How do I make this work the most welcoming to the most people? asks George Saunders. It's a very good question.
Ooh, I have so many things to say about this one. Normally, I wouldn't just brain dump a bunch into a comment, but I love this whole piece you made inspired by my note, so I have to add something to this.
1. When people ask me about the difference in marketing and sales, I tell them sales is making immediate money, and marketing is anything that brings down the cost of making that sale. It's a bit reductive and simplistic, but everything that isn't sales can be marketing.
2. Success is determined before you ever launch a book. We make choices in packaging and development that raise or lower the total addressable market. So often we see books that just can't succeed because of the choices somebody made in packaging and the way that they want to release. The horror genre, for instance, just doesn't have enough total fans to reasonably expect many books to succeed, especially indie books. Indie movies or games, yes horror is a great genre, but not in books.
3. The same is true on Substack, or anywhere. I tell people all the time that if people want to take advantage of the Substack recommendation engine, then it makes sense to make things that are built to go viral on Substack. The same is true with any platform, or even KU. If you fight against the algorithm, then you will probably lose, but you'll definitely lose a lot of unnecessary energy doing so. It's easier to just avoid platforms that you won't succeed on than to do it and expend useless energy.
LSS, I agree with all of this, and love it.
I thought a lot about the George Saunders angle on this when I was working on Out on the Wire. I saw developing that book as a kind of dance between gathering input, coming up with ideas and structure, then testing it against readers and editors to see if it was landing. Then back in. Then out again.
And after the book was done, the process of sharing it is also an immensely creative act that's given me so much more insight into all the ideas in the book. In some sense, marketing a book keeps the ideas more alive, because you're constantly coming back to it from new angles and discovering new layers and ways of connecting with those.
Same thing happened with La Perdida, which had a very long tail, lots of interviews and college visits, all of which invited me to come to understand the book in a new way. That in turn led to new ways to talk about the book so that more people would be intrigued and want to read. It made the book richer for me (and for other people).
It can be a very virtuous cycle.
The fear of "selling out" is real, of course, but often getting over that fear involves reframing what the process of sharing a book (or whatever it is) is for and how it works, as you point out, Tara.
The ingrained fear of "being a sell out" is still in my bones as an adult... I think it allows for some healthy self-reflection to assess our own work and stand behind the value it brings.
That it's worth selling.
I love the reframe of craft as part of marketing and the questions you ask here!
A good one, Tara. It pairs well with Amanda's series on the quest for readers. I love what you're saying about making the work welcoming, that the marketing should be baked into the product. Aside from anything else, it's much easier to market something if we feel it's good work that deserves to find its audience. I've marketed computer training classes, software development, and synchronized skating dresses (I need to post about that - being the eye candy at skating rink trade show booths - anyway), and in each case, the quality was there, and it was enjoyable to help them find their audience.
Going to give The Who credit for the first sell out concept album, back when I was in high school: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Who_Sell_Out
Oh also, I love this song. However, a friend of mine once said “anyone who hates the idea of selling out has never been asked” and I think about it all the time.