Finding a Marketing Strategy that Balances Marketability With Authenticity
I try to publish something new on the blog every two weeks, and I generally try to find blog topics that are both useful to writers and areas of strength for me. This week, however, I’m blogging about something I’m wrestling with personally: how to balance marketability with authenticity. When pondering this topic, I’ve tried to answer a couple of questions: How can I grow my business while also being true to myself? And, can I set boundaries regarding which marketing strategies I will and won’t pursue, or is doing so undermining my business?
I ponder these questions often, and I suspect I’m not alone. If social media posts and conference topics are any indication, many of us feel tension between being ourselves and creating a marketing plan to grow our audiences and our businesses. (Conference sessions about social media marketing, I’m looking at you!)
These questions have moved to the center of my radar in part because summer break is just around the corner. With my kids at home all day, I’ve got to work efficiently, and there’s no time to waste on marketing strategies that feel obligatory rather than essential.
If you’re an author, it’s likely your primary marketing goals are to grow your readership and to convince readers to buy your books (for traditionally published authors, one “reader” may be an agent or publisher). Tasks such as creating a website, building a social media presence, and crafting monthly newsletters (to say nothing of writing great books!) are all aimed at getting in front of new readers and staying in front of existing ones.
For editors, marketing is all about getting in front of potential clients, establishing ourselves as knowledgeable professionals, convincing people that our services are worth their money, and doing such a great job that clients come back again and again with their new projects. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are A LOT of editors, so marketing also has to cut through the noise and convince authors that I am the best editor for them.
In fields as competitive as writing and editing, it often feels like if you can’t do everything and be everywhere, then you can’t succeed.
But here’s the reality: you can’t do everything, and neither can I, no matter how much we feel like we should.
To be honest, I also don’t want to do everything, and I’m guessing you don’t either. My major hang up is social media. I’m not a social media person, and although I maintain a business Facebook page, the thought of branching out onto Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok makes me twitch. Maybe for you it’s book signings that feel like a bridge too far. Or conferences. Or podcasts. Or guest blogging. You get the point.
So, if we can’t do everything, then how do we create a marketing strategy that includes the right things so that it’s both a “good fit” and effective?
Here are the answers I’ve brainstormed while over-analyzing this question during bouts of anxiety-related insomnia mulling over this question:
1. Prioritize, and establish your non-negotiables.
Given that we only have twenty-four hours each day, it makes sense to know our “non-negotiables.” What has to get done in a day, for your business and for your life as a whole, and what would you like to do if there’s still time left over?
Given those non-negotiables, which marketing strategies make the most sense? Which will have the greatest impact for reaching your specific goals, and which will be the best use of your time? If one of your non-negotiable tasks is to publish three books per year with the idea that doing so will keep your ideal readers clambering for your latest release (and talking about it on their social media platforms), then spending time making podcasts rather than writing for several hours per day doesn’t make sense. Podcasts may be great, but they’re not the ideal strategy for you. Your business non-negotiable is to publish a book every four months. That means writing has to be a priority (and, yes, in my estimation, writing great books is a marketing strategy because doing so generates repeat readers!).
I’ve found that setting some boundaries makes me more focused and productive. Without them, I get distracted by all the “shoulds” and lose focus on my top priorities.
2. Determine what you can do consistently.
One problem with feeling like you should do everything is that it’s overwhelming, and feeling overwhelmed can lead to inaction. Alternately, feeling overwhelmed can lead to so much action that no single action is particularly effective.
Earlier this year, I attended a conference session presented by author Alice Hanov. In it, Alice recommended that authors choose one social media platform and hashtags for several days of the week, then commit to posting content for those hashtags week in and week out. Deciding which social media platform to start with could be based on where your readers are most likely to hang out, or it could simply be based on which platform you feel most comfortable with and are most likely to use consistently.
If it’s not comfortable, or it just doesn’t fit within the demands of our lives, we’re not going to do it. So, if there are strategies that feel more natural to you, consider starting with them, doing them consistently, and then gradually choosing new strategies that push you a bit out of your comfort zone.
3. Keep an eye on your colleagues’ and peers’ social media for inspiration, not comparison.
This one is hard. If you’ve ever found yourself scrolling through a social media feed thinking, “This is impossible. I’ll never manage to do everything that he/she/they’re doing!” please know that I feel your pain. For authors and editors alike, building community and keeping up with industry trends is important, and that community building often happens online. But authors’ and editors’ social media platforms are no less curated than anyone else’s. In fact, I suspect they might be more curated … none of us wants to publish something poorly written!
More importantly, everybody’s circumstances are different. When I see another editor who’s maintaining a steady stream of editing clients while also teaching classes, presenting at conferences, creating content for multiple social media platforms, and generally being awesome at all the things, it’s hard not to have a social media-driven existential crisis. At the end of the day, though, take what’s helpful—the inspiration, the ideas, the camaraderie, and the nudge to see if you could push just a little more—and leave what isn’t. Namely, ditch the feeling that just because someone else is doing it, you should be too. Focus on your niche and your strategy … and what’s actually possible within the context of your life.
4. Remember that you don’t have to be everybody’s cup of tea (and it’s probably better if you’re not).
We humans are drawn to sincerity. Being yourself and using marketing strategies that feel natural to you will draw in your ideal clients and readers. Doing so will also, however, turn some people off. But that’s okay! In my case, being authentic is likely to attract clients who have found my blog content helpful and my online persona charming (or at least tolerable). Authors and editors work closely and collaboratively, so “fit” is really important. Potential clients who see my marketing materials and think “no thanks!” probably wouldn’t be a great fit. Being myself is an effective strategy for vetting new clients that doesn’t cost me any extra marketing time.
If you’re an author, putting your authentic self out there may mean turning some readers off. Unless your authorial voice is at odds with your personality, however, then the readers you’ve turned off weren’t likely to fall in love with your books anyway. If you’re hoping that your readers will become an integral part of your marketing strategy—enthusiastically buying every new release and telling all their friends to do the same—then it pays to show readers who you really are.
Just like the prevailing wisdom suggests that if you’re not comfortable writing a sex scene, then don’t write a sex scene, if a particular marketing strategy isn’t you, that will probably come across to your audience.
So, have I arrived at any firm conclusions? Nope, not really. But hopefully I’ve given you the sense that you’re not alone. Or maybe I’ve given you the ability to say, “Wow. At least I’m not feeling that conflicted about how to market my books!” Marketing ourselves is just the nature of the beast now. Even if you go the traditional publishing route, you’ll be expected to help with marketing. And, as a freelancer, I’m always going to have to spend half of my time attracting clients. But, maybe there’s a way to do it that feels like a choice rather than an obligation, and that feels true to who we are rather than true only to the demands of the market.