don't waste people's time. They CAN tell the difference. Great article here though, Mike!

Carrie Turansky said...

Good thoughts, Mike. I appreciate the way you tied Scripture into your blog and gave us examples to make your point clear. Seeing marking as part of your stewardship as a writer is very helpful. Also realizing you are marketing for the benefit of your reader is key too. Thanks for sharing these ideas and helping me think this through.

Cara Lynn James said...

Great post, Mike! I think for most Christian writers it's hard to 'blow your own horn' and say in effect, "please buy my book." We'd prefer to be modest and humble, and marketing something we profit from, leaves us ambivalent. But no matter how we feel, we have to do it.

Carrie Fancett Pagels said...

Excellent article and great points. Why do we do that? And hopefully we see our books as a ministry and lets face it, that is part of the process.

Gina Holmes said...

Great article, Mike. I'm one of the lucky people who enjoy marketing as well as writing. I spend a good 25 percent of my writing time promoting, this includes preparing to teach at conferences, reading books like Tipping Point or Publicize Your Book, etc. I see too many good books not get noticed and in a sea of millions of books, its so easy to get lost. I've never had a moral issue with promotion, though there definitely is an obnoxious way to go about it that I try to avoid.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Do you agree that marketing gets a bad rap from writers?
If by "bad rap" you mean that writers moan, groan, grumble and complain about marketing? Then, yes, marketing gets a bad rap from a lot of writers.
Should it?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Not everyone is going to be a natural at social media and marketing. It's going to be uncomfortable--way outside the comfort zone--for some people.
What I'm trying to do is a) realize marketing is not an optional activity and b) connect with others who enjoy marketing and are willing to help me get better at it.

sally apokedak said...

What are some signs that a person is going overboard with marketing?

Proverbs 27:2
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.

Marketing your product is fine. Building your platform is fine.

AS LONG AS you are looking out for the interests of others and not just your own interests. (Phil 2)

You write novels because you want to make people laugh and cry. You want to delight readers. You write nonfiction books to help people know God better, or grow in their faith.

So, sure, you need to tell us that your books are available and you think they will enrich our lives somehow.

Please do that with a humble attitude that says, "I'm so grateful to God for giving me this gift and letting me write. He could raise up stones to write a novel if he wanted, but he's allowed me to do it and isn't he generous." There are two kinds of writers that wear on me fast--complainers who don't like their publicity teams or the editors or their sales or whatever, and arrogant writers who think they are somehow better then the guy who fixes my toilet.

If your books really are enriching my life, though, you won't have to market to me anymore. I'll market for you by word of mouth. So you can move on to marketing to someone who hasn't heard about you. You don't have to hound me.

The problem with "problem marketers" is that they want too much from their readers and they don't give enough back in return.

I went to Meg Moseley's book launch recently. She had drinks and cookies and candy. She had two big gift baskets full of chocolate and coffee and gift certificates to give as door prizes. It felt like a party for her friends and we were all celebrating her launch. I bought several of her books and I've talked about her book to many of my friends, because she's a wonderful writer and her book (When Sparrows Fall) is a good book on several levels (writing, issues, thought provoking) and very much worth reading.

But if at the book launch she had given me a handful of bookmarks to give away to all my friends instead of giving me cookies and punch, I would have not been happy.

Don't offer your readers promo material to give away. I don't want to pass out bookmarks to people. I don't think authors should use their fans that way. I think they should offer the fans small gifts that mean something to them--sending a handwritten thank-you card for a nice review is a wonderful, meaningful thing for a busy writer to do for a fan--and their fans will promote them with their lips, and that will be much more effective than having them leaving bookmarks all over town.

That's what I think. Others probably feel differently.

:) Great post, Mike!

Meg Moseley said...

Thanks for another spot-on post, Mike. It's easy to see the creative side of writing as a gift, but the published novel is the same gift in another form. It's good stewardship to put the gift in the hands of people who need it. In my case, that means the victims (and the perps!) of an extremist version of homeschooling. When I keep my mind on the people, not the numbers, it's not marketing. It's my mission.

Sally, thanks for your kind words. Friends like you made my launch party complete, and I'm grateful.

Kathy Harris said...

I love your analogy to the Parable of the Talents and your point about marketing being as much a part of the "call" as writing. I'd never thought of it in that way. Even though I'm a marketing professional in "real life," I relate to just wanting to write... Your insight offers a new perspective!

Thanks for sharing!

Jordyn Redwood said...

Great post Mike! A lot that needed to be said. I was just at a book signing and asked the author about marketing and heard that very thing..."It's God's job".

I think God calls us to all aspects of the writing gig. Whatever is needed to get the book out there. After all, I had to put the words on a page, write a proposal (is this not a marketing tool?), get an agent....

Marketing is just an extension of the mission. Did not the diciples market Jesus' message?

Anonymous said...

"If God's 'called' you to write, then He's "called" you to market."

---luv that line.

nike chillemi, signing as anonymous 'cause Blogger won't let me sign any other way.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

I'm a new follower. Thanks for writing this. I've been struggling with these issues. It gives me courage. I've been writing from my daily quiet times in Psalms and just started to incorporate some artwork. Wondering if I should publish- or just let the Lord have the blog. You've provided the answers. Thanks!

MK Jorgenson said...

Hmm...I'm not sure how I got here, but I'm glad that I did. I just released my first novel and am realizing the massive-ness of marketing...and how easy it is to be pulled from my original intentions. Thanks for helping guide me back to the path; I definitely will be returning to this article (and this blog) to chew this over some more.